Option taxes, surplus funds, charter and parking lot all pass, Wyman elected
By Lee J. Kahrs
BRANDON — Despite a very low voter turnout, all five articles on the Brandon ballot passed on Tuesday, many by almost 4-1.
Voters approved using surplus paving funds for other public works needs, establishing a charter and a 1 percent option tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol, in Brandon, and the town purchase of a parking lot behind the Mobil gas station.
Voters also elected Tracy Wyman to the select board.
The results come just three months after former Town Manager Robin Bennett resigned under pressure after poor job evaluations, and one year after a summer marked by five budget re-votes that deeply divided the community.
Tuesday night, Select Board Vice-Chair Seth Hopkins said the voters have reinforced this board’s goal to get the town projects moving and get results.
“I think the town is coming to consensus on a lot of issues,” he said. “Generally speaking, they are seeing progress and they want to see more. I thank the people for trusting the select board and I hope they keep holding us accountable for our performance.”
For a detailed analysis pick up the July 1 edition of The Reporter
Parking Lot Purchase Approved
BRANDON — Brandon will soon own a municipal parking lot in the downtown, pending an environmental soil study.
Voters approved a measure on Tuesday allowing the town to buy the almost half-acre parking lot parcel behind the Brandon Mobil Station on Conant Square.
At Monday’s information meeting, Select Board Chair Doug Bailey explained that the town was interested in buying the parking lot for a number of reasons. He said once the town office building is renovated this summer and fall, town employees will need a place to park, and downtown merchants need a place to park off of Center Street to free up space for customer parking. Also, with the Segment 6 upgrade of Route 7, the overflow culvert project and the Bridge 114 repair project all scheduled to start in the next few years, the town will need a staging area for heavy equipment.
Townspeople and visitors alike have been parking in the lot for years, but Bailey said if the town doesn’t buy the lot, someone else will.
“If we aren’t the buyers, the owners will go elsewhere with it, and then we wouldn’t be able to park there at all,” he said.
Bailey said the property owners are planning to tear down the Mobil station and rebuild a new gas station and convenience store, possibly including a Dunkin Donuts with a drive-through window.
In exchange for the purchase price of $40,000, Bailey said the board agreed to give the property owners five years of tax stabilization. That means they would pay property taxes based on the current value of the old building instead of the increased value of the new, improved building for five years. After five years, the taxes on the new building will go up to reflect the increased property value.
There were questions about soil contamination from all the years that the gas station has stood on the property. Town Manager Dave Atherton said an environmental, or brownfields, study is being conducted on the soil, and that the results will determine next steps. He said if costly remediation steps are needed to clean up the soil, the current property owners would foot the bill
“Those costs would be incumbent of the current landowner, not the town,” he said.
The board will use the now-approved surplus funds from the paving projects to pay the $40,000 for the lot.
“What we’re doing is setting the town up for public parking,” said Selectman Devon Fuller. “Don’t you hate it when you drive through a quaint little town and you want to stop but you can’t find a place to park?”
“We want to get those people in here so we can get that 1 percent option tax,” he quipped.
Option Tax = Revenue
BRANDON — On Tuesday, Brandon voters approved the establishment of a 1 percent local option tax on sales, meals and rooms, and alcohol, subject to the approval of the town charter, which was also approved.
The option tax measure passed by a vote of 328-132, with two ballots blank or spoiled.
The subject generated the most discussion at Monday’s public meeting before the vote, as any new tax would. It would mean an extra $1 on a $100 dinner check or hotel room in Brandon. Many other Vermont towns currently collect an option tax, including Middlebury, Rutland Town and Killington.
“The option tax is revenue,” Town Manager Dave Atherton said after the vote results were announced. “The voters asked for it and we found it.”
The State Department of Taxation and Finance oversees collection of the option tax, where 30 percent would be paid to the state and 70 percent would go to the town on a quarterly basis. Revenues from the tax will be used strictly for municipal purposes and not for education expenditures, according to state statute.
It is estimated that Brandon could collect roughly $120,000 a year from an option tax.
Brandon Select Board Vice-Chair Seth Hopkins said the board wanted to make it clear in the charter language that the option tax funds collected will be used solely for town capital projects, meaning public works and/or infrastructure projects.
“This money will be collected and held in a separate fund from the General Fund,” he said. “It cannot be used for General Fund purposes, or to pay salaries.”
At Monday’s meeting, Town Manager Dave Atherton said that it would take at least five years before there is significant money collected for capital projects because those are the most expensive.
“Look at what $100,000 can buy,” he said. “About one mile of resurfaced road,” adding that a 10-foot long culvert on Wood Lane that needs replacing will cost the town $285,000.
“It costs a lot to do these jobs,” Atherton said.
But Brandon Inn owner Louis Pattis said he has preexisting contracts with tour companies that bring visitors to the inn. He said those contracts couldn’t be amended to include an additional 1 percent tax.
“We are going backwards with these companies, and losing money,” Pattis told the board Monday night.
Hopkins agreed that applying the tax to advance bookings is a challenge.
“I don’t have an answer,” he said. ‘I think that’s a question for the state tax department.”
Now that voters have approved both the charter and the option tax questions, the state legislature will have to approve Brandon’s request to levy the option tax during the next legislative session in January. Hopkins said once that happens, the tax would likely go into effect in July 2016.
Board Chair Doug Bailey said that the option tax was the best way the board could think of to create revenue.
“None of us want more taxes,” he said, “but at least this spread out over everybody. Most of the comments this board has gotten from folks is that we need to generate revenue to fix our roads and we need to attract new businesses. Pardon me, but how do you attract businesses to a town that looks like crap?”