The board discussed usage of the projected $100,000 that the 1% option tax fund will have at its disposal for the current fiscal year. Selectboard chair Tom Consolino believes that it is only fair that the board present to voters a plan to use these immediate funds. Using suggestions from town manager Scott Murphy, the board decided it would be in the town’s best interest to set up a $75,000 revolving loan fund, which Murphy says will help new businesses start and help current businesses expand, which in turn will encourage job growth for the town.
The loan fund would act as a secondary loan source for business owners that would, in Murphy’s words, “piggyback” bank financing. Murphy said the board should not close the door on the possibility of being a primary lender, but should require loan applicants to show they approached a bank first. “These loans, even though they are supposed to be repaid over five to seven years, are generally repaid quicker,” said Murphy. “Usually if a business is successful it keeps growing, and pays off within two and a half years.”
Murphy admits that $75,000 can only go so far, but the fund would be self-sustaining within two years, granted the 1% option tax doubles the funds for fiscal year 2014.
Lisa Sullivan, owner of Bartleby’s Books, voiced concern about whether all $75,000 was guaranteed to be applied for and used. “If in the first year you’re not seeing usage of the $75,000 and you’re not seeing applications there should be a promise to look at that,” said Sullivan. “ I think we need investment in economic development now, and it would be a shame to have that (money) sitting there and have nobody going for it.”
Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce director Adam Grinold told the board he believed it is wiser to use the money now instead of dedicating such a massive portion to a fund that may take two years to meet its potential. “I think the loan idea is great but I think we need victories now,” said Grinold. “I think the town is in a position to encourage its expanding business in other ways. We have extraordinarily high sewer rates compared to other towns. Our water rates are astronomical. There’s tax abatements also, and many other tools this town can use for development.”
“I don’t think we’re going to answer everyone’s needs with the first two quarters of payment” said Consolino. “That is why we’re making suggestions now and when we see 12 months’ results in September, we can review, refigure, and refocus our expenditures at that point. We’re just trying to get off the ground.”
Consolino listed the other three apportionments of the grant money the board decided on as immediate visual results. These included an allotment of $5,000 for creating a well-funded recreation trail through Wilmington and Dover. Murphy says that Dover is prepared to work with the town financially, and the current trails are underfunded, and shabby. The board is also setting aside $10,000 to match grant money for installation of lights in the West Main Street parking lot, and $10,000 for a summer and fall event fund, to make monies available to event organizers with the goal again being that the fund is not the organizers primary fund.
The selectboard will hold a meeting in September when the first 12 months’ income will come full circle and give the board a solid number to plan with in the future. Murphy also suggested a process be in place by which voters are notified about and allowed to vote on loans that are above a specific financial cap to be set by the selectboard. Consolino agreed that voters must have a clear view of the board’s use of the money. “It is important to have transparency.”
“It’s incumbent on the board to come up now with tentative suggestions to have in mind for a September meeting when we will have a 12-month history of what kind of income is coming in. The idea tonight is to have a plan to present to Town Meeting.”
The board also took up discussion about reaffirming incumbents whose terms are expiring to boards, commissions, and committees. According to the board, the town’s policy is to ask incumbents if they wish to be re-appointed and the selectboard will reaffirm (or not) their appointments by the end of February. The board chose not to reaffirm appointments just yet. Selectboard member Meg Streeter asked the board to consider reviewing the attendance of all incumbents before taking action. Streeter also would like to see the chairs of each board to come up with attendance formalities. Consolino moved that the board extend all appointments until April 3, which was so voted. Streeter says the board should encourage other boards to meet outside of business hours on weekdays to encourage participation, and selectboard member James Burke explained the board just needs time to review the policy before reaffirming.