By Darryl Forrest for the Mad River Valley Vitality subcommittee
As with any new concept, there are often questions and sometimes confusion of facts. Everyone’s opinion is important when discussing the Mad River Valley-Funding Local Opportunities (MRV-FLO) proposal. There will be many community meetings to explore the positive contributions that will result from the MRV-FLO. The first takes place at the Waitsfield United Church Village Meeting House on December 13 at 7 p.m. People will be able to ask questions and listen to community dialogue to help inform and establish their own opinions.
It’s important to understand the context. Following over four years of community engagement through workshops, committees and surveys, the Mad River Valley Planning District steering committee invited the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce to form the MRV Vitality subcommittee. This subcommittee, which included a representative from the select boards of Warren, Fayston and Waitsfield, was tasked with making recommendations on addressing affordable workforce housing, improved transportation for residents and workers, a sustainable approach for managing and evolving recreation opportunities, effectively marketing The Valley to address the seasonal swings, and helping Valley businesses become more successful. Over the past eight months, subcommittee members reviewed and analyzed the previous studies, talked with representatives of similar communities, and met with key community leaders in The Valley. The subcommittee is proposing the MRV-FLO as the most effective way to provide a sustainable source of funds to address the identified needs.
At a November 7 meeting with the Mad River Valley Planning District steering committee and the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce board, the MRV Vitality subcommittee received unanimous support to take the draft proposal forward for full public dialogue to gather feedback and ideas to help refine the proposal. That is the process now underway.
Some commentary has been misleading in the interpretation of the impact of the MRV-FLO. We need to consider the following information to balance what has been stated.
Some basic facts:
- The 1 percent LOT tax would deliver approximately $700,000 annually directly for the benefit of the residents of Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston.
- These funds would be 100 percent locally controlled, unlike our property taxes where over 70 percent goes to Montpelier, and we have no direct control over how that part of our money is spent.
- Our towns are reluctant to raise extra tax dollars to invest into worthwhile community projects because our property taxes are already high.
- Although the MRV-FLO would come from a tax, 88 percent of the LOT would be paid by part-time residents and guests. The community would pay 12 percent of the LOT to achieve the resulting $700,000 per year.
- A LOT is based on existing taxes. It does not tax items that are not taxed today. Because of how the state sales tax was created, there are many exemptions resulting in minimal effect for local people. Food, clothes, gasoline, home heating oil and propane, medical supplies, rent, services, and many are not, and will not be, taxed. Vermont taxes apply to, and the LOT would apply to, short-term rental rooms, meals, alcohol and nonexempt retail sales.
- The effect on local people would be about 50 cents per week per person or $2 per month, on average. This is supported by detailed research that confirms this analysis. Also, a family living at the Vermont poverty level would pay less than $5 per year as a result of this tax.
- Yes, a box of Kleenex would cost you maybe 2 cents more; a package of toilet paper maybe 2 cents more; a bottle of Chardonnay maybe 10 cents more; a wrench at the hardware store maybe 8 cents more.
- Some say we might drive business away from The Valley. But where would this business go? Montpelier, Barre, Williston, Stowe and Colchester all now have LOT taxes. For example, if you choose to go to Colchester to Costco to save money, you will not only incur gasoline costs and wear and tear costs on your vehicle, but ironically you will pay a 1 percent LOT on taxable items to Colchester to help fund their community.
- Is the LOT going to make buying on Amazon.com more appealing? Amazon would collect the extra percent and the state would rebate this money to the MRV-FLO.
- Twenty-two towns and cities in Vermont have adopted an LOT, each with specific investment objectives. Thirteen of the 22 include a retail sales LOT, including Stratton and Manchester (Stratton and others) and Dover and Wilmington (Mount Snow and others). The subcommittee is currently benchmarking the impact of the LOT in these towns; a preliminary analysis of the publicly available information from the state shows significant growth in rooms, meals and alcohol business since the adoption of the LOTs, along with flat to growing retail business in the relevant towns. These data reinforce the expectation of an overall very positive impact from the MRV-FLO. More detailed information will be posted on the website shortly.
In summary, what the MRV-FLO is proposing is to invest an extra 1 percent on taxable items purchased in The Valley to directly benefit our own community. The result could be more affordable housing availability; better transportation options; maybe an improved ice rink; expansion of our recreation trails; increased destination marketing to bring more guests here during off-peak seasons and midweek when capacity in The Valley is very underutilized, thus helping our restaurants and stores stay open during these quieter times and do more business.
As the weeks progress, there will be more documentation placed on the MRV-FLO web page that will explain more fully and completely the types of community benefits that could accrue from the LOT for the direct benefit to Valley residents. Details can be found at mrvpd.org/FLO.
Stay tuned for additional community meeting dates and further information on the LOT proposal. Please don’t jump to conclusions based on incomplete or factually incorrect information. The key is to keep an open mind, gather your facts and figures, and allow evolving information to help you form your own individual opinion.
Darryl Forrest is a member of the Waitsfield Select Board and serves on the MRV Vitality Committee with Jared Cadwell, Fayston Select Board; Bob Ackland, Warren Select Board; Don Simonini, Fayston Planning Commission; and Jasmine Bigelow and Peter MacLaren, Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce.