The Mountain Times

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McGrath clinches seat from financial watchdog

With her impassioned plea to bring more civility to Select Board meetings, innkeeper Patty McGrath clinched the three-year Select Board seat from Jim Haff at last week's annual town meeting election. McGrath won by just 26 votes, 222-196.

The co-owner of the Inn at Long Trail said in a recent interview that her immediate goal is to "set a different tone... more respectful and more dialogue oriented."

It is McGrath's second run for a Select Board seat, losing in 2011 to Bernie Rome by just three votes.

Haff won his seat in 2011 partly due to his knowledge of tax assessments and helping residents fight through the process.

During his term, Haff elicited controversy among board members and town employees with his outspoken opinions and financial proposals, including increasing the amount town employees pay for healthcare.

Haff adamantly justified these positions saying he was motivated by saving taxpayer dollars.

Last year, Haff was credited with finding more than $700,000 in undesignated funds between the lines of the town's audit report. This year, most of that money is being used to offset budget expenses and is helping to keep the town's municipal tax rate level.

McGrath has publicly opposed Haff's argumentative approach at meetings and has been an adamant supporter of the town's publicly-funded economic development and tourism initiatives.

EDT funds in 2013 have been spread throughout the town's General Fund budget to offset town expenses, including the indebted Green Mountain National Golf Course.

At one point, the town's EDT funds, strictly flowing from a 1 percent local options tax, were used exclusively to fuel the town's municipal EDT department that generated events mostly in the summer and fall. It was a concept unique to Vermont. In 2009, a year after the tax was instituted, Killington was the only town in the state to use its EDT funds to form a town tourism department, according to state officials.

Now absent a department director, a steady budget and an advisory commission, McGrath said the direction of economic development is on the table for the new Select Board to discuss.

"It's certainly on the agenda and we will look at it to see how we will move forward. I don't know exactly what direction it would take. To integrate the EDT functions with other town functions has a lot of potential, but my concern would be if we continue to see a guarantee of economic development. It leaves open the possibility that we could ignore economic development. I want to make sure economic development is not pushed on the back burner," she said.

At an informational town meeting prior to last week's vote attended by about 100 residents, Haff handed out a draft document from July of last year that proposed  privatizing many of the economic development functions the town currently manages.

McGrath called the document "much to do about nothing."

She said after discussions with chamber members, she learned the document was the result of a consultant's report that looked at  getting rid of the local options tax and transferring many of the economic development functions of the town to a privately funded foundation.  The idea was based on examples from Vail and Stowe resorts.

McGrath said the document was the result of brainstorming between community members in how to solve the problem of funding economic development in the future.

The private foundation concept was one solution posed, according to McGrath, and it wasn't fully embraced by those participating in the discussions.

Cristina Kumka is a correspondent for The Mountain Times. She can be reached directly at cristina_kumka@yahoo.com