Town Manager’s Column – December 2019

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

At the last Select Board meeting, I raised the question regarding asking the voters to support the 1% local option tax. The recent Charter amendments allow the Town to institute 1% local option sales tax on retail sales, rooms and meals, and alcohol or any combination thereof. The information I supplied at the Board meeting was based on retail sales. I’ll stay with those numbers in this piece. In 2018, retail sales in Bennington totaled $140,433,000. One percent of that is $1,404,330. The local option tax provides that 70% of these additional taxes are returned to the Town; 30% stays with the State to be distributed through the PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) program to communities that host State owner properties. Our share then would be $980,000. As an example, the Select Board could set aside $200,000 each year for recreational facilities, $200,000 for a robust marketing program, $300,000 for capital equipment purchases, and $280,000 to reduce the tax rate (approximately $0.028). Of course, the Select Board would decide how to use the funds. Using the current proposed budget set to be released to the Select Board December 16th, if we were to remove all capital equipment purchases and the borrowing associated with the larger purchases, it would reduce the proposed budget by $650,000, thereby reducing the overall tax rate by another approximately $0.065.

So, who pays this tax? I believe clothing purchases under $100 +/- are exempt, grocery purchases are exempt, prescription drug purchases are exempt. There are other exempt purchases. Bennington is a hub community. We maintain highways and water/sewer infrastructure so that peoples from other communities can shop here. The local option tax allows our neighbors to help us pay for these amenities, and it can reduce our property taxes. There are many other communities already using this program; Manchester, Brattleboro, Burlington, Colchester Middlebury, St. Albans Town, and Wilmington to name a few. Many of these Towns also use the meals and rooms and alcohol local option tax. The Select Board would decide which options to put before the voters. The voters would decide if any or all options should be implemented.

In other matters, a short time ago, the State of Vermont presented plans for the repair/reconstruction of the Bridge 6, the bridge adjacent to Millers Toll and the intersection of Beech Street. Scheduled for construction in 2023, the recommended plan is to reconstruct the bridge by closing it to all traffic for 60 days. The Board voted to accept this recommendation. Traffic will be detoured around the site. Heavy truck traffic will be encouraged to use Route 279. The Board heard from several of the impacted business owners with concerns for loss of business during this time. The Board asked the State to impose the following conditions: to begin the project in April/May and finish in June of 2023, to ensure that Beech Street and Morgan Street remain open to traffic, to not allow 24 hour construction times and to limit construction to a five day work week, and to provide incentives for completing the project as soon as possible. There is a potential for the contractor to use the municipal lot across for the Buck Stop for a staging area. The Board will reserve its permission until a contractor is chosen thereby allowing the board to control its use. It is important to note that the local share is reduced to 5% when we allow the closure. Thus, it reduces the Town’s share in the project by $160,000 +/-. All the funds will come from our bridge reserve.

The Police Department Assessment conducted by IACP (the International Association of Chiefs of Police is now in the report writing phase. We expect a draft some time near the end of the year and a public meeting to discuss the findings and recommendations in February 2020.

Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.

Stuart Hurd is Bennington’s Town Manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues.