Letter Box

Saturday October 20, 2012

Local business owners oppose
1% tax proposal

Editor of the Reformer:

As local, longtime downtown Brattleboro business owners we feel compelled to share our thoughts about the proposed 1 percent local option sales tax and to appeal to Town Meeting representatives to consider our positions when weighing in on this issue on Saturday (ed.: today).

First we have the utmost respect for our police and fire departments. We do not take issue with the need to upgrade the facilities of these important departments of the town. However we are very concerned with the short and long-term consequences of financing this project with a local option sales tax.

The retail economy in Windham County is very fragile. As noted recently in his local presentation to the Chamber of Commerce, economist Art Woolf noted that while the country is suffering from a very slow economic recovery, Vermont lags behind the country and Windham County, with Brattleboro at its heart, lags behind that. Times are tough! Not only are we competing with "tax free" New Hampshire, but also with the ever growing presence of the internet where no tax and convenience lures shoppers to "point and click" purchasing.

Many of the businesses that will be adversely affected by an increase in sales tax are family run and have survived the ups and downs of decades, offering customers personal service and professional advice while building and maintaining long-term relationships. We sincerely appreciate and enjoy the benefits of the relationships we have developed with our loyal customers.

We also note however that as price differentials have edged up, sales have increasingly migrated across the river to New Hampshire and to the internet. We've frequently been asked to negotiate a price to meet the tax free bottom line at a nearby N.H. shop. We have watched shoppers handle and try on equipment then go to their phones, shop on line and leave with the knowledge they needed in order to make an informed internet sale.

The extra 1 percent on one sale may not account for that much, and as a result, people suggest that this issue is moot. It has been noted repeatedly that $2 saved on a $200 item would not stop a shopper from buying in Brattleboro. But remember it's not just $2 (1 percent), the number will be 7 percent rather than 6 percent. As the price tag increases so does the incentive to reconsider. To save $35 on a $500 item might be worth it?

Although the intent of the local options tax is to have visitors using Brattleboro's infrastructure to share in the cost of its upkeep, it is important to remember that well over 50% of our taxable purchases are made by local residents. And local residents are struggling to make ends meet, particularly in light of the economy. Are we simply shifting costs onto another segment of our community?

In closing we'd like to note that sales tax revenues though referenced in percentages for purposes of the current discussion are paid in real dollars. And the reality is that if sales go down as a result of sales migrating to a "no tax option", so will tax dollars paid into the system potentially resulting in lower revenue despite the higher tax rate. Times are tough and though we are very hopeful that things will get better, we appeal to town meeting representatives to vote "no" to a local options sales tax.

Paul Putnam,

Brown and Roberts,

Pal Borofsky,

Sam's Outdoor Outfitters,

Greg and Suzy Worden,

Vermont Artisan Designs,

Bob Woodworth,

Burrows Specialized Sports,

John and Robert Clements, Zephyr Designs,

Andrea Livermore,

executive director,

Building a Better Brattleboro

Brattleboro, Oct. 18


Editor of the Reformer:

Maple Leaf Music has been a downtown business for over 30 years. Over the last six years, we have made a conscious decision to demonstrate our commitment to Brattleboro by maintaining a downtown storefront to provide musical supplies for local and regional residents. We chose to remain in our current location because we're both musicians and felt it important to support the musical community while preserving the jobs of local residents.

Brattleboro must operate with municipal services that are in good working order to service the needs of the town and residents. However, there is a pressing need to address the question of how this project is to be funded. This question would benefit from more public input and dialogue to explore and determine other viable solutions.

The burden of the expense for the fire and police project cannot be absorbed by the businesses in Brattleboro. Also, it is important to consider the notion that the municipal project expense is not the sole responsibility of the businesses or the residents (a who gets stuck with the bill scenario, as per the letter to the editor from 10/11/2012). The reality is that Brattleboro businesses have struggled to remain viable in town through the recent hardships and our residents pay some of the highest real estate taxes in the state. There are a number of revenue streams that should be considered and we encourage the town to host a series of discussions or form a commission comprised of residents, businesses, non-profits, etc (a think tank of sorts) to explore these ideas more thoroughly.

Maple Leaf Music would benefit from doing business in a no tax state. Socially inclined residents who make an effort to buy locally sustain our presence in town. 75 percent - 85 percent of our accessories (strings, picks, cables, books etc) are sold to the local community and it is clear that there is a tipping point to how much people are willing to pay for a product when accessories can be purchased from online vendors with no tax and free shipping. In the last year, we have eliminated 1 2 of our music book collections, stock of percussion instruments, and wind instrument accessories due to competition from online sources and the consequent loss in sales.

Primary revenue at Maple Leaf Music is generated from high-end and custom acoustic instrument sales. Customers who travel to our store from out of state bring their families and stay for the weekend increasing the revenue tax streams from meals, lodging, and parking. Many customers have made the decision not to buy in town; instead, selecting to order the instrument through the website to save $100's of dollars in tax by having it shipped to their state. If more customers decide to purchase their instruments online instead of traveling to Brattleboro, it will create a decline in existing tax revenue for the town due to the decrease in tourist traffic. Another 1 percent increase will exacerbate this situation.

Maple Leaf Music's primary interest is to continue operating as a downtown storefront in Brattleboro because we enjoy providing a community resource or "music hub" where musicians can meet each other, learn new techniques, repair their equipment, and purchase their supplies. We believe the proposed 1 percent sales tax option would strain our ability to continue operating in town due to a loss in local, regional and tourist sales. We urge the town representatives to vote against the burden of this new sales tax and open the floor for discussion to find a better solution to funding the municipal services in town.

Christian Glines, president

Dawn Russell, co-owner

Brattleboro, Oct. 16

Kudos for sports coverage

Editor of the Reformer:

Thanks for your excellent sports coverage of regional running competitions. While casual readers may not be aware of the difference, however, "cross country running" and "track" are two distinctly separate sports. I would elucidate the differences, but I gotta run.

Ken Brautigam,

Putney, Oct. 8


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

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