Members of the subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Planning District, who are working on a proposal to bring a tri-town local option tax (LOT) to voters of The Valley next year, are discussing the legal feedback they’ve received from attorneys reviewing the proposal.
The LOT subcommittee met on August 21 and reviewed information gleaned from the review done by Warren’s and Fayston’s attorneys. Waitsfield voted this week to have its attorney review the work.
The proposal calls for voters in Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston to adopt a memorandum of understand (MOU) that enacts a 1 percent local option tax on rooms, meals, alcohol and retail sales. The LOT would raise $1 million of which the towns would keep $700,000 to be invested in tri-town issues such as housing, transportation, community projects, recreation and marketing.
Funds would be disbursed through a grant application process, based on specific criteria that are spelled out in the bylaws and MOU.
While the subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) has been advancing the specifics of the proposed LOT, a tri-town negotiating committee with two members of each select board has vetted the proposed bylaws and the MOU. There is crossover between the two groups.
Warren Select Board member and chair of the Mad River Valley Planning District’s steering committee Bob Ackland reported that the Warren Select Board had a preliminary discussion of the town attorney’s review and had slated a public hearing for September.
“He identified a couple of issues that need to be tightened up. That will happen at the tri-town negotiating committee level,” Ackland said.
He and Warren Select Board chair Andy Cunningham serve on the tri-town negotiating committee and Ackland serves on the MRVPD subcommittee as well.
“We did discuss how the select boards should be neutral on this issue. This is an issue for voters to decide. It’s our job to put this in front of voters and make sure that there are no negative impacts,” Ackland said.
MOVING THINGS FORWARD
Waitsfield Select Board member Kellee Mazer (member of the MRVPD subcommittee and the tri-town negotiating committee) explained that the Waitsfield board would be reviewing a timetable for evaluation of the MOU and bylaws. She asked for direction on how to move things forward.
Fayston Select Board chair Jared Cadwell (chair of the MRVPD subcommittee and a member of the tri-town negotiating committee) suggested that the three Waitsfield Select Board members who favor the tri-town LOT proposal make sure that the vetting does not go on indefinitely.
Cadwell identified one issue that both the Warren and Fayston attorneys discovered. He said that Warren and Fayston, as former gold towns under Act 60, Vermont’s education spending law, were already authorized to enact an LOT.
He said it was a housekeeping issue Waitsfield would need to vote to amend its charter in order for voters to enact an LOT.
“To my mind, that’s just good governance by the town of Waitsfield regardless of whether it goes forward with its own LOT, a tri-town LOT or no LOT, you’ll have that tool in the toolbox,” Cadwell said.
APPROVE BUDGET ANNUALLY
Another issue that has been identified by Warren’s and Fayston’s attorneys involves a budgetary mechanism and a way for voters at Town Meeting to approve the LOT budget annually.
The Fayston Select Board reviewed its attorney Jim Barlow’s opinion with Barlow at an August 27 meeting.
“One specific concern is that under the current MOU language we do not address an annual budgeting and approval process at Town Meeting, like we do for the Mad River Valley Planning District and the Mad River Valley Recreation District. We took that as good advice and asked him to come up with language that would meet the statutory requirement,” Cadwell said.
Barlow cited VSA 2664 regarding interlocal agreements like the proposed MOU, noting that they are allowed “provided that the legislative body of each municipality approves the contract, and expenses for such governmental service, activity or undertaking are included in a municipal budget approved under 17 VSA or comparable charter provision.”
“In my opinion, the voters of each municipality must approve, through each town’s annual municipal budget, an appropriate of the LOT revenue to the LOT commission,” he added.