MBA asks for appropriation
The board did not vote on the request, and expects a decision by its final budget meeting on Jan. 25. The discussion highlighted differences of opinion, however, as to whether the taxpayers should be asked to subsidize a business organization. Though the appropriation would not be voted on as a separate question at Town Meeting, it would be voted on during the overall budget approval process.
The MBA has also asked for the addition of a non-binding question on the Town Meeting ballot asking the voters of Manchester whether they support the idea of funding a marketing program contracted with the town, utilizing the local option tax funding.
To sweeten the deal, MBA President Paul Carroccio proposed that if a $50,000 appropriation was approved, the organization would then fund the $20,000 appropriation requested by ITVFest Director Philip Gilpin Jr. In addition, the MBA would match the full $50,000 appropriation.
"We've raised over $40,000 on our own through donations, and over $30,000 in website enhanced directory payments from local businesses," Carroccio said. "If we can convince other businesses to be here and increase the property value, and increase homeowners values, through all of what we're doing, that actual municipal tax rate could maintain itself without having to be subsidized through the option tax."
Selectman Steve Nichols was the first to respond to the proposal, voicing his initial support. Matching the appropriated funds and providing data on the impact of those funds is a step in the right direction, he said, and other organizations asking for funds should consider doing the same.
"Being out there and listening to the community, and watching where the taxpayer dollars go, that's why I was elected to sit here," Nichols said. "I think your process in economic development for this community, the town of Manchester, is the right way."
Select Board Chair Ivan Beattie took the opposite position, however, taking a fiscally conservative stance on the issue.
"My guiding principle in town government is that our first responsibility is to address those core municipal services that only the town can provide," Beattie said, noting that he has historically voted against all appropriations for non-municipal entities as a matter of principle. "We should not be committing taxpayer dollars to a non-municipal entity over which we have no supervisory control."
The town is only able to keep approximately 70 percent of local option tax revenue, he said — after 30 percent of that revenue plus fees is taken by the state — meaning that any increase would have to be significantly larger than the $50,000 appropriation to make that investment worthwhile.
Noting competition with towns like Woodstock and Stowe, which boast well funded marketing efforts, Carroccio argued that support from town government was vital to enhancing economic development in Manchester.
"We live in a state that is second to last in the country for business environments," he said. "We're asking the town to partner with us, and help us as a business organization."
"It's been proven in various places like Park City and in Austin that the biggest driver of a property value increase is an increase in culture," added Gilpin. "Your conversation on property taxes is exactly right, and it's the culture that events like ours and others can bring in — if you open that door just a little bit."
Beattie remained steadfast in his position, however, arguing that the government is not the most efficient source of funding. A one percent membership fee for the association, he suggested, may be a better option for the MBA to increase their revenue while maintaining complete control.
"I agree with everything you're saying, but for me it comes down to what the government's role is; and ultimately, the voters will define that role," Beattie said. "I'm going to be the anchor that makes it painful for anyone that comes in to ask for money; you're going to have to drag me along with you."
"Regardless of where this particular request for funding goes, don't equate that with the town supporting or not supporting these organizations," added Select Board Vice Chair Wayne Bell, arguing that municipal investments in infrastructure serve to benefit the overall community. "I believe we support you in a big way."
Brad Myerson, a lawyer in Manchester, also voiced his opposition to the appropriation — agreeing with Beattie's assertion that the role of town government should be limited.
The new federal tax bill, he argued, could also impact municipal funds. Small and large businesses alike will see increased funds as a result of tax cuts, he said, and more strain will be placed on the state budget due to federal cuts. Less help from the state for town governments can be expected, Myerson argued.
"The business organization should get up at town meeting and explain to voters why we should devote our option tax dollars for their benefit," Myerson said. "What they do is wonderful, kudos to them, but in its purest form what they're asking for is trickle-down economics."
Ron Mancini, who initiated the utilization of revenue for marketing efforts in his role as president of the now defunct Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce, voiced his dismay at the "us versus them" rhetoric that had arisen.
"This is a volunteer organization trying to promote economic good," Mancini said, arguing in favor of the appropriation. "Because we use local option taxes to defray our expenses, the town is in the business of business — it relies on business revenue for part of its operations."
Reach Cherise Madigan at email@example.com.
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