By Amy Todisco
I'm one of the people that's been working hard on the Mad River Valley Economic Vitality issue and though I'm not necessarily opposed to a local option tax (LOT), and I do appreciate the effort the committee has put in, I am concerned that there are too many unanswered questions and perhaps competing interests in the current proposal.
I appreciate that the committee is seeking input and that it is only in the draft stage. Here are some thoughts in advance of the public meeting on Thursday, December 13.
- • What kinds of projects have other communities around the country funded with their LOTs? Has there been an analysis of the successes and challenges of other communities? Why did Killington revoke their sales tax portion?
I'm concerned about the multiple pots that this money would be divided into. What about choosing one or two high-value community projects instead where we could make a significant difference by solving a big challenge?
- • Are there any other LOTs in communities made up of more than one town and/or with more than one group's projects being funded?
- • We all know that workforce housing, affordable housing in general, and lack of sustainable transportation are challenges here, but what are the real solutions that might be funded through this LOT?
While I love the idea of an affordable housing project in Irasville, that would need to be preceded by a solution to the lack of septic capability in that area. We talked about a state-of-the-art eco-digester style system while we were meeting as the Community Vitality Project. Unfortunately, it's my understanding that the wetlands in Irasville would prevent either thing from happening. Even if it was possible, the amount of money earmarked for such a project seems way too small to make a difference and get things off the ground.
Where else can affordable housing be built? Maybe repurpose a school building if it is determined that it needs to close? Otherwise it looks like it would be private homeowners that would have to decide to create a tiny house or other affordable housing project on their land. Maybe there could be some incentives or at the very least a streamlined process of removing some of the zoning obstacles? Seems like these types of housing options would attract young people.
- • Who has managed the money for other LOTs? Why does it make sense for the MRVPD to manage this money for us?
If it's true that 70 percent of the revenue would come from Waitsfield businesses, then wouldn't it make sense for the Waitsfield Select Board to manage this money? They already handle the finances of the town. Maybe one member from each of the other two select boards sits on this decision-making board with a nonvoting adviser from the planning district, chamber and recreation department?
- • Do other LOT communities have to contribute a portion to their state? Is there no other model than that for us so that we can keep all or at least most of the money in this community? How can we be sure that more of this money won't be taken by the state if they have a shortfall? This happened in Hawaii with their hotel room tax. www.midweek.com/saying-aloha-with-12-tourism-tips/.
- • What happens if we approve this and then after a year or more realize that it's not what we were promised, or that there are too many issues? How do we undo it? If people's jobs are tied to this money (as proposed), then they'd have to be fired, projects would be halted, or where would the money come from to make up this shortfall? Increased property tax?
- • Given that the chamber is primarily focused on promoting chamber businesses, would destination marketing efforts via LOT dollars be used to promote the whole community or just chamber businesses?
- • We've heard and talked for years about the idea of attracting visitors for midweek and non-peak travel. This is certainly a great idea, but is this a realistic expectation? Even if we were successful in this, would it lead to disappointed guests in stick seasons? Check this out (especially near the end): www.academia.edu/8670280/SEASONALITY_IN_TOURISM_causes_implications_and_strategies.
- • While it's a great idea to attract business conferences in off-peak times, do we have any locations beyond Sugarbush to accommodate large groups?
- • I read that the LOT committee wants to target families with kids who have the least flexibility as far as travel time. Statistics suggest that baby boomers have the most flexibility and money to spend. Though understandable, is this a realistic goal?
Also, where are the numbers coming from? How do we know that we would generate $1 million in new tax revenues? Stowe only generated $864,000 (not sure if that's net of the 30 percent to the state or not.)
I feel that we need to have high-impact projects, with a good return on the investment, that are easy to measure the impact, and benefit everyone. It is my hope that we'll get answers to these questions and more. As others have suggested, let's be sure to take the time that's needed to think this all through just like we would if we were creating a business plan for a new business.
Todisco lives in Waitsfield.