Hermitage Club's tumultuous season still a success in founder's eyes

KRISTOPHER RADDER - BRATTLEBORO REFORMERThe Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain.

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DEERFIELD VALLEY — Despite the bumpy ride for the Hermitage Club this winter season, the company's founder is describing it as a successful one as local officials hope for a brighter future.

"We are thrilled to have completed a wonderful and safe experience for our members," Jim Barnes, Hermitage founder, said in a press release announcing "the completion of a successful 2018 season" on Monday. "With unprecedented snow fall and with our earliest season start yet, we had 18 full weekends of corduroy skiing."

This month, the Hermitage had to shut down operations twice at its private ski resort at Haystack Mountain and other tourism-related establishments. The Vermont Department of Taxes ordered the actions after not receiving tax payments for sales, rooms and meals. A foreclosure complaint from the Berkshire Bank includes $1.2 million in liens from the Department of Taxes as well as liens from various contractors and vendors.

Last month, the Hermitage had a visit from a "rapid response team" coordinated by the Vermont Department of Labor to work with 50 to 80 employees whose jobs had just been unexpectedly terminated. The company at the time said layoffs had to do with preserving the long-term health of the company, a week of unseasonably warmer weather and fewer families visiting due to the start of spring sports.

"Going forward, we will reduce our core group of employees — as we always do this time of year — and put the mountain to bed and begin to prepare the golf course for opening on Memorial Day Weekend," according to the press release issued on Monday.

Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Windham-Bennington, called the Hermitage "a very important attraction and employer in the Deerfield Valley.

"There are so many small employers invested in the Hermitage's short- and long-term success, Vermonters reliant on wages and employment, and state programs benefiting from the tax revenue the business generates that I can only wish Jim well," she told the Reformer.

Gretchen Havreluk, Wilmington's economic development consultant, was not surprised that the Hermitage would be closing now.

"It makes sense," she said. "There's a lot going on. Yeah, it was a great ski season for them. But of course, they have other challenges there that hopefully will be overcome within the next few weeks."

Havreluk has been looking at economic impacts on the town with the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce and downtown organization Wilmington Works, but was not prepared to comment on any data. She is staying positive about the future.

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"Now that the season is over, I hope the Hermitage Club can focus on getting their financial house in order," said Rep. John Gannon, D-Windham-6, who also serves as vice chairman of the Wilmington Select Board.

The Hermitage is currently in good standing with the Department of Taxes, an employee from the department told the Reformer on Monday. A company spokeswoman previously said the two parties were entering a payment agreement but the state would not comment.

Property taxes in Dover have been paid for the Hermitage Inn and the Snowgoose Inn. Previously, the threat of tax sale loomed.

"Berkshire Bank has stepped in to pay the property taxes on the properties that Berkshire Bank holds the mortgages to," Dover Treasurer Marco Tallini told the Reformer.

He said the mortgage holder for the Inn at Sawmill Farm has filed a foreclosure complaint and the property is currently in delinquent status.

More than $700,000 is owed on taxes for properties in Wilmington, including the ski resort, the golf course, townhouses, the Horizon Inn, the former Nordic Hills Inn, 24 West Main St. and several parcels of land.

"They are on our tax sale list," Wilmington Treasurer Christine Richter told the Reformer. "Obviously their tax revenues are a huge part of our general fund money basically because, even though a lot of it is school money, we have to pay the school and the state even if we don't collect. So we're pretty hopeful that they'll either pay or someone will pay the taxes at the tax sale when we have it."

Wilmington officials are just trying to stay in a positive frame of mind for now, Richter said. She expects the tax sale will be held in June.

"We're hoping that this will take care of it one way or another so we can get our funds so we won't have to scramble or have a problem year," Richter said. "But until we get to the end, we don't know."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.