The option tax, proposed by the selectboard, allowed for an extra 1% tax to be collected by Wilmington businesses on sales, rooms, meals, and alcohol. That money is refunded to the town quarterly and placed in the town’s capital fund, while the state takes a 30% administrative fee. The first substantial payment from the option tax was received in November 2012, while the selectboard was still writing the guidelines for its use. The first payment was approximately $58,000, followed by payments of $53,000 in February, $47,000 in May, $39,000 in August, and $64,000 in November.
Today, the fund sits at $263,000, and slowly but surely, the town has begun to put the money to good use by supporting private and public projects. “There was great debate over whether it should be strictly for economic development or community development,” said town manager Scott Murphy. “The voters decided to go with the distinction of both and it’s a wide definition.”
With that “wide definition” the town began to provide the fund with structure. The town created a revolving loan fund that allows those looking to expand or develop businesses to borrow up to $25,000, to be paid back with just over 3% interest. It was decided that requests for sums of $50,000 or more would necessitate a public meeting and vote.
An event fund of $10,000 was also created, from which event organizers can request matching funds on a first come, first served basis.
Since the first payment in November 2012, $36,618 of the tax fund has been used. Its usage has included $5,000 for signs for town trails, $5,905 for the West Main Street parking lot lights, and $1,000 for village Wi-Fi, while the revolving loan fund has only been used for one $6,000 loan. The events fund, meanwhile, has been used heavily, for everything from the Pumpkin Festival to buying fireworks for the Deerfield Valley Farmers Day Association Fair.
Alice Richter, manager of Crafts Inn, used the 1% option tax to help with projects and events she has spearheaded. The town gave $850 from the events fund to help kick off the first Doggiepalooza this fall, while $10,000 was granted to Richter and John Gannon to produce brochures and plaques for a historic building walking tour which will begin in the spring. “I think it’s wonderful (the option tax),” said Richter, “At first I was wary about it, but it can do so much good for the town. The walking tour will help keep Wilmington alive many years after we’re gone, and if that’s what the 1% can do, I think it’s great.” Richter developed the idea in memory of her friend Evelyn Keefe who used to give walking tours to Crafts Inn guests two days a week.
The 1% option tax fund will continue to generate funds as long as voters do not decide to abolish it. Murphy said the town would like to see it used even more in the coming year. “The selectboard has generated a lot of these projects along with Wilmington Works, I would like to see more projects being brought from outside.”
For next year, the selectboard has already dedicated $5,628 to SeVEDS, $69,000 to the revolving loan fund, and $10,000 to the event fund. Also being considered is $25,000 to match the Wilmington Fund VT’s proposed funding for the Wilmington Works budget.
Tom Consolino was Wilmington’s selectboard chair at the time the 1% tax was being considered, and had previously petitioned the town to establish the option tax in 2008. After his petition was successful at Town Meeting, the article was later rescinded after being voted down at a special town meeting.
Consolino was convinced that the option tax could bring in over $200,000 to Wilmington and could be used for economic development.
“I was not alone in this thought,” said Consolino. “It was a very good idea, aimed at bringing in funding for economic development, and we needed all the help we could get. “It’s a financial source for matching funds, and to help the town get back on its feet.”
In its first year, the option tax has provided help, but it has been a slow process. Consolino says that while the process by which the money is used is slowgoing, there are too many things to accomplish for people to drag their feet. “It’s taken time to get momentum going here, and there are lots of ways for people to spend that money,” said Consolino.
“There are so many things to be done, and I think it will all come together. It’s taking longer then I would like, but that’s not up to me anymore.”