Two Killington Select Board candidates vie for seat
By Curt Peterson
KILLINGTON—A dozen hardy souls braved a whiteout snowstorm Monday, Feb. 25, to hear the two candidates for Killington Select Board’s one open seat answer questions.
Mike Coppinger, executive director of the Killington Pico Area Association, moderated the event held at the Welcome Center and asked prepared questions of incumbent Patty McGrath and challenger Charles “Chuck” Claffey.
McGrath, who has lived in Killington for 28 years, owns McGrath’s Irish Pub and the Inn at Long Trail. She’s seen the Select Board progress from “contentious” to open-minded and respectful during her six years in office, and wants to continue to help the town develop.
Claffey, 49, a property owner since 2001 and a programmer for NatWest Markets, moved to town in 2015.
“I would like to assist Killington getting its finances in order,” he said.
Asked about the importance of economic development, Claffey said the town should grow, financed by the private sector rather than taxpayers, and that tax dollars should be invested in infrastructure to support business.
McGrath said properly funding infrastructure will support businesses’ planning and encourage private sector growth.
McGrath said the 1 percent general sales option tax was used to finance events in support of business in the past. The tax was rescinded July 1, 2018.
Killington Resort began financing events and marketing as part of a deal with the town, McGrath said, and the sales portion of the option tax went away in return.
Both Claffey and McGrath are against reinstating the sales option tax, which McGrath said would be a “failed promise.” Claffey said the town would be “breaking its word.”
Both candidates will vote for the proposed 2020 municipal budget of $4,676,767 agreeing it will put the town in a stronger financial position.
The rivals agreed the proposed Public Safety Building bonding of $4,775,000 is necessary. The existing firehouse is “beyond usable,” McGrath said. Claffey said “bringing it up to code would be too expensive.”
Both cited property insurance cost increases if firefighting resources aren’t upgraded.
“We’ll pay for it either in taxes or in insurance premiums,” McGrath said.
Coppinger’s question about the Green Mountain National Golf Course also drew similar responses from the candidates.
Claffey proposes a long-term financial plan aimed at sustainability. If after two years it doesn’t look promising, the town should consider selling to cut its losses, he said.
“The town shouldn’t have bought the golf course in the first place,” Claffey said. “But we’ve made our bed and now we have to sleep in it.”
McGrath said golf was a growth industry when the town purchased the golf course, but the situation has changed. “It has become challenging,” she said, agreeing a year or two would bring a more clear picture.
McGrath also noted that in 2010 the GMNGC debt was $4.9 million and the town reduced it to $2.126 million by July 1, 2018.
Marijuana sales, taxation and regulation – a favorite Vermont topic – also brought similar responses. Both candidates favor waiting to see what state regulations are before recommending a town strategy. Claffey would like to prohibit sales and use of marijuana near schools, recreation areas and other public facilities, but any restrictions should be up to voters.
Patty McGrath said she has an historic prospective, seeing problems and solutions play out in the town for years. Conversely, she speculated that Chuck Claffey would bring “fresh eyes” to the Board.
“We have the same goals, just different perspectives,” she said.
Selectman Jim Haff, who unsuccessfully challenged McGrath in 2016, asked if either candidate would walk back their commitment to financial stability if taxpayer resistance was strong. Claffey and McGrath both said their commitment is built into the budget, and, if voters approve the budget, that will be the plan.