Waitsfield voters will be asked to change the town charter at Town Meeting next year to enable the town to enact a local option tax (LOT), pending legal review of the necessity.
Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston are planning to ask voters to enact a local option tax in 2020. Funds raised in the three towns would be co-mingled and would be invested in community development in five areas: housing, transportation, community projects, recreation and marketing. A tri-town LOT would raise $1 million of which The Valley would receive $700,000.
At the Waitsfield Select Board’s August 26 meeting, the board voted unanimously to ask the town attorney to review the memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the bylaws that have been developed for the tri-town LOT to determine whether a charter change is required to adopt an LOT.
The Warren and Fayston select boards have had their attorneys review the two documents and both attorneys have cited the issue of Waitsfield needing to change its charter. Warren and Fayston were formerly considered gold towns in the early days of Act 60, the education funding law that the state adopted after the Vermont Supreme Court’s Brigham decision that led to a statewide education property tax.
Gold towns, under that earliest version of the education funding law, were allowed to adopt LOTs to offset the impact of paying increased property taxes to help fund education costs for all students in the state, including those students in towns will smaller Grand Lists.
At this week’s select board meeting, board member Darryl Forrest asked the board to consider having its attorney address the charter question as well review the documents sooner versus later. The board had been slated to review a three-month timeline to review and discuss the memorandum of understanding and bylaws for the tri-town LOT this week.
Forrest said that given the likelihood that the town would need to hold a Town Meeting 2020 vote on a charter change, it made no sense to spend three months reviewing the documents first.
If voters approved a charter change at Town Meeting, it would need to be approved by the Legislature.
“Let’s say there’s a positive vote on changing the charter at Town Meeting next March. We’d have all summer to do this review,” Forrest said.
“I’m trying to absorb this. Are you saying that because Waitsfield has a charter, the prospect of an LOT has to be voted on? That’s a step that is distinct from a follow-up step of a separate vote,” board member Sal Spinosa said.
“Yes, we’d probably want to do that in November,” Forrest said.
“So, we should send this to our attorneys and get their opinion. There may be revisions in the MOU before it gets to a vote,” he added.
Town administrator Trevor Lashua suggested asking two questions of the town attorney, the first to address the charter issue and the second to review the MOU and bylaws.
“If voters approve the charter change, then we can jump into the MOU and bylaws review and discussion,” board member Jon Jamieson pointed out.
Spinosa asked whether it made sense to focus on the charter change and leave the larger issue of an LOT for later discussion.
Jamieson made a motion to have the documents submitted to the town attorney with a specific question pertaining to the need for a charter change and to leave the analysis of the MOU and bylaws until after Town Meeting 2020 when the town would know whether voters consented to a charter change.
Board member Kellee Mazer seconded the motion.
During discussion of the motion Waitsfield resident Bob Cook said that in the run up to Town Meeting, the board was going to have to have a conversation with the town about what the charter change would mean and that would require some kind of vetting of the idea of an LOT.
“I think there’s merit to that, talking about an LOT in general versus going down the rabbit hole of a three-town LOT, so that people can get their arms around an LOT and the concept. If a charter change is approved, then people can talk about each type of LOT,” Jamieson said.
“It might be hard to keep that discussion constrained. It may bleed into a lot of issues,” Spinosa said.
“Let’s give the voters some credit for being able to parse things out. If you lay it out well enough, the voters will grasp it,” Jamieson responded.
Waitsfield voters adopted a new town charter that gave the select board the authority to appoint the town clerk and treasurer (rather than voters) in November 2014.