By Steve McKenzie
I consider myself a reasonably informed citizen, keeping up to date with local, state and national events. The relatively recent flood of coverage on the MRV-FLO 1 percent tax (a local option tax, LOT) proposal by the Mad River Valley Planning District has, therefore, caught me somewhat off guard, notably as it’s apparently been under development “for over five years” (The Valley Reporter, 11/21/18, Page 21). Proponents are currently presenting to local select boards with the desire to have the LOT placed on the ballot for 2019 Town Meeting. This proposal may or may not be a great idea, but pushing for a vote in three months, given the current lack of details and understanding (at least by this resident), appears very premature.
A November 29 meeting of the Mad River Valley town leadership was advertised in The Valley Reporter on November 21 and 29 with presentation of the LOT on the agenda. I attended and, while there were some very good presentations, there was no information on the MRV-FLO. The proponents are evidently seeking approval by the local select boards prior to moving ahead to public outreach (VR, 11/21/18, Page 21). There’s another presentation to the Waitsfield Select Board on December 17, leaving less than three months (during the holidays) for public outreach and education.
On November 16, 2018, an MRV-FLO webpage and an initial set of MRV-FLO documents were added to MRVPD.org. After review of them I have a number of initial questions, comments and concerns:
- Many of the just published documents are “draft” and/or appear incomplete. I would strongly suggest the MRVPD use the 2019 Town Meeting to alert residents of the proposal and available documents and provide a date-specific listing of public presentations during 2019. The draft charter (section 902-26) states that an annual budget is to be publicly presented by November 15 for the subsequent operational year, to allow time for comment and review. The push for a 2019 Town Meeting vote is at odds with this bylaw.
- I would like to see specific feedback and input from local businesses on this proposal.
- On the assumption that MRVPD has met with officials from Killington, I would like to hear what lessons were learned following rescission of their sales LOT earlier this year.
- Reviewing the “12 percent would be paid by local residents” analysis, while I now understand the calculations MRVPD used to come up with this selling point, I would like to see further analysis of the finding that there’s only about $4k in LOT-applicable annual taxable purchases per household and, therefore, only $2/month impact. It just seems low to me at first glance. As a reference, in 2012 the Census.gov showed annual Vermont retail sales per capita of $15,900. Assuming a ~2 percent inflation rate, that puts 2018 at about $17,800 per capita. Clearly not all resident purchases are made in The Valley, and not all purchases are taxable, but the disparity is unreasonable to me.
- Will the LOT be applicable to online and/or out-of-state (i.e., NH) purchases?
- In the November 1, 2018, Valley Reporter, it was stated that the LOT funds are earmarked for:
Community projects (26 percent): $182,000 ($700k x 26 percent); destination marketing (25 percent), $175,000; recreation (25 percent) $175,000; economic development (14 percent); $98,000; reserves (4 percent), $28,000; administration (6 percent), $42,000.
What are specific examples of identified projects and deliverables for the first four categories? A 6 percent administration (overhead) rate is low relative to the new paid positions called for in the LOT documents. These include an executive director (Charter #902-15), a full-time coordinator position at a minimum of $45,000 (LOT case statement, Page 7), and a part-time administrator (LOT case statement, Page 8).
- Affordable housing is cited as a major issue and goal of the LOT. What is the projected number of additional units needed? Assuming housing is part of the community projects budget, how impactful is the $182,000 noted above in solving the need?
- What is/are the specific Mad River Valley population growth goal(s)?
- If the overall stated growth-related goals and objectives of the LOT are realized, what Vermont area can be used as an example of what the Mad River Valley will look like? Said differently, what is MRVPD’s vision of a future MRV? Stowe? Killington? Middlebury? ___________?
- If the stated growth goals are realized, what are the projected impacts on traffic, infrastructure, social services, etc.? As an example, what if any changes would be required at the Route 17-Route 100 and Route 100-Bridge Street intersections due to increased volume?
I encourage other residents to research this proposal, and I strongly encourage the MRVPD to allow residents suitable time to become informed on this prior to seeking a vote. I am certain that as more residents become aware of and look into this proposal there will be many additional questions.
Steve McKenzie lives in Waitsfield.