Killington option tax plan raises concerns
By Cristina Kumka
STAFF WRITER | November 16,2012
KILLINGTON — Some town residents and business owners sounded off Thursday afternoon on an idea by Selectman Bernard Rome to do away with the town’s annual 1 percent local option tax revenue stream of $685,000 in the next five years.
During a special afternoon Select Board meeting warned one day earlier, Rome was found defending an idea that would sunset the revenue stream after the town saved $1.5 million of it in a reserve fund to pay off town debt.
In the audience were local business owners, residents and Killington Resort President Mike Solimano who listened and took notes.
In the proposed 2013 town budget, more than $280,000 in local option tax money would fund summer and fall special events and marketing for those events and the town golf course.
Some of the remaining revenue from the tax would also go toward paying down the town’s more than $5 million debt on the town golf course since its construction and inception 18 years ago.
Another $183,000 of local option money that was saved by the town’s Economic Development and Tourism Department is expected to be flowed back into the town’s General Fund to offset municipal expenses.
Rome’s idea would limit the number and funding of summer events and marketing initiatives to the five most popular and cease the local option tax in five years.
According to Rome, the tax is not efficient because $300,000 of the income is sent immediately to the state and the remaining $700,000 only goes to events that benefit a few small business owners in town who choose to stay open in the summer.
Rome said he believes a better investment would be to support a Killington Resort customer service initiative with $50,000 a year, that could result in more skier visits in the winter.
He also proposed beautifying Killington Road leading to the resort and having the Select Board focus more on policy than municipal matters that could be handled by town office employees.
On Thursday, Rome said, “I would be 100 percent in favor of a big idea. The (ski) village was a huge idea funded by someone else. We don’t have that and I don’t want to keep spending the money.”
In an interview Wednesday, Rome said he didn’t know that “there would be any negative impact on taxpayers.”
“We (the Select Board) have to be able to find the fat in the budget and going forward, maintain the budget at the level it’s at,” Rome said, if his plan was instituted.
The remaining two town officials, Select Board Chris Bianchi and Selectman Jim Haff, agreed Thursday that giving $300,000 to the state in local option tax money that’s raised through consumers who eat, shop and stay in town is not the best way to go and both agreed that a plan is needed to reform the tax.
But, Bianchi said “we gotta have a plan so people don’t get taxed.”
Haff said he was “lost” on some of the aspects of the idea but said summer businesses needed to stay open to employ full-time year round people.
Haff said he supported doing away with the 1 percent tax but not before there was a way to make up the money — like raising the town tax rate 3 cents to invest in economic development.
Phil Black, owner of the Lookout Tavern at the top of Killington Road, said many businesses stay open and employ people in the summer because of the town-sponsored events through the local option tax.
“Four years ago, there were weeds at Sushi Yoshi up to your chin,” he said.
Black, one of the investors in Bill’s Country Store, which is expected to become the town’s welcome center, called it “incredibly reckless” of the Board to do away with the tax after only three years of seeing what it could do to draw summer visitors.
Bill Bauer, owner of the Summit Lodge, said it was his best summer on record.
He said he sees no reason why the town can’t have both — a booming summer and winter business.
“We’re like a family fighting over the inheritance,” he said.
Jeanne Karlhuber, business owner and head of the town’s Economic Development and Tourism Commission, reminded the Board that they unanimously adopted a town strategic plan just seven months ago that stressed the importance of continued economic development in the summer and fall to work toward making Killington a four-season destination.
She reminded Rome that he was the one who motioned to approve the plan, and voted for it.
“We can’t sustain ourselves in four months anymore,” she said.