Letter Box


Educate yourself on the proposed 1% tax

Editor of the Reformer:

As a taxpayer and resident of Brattleboro, we need to be accountable for our future. By accountable, I mean by looking at revenue outside of property tax. It is important as taxpayers and residents to understand issues involving our town and what effects those issues will have. It is important to vote and be heard as well as educated on the facts.

We bought our home in 2005 knowing Brattleboro had a higher than average tax base. I had no idea that our taxes would almost double in the following 10 years. I began to look at why our town is so expensive to live in. We as a community are failing to find valuable revenues to offset property tax. We are failing because residents don’t vote, or they vote on issues without understanding the details of the vote.

Lately I hear a lot about the local 1 percent sales tax that will be brought to Town Representatives at Town Meeting. Unsure of the details prior to the town vote, I did some research. Here are some interesting points.

Eleven separate towns in the state of Vermont have a local 1 percent sales tax. The sales tax does not apply to automobiles (unlike what you may have heard on the radio). The sales tax has a start and end date. Without the 1 percent sales tax, property tax will increase 10.8 cents and stay there for six years. Studies show that an estimated $650,000 dollars will be raised from the local tax each year.

I hope as a taxpayer or resident you look into the 1 percent sales tax for our town and express how you feel to your Town Meeting Representatives. Don’t base an opinion on what you’ve heard on the radio or read in this paper. Find factual information from reliable sources. Not voting for the 1 percent sales tax will have a dramatic effect on our tax base. That’s a fact, but don’t take my word, look it up for yourself.

Chuck Keir,

Brattleboro, March 17

1% tax will devastate downtown business

Editor of the Reformer:

I would urge Brattleboro Town Meeting Representatives to vote against the local sales tax option at the upcoming Town Meeting. More than ever, it is important to "shop local." I’m not sure everyone understands what this new sales tax would do to Brattleboro in the long run.

I certainly don’t know the answer to paying for the proposed fire and police facilities, but I do know that this potential new sales tax would be much worse than any tax we’ve ever faced. I certainly do understand that no one wants their property tax to go up, but business growth in Brattleboro is a necessity to control those same property taxes for years to come.

My father and I have been to Montpelier numerous times over the years to fight the state sales tax and other proposed taxes that have threatened Brattleboro and businesses in the bordering communities of tax-free New Hampshire. Some of those battles have paid off with help from local and state legislators, like when the sales tax on clothing and footwear disappeared. For years no one in Brattleboro argued for any of those taxes. Everyone understood the problem. It was obvious. Today it is even more obvious, which is why I can’t understand why some of our neighbors have chosen to join the battle against local business in Brattleboro. If this sales tax comes to be, Brattleboro will never again have credibility to fight any state sales tax in the future. That, in itself, makes this tax worse than any other tax we’ve ever faced.

I believe the March 11 Reformer editorial "Pass the 1 percent local option tax") was misleading. Our Brattleboro’s store business is not growing. It was just slightly up this year due to the huge winter. Without such a winter, it would have been another bad year. Every other retailer I’ve talked to in Brattleboro is struggling mightily just to keep their head above water. While expenses continue to soar for local businesses, sales are not growing.

The Reformer editorial also stated that the reason people can’t buy items such as bed sheets, underwear and bath towels is not because of the Vermont sales tax, but "because those items can’t be found in Brattleboro." That is in fact directly because of the sales tax and the lack of a sales tax in New Hampshire. Your argument is not like that of "the chicken and egg."

While retail may not be so great here now, we still employ more than 50 people in our Brattleboro store, many of whom have worked here for a long time (up to 40 years). I think we still make significant contributions to many local businesses and the local economy. We try to buy as many Vermont products as possible. We very much appreciate our customers that do still strive to "shop local" and we try to "shop local" ourselves. I hope you’ll vote against the proposed local sales tax so that shopping local doesn’t become a thing of the past.

Brad Borofsky,

Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters,

Brattleboro, March 17

A closer look at Brattleboro’s budget

Editor of the Reformer:

The Brattleboro Selectboard has again presented another town budget with increased spending, which they call "level funding." How does an increase equal level funding? This means increased taxes -- again. During March 12’s pre-Town Meeting information session, one dismayed district representative reminded the Selectboard that Town Meeting Representatives last year said, "No more spending increases." To this objection, the chairman replied by stating the Representative Town Meeting was responsible for passing last year’s budget. Notice, he ignored the point of "No more increases" and refused to accept his responsibility for the current proposed budget.

Within this proposed budget is an 8 percent increase in the salary of the Town Manager when no one was hired for the position after Barbara Sontag left. We do have an interim Town Manager who has been fulfilling those duties for the past seven or eight months. The town cannot afford an increase in that salary. How does it make sense to give a raise to an "unfilled" position ?

If the Selectboard has targeted that increase for the interim Town Manager, thinking to hire him, do you think they should speak with integrity and full disclosure, saying out loud and up front what they plan? Do you think seven or eight months of substitute work warrants an 8 percent raise when so many folks in Brattleboro are struggling financially -- unemployed/in danger of losing homes/hungry/struggling to feed their children? Even if this young man is doing an extraordinary job as Town Manager, we still cannot afford to give him -- or anyone in that position -- an 8 percent raise. $75,000 a year is a lot of money. This current salary is certainly enough to live on within the greater Brattleboro community (even with the increased taxes).

The runaway spending mentality of the Selectboard needs to stop. The Town Meeting Representatives are the folks to do the job. Brattleboro needs leadership with common sense and the generous spirit of willingness to care for the whole community equally. District Representatives have the "true grit" that it takes to stop the Selectboard’s runaway spending spree. They have the courage to face down the "giants" of fear, of talking back to "authority," of naming unwise thinking and choices as well as the creativity and common sense to make better choices for the whole town. Equitable sharing of resources may be an old fashioned value, but it is certainly worthy of our pursuit. Some senior district representatives may remember the days when the Golden Rule was the rule of life. Yes, maybe it is old fashioned, but it offers a path of financial recovery and sustainability for all in Brattleboro.

The poor have gifts of value to offer the community; gifts as important as money. Brattleboro’s richness is in its diversity. Let us explore the richness of our diversity rather than poverty.

Lynn Russell,

Brattleboro, March 13

1% tax a ‘bad idea’

Editor of the Reformer:

If at first you don’t succeed, vote, vote again. The 1 percent option tax (really just a sales tax) that has been put on the table once again is a bad idea for the community, as well as what is left of our local economy. In this era of global competition with on-line merchants and service providers, an additional sales tax burden punishing the community for spending with local merchants is a short-sighted solution to an admittedly complex problem.

As a local business owner, property owner, and a payer of excessive taxes, I am more than a little concerned at this additional burden and competitive disadvantage to our next-door neighbors in New Hampshire. If we, as the citizens of Brattleboro, are being forced to pay more for yet another large-scale project -- should we not have some say in how we pay for it? I, too, would like a bigger home, more cars, a vacation home, etc. But I am stuck with only what I can afford.

It seems at times that the town government does not help to support a healthy business environment or even understand the challenges we face as small business owners.It is getting increasingly difficult to continue to do business here.

Edward DeRusha,

Lotus Graphics,

Brattleboro, March 19

News from the frontline

Editor of the Reformer:

As I wrote in my column on Tuesday ("In spite of history"), I will be tweeting from Brattleboro Representative Town Meeting. In the lead up to Saturday’s gathering, I have participated in a great many conversations pertaining to the proposed 1 percent option tax and the funding of the police/fire project. Whether you will be attending the meeting or not, continue the conversation on Saturday at Twitter #BrattTM.

Becca Balint,

District 2 Representative,

Brattleboro, March 19

Support for 1% tax

Editor of the Reformer:

My name is Rusty Sage. I’m a resident, voter and homeowner in Brattleboro. I am writing this letter in regards to the 1% Local Option Tax which is up for vote at Town Meeting. Much misinformation about this tax has been circulated in order to confuse those who could vote to reduce the tax burden on property owners in Brattleboro.

This Local Options Tax is not an all encompassing tax. Over-the-counter drugs and medical equipment and supplies are mostly exempt. As are automobiles and everyday clothing. Nor does this tax add to the meals and rooms tax already in place in Brattleboro. It is a separate tax on different items.

This tax as proposed could raise an estimated $650,000 annually to reduce the towns tax burden. Better yet, this income will allow visitors to the town to share in paying for the services they utilize while they are here in town. Sounds good to me. Will this deter visitors from coming to the area? Doubtful, as many I have spoken to about this tax, as well as myself, have not searched a vacation or trip destination to see if there is a local options tax first. Will this drive business away from Brattleboro? Doubtful. I’d still rather pay 1% on those few taxable items I buy in town than pay the gas to go elsewhere.

To our Town Meeting Representatives: Get the facts on the tax, don’t fall victim to the false information from those with a personal agenda.

Rusty E. Sage,

West Brattleboro, March 19

1% is only 1%

Editor of the Reformer:

People have very strong ideas and emotions over the proposed 1 percent option tax, but it is only 1 percent either way. One penny on a dollar, one dollar of $100, $12 on a $1,200 handmade, one-of-a-kind musical instrument. To drive to New Hampshire to try to find better prices than Brattleboro offers for non-essentials that would be taxed with this 1 percent option would cost more in gas money and in time than the 1 percent amounts to.

Since it will attach to non-essential items, people least able to afford additional financial burden most likely will not be affected except that homeowners may see a small reduction in property taxes ($30 is what I’ve heard).

Route 9, Western Avenue, for 1.6 miles needs repair badly. If this 1 percent tax passes, and if Brattleboro recoups the $600,000 suggested by the Selectboard (I doubt it), the tax money will cover the road repairs. That road is a commercial route for tourists and businesses downtown; the road needs to be in good repair in order to make shopping in Brattleboro easily accessible. Even if we only get half the estimated amount, the road would still be paid for.

Homeowners may not notice a $30 or even $100 difference in their tax bill, but I am sure they will notice the difference in Western Avenue once it is repaired.

The voters did vote this third time to pass the tax. After twice defeating the proposal, did they feel bullied into it by the promoters of the fire-police bond? Is this a way to assuage guilty consciences for imposing undue financial hardship? Will we get the money they said we will? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I remind myself 1 percent is only 1 percent. We can honor the voice of the voters and try it for a year to see how it goes.

The economy continues to decline; businesses continue to leave town. And we have a future to plan for. Perhaps it is time to re-think this $20 million debt for fire-police facilities. It is never too late to change course when we have made a mistake. Financial burden is no way for the town government to care for the folks of Brattleboro.

A police station could be built on top of the library; that was a plan option when the library was built. I bet it would cost less than $20 million. In New Hampshire, a brand new police station from the ground up cost only $1 million.

One per cent is just one cent on the dollar, so if I buy $100 worth of concert tickets, I will happily pay a dollar for Brattleboro’s best interest rather than go to New Hampshire to look for cheaper tickets and pay additional for gasoline and use my precious time for penny-pinching (I do value my time).

I encourage Brattleboro folks to take a deep breath and relax. We have much bigger problems to solve than this 1 percent option tax issue. Let’s get on with the stuff that really matters.

Lynn Russell,

District 1 Representative,

Brattleboro, March 19

1% tax will thrown downtown into ‘tailspin’

Editor of the Reformer:

We would like to express our opposition to the Local Sales Option Tax on the grounds that our downtown is too fragile to take it.

Between the Brooks House fire/reconstruction and the much-needed street and sidewalk work on Main Street, downtown businesses will have gone without normal traffic for at least five years--and that’s not counting the effects of Irene or the recession. Virtually all of downtown retail is just hanging on to get through these stressors, hoping for conditions to improve on the other side. An increase in the sales tax would represent a brake on the system sufficient to throw downtown retail into a tailspin.

As property tax payers we can sympathize with wanting to reduce our property tax by a small amount but the harm that it will cause Brattleboro businesses is great. UVM professor and former state economist Art Wolf studied the effects of sales tax on Connecticut River corridor and quantified how bad the sales tax has been for Vermont business. Here are some quick facts from the study:

-- "Before 1969 per capita retail sales were identical. Today Vermont’s per capita sales are 60 percent of New Hampshire’s.

-- Over the 2002 to 2007 period which includes Vermont’s most recent sales tax rise from 5 percent to 6 percent per capita sales in N.H. rose by $2,000. In Vermont the increase was half that ($,1000).

-- Every time Vermont has increased its sales tax rate the retail sales gap between Vermont and New Hampshire has widened.

-- If Vermont had maintained the pre-1970 status quo with New Hampshire there would be 3,000 more retail jobs and $540 million more retail sales in Vermont’s border counties." (Source: http://www.vermontbiz.com/news/november/vermont-sales-tax-damaged-retail-sales-connecticut-river-corridor)

If we were to update this study to include competition with online retail, we would see the harm from a sales tax increase magnified in a large and growing environment where there is currently no sales tax. There are businesses in town selling wood stoves, appliances, lumber, tools, paint, guitars, furniture, hardware, electronics, office supplies, jewelry, books, snowboards, kayaks, and bicycles that will suffer if this tax is imposed. I have heard the argument that only tourists will be affected by this tax. I have to disagree; most of my customers are local.

Please vote against the Local Option Tax at Representative Town Meeting!

Barb Walsh and Tim Chock,

Brattleboro Bicycle Shop, March 19


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