The subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) working on a Mad River Valley local option tax (LOT) has been conducting a series of conversations to learn what The Valley wants the future of our community to look like.
The proposal for an LOT has evolved since we made our initial recommendation in October 2018. Since then we’ve listened and learned a great deal from discussions at a tri-town select board meeting, planning commission and other group meetings in Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston, and meetings with the recreation district, Mad River Valley Rotary, Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce as well as individual conversations too numerous to count.
Noble Communications, an ad hoc group of Valley residents who are communications professionals hired by the MRVPD subcommittee for $1, suggested a next step in our community outreach effort. It was recommended we bring together a small group representing a cross-section of community members to discuss the future, hoping the dialogue would provide information and perspective and be a prototype for future conversations.
The resulting conversation allowed us to go deeper in learning what would serve all members of our community and the early feedback from participants suggests the conversation was beneficial. As a result, additional small group and open public forums are now being scheduled.
FOR AND AGAINST
The meeting was hosted by George and George Schenk of Lareau Farm and American Flatbread, who generously baked and served participants dinner. We all came to the meeting with an array of opinions both for and against the LOT. Many said they were “on the fence.” Others said they attended to listen and learn.
The conversation was facilitated by Patricia Floyd, a longstanding Valley resident, volunteer and professional meeting facilitator, who did a masterful job of eliciting and capturing ideas around how to generate financial resources to invest in current and future needs for The Valley’s benefit.
The conversation included many pros and cons, priorities and perspectives producing a rich source of information and ideas to inform the tri-town committee working on a memorandum of understanding (MOU).
At the meeting we also learned there have been eight different MRV economic vitality committees that have made recommendations starting in 1980. Recent efforts include the 2015 Vision and Vitality Series, a bottom-up exercise where Valley residents identified specific strengths, weaknesses and challenges in each economic sector in The Valley.
ISSUES REMAIN CONSTANT
The issues identified by these community self-evaluations over the past 40 years have remained constant: workforce or attainable housing and transportation and how to achieve a vital economy with fewer peaks and valleys caused by our brand of tourism’s seasonality. Additional areas in need of investment include recreation and community projects.
Following the Vision and Vitality Series – and a veritable alphabet soup of groups that followed have worked on how to address these issues – a group led by Bob Ackland and me came to the unsurprising conclusion that more studies and more committees weren’t going to change anything.
This led to the formation of the MRVPD subcommittee to examine how we could create a long-term source of reliable funds to invest in the future. Over the past many months of further research and engagement with our community and other communities around Vermont who have been through this process, the subcommittee explored several ways to create a tri-town LOT. After much discussion with the select boards and other elected and appointed officials in each town, it was determined a memorandum of understanding between the three towns was the best way to move forward.
In order to go into effect, the eventual MOU proposal needs to be passed affirmatively by voters in all three towns. If not passed – meaning investments in affordable housing, transportation, recreation, community projects and marketing The Valley – economic vitality will remain an issue. If passed, the LOT funds will be collected by the towns and after going through the state of Vermont remitted to an MRV-LOT commission made up of two people appointed by each select board as well as a chairperson. Funds will be dispersed to eligible organizations and entities through an open public grant application process.
This is a topic of real interest and debate in our community. I encourage the engagement. Importantly, next steps in this journey are to have more community conversations to make your concerns, ideas and issues heard. To stay updated and learn more about this journey toward Valley economic vitality go to www.mrvlot.org.
Cadwell is chair of the Fayston Select Board and the MRVPD subcommittee and also serves on the tri-town MOU negotiating committee.