At their last meeting, board members discussed using as much as $100,000 of 1% local option tax money collected during the current 2013 fiscal year to reduce the tax rate for the 2014 fiscal year. The board also debated whether the revenue from the tax should remain in the general fund, or whether to put the money in a capital or reserve account. Selectboard chair Tom Consolino suggested an article on the Town Meeting warning to create an account for the local option tax revenue, but other board members appeared to be in favor of keeping the money in the general fund.
But voters at Wednesday evening’s meeting made it clear that they believe an account should be created for the sales tax revenue, and it should be used for economic development and revitalization.
“I can’t even believe using it to reduce the tax rate is being considered,” said Arlene Palmiter. “What it would mean on our tax bills is ridiculous.”
Palmiter said the money should be used for the projects the town has been considering, some of which have been up for discussion for more than a decade. “I was on the planning commission 15 or 17 years ago, and we talked about downtown designation then. And it still doesn’t have any feet under it. If I took that long in my business to make a decision and get it done, I wouldn’t have a business. It’s time to put some money toward it, get it done, and get on with life.”
Janet Boyd said there are plenty of projects in town that need funding, not just those sponsored by town government. “Beautification has made us beautiful,” she said, referring to the town beautification committee’s successful efforts, “now we need to be open, vibrant, and have funding for things like village strolls, and bands. The chamber can’t do it alone, and the shopkeepers can’t do it alone. We voted this money in, it’s time to use it for us.”
Old Red Mill owner Jerry Osler said he was embarrassed by the proposal to use the money to reduce property tax rates. “People come to the Red Mill and say ‘You added one percent to our bill to pay your taxes?’ That’s incredible! I’m embarrassed that we even said let’s reduce the taxes.”
Osler said he wrote several letters to the editor, but had to throw them all out because “there were things in there you couldn’t print” in a newspaper. “We didn’t vote for that to be used to reduce taxes,” he said. “To save 58 cents, or $2 on our tax bills, we don’t have to do that. We’re better than that.”
Osler said if the town voted to use the 1% tax revenue to reduce property taxes, “I think we should have a vote immediately after to rescind the 1% tax.” His remarks were met with applause.
Business owner and chamber executive director Adam Grinold said the tax revenue should be used for economic development. He held up a graph, which he said shows how Vermont’s sales tax revenue has increased dramatically since the 2008 economic downturn. But he said what looks like good news for the state, isn’t necessarily good news for Windham County towns. It’s the counties in northern Vermont that have seen growth in sales tax revenue – with Lamoille County seeing an increase of as much as 74%. Windham County’s sales tax growth was only 12%. “We’ll be playing catch-up,” he said. “We shouldn’t muddy the waters at Town Meeting. This money should be designated for economic development.”
Bartleby’s Books owner Lisa Sullivan echoed Osler’s remarks. “It’s been difficult for me, in a competitive business, to say I’d like to collect an extra 1% from customers. To say it’s so I can get money back on my tax bill, I can’t even imagine it.”
Sullivan also urged the board to use the money for economic development. “Over the last five years at Town Meeting we’ve seen a willingness from voters to invest in economic development. I urge you to create a fund for economic development.”
Julie Lineberger, a board member of the Wilmington Fund VT, said the organization had collected more than $1 million from people who want to help Wilmington. But she said those donations could dry up if the town failed to participate in its revitalization with its own money. “It would be difficult for us to go to those donors and say ‘The town isn’t willing to invest in itself.’ I see those donors drying up.”
Responding to a question from a voter, town attorney Bob Fisher said the board could create a reserve account to be funded by the proceeds of the 1% local option tax with an article to be voted on at Town Meeting. With a second article, he said, voters could determine whether to put the money that has already come in from the tax into the reserve fund.
Board members said they wanted to think about what they heard from voters, and discuss it at a special meeting on Monday, January 14, at 5:30 pm.