Board hears about airport expansion plans
by Mike Eldred
Nov 15, 2012 | 2948 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILMINGTON- Selectboard members discussed economic development funding and a proposed expansion of the Mount Snow Airport at their regular meeting last week.

The board asked Haystack developer Jim Barnes about a request for town assistance for the airport expansion that he made at a previous meeting. Barnes sought the transfer of several town-owned Haystack lots around the existing airport, as well as a $200,000 low-interest loan from “the Wilmington Fund.” Selectboard chair Tom Consolino asked Barnes what he meant by “the Wilmington Fund.”

“My intention was to use money from the newly created fund for the 1% local option tax revenue,” Barnes said.

Consolino said the town started collecting the tax in July, and had only received a small amount from the state. “I think there’s about $70 in there,” said town manager Scott Murphy.

“Well, I don’t want to clean you out,” joked Barnes.

Barnes said he’d be happy with a commitment to a future loan. “If I knew funding was available, It would help me in arranging other financing.”

But board member Meg Streeter told Barnes it was unlikely the town would be in a position to offer such a loan. “It would be as long as two years before we would accumulate that amount of money,” she said. “My personal feeling is that it should go into the general fund for tax rate reduction, but I can’t see how we could make a commitment into the future.”

Consolino said the board doesn’t have a sense of the income the tax would provide in the future. Board member Susan Haughwout said that the board has no process through which it can loan funds. “We can’t just loan money out of the general fund or the 1% without a mechanism, and we just don’t have it at this time.”

But board members said they would consider supporting the creation of a loan fund with federal community development block grant (CDBG) money. Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation Project Manager Laura Sibilia, who was at the meeting for a different discussion, said that a loan fund set up with CDBG money would have a lasting benefit to the community. “When the funds are repaid, the money can be loaned again for other projects.”

Barnes encouraged the board to pursue the funds, and said that Dover’s airport expansion committee may be able to help supply some of the data needed for a grant application. “One of the things that committee will do is create an expansion model so all parties can understand the impact on the region.”

Haughwout suggested that the Bitown Economic Development Committee should be brought in on the discussion. “(The proposed expansion) is a bitown type of effort,” she said. “And I think it’s important for this board to have a conversation with our sister board in Dover. I’d like to know how they’re viewing this.”

In economic development matters, Sibilia and Lisa Sullivan, chair of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS), a countywide economic development group, asked the board for funding to help the group leverage a grant from the town of Brattleboro, and to consider including future funding for the group’s work in the annual budget or on the warning for the annual Town Meeting.

Sibilia said the immediate request was for about $5,550, or about $3 for each Wilmington resident, to meet the challenge offered by Brattleboro. Brattleboro gave SeVEDS a $25,000 grant, and offered another $25,000 if other Windham County towns would chip in to match the amount before the end of the fiscal year. “We’re asking all towns that have CDBG money, the 1% local option tax, or grant matching funds to give us those matching funds, and we’re asking all towns to put something in their budget.”

Board members agreed to provide the matching funds requested, from a budget line item earmarked for matching funds.

SeVEDS is pursuing several economic development goals, including workforce development, increasing the number of young families in the region, fostering entrepreneurship, and planning for a “post-Vermont Yankee” economy. The group is also pursuing a federal grant from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) program and study. “The CEDS is a pathway to becoming an EDA district, and that opens the door to federal funds.”

Board member Jim Burke asked if SeVEDS was working to pursue businesses that would move into the area. “It’s great to develop the workforce, but have you gone out and asked people about moving their business, or part of their business here?”

“Next month we’ll be identifying key clusters of businesses that are working here or can be successful here,” said Sullivan.

“There are businesses that can’t work here because of the workforce situation,” Sibilia said.

Streeter asked Sibilia and Sullivan to return with a full presentation on SeVEDS’ work.

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