On Town Meeting Day you will be asked to approve or decline a charter change that will allow the town of Waitsfield to propose a local option tax (LOT) at a later date.
I think it’s important to put the benefits of this revenue in context to Waitsfield’s financial position. The proceeds of this possible tax can be used for many things. Some of things on the front burner that the town of Waitsfield could spend these funds on include:
1. A new town garage – the one we have is a glorified pole barn. Our town crew deserves a safe, modern, adequate place to work.
2. A new grader – ours is long in the tooth and we don’t have adequate reserves to buy a new one.
3. A fourth member on our road crew. We push the limits of our three-person crew during winter and their safety in summer.
4. An updated fire station. The fire station was built in the early 1970s. It’s inefficient at best. Our firefighters deserve better.
5. Paving – we need a major paving plan to be implemented and we don’t have proper reserves to do it. A stepped property tax increase scheme to fund paving was shelved by the select board this month.
6. Updates to the Wait House – we have deferred basic maintenance to this town property.
7. We need to fund a recreation director – the townspeople approved purchasing facilities that have outstripped our volunteers’ capacity to manage them.
8. The ambulance service – which we are lucky to have – has a volunteer problem. They have come to us recently for support for the first time in their 50-year history.
These are just a few things that have come across the select board desk in the last year. In no particular order of need or priority. The board has maintained a disciplined debt reduction plan over the past several years and it is paying off. They have also worked to keep your municipal tax rate one of the lowest in Washington County. If you want to maintain this tax rate and end the deferral of maintenance and investment in the future of your town I recommend that you consider voting yes for a charter change.
Mr. Spinosa wants to close that door. I think we should keep all our options open. Taxes are the bane of all our existence (in particular the property tax, which remember is 80 percent school and 20 percent municipal). I feel the town has been very fiscally responsible over the last few years. But we are at a crossroads. If we defer spending too much longer, we will be neglecting some important investments and they will cost us more in the end. If we need to raise a tax let’s raise a tax that will be paid by visitors and townspeople alike. An LOT as proposed would raise 88 cents for every 12 cents raised from local pockets. That beats sending 80 cents to Montpelier for every dollar raised by property tax (thanks, ACT 60). Let's raise a tax that won’t be gobbled up by the school budget. Let’s raise a tax that we have the power to repeal if it turns out we don’t need the proceeds.
Lastly, I ask you to separate the discussion over the tri-town arrangement from this vote. It’s a complicated concept that has an upside but many moving parts and questions at this point that we have time to evaluate between March and November. It’s not to be feared as some suggest, just understood and evaluated on its objective merits. It’s another vote at a later date.
An LOT is powerful in its potential to change our community. Let’s take the first step. It’s only that. The alternative is a higher property tax. I don’t see any way around it.
Jamieson is a member of the Waitsfield Select Board.