Use of option tax still up in the air
by Mike Eldred
Jan 03, 2013 | 3322 views | 0 0 comments | 272 272 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WILMINGTON- Selectboard members faced criticism at their regular meeting Wednesday evening, over transparency in their handling of revenue from the town’s 1% local option tax.

Wilmington resident and business owner Adam Grinold expressed his concern that the board wasn’t seeking broad public input on the disposition of the revenue. Grinold also objected that the board has discussed the 1% local option tax under a “budget” agenda item. As a result, he said, local residents interested in any discussion on the 1% tax would have no way of knowing it would be a topic at the meeting. “If there’s a discussion the selectboard is having (about the 1% tax revenue), it’s not out there in the public domain.”

The board discussed the tax briefly at their December 19 meeting, eventually deciding to postpone their discussion until Wednesday evening’s meeting. At the December 19 meeting, board member Meg Streeter said her preference would be to use the 1% tax revenue to reduce the property tax in the next fiscal year.

According to a December 27 budget summary, the town has collected about $58,000 in revenue from the local option tax, and with two more quarterly payments due before the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, selectboard chair Tom Consolino said he expects there will be “at least” $100,000 in revenue.

Like Streeter, Consolino suggested leaving the money in the general fund for the next fiscal year. But Consolino also suggested creating a fund for future payments with which to pay for projects. “I suggest we take the first three payments, which are all going into the general fund because we made no other provision, and use that $100,000 to adjust the fiscal year 2014 tax rate,” Consolino said. “Then we create two (Town Meeting warning) articles that would establish a capital account and, starting with fiscal year 2014, apply the option tax (revenue) to the account for the revitalization of the town.”

Financial director Christine Richter said the plan, which would essentially use surplus funds at the end of 2013 in 2014, was “a little different” from the way the town usually handles surpluses but it could be done. Ordinarily, a surplus from the year ending June 30, 2013, would be applied to the 2015 budget.

Streeter said she saw no need for a capital account. “I understand the impetus for a capital account,” she said. “But it’s all up to whomever is sitting here at any given time.”

But Consolino reminded Streeter that the board had already decided that voters would have input on how the money would be spent. “Whether it goes into a capital account or the general fund, it’s up to the voters to decide.”

Grinold said board members had also decided to hold public meetings on how the tax would be used. “This is the longest conversation about the 1% tax I’ve heard,” Grinold said. “It’s a travesty that it’s not being heard or talked about by the public. I remember you said there would be public hearings in the summer to discuss this. It sounds like you’re dangerously close to making decisions.”

Board member Susan Haughwout said any spending would still be subject to public scrutiny. “We did miss some earlier public hearings, and I apologize for that,” she said. “But it’s a going to be a public choice anyway. I’m not sure we’re dangerously close to bringing down our hammer and deciding on this without going to the voters.”

Grinold said few were aware of the selectboard’s plans, but many had a different recollection of how the tax was to be used. “Now the public will be aware of it, and it’s going to be a challenge for you to hear from the public by the (Town Meeting warning) deadline of January 16. I, and others, would like to provide some input that would help shape your discussion.”

Haughwout said the board was prepared to take comments on the matter. “Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks.”

In other budget matters, selectboard members were stymied by a lack of information. The board deferred a decision on the amount of their contribution to the joint lobbying effort with Dover for lack of information regarding the amount Dover was asking for, or the total cost of the 2014 contract with the lobbying firm. Haughwout said she hadn’t received answers to all of her questions to Dover by meeting time.

The board also deferred a decision on whether to buy a used truck from the Wilmington Wastewater Department to be used for towing fire department equipment, or to reimburse firefighters for towing the equipment with their personal vehicles. Cost was one factor, but board members were also concerned about the potential liability to firefighters of using their own vehicles. Town manager Scott Murphy said, in the event of an accident, the town’s VLCT insurance would cover any cost not covered by their private vehicle insurance. But board member Jim Burke said he was concerned about further consequences to volunteers, such as any increase in private vehicle insurance cost as the result of an accident, or a lawsuit resulting from an accident. “If a person takes his vehicle, with our equipment, and someone gets killed (in an accident), who gets sued?” he asked. “And then does his insurance company get in line with the suer to sue the town?”

Board members did agree, however, that the purchase of the truck could be included on the warning for public discussion.

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