The Fayston Select Board is supportive of a proposal to adopt a local option tax for The Valley, but members want to make sure there is adequate time for the public to learn about, debate and understand the proposal.
A subcommittee of the tri-town Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) is presenting a proposal to local boards and committees this month that outlines a plan to create a three-town 1 percent local option tax on rooms, meals, alcohol and retail sales. The subcommittee has been working on the Mad River Valley – Funding Local Opportunities plan since early this year.
A local option tax for Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston would raise about $1 million, of which $700,000 would be retained by the three towns. As envisioned the funds would be invested locally into areas such as affordable housing, transportation, economic development, recreation and destination marketing. The funds would be administered by a commission that would review grant applications from community organizations, private individuals and municipalities. The commission would be made up of one person appointed by each select board as well as one person elected by each town.
Fayston Select Board chair Jared Cadwell, who is a member of the MRVPD steering committee and its MRV-FLO subcommittee, asked his fellow board members for their thoughts on the proposal at the board’s November 20 meeting.
“I’d specifically like to know your thoughts on the proposed structure of the commission as well as how you’d like the MRV-FLO committee to proceed in terms of public outreach? As a board, are we at a level of comfort with the proposal to go to public information sessions?” Cadwell asked.
Board member Chuck Martel said that having served on the Community Vitality Project for a year and a half (one of the community vitality efforts that preceded the work of the MRV-FLO committee) he felt strongly that there is a need for the community to invest in itself.
DOING ESSENTIALLY NOTHING
“We looked at what we’re currently doing in The Valley and what we could be doing potentially, compared to what’s happening in other parts of the state and country. We concluded that we needed to invest in specific things if we want economic vitality. Going along doing what we’re doing right now – which is essentially nothing – means we’re never going to have affordable housing or create jobs. Those things aren’t going to happen and we don’t have a means to attract more people either to live here or as visitors,” Martel said.
“I feel we’ve got to do something. There’s a lot of potential here, but we need money to make that happen. My fear is that if we move too quickly and don’t have enough meetings with the public to clearly communicate what is at stake and what we’re trying to do, that there’s going to be a knee-jerk reaction that this is just another tax. I don’t think we can rush this,” he added.
Board member Michael Jordan said he shared Martel’s support as well as his concern about timing.
“There are definitely a lot of questions that need to be filled in. I think you’d be hard pressed to get that done by Town Meeting. Maybe that’s a great venue to kick off a public session about it and really deliver the idea of how we’re going to implement this,” Jordan said.
The MRV-FLO committee initially planned to present the proposal for a vote at Town Meeting 2019. To pass requires an affirmative vote in all three towns to adopt a charter for the MRVPD. The Legislature would then need to sign off on the local option tax.
INEFFECTIVE SELLING POINT
Cadwell asked his board members for other comments on the talking points being presented with the MRV-FLO proposal. Jordan suggested that telling people the local option tax would cost the average person $2 a month was an ineffective selling point.
“I also think people need details about how we’ll do larger projects. To get the vitality, these are going to be fairly large projects. Do all three towns need to concur on that? It’s not as if a program will have sufficient money to solve these problems so it’s likely going to involve some mix of public private partnerships,” Jordan said.
Cadwell said he’d discussed it with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and said they were watching this closely because it would be the first time that a multi-town regional authority would adopt a local option tax.
“The only way to get this to vote stage is to get people engaged with the proposal and hear what they have to say,” Jordan added.
Martel asked Cadwell if he had any expectations for how the MRV-FLO committee would proceed.
“You never know until you put a toe in the water – which we did two weeks ago for the steering committee and chamber board and last week at a tri-town select board meeting. And now, through The Valley Reporter, Facebook and Front Porch Forum, word starts trickling out,” Cadwell said.
“I think you’ve got to get the real story out there so people aren’t wading through rumor mills,” Martel said.
The timeline is never linear. It’s the local democratic process. It can get messy real fast. This needs time to germinate,” Cadwell responded.