I would like to reply to Richard Kropp’s letter to the editor from June 17. Mr. Kropp suggests our town is not using the options tax money to reduce taxes as Rutland Town does and questions the golf course debt, as well as the repair and maintenance of assets such as the pool and the golf course.
Let me address “Where does the money go?”
First a bit of history: The town of Killington was hit particularly hard by Acts 60 and 68, which increased the school portion of the property tax from about 35 cents to almost $2 over the course of 20 years. The municipal portion of the tax averaged more than 38 cents each year from 1994 until 1999. Once the full effect of that state school tax started to rise, the town, in an effort to offset, reduced the municipal tax to an average of 30 cents. As a result, capital contributions remained flat or were reduced, the golf course debt remained flat, instead of being reduced, and infrastructure projects and maintenance projects were put off.
In 2008 the town voted to create an options tax (1 percent additional on rooms, meals and alcohol, and sales, of which, per statute, the town receives 70-75 percent and the state gets the remainder) to use exclusively for economic development. In 2011, at Bernie Rome’s behest, the town then voted to put the options tax in the General Fund to be used to reduce our tax burden. We are no different than Rutland Town, that money is used to offset costs, which in effect, reduces our taxes (while maintaining and improving our infrastructure and making our town a more attractive place to live).
I did not originally support Bernie Rome’s suggestion of putting the options tax into the General Fund. I feared we would no longer invest in economic development. In the end though, once the town voted, I believed in moving forward and working with that decision. It has allowed us, as a town, to invest in economic development, replenish infrastructure, improve capital funds, and make capital plans that look 15-20 years ahead while still keep the tax rate in the 30 cent area, 20 percent lower than the latter half of the 1990s. In other words it reduces our tax burden by over 7 cents while still providing economic development through events, marketing and infrastructure.
As a board we are often questioned about consulting fees and studies. We do those studies to have comprehensive plans so money isn’t wasted and we spend the town’s money wisely. Often a majority of those studies are funded largely by grants, so we only have to pay a small percentage of the cost. After all, you wouldn’t build a house without good comprehensive plans, and the board feels we should have good knowledge and plans before we spend the town’s money on major projects.
As to the golf debt: The total debt owed on the course at the end of 2010 totaled approximately $5,150,000. By the end of 2014, that debt was reduced to $3,455,000. That is a considerable reduction which is neither “never ending” nor out of control. Since 2011 the board has instituted a citizen golf committee, which in conjunction with the management of the golf course, created a strong capital plan to deal with upgrades and long-term maintenance. Our golf course is in better shape than most of the courses in Vermont! Capital plans have also been increased for the pool, recreation areas, library, roads as well as other departments to ensure we are prepared for the future. This benefits citizens every bit as much as businesses and sometimes more.
Not everything is perfect; we still have many challenges in the future. But, the improvements financially, infrastructure-wise, economically and in planning for the future have been considerable. We will continue to put our efforts into solving these issues in a manner that balances the diverse needs of the taxpayers of the town.
It saddens me to see people using the same old buzzwords (golf course debt, high taxes, no planning) to infer the town has dire problems, when in fact these issues are showing good and significant progress.
As always, you can reach me at email at email@example.com or contact our Town Manager Seth Webb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This letter is based on my impressions of the matters before the town and are not approved of, nor been reviewed by the full board.
Thank you for your time and consideration,
Patty McGrath, Killington Selectboard Chair