Town Manager’s Column – February 2020

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

The Select Board will meet On February 17 at 6 pm at the Bennington Fire Facility to continue the conversation with regard to the local option tax opportunities. The recent Charter amendments allow the Town to institute 1% local option sales tax on retail sales, rooms, meals, and alcohol or any combination thereof. The ballot question divides the question into the four categories so the voters can choose among the four. The local option tax provides that 70% of the monies generated by the tax 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. I am encouraging voters to approve all four options. Using all four option tax categories and FY 2019 data from the Vermont Department of Taxes website, the 1% tax would generate $1.29 million for the Town. These funds can be used for infrastructure improvements, major equipment purchases, debt retirement, parks and recreation projects, marketing and economic development. This would then relieve pressure on the annual operating budgets thereby reducing property taxes and water/sewer fees.

The meeting on February 17 will be dedicated to the local option tax discussion. There will be no other agenda items. The Board will reveal its proposed policy for establishing annual spending guidelines which will create a process going forward on how the funds will be used annually.

I am in favor of all four options. This could be such a good thing for Bennington. The staff and the Select Board struggle every year to develop a budget that minimizes tax rate increases while providing the services our residents demand. Imagine being able to enhance the community and improve the quality of life for all without burdening the property taxpayer. Please vote yes on Article 3.

The presentation of the Police Department Assessment conducted by IACP (the International Association of Chiefs of Police) is now not expected until April 2020. The IACP asked for more time to finish its work.

The Wastewater Treatment Facility upgrade is pretty much finished. This Spring the contractor will return to finish grading, seeding and mulching disturbed areas, put the finishing touches on the new buildings and ensure that the mechanical equipment is operating properly. If you pass by the Plant and see flame coming from the stack, that’s a sign our digestors are working and are burning off excess methane.

This Spring Casella Construction will begin Contracts 8 and 9, the final contracts for the expansion of our municipal water system to address PFOA contamination. The contracts started in 2019 will also be finalized.

Speaking of the water system, don’t forget to support the bond question on the March ballot regarding lead service line removals. With voter support and a successful grant application, the Town will begin to remove private lead service lines eliminating a potentially dangerous toxin from our drinking water. The State will reimburse the Town 100% of the cost incurred. Please vote yes on Article 2.

It looks like 2020 is shaping up to be an important year for the Bennington community. The Putnam Block renovation is moving along quickly. That will be an exciting addition to our downtown. The ballot questions mentioned above have the potential to offer important change as well.

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.