Voters in Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston will be asked to approve a local option tax (LOT) at Town Meeting next March.
A local option tax allows municipalities to collect a 1 percent tax on all sales as well as rooms, meals and alcohol sales. To adopt an LOT, the three towns would need to vote affirmatively to change the charter of the Mad River Valley Planning District and ask the state Legislature to approve the tax.
Such a tax would generate approximately $1 million a year. The state retains about $300,000 and the balance, $700,000, would come back to The Valley and would be managed by a subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Planning District through a program called Mad River Valley – For Local Opportunities (MRV-FLO).
Of the $1 million collected, 12 percent would be paid by local residents, amounting to about $2 per month. The balance of the tax would be paid by visitors, second-home owners and skiers.
The funds are earmarked for community projects (26 percent), destination marketing (25 percent), recreation (25 percent), economic development (14 percent), reserves (4 percent) and administration (6 percent). Providing this funding for recreation and the Mad River Valley Recreation District would mean local towns do not make their annual $15,000 contribution to the rec district.
The MRV-FLO committee will include one elected and one appointed member from each member town, plus one member of the Mad River Valley Planning District steering committee will be appointed as chair.
MRV-FLO committee members will solicit applications in the spring and issue grants in July.
The genesis of this proposal goes back many years through a variety of economic development committees that have been active. Most recently – since this winter – a subcommittee of the Mad River Valley Steering Committee revisited the idea. Prior to that, from 2016-2017, a prior community organization, the Community Vitality Project, met for a year.
It was preceded by several other subcommittees, all working to define needs within the community, opportunities to improve economic vitality as well as local infrastructure, ways to better market The Valley and the structure needed to accept and distribute the funds.
“Part of the challenge has been researching and drafting the proposed structure. It was important to us that we identify where the funds should go and the standards for how they should be spent,” said Bob Ackland, MRVPD chair and Warren Select Board vice chair.
The work of creating standards for how funds should be spent as well as accountability led to metrics to assess the efficacy of the funding decisions. For example, one of the funding centers, community projects, includes affordable workforce housing as well as improved public transportation in The Valley.
The MRV-FLO bylaws note that lack of affordable workforce housing means that workers live further and further from their local jobs. One goal or metric for this is to lower the median age of the local population and increase the local elementary school enrollment in the first five years after the MRV-FLO is operational. In terms of public transportation, the metric calls for increasing ridership by 15 percent by 2022.
In terms of destination marketing the metric calls for increasing midweek and non-peak weekend occupancy, leading to an increase of annual occupancy from 32 percent to 37 percent by 2023 and adding four major annual events (like the Mad Marathon, Fourth of July, Green Mountain Stage Race, etc.) by 2022. There are similar metrics and goals for each of the funding areas.
Each of the funding areas will be managed by a specific entity. Community projects will be managed by member towns or the MRVPD or a community nonprofit. Destination marketing will be managed by the Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, recreation will be managed by the Mad River Valley Recreation District, and economic development will be managed by the chamber. Those “managers” can be changed by the MRV-FLO commissioners.
The joint boards of the MRVPD and the chamber will weigh in on the proposal to move the LOT/MRV-FLO proposal forward next Wednesday, November 7. It will then go to individual select boards.
Ackland said that members of the MRV-FLO organizing committee will conduct extensive community outreach in the coming months. He said organizers worked hard on how to make an LOT sustainable and accountable in terms of ongoing community vitality. In the end, he said, it came down to creating something transparent and with communitywide representation.