Wilmington looks at future 1 percent tax funding


WILMINGTON — The 1 percent local option tax has provided the community with a range of programs and opportunities that did not exist before it was enacted in 2012.

But the direction in which the funding should go will continue to be up to those making their voices heard.

"We're looking for input from the electorate," said Select Board Chairman Tom Fitzgerald, during a meeting Wednesday dedicated solely to talking about the revenue with representatives from the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce, downtown organization Wilmington Works, business owners and other town officials.

After the meeting, Fitzgerald told the Reformer he expects there will be an upcoming agenda item to discuss the formation of a committee.

Town Treasurer Christine Richter recalled the Select Board being "shocked" when it received the sum of committed funds and spent money through all the different 1 percent programs.

The facade program should have a deadline attached to it before its start, according to Select Board members who had to review applications throughout the year. The process was taxing on the town's economic development consultant Gretchen Havrleuk who proposed the program, which allowed business owners to spruce up the exteriors of their buildings.

"Instead of having it being bombarded continually, if you had a date for proposals on how to spend money that might help to go forward," Richter said.

Projects funded by the 1 percent revenue were reviewed on a quarterly basis, said Gannon. "Troubled" by the lack of clarity around 1 percent funding commitments last year, he suggested coming up with a clear process for identifying future capital expenditures and 1 percent projects.

As of this month, the balance of the fund holding the revenue is $613,678. And from fiscal year 2017 to 2019, projected or potential usage of the revenue includes a $24,000 old school feasibility study; $96,000 on East Main Street sidewalks; $38,000 on West Main Street sidewalks; $73,000 South Main Street sidewalks; $90,000 for Wilmington Works; $500,000 to $1 million for a fire truck; $300,000 to $500,000 for Coldbrook Road culvert. An additional $8,500 is dedicated to ongoing annual projects and $10,000 can be obtained for events in a given year.

Business owner and resident Adam Grinold has made his concerns about management of the 1 percent fund known throughout the years. He has served as executive director of the chamber and Wilmington Works.

"I have a file about 1 percent and found some notes dating back to 2013. We were having the same exact conversation back then," he said. "I think it's important to recognize it's a challenge to figure this out."

To use the money as property tax relief would be illogical, according to Grinold. The money "divided between everyone would be a pittance," he said.

Creation of a committee was an idea that came up later in the discussion. Fitzgerald said taking it off the board's table would be a good way to provide checks and balances on overseeing the money.

Select Board member Susie Haughwout remembered one of her "unpopular ideas" — to include community development along with economic development in the language around purposes for the fund — and said that to date, the town had spent a lot of money on "good" economic development projects.

"We had a natural disaster to recover from and putting some of these funds to physically recover from this disaster, I think, was worthwhile," she said, referring to Tropical Storm Irene. "I don't think government's position is to create economic development but support it."

Her other unpopular idea has to do with using the money for infrastructure.

"I really wish people would open their minds to that. You're not going to have economic development in a village that doesn't have potable water," Haughwout said. "I really wish we would put our minds to thinking about what some global priorities are, even if they don't net a job."

Also, she pointed out there are areas outside of the downtown where the funding could assist.

Chamber Executive Director Sharon Cunningham brought attention to the lack of people to fill jobs. She said the facade money has been "stopping traffic in a very positive way," allowing her office to engage in conversations aimed at attracting more residents to the area.

Seeing all familiar faces at the meeting, former Select Board member Jake White said it was time to open up the conversation to the "unspoken people" in town who deserve a say in the matter too.

"It's all got to be worked together," he said. "We got to start spreading a little bit of the pot to the community side."

Chamber President Rich Caplan wants to see some funding go towards increasing tourist activity but said the money needs to be spent smartly.

"We got to get down to brass tacks," he added.

Wilmington Works Co-Chairwoman Lisa Sullivan, opting for a rating system for projects, said the community and economic developments aspects can make for a "tug-and-pull" situation between different groups. Establishing over-arching goals is important, she said.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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