The Mountain Times

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Manager: Killington will do more tourism with less

KILLINGTON-Town Manager Seth Webb recently proposed a refined budget for the town's Economic Development & Tourism investments, one that allocates less than half of the 2011 figure to events and marketing ($665,000 in 2011 compared with $240,630 proposed for 2013.)

A golf debt payment of more than $500,000, and other investments like a town gateway, Killington Road beautification, and water study,  increases the total proposed spending on economic development in 2013 to nearly $1 million.

Goals for increased tourism during the off-seasons have changed in the last two years, as town officials focused more on reducing debt on what it now calls Killington's largest economic investment - Green Mountain National Golf Course.

The course is saddled with more than $5 million of debt, which began during its purchase and construction nearly two decades ago.
Just last year, the town's three-man selectboard began significantly paying down loans and interest on the course at an annual payment of about $600,000 through 2015 after-which the annual payments will decrease to less than $400,000 a year through 2025.

But with that move came more emphasis on how the town uses what has proved to be a significant revenue source - the 1 percent local option tax on sales, meals, rooms and entertainment, established in 2008.

The town's EDT department was established shortly after the tax went into effect to use the source of cash flow to foster new economic development for the town; an additional effort to what the resort does and focused on more than just the winter season.
According to state tax officials at the time, Killington was the only town in Vermont to designate the money to be used for one sole purpose - boosting summer business.

Today, the town's EDT department is tasked with using less of the 1 percent option tax because of the golf course and other town obligations. Some business owners have even proposed doing away with the tax altogether because already-strained businesses have to pay it and the state of Vermont taxes a third of the revenue generated from it.

In contrast, the EDT department, headed by Webb for the majority of its existence, has strengthened relations with Killington Resort and helped more businesses on Killington Road stay open in the summer, when before the local options tax they were closed, according to resort and town officials.

For 2013, Webb proposed using $288,700 out of the town's General Fund budget for Events and Marketing, during a presentation Dec. 11.

However, according to draft budget plans for 2013, economic development functions are also spread throughout the budgets of other departments, like recreation, as the Board and Manager believe Economic Development is a mission of the municipality.
Webb started his presentation stating "the EDT commission and local businesses believe there should be a continued focus on the year-round economy, and that strategy of relying on 4-5 months on winter/skiing alone will not help us grow our year-round population, increase the number of students in school, increase real estate sales and create year-round employment opportunities."
He also referenced a new study from the University of New Hampshire reporting the country's $12.2 billion winter tourism industry lost $1 billion over the last decade, and 27,000 jobs, due to a warmer climate.

Webb's budget for next year includes reduced administrative costs (down 75 percent since 2010) and according to Webb, does more with less, including eliminating redundancies between the resort, the EDT and the area Chamber of Commerce.

The Dew Tour is not coming back to Killington, funding for Restaurant Week was reduced by $1,000, the Stage Race was cut by $5,000 and new event development was trimmed by $5,500.

Golf marketing was cut by more than $15,000, wedding and honeymoon marketing was cut by $15,000 and a total of $7,000 was cut from trade shows and travel and expenses for marketing.

Added is $4,000 for the Amateur Junior Golf Association tournament, $4,000 for a new Corporate Walk in 2013 and $4,500 for a youth soccer tournament.

The Town hopes to bring a new Half Marathon to town in June, without any contribution from the budget.

And there's the Spartan Race, Hay Festival and Cooler in the Mountains returning.

Webb is also in talks with NBC's The Biggest Loser program, Ironman and a yogi for a yoga retreat.

Webb said $141,000 of event money spent in 2013 will have an estimated return to town businesses of more than $3 million, based on a formula for return on investment used by the state.

Also in next year's plan is an intention to provide advice and support to the owners of Bill's Country Store who plan to make it a visitor's center, a partnership with the Rutland Economic Development Corporation to bring technology jobs to Killington, a plan to build more walking and hiking trails and support for developing the town's gateway and beautifying Killington Road.

Selectman Jim Haff said that with the ongoing $600,000 golf course debt payments and dispersed economic development money throughout the budget, the town is investing nearly $1 million annually to EDT.

Cristina Kumka can be reached at cristina.kumka@yahoo.com