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Wilmington to ask voters about funding economic development

WILMINGTON—As Town Meeting Day approaches, Wilmington voters will cast ballots on economic and community development issues.

The Selectboard approved two related agenda items at its Jan. 16 meeting.

The first asks voters whether the town should establish an economic and community development reserve fund.

The second asks voters whether the town should earmark monies from the local 1 percent option sales tax for the new fund through fiscal year 2014.

Voters will decide the tax’s use at Town Meeting March 5.

According to Town Manager Scott Murphy, the board voted twice on the timeline for shuttling the option tax into the new fund. The board voted four to one to require that voters approve the fund source annually.

Many community members attending the meeting told town leaders that 1 percent monies should go toward the development fund indefinitely until voters say otherwise.

The board voted again, three to two, in favor of the annual re-authorization.

The 1 percent option tax money topped the discussion at the previous Jan. 2 Selectboard meeting as well, Murphy explained.

The board had felt divided over using the 1 percent option money to reduce taxes versus establishing a special economic development fund.

The business owners and taxpayers who spoke at the meeting urged the board to reserve the tax money for economic development, said Murphy.

“They were very passionate,” he said. “It was exciting to see democracy in action.”

The town has received one installment of some $58,000 from the tax, which voters approved at last year’s Town Meeting. The town expects two more installments in fiscal year 2013, said Murphy.

The 1 percent option tax is one of three local taxes — alcohol, and rooms and meals taxes are the others — that the state allows local communities to enact. It is a sales tax on consumer items, but is not levied on “essential” items such as food, clothing, agricultural equipment, residential fuel, and computers.

Wilmington voters approved the 1 percent option tax in 2008, but rescinded authorization to enact the tax shortly thereafter, said Murphy.

“[The tax fosters] a very passionate discussion and the topic is one that was batted around for many years,” said Murphy.

The town needs economic development, and many feel that state aid and grants won’t cut it any more, Murphy explained.

Local business owner Adam Grinold said using the tax monies for economic development would benefit the town “in so many ways.”

Grinold also serves as executive director for the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce. He stressed that his feeling on using the 1 percent option tax money for economic development reflected only his personal opinions.

Wilmington has numerous Tropical Storm Irene-related projects left to complete, said Grinold. Irene also hit during the Great Recession, which has not spared the valley.

These situations are not unique to Wilmington, he continued. Other parts of the state, however, have recovered their rooms and meals tax proceeds.

“Other parts of the state are shooting out of a rocket of recovery,” Grinold said.

While some counties have shown economic strength of 20 percent or 50 percent over the previous years, Windham County has only grown 12 percent, according to Grinold.

Wilmington is up over previous years too, he said. “But other places are way up.”

Grinold said he feels other counties invested in themselves through marketing, branding, and other tourism infrastructure, and are therefore enjoying more tourism now.

Economic development is a big-picture, long-term plan, said Grinold. But using the option tax funds shows that the town is willing to invest in itself.

Grinold said that economic development for Wilmington should not be limited to the village, but rather should serve the valley as a whole.

“My success depends on my neighbors’ success,” he said.

Grinold also said he hoped the Selectboard would articulate a vision of economic development the entire community could rally behind. When he thinks of economic development, Grinold thinks of revolving loans, sidewalks, and investing in beautification, he said, and acknowledged others might disagree.

Murphy said the board intends to develop a definition of economic development in time for Town Meeting.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #187 (Wednesday, January 23, 2013).

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