Upset over use of tax funds
by Lauren Harkawik
Sep 10, 2017 | 2090 views | 0 0 comments | 85 85 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOVER- Economic development spurred lively discussion at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting, as several of the town’s business owners expressed concern about the board’s recent decision to give Deerfield Valley Rescue $30,000 out of the town’s economic development fund. The town’s ability to reach business owners with information was also a source of discussion. In other matters, Jim Desrochers inquired about the town’s hurricane preparedness in light of uncertainty over Hurricane Irma’s potential path, and fire chief Rich Werner encouraged all residents to enroll in VT-Alert to receive emergency updates via phone.

At the board’s August 15 meeting, Deerfield Valley Rescue requested $30,000 out of the town’s 1% local option tax economic development fund in order to help with the down payment for a new location for the organization.

At the time, former chair Randall Terk, who was in attendance as a member of the public, said he wished Deerfield Valley Rescue would ask for regular appropriations from the town that could be voted on at Town Meeting. Vice chair Vicki Capitani said she agreed that the town should support Deerfield Valley Rescue on an ongoing basis and that she wished the money had been requested at Town Meeting. Capitani said at that time she had trouble “connecting the dots to economic development” but she understood the request for 1% funds was related to the money being needed quickly. Ultimately, the board agreed to approve the request from the town’s 1% fund.

At Tuesday’s meeting, several business owners spoke out against the decision, citing concerns that the expenditure was not a proper use of economic development funds. Royal Wilson, owner of the Mountaineer Inn, said that although she supports Deerfield Valley Rescue and believes Dover should support the organization, the decision was a misappropriation of economic development funds.

“As a reminder, here is the Dover economic charter,” said Wilson, reading from a two-page letter she prepared for the meeting. “The Dover economic development department was created to stimulate the economic health of the town of Dover. Here are the six categories for spending the generated revenue from the 1% local option tax. Beautification, events, marketing, telecommunications, trails, and venue. Clearly giving $30,000 to Deerfield Valley Rescue does not fall in any of these categories. At best it was an infrastructure need that should come from another area of the town budget.”

Wilson noted that when she and her husband purchased the Mountaineer, the state had recently implemented a 10% tourism tax, a portion of which was earmarked for boosting tourism efforts in the state. “The powers that be ignored those earmarked funds and dumped those dollars into the general fund,” said Wilson. “The tourism department never saw that money.”

Wilson said she had concerns that the 1% fund could face a similar future. “I am adamant that we protect the economic development funds,” said Wilson. “I request the $30,000 be returned to the economic development fund to be used for the intended purposes.”

Chair Josh Cohen said while he understood Wilson’s concerns, the expenditure was a done deal. Board member Tom Baltrus explained that this year’s budget is already done, and that the selectboard can’t randomly appropriate funds once the budget is set. Capitani suggested that Wilson get a petition together to add an article to Town Meeting to take money from next year’s town budget to pay back the economic development funds, noting that additionally, there will likely be a warned article for a separate appropriation to Deerfield Valley Rescue for next year. Economic development director Steve Neratko said he looked into it and the expenditure was not illegitimate. Deerfield Valley News publisher Randy Capitani asked if any programs that were supposed to receive funding were affected by the $30,000 expenditure, and Neratko said no.

Economic development was a subject of discussion again later in the meeting when, after Neratko noted upcoming seminars for a small business loan program through Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, Baltrus asked if a notice about the seminars would be put on the town website. Mount Snow Market Place owner Adam Levine became upset and said he worried business owners would not get the message about the opportunity.

“We suck at communication!” said Levine. “We are not reaching the business owners of this community. Putting it in an email or on the website is not getting it done. I am talking to the business owners of this town every day. I urge the town to reach out.”

Levine suggested that knocking on doors would be more effective than electronic communication. Neratko, whose tenure as economic development director is still fairly new, said he has been going door to door to meet every business owner.

“I’ve stopped to see you a couple of times and you’ve been out,” Neratko said to Levine. “I’ll be back.”

Neratko said he’s spoken to 50 business owners thus far, asking them what types of programs and projects they’re interested in. He also said he’s asked business owners to be aware he may be in touch via email, and noted that he’s working on a Facebook page for the town of Dover, which he plans to use as a place to communicate messages. Cohen asked Levine about utilizing a text message alert service similar to the one the school uses, and Levine said he thinks that may be more effective than email. “You can’t ignore your phone when it’s going off,” said Levine.

In other discussion, Desrochers said he is concerned about the potential impact of Hurricane Irma, depending on what path the historically powerful storm takes and whether it reaches New England (as of press time, weather experts had not yet determined whether Irma’s effects would be felt here).

Werner, who develops the town’s emergency preparedness plan, spoke to the issue, and said that a plan is adopted every year after Town Meeting. “It’s a broad framework for whoever the emergency management coordinator is if there is an event,” said Werner, noting that currently, he is designated as the coordinator. “The town had a plan before Irene, and I think we did a great job during Irene, considering what happened in some other towns. And most of the key players from then are still here. I think we can take on almost anything. We’re also better prepared now.”

Desrochers asked how word would get out to the public if an emergency were to occur.

Werner said one of the best things anyone can do is to sign up for VT-Alert, which sends alert messages via phone either through voice or text message. The free service can be found by clicking “EAS/Alert Messages” in the emergency preparedness section of Dover’s website, or by going to vt.alert.gov.
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