Town Manager’s Column – January 2020

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

The Select Board continued the conversation with regard to the local option tax opportunities. The discussion last night was to determine if the question should be placed on the ballot and, if yes, then how to phrase it. 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. Information supplied last night was based on all four tax categories. 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. Using all four option tax categories and FY 2019 data from the Vermont Department of Taxes website, the 1% tax would generate $1.27 million for the Town. Technically, all of the monies are used to reduce property taxes and water/sewer fees. Monies for infrastructure improvements, major equipment purchases, debt retirement, parks and recreation projects, marketing and economic development could come from these funds relieving pressure on the annual operating budgets thereby reducing property taxes and water/sewer fees.

So, who pays this tax? The local option tax allows our neighbors to help us pay for these amenities because we are the hub for shopping in the Bennington region. There are many other communities already using this program; Manchester, Brattleboro, Burlington, Colchester, Middlebury, St. Albans Town, and Wilmington to name a few. The Select Board would decide which options to put before the voters. The voters would decide if any should be implemented.

We heard from several residents last night concerned about the impact on lower income residents and businesses. This tax is $0.01 on each $1.00 of the purchase price. If you spend $100, an additional $1.00 would be added to the purchase price. Most necessities are exempt from the tax. Food, clothing, over the counter drugs, medical equipment and supplies are all exempt. This is a tremendous opportunity to reduce property taxes and water/sewer fees while setting aside monies to improve the quality of life for all Bennington residents. I ask for your support.

I understand that many of you do not have access to CAT TV, but you may have access to social media. Over the last several weeks, two individuals have been accusing the Town, its Select Board, its Town Clerk, and others of voter fraud in the 2018 election. This in spite of an acknowledgement from the Secretary of State’s office that no voter fraud occurred. It appears to me that the accusation is based on a comparison of the voter checklist maintained by the Town Clerk, Cassandra Barbeau, and a participation checklist maintained by the Secretary of State. The information is supplied to the participation list by town clerks throughout the State after the election. If mistakes in the transmission of names are made due to simple human error, technical difficulties with the equipment, or for some other reason, it does not affect the checklist of record. The checklist maintained by the Town Clerk is the checklist of record. Discrepancies between the two documents do not matter nor do they indicate voter fraud. Let me be perfectly clear, our Town Clerk, Cassandra Barbeau, has been involved in elections in Bennington for more than 25 years. She is impartial to a fault, extremely professional, and very accurate as are the election workers she hires. There is no voter fraud here.

The Police Department Assessment conducted by IACP (the International Association of Chiefs of Police is now in the report writing phase. We expect the report to be ready for 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.