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Haff proposes a ‘big idea’ for economic growth

KILLINGTON-At the Killington selectboard meeting last Tuesday, Sept. 18, Selectman Jim Haff proposed an idea for "something big," something that would significantly move the needle of economic development to make Killington a true four-season destination. The idea he outlined was a partnership between the town and resort investing $15 million-$20 million into infrastructure at the base of the mountain.

The idea was hatched recently and the specifics have yet to be determined, Haff explained to fellow board members.
"I said to Chris [Nyberg] what if you had $l5-$20 million to put into the resort right now? What would you do?" Nyberg, the president of Killington Resort at the time, took some time to think before responding, Haff said. His answer was a combination of activities including new beginning and intermediate bike trails at Snowshed, a rope course, a Pico interconnect trail, a mountain coaster, ziplines (noting that if one was constructed from the top of K1 to the base it would be the longest in North America), and even included a composting and a recycling facility and biomass plant.

"Chris was behind the 'what if' of this idea," reported Haff. At this point, "it is just an idea to move forward; a way to move the needle," he said. Adding, "regional growth counts on Killington."

In 2007, the Killington Growth Initiative committee hatched a plan and implemented the 1 percent local option tax to stimulate economic growth. That plan has been recently called into question and this summer the Killington Chamber of Commerce commissioned the Strategic Marketing Group to provide an expert opinion about town economic development efforts and ways improve town marketing. The study found the local option tax to be an inefficient funding source because 30 percent of the tax is lost to the state.

Haff suggested that funding for his idea could come from repealing the 30 percent of the 1 percent local option tax paid to the state. According to Haff, if the town could keep the full 1 percent to use for economic development, it would gain about $300,000 to $400,000 per year. Haff's idea is to use this additional sum to leverage a $10 million bond, which, in partnership with the resort, would enable them to build attractions that would have a positive impact on tourism for the region.

Killington annually collects about $1 million under the local option tax, but is required to give 30 percent of the collected amount to the state by existing statute. Changing that provision would require a change in state law or petitioning the Legislature for a possible exception. Representative Jim Eckhardt told the selectboard on Tuesday that he would work to get such legislation enacted if the town supported Haff's idea and wanted to move forward.

One attendee at the meeting questioned the likelihood of Killington getting the 30 percent back from the state.

Haff acknowledged that it was not a given, but he said that unlike at least 10 other towns in the state who have also enacted a local option tax, Killington is the only one that uses it directly for economic development and tourism and the state benefits from those sales.

For the state, this as an investment, Haff continued, saying the town and resort would need to show that the increase in the 6 percent state tax on hotels and meals plus the retail sales tax that the state would collect from the increase in tourism, would be much greater than the loss of the 30 percent collected from the local option tax.

"The resort is the economic engine of the area" said Haff, stating that tourism to Killington makes all surrounding businesses viable.
Those attending the selectboard meeting were receptive to Haff's idea and had questions. Anticipating this, Haff opened a new email account dedicated to gathering input and opinions about his proposed idea. The email is GrowKillingtonEconomy@gmail.com - all were encouraged to participate in the discussion there.

With the recent change in management at Killington Resort, Nyberg's initial ideas for how to spend the $15-$20 million are now left to the new president of Killington Resort, Mike Solimono. Haff and Solimono, along with Rob Megnin and Rep. Eckhardt met for lunch on Monday, Sept. 24 to discuss these ideas among others. Solimono was generally supportive, Haff said.

"How and what comes out of this idea is unknown, but we will never know until we try," he said. "It's now time to put the idea into a plan."