By Tom Mehuron
After reading many articles and opinions about the Mad River Valley proposed local option tax (LOT), I feel the need to straighten out some facts that have been presented incorrectly. Then, of course, like everyone else, I have my opinion that I will leave for later on.
First of all, let’s remember one basic fact here. The powers that be here are talking about adding 1 percent to two different taxes. The first is our 6 percent sales tax that is applied to mostly nonfoods and services. This is the tax you pay when you buy nonfood items such as toilet paper at Mehuron’s or a wrench at Bisbee’s Hardware. That tax also applies to beer, wine, soda and sugar-based soft drinks. Think six-pack of Coke, Ocean Spray Cranberry Cocktail, six-pack of Sip of Sunshine, a bottle of chardonnay.
The second tax is the 9 percent tax applied to meals and rooms and 10 percent applied to the sale of on-premise alcoholic beverages. Dining out you pay 9 percent tax on the food you order, 10 percent tax on the alcoholic beverages you order and if you rent a room, you pay a 9 percent tax on that. You also pay 9 percent meals tax when you buy a cup a soup at Mehuron’s deli or a sandwich at Three Mountain Cafe, for examples.
It has been stated that most all ski towns have an LOT. Well, while many ski towns do have an LOT on rooms, meals and alcohol, only one area (Stratton) has surrounding towns that have an LOT on the 6 percent retail sales tax.
It has been stated that 88 percent of the proposed LOT will be paid by visitors to The Valley. While that may be true for the rooms, meals and alcohol taxes, that is certainly not true for the LOT on the 6 percent sales tax. My customer base is certainly not 88 percent visitors and I am certain it is not that for almost all Valley retail businesses. Kenyon’s, Bisbee’s or The Tempest Book Shop. Please tell me if I am wrong.
COMPETE FOR SALES
Now, on to the opinion piece. There are reasons that there is an LOT on the 6 percent sales tax in only one ski area. My guess is that most people in those towns realize how expensive it is to live there and, like me, don’t want to pay yet another tax. They also recognize how hard it is for local merchants to compete for sales of the goods covered by this tax and do not want to punish their local businesses. Look at Killington. They just repealed their LOT on the 6 percent sales tax. No municipality gives up tax money unless they know they made a huge mistake in the first place.
Our sales of nonfoods that are subject to the 6 percent sales has dropped considerably over the past 10 years as we lose more to Amazon and the bigger chains that have much better buying power and thus lower prices. We don’t need to be adding another 1 percent to make it worse.
While I applaud efforts to build more affordable housing, add to public transportation and add to the economy of the Mad River Valley, I do not feel this will be done by just throwing money at the problem. The housing issue and the economic issue are only going to get better if each of the towns (not just Waitsfield) decides to restructure zoning so that multi-unit housing is a use by right and if the commercial restrictions in the Mad River Valley are expanded.
The present zoning laws have given us a beautiful Valley, free of stoplights and for the most part traffic congestion and unsightly Route 100 views. That does come with a cost when it comes to more inexpensive housing and added businesses. If we are going to be asked to pay more taxes, the least we should get is a definite plan of where this housing and these additional businesses are going to be.
While I would think that most residents would also applaud efforts for more affordable housing and more business, I truly wonder how many might be willing to deal with the ramifications that come with it. One of the reasons that property and, thus, housing, is more expensive here in The Valley is that restrictions have helped make this a beautiful area to live. I don’t see tax money making land cheaper.
The plan, as it is, seems to be like if I, as a businessperson, decided I want to sell provisions in the Mad River Valley and went to the bank looking for a loan with just the idea of making the area better by making food more available. I don’t have a place to do it yet and I am not sure what my product mix will be, but I want the money for when I figure that out. You know that I am not going to get that loan. And we should not be asked to raise more money until specific nuts and bolts of the proposals are fleshed out in detail.
Also, we are being asked to vote on an additional 1 percent tax. This is not 1 percent for The Valley (that would only be 0.7 percent by the way). It is not Funding Local Opportunities (FLO). It is a tax. The political expression that if you put lipstick on a pig, it is still a pig, why that applies here. It is a tax.
The proposal to put the LOT on the ballots for this March is way premature. First, the voters need more facts and there needs to be a more concrete plan for accomplishing the goals.
Mehuron lives in Waitsfield and owns/runs Mehuron’s Supermarket in Waitsfield.