BRATTLEBORO - The Selectboard started talking about a plan to institute a local option sales tax to help pay for a proposed $14.6 million renovation of the police and fire stations.
The board has not yet approved a final plan for the police and fire facilities. But the board members seem committed to eventually bringing that question to town meeting representatives and they began talking about other ways of paying for the project beside only going to the property tax payers in Brattleboro.
The board talked about a 1 percent sales tax, which would raise about $660,000, annually, which the board said would help pay down the bond on the police and fire facilities.
According to information supplied at Tuesday night's board meeting, bond payments on the police and fire facilities would be between $1 million and $1.2 million during the first 10 years of the 20 year bond.
The 1 percent sales tax would bring the tax impact down by between 3 and 5 cents during the first 10 years.
Finance Director John O'Connor said a home owner with a property valued at $150,000 would see a tax increase of about $161 during the second year, without a 1 percent options tax.
The option tax would bring that tax rate down to about $74 in year two of the bond.
He said taxes would rise by more than 10 percent without a local option tax.
Board members talked about the option tax for about 30 minutes at Tuesday night's meeting,
Town meeting representatives would eventually have to approve the new 1 percent tax.
The town meeting representatives also will have final say on the police-fire project.
Some board members seemed to support the call for a local options tax, which would not apply to food, drink or clothing.
Board Chairman Dick DeGray said he has supported the call for a local option tax in the past, and he said the strong need for the police and fire facility upgrades presents a perfect reason to move ahead with the new tax.
"We are a tourist town and we get a lot of business from outside the community," DeGray said. "They use these services. This is a no brainer."
And board member David Gartenstein said tourists and shoppers from throughout Windham County routinely rely on Brattleboro's police and fire departments and he said it was reasonable to expect them to help pay for the upgrades to the stations.
"We need to consider alternative sources to pay for the police-fire project and not put it all on the backs of the town's real estate tax payers," Gartenstein said.
But board member Dora Bouboulis said the board needed to think about what a new tax might do to downtown businesses.
"There is a psychological impact," said Bouboulis. "After Irene and the Brooks House fire this could be like a kick in the mouth and one more challenge to overcome."
The board members also talked about trying to determine how Brattleboro residents would be affected by a downtown sales tax, though it seemed hard to parse out those numbers.
DeGray said he did not think a new tax would deter visitors from stopping in Brattleboro, nor did he think the tax would drive business to border states with lower tax rates.
Town Manager Barbara Sondag said the board might never know how the new tax would affect business downtown. She said business owners would most likely not want to take that risk, but the board would probably have to make a decision without knowing the impact it will have.
"It is hard to get those answers," said Sondag. "The reality is, at what point does a 1 percent tax have an impact," she said. "Will it make people go to Wal-Mart, or Rockingham?"
Gartenstein said that while the board has not yet settled on a final plan, it does seem clear that Brattleboro has to move forward on renovating the police and fire stations.
"No one is saying we can go 25 or 50 more years without doing this," he said. "We have to spend $14.5 million on this public works project. The money is astronomical. Someone has to pay for it and we should spread that around more broadly."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.