Waitsfield Select Board chair Paul Hartshorn and board member Sal Spinosa continue to lobby for the town to enact its own local option tax (LOT) and use those funds to pay for overdue road maintenance and town garage work.
At a May 6 meeting, the board had a general discussion about a local option tax after board member Darryl Forrest asked town administrator Trevor Lashua to analyze a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) to develop a three-town LOT. The three-town LOT proposal is currently under consideration in Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston.
That proposal has been advanced by a subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Planning District and calls for the three member towns in the district to negotiate an MOU calling for each town to ask voters to adopt it and an LOT. Such a three-town LOT would generate $1 million of which The Valley towns would retain $700,000 to be invested in housing, transportation, recreation and marketing.
As part of that proposal, each town was asked to agree to negotiate the MOU and appoint two select board members to do the negotiating with a goal of bringing an Australian ballot vote on an MOU and LOT at Town Meeting 2020. The Warren and Fayston Select Boards voted unanimously to do so while Waitsfield’s board was divided on negotiating. Hartshorn and Spinosa voted against negotiating.
Lashua’s memorandum asked specific questions about the draft MOU and also included a chart showing the impact of Waitsfield retaining some portion of a local LOT and sharing a portion with the tri-town effort. That portion ranges from 10 percent to 50 percent of the estimated $400,000 of the tax that would be raised in Waitsfield.
This week, a Waitsfield-only LOT was brought up as one way to pay for Waitsfield’s deferred road maintenance, along with the fact that the town’s tax rate has been kept very low – the lowest in Washington County. Board member Jon Jamieson told his fellow board member that he appreciated their work to keep the tax rate low but said that it had led to road maintenance issues as well as a need to raise property taxes significantly.
“I have serious reservations. We’re in serious financial problems. It seems to me this local option tax would help us because we’re going to have to double our taxes in the next few years,” Hartshorn said.
“We’ve been keeping the tax rate as flat as possible. We’ve been conservative, paying down debt, neglecting reserves. We need to face the facts that we’re going to need to raise taxes regardless of whether we have an LOT or not. Warren did a stair step of increases to pay for their road maintenance. We need to seriously think about that,” Jamieson said.
“The LOT is an opportunity to look toward the future in this town. We can pay 12 cents and get 88 cents back and use it in a forward-looking, proactive, progressive way, spending it on things that will grow your town and grow your Grand List and get people to move here and keep your customers and seasonal visitors because this is a vibrant community to come to. It’s this combination of things being presented by an LOT committee that does that for me,” Jamieson continued.
Hartshorn said he felt the electorate would move if town taxes were raised any further and Jamieson said he didn’t see people moving here in droves with the lowest property tax rate in the county. He also reminded Hartshorn that 80 percent of property taxes are for education and that Vermont has a progressive education tax system whereby people who make less pay less.
Spinosa said he felt a full road assessment was needed before anything else happens in order to determine if/what an LOT could do to “bite into that.”
Board member Kellee Mazer, also a member of the town’s budget committee, said she found it frustrating that the town has been talking about road maintenance needs for three years, along with the need to allocate funds to reserve funds.
“We’ve been talking about it for three years and now it’s such an emergency. This is frustrating for me,” she said.
“I don’t want to lose track of a Waitsfield LOT to address the roads. I want to keep it in front of us and keep it on the table. I fully understand that that wasn’t the vote we took, but I don’t want to lose sight of the possibility that we may have mechanisms to address them,” Spinosa said.
“We can address this for hours. My mission is to go to the three select boards and come back with an MOU for approval from this board. This has to be approved by voters. If it’s not approved by voters, Waitsfield can go do its own LOT. You’ve all of a sudden seen this money out there and see it as a fix for the roads and that’s not what this is about,” said Forrest, who along with Mazer will sit at the table with the other select board members.