(Host) There’s been a lot to divide Killington residents in recent years. Property tax controversies. Ups and downs in the ski industry. Even a controversial push to leave Vermont for New Hampshire.
Tonight, at a community dinner, townspeople will have a chance to reconnect and reassess their priorities with help from the Vermont Council on Rural Development.
VPR’s Nina Keck has more.
(Keck) Paul Costello is Executive Director of the Council on Rural Development. He says when the council makes one of its community visits, it takes a diverse team of listeners. For instance, in Killington there will be heads of nonprofit agencies, the Secretaries of transportation and tourism and the deputy secretary of commerce.
Not, says Costello, to solve Killington’s problems or define its issues, but to think along with community members as they define their priorities.
(Costello) "I think it helps the community to know that everyone is listening. Killington has pulled away from groups and in a way it’s a great time for them to reconnect with state and federal agencies."
(Keck) Bill Bauer, a former Killington select board member, owns the local Summit Lodge and Grist Mill Restaurant. With the economy taking a nose dive, Bauer says it’s especially important for resort towns, like Killington, to plan for the future.
(Bauer) "The beauty is the timing is so perfect since we have the Killington economic growth initiative formed already and we’re talking about trying to generate some revenue to accomplish some of these goals through our option tax. And now to have this really dynamic group of people coming from the state level to come down and work with us – it’s the perfect storm. It’s all happening at a great time and it’s all very exciting."
(Keck) For the past year, Bauer says he and about 50 others have been brainstorming about how best to stimulate the local economy and promote year-round industry and tourism.
(Bauer) "If you look at any successful business, anywhere, they’re successful because they’ve had a successful business plan and they have a good leader who steers that plan."
(Keck) Bauer says they believe Killington needs a strategic plan. He says the town should have an economic development department, complete with a dynamic director and support staff. A 1% local option tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol has been proposed to pay for it. Local voters will decide whether to approve the tax on Town Meeting Day.
(sound of Killington Deli) "Be right with you okay sir? – be right there buddy. . ."
(Keck) At the Deli at Killington Corners, the proposed local option tax is a touchy subject. Proponents say the tax could raise more than $650,000 a year. Resident Carol Lewis pays for her morning coffee and heads out to her car.
(Lewis) "I think there are a lot of people who aren’t comfortable with it yet – and they’re concerned about the cost of trying to hire consultants and so forth. And with the economy being what it is I think we’re all in a position where we want to be a little careful."
(Keck) Lewis says a similar initiative last year asking voters to raise funds based on property taxes went nowhere. She starts to walk away then stops and turns back.
(Lewis) "I think we all realize we have to do something – something has to happen here. Otherwise it’ll be a slow death and we don’t want to see that."
(Keck) Down Route 4 at Sherburne’s United Church of Christ, Pastor Beverly Anderson says people are worried about the economy and what the change of ownership of the ski resort will mean locally. Still, she says she’s excited about Killington’s future and the chance to gather with many of her neighbors tonight to help map it out.
(Anderson) "I’m looking forward to a renewed business community and a renewed sense of pride and enthusiasm for what can happen in Killington as we take a look at how we can change and make things happen."
(Keck) For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Killington.
(Host) Killington’s community dinner and forum will begin tonight at 5 at the Sherburne Elementary school.