Board retains lobbyists
by Mike Eldred
Oct 03, 2013 | 2663 views | 0 0 comments | 143 143 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER- Selectboard members approved a contract with KSE Partners to provide legislative lobbying services for the upcoming session, despite doubts expressed by some residents at Tuesday evening’s board meeting.

Before the discussion got underway, however, the board heard from a group of Dover inn owners, who urged the board to continue their sponsorship of the ITVFestival.

“We’re here to tell the selectboard how great the ITVFest weekend was and how much we appreciated the people who came to the valley,” said Phil Gilpin Sr., owner of the West Dover Inn. “People have been sending tweets about how wonderful Dover is, how clean and neat it is here, and how friendly the people are.”

Gilpin predicted the festival would be even larger next year. “A lot of people didn’t understand what it was about, how big it was, and where the talent would come from until they saw how well it was done. If the economic development (department) requests funds to put it on again, we hope you will approve it.”

One of the festival volunteers said one of her favorite moments of the festival was seeing one of the award-winning filmmakers chatting with the Twin Valley High School students who were selling baked goods to raise money for a trip. “People that came as visitors became our friends,” she said.

Ned Wilson, owner of the Mountaineer Inn, said he heard from filmmakers staying at his inn that the Dover festival was better than those they had attended in Los Angeles. “They were blown away by how great it was,” he said. “One of the filmmakers from New York, who participated in one of the panels, is planning to come back and make a movie at our inn.”

Royal Wilson, also an owner of the Mountaineer Inn, said she found it encouraging to have an event that did not depend on Mount Snow. “We have a lot of personal skin in this,” she said. “I love Mount Snow, but I loved that we didn’t have to use the mountain itself. It was refreshing.”

Linda Anelli said there were comparisons to the world-famous Sundance Film Festival, which she pointed out also started out as a small event in the mountain resort area of Park City, UT. “This didn’t come here for any other reason than a connection with Philip Gilpin (Jr.). If we ignore the opportunity to take this notches further, we’ll miss the opportunity of a lifetime to have an event that will put us on the map. And that is economic development.”

Dover School Board member Laura Sibilia presented a request for continued funding of KSE’s lobbying efforts in Montpelier. Sibilia said the rate was the same as that approved last year. “This year we’re also asking KSE to compile legal research on some of the questions around taxpayers’ rights and (education) data. We’re trying to collect data and have a definition of exactly what we’re buying with the $1.3 billion we spend in education tax dollars. We’re also trying to stop bad things from happening.”

One of the “bad things” KSE helped stop last year, Sibilia said, was an effort to end funding for the state’s small schools grant. The proposal could have cost Dover as much as $75,000. “You hate to have such a short goal as stopping things from happening,” Sibilia said, “But that alone was worth Dover’s effort. The $65,000 (raised for the legislative effort) cost us about a penny on the (municipal) tax rate – the $75,000 (loss of the small schools grant) would have added five cents to the education tax rate.”

Sibilia said the grant was still under threat, however, and initiatives for consolidation were still on the table. “We hope to stop that from happening.”

Sibilia said KSE’s lobbyist Claire Buckley had been instrumental in coordinating joint efforts with other legislators from Windham and Bennington counties. Windham County Senator Jeanette White, Sibilia said, had been instrumental in fighting for an amendment to collect specific education data. Although the amendment was tabled, White was able to get a commitment from the committee to take it up again in the upcoming session.

But some local residents expressed concern about the ongoing effort. Eddie Barber said the money could be better spent elsewhere, although he didn’t offer any alternatives. “We’re spinning our wheels here,” he said. “I don’t believe in lobbyists. They’re there for their own reasons, too. I’ve been in the valley since 1958, and I haven’t seen any results that the lobbyists have given us for our dollar.”

Selectboard chair Randy Terk reminded Barber of the tax dollars saved thanks to the successful effort to maintain the small schools grant.

School board chair Rich Werner said the lobbying effort had been more successful than past efforts in the town’s fight against Act 60 and Act 68. “I haven’t been alive as long as Eddie has been in the valley, but we’ve tried lawsuits and we’ve tried other things. It only made things worse. After a while, Peter Shumlin (then Windham County senator) wouldn’t even talk to us. Any time Dover said anything, it was like ‘There goes Dover again.’ Now when we talk about stuff in Montpelier, people listen to us. People in positions of power, that didn’t know where Dover was before, are listening.”

William “Buzzy” Buswell disagreed, and also complained that Dover was the only town paying for the lobbyist. “At this time last year, I asked this young lady from KSE that one of the missions should be getting out there and getting support from other cities and towns,” he said.

Sibilia and Werner agreed that it could be beneficial to involve more towns, but Sibilia said that was a separate effort, and not the job of the lobbyist. “It would be a full-time or half-time job to build that kind of coalition of towns,” she said. “What we’re doing is building coalitions in the Legislature, and things are beginning to change.”

Buswell suggested that the board should give the lobbying effort one more year “to see what fruits and nourishments come of that,” before switching tactics and hiring an attorney to explore a legal strategy. “Why should the town of Dover be paying a lobbyist $65,000 to get us facts that the Legislature should be getting us?” Buswell asked.

Werner advised against pursuing a legal action against the state. “We’ll have a hard time showing a negative effect on our students because our test scores are through the roof,” he said. “If the test scores were down and people were moving out of town it would be one thing. But our school population is one of the few in the supervisory union that is growing.”

Buswell said people are moving out of town, and that a majority of houses in his neighborhood are for sale, and when he spoke with some of the owners they all told him that high education taxes were the motivating factor for selling. “How long do we sit here and be a punching bag?” asked Buswell. “The state keeps turning around and telling us to go blank ourselves. We gave them a great study. It was money well spent. The only problem is the Legislature had their people who patted them on the back and told them how great Act 68 is.”

Legislator Ann Manwaring expressed her support for the lobbying effort, and said that it was making a difference in Montpelier. “It is a cultural change that has to happen around (state education funding) in order for us to get to a more equitable system,” she said. “The key question is what are we buying for our money. The conversation about change has two parts (revenue and spending). Act 60 is a big monolith that’s seen as the best thing since sliced cheese. We’ve been trying to get more and more people to understand the two parts, and that we can have some change on one part without threatening the other.”

Board members unanimously approved the contract with KSE.
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