Winhall to vote on secession from Vermont

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(Host) A year ago on Town Meeting Day, frustrated taxpayers in Killington voted to pursue leaving Vermont and joining New Hampshire. This year, Winhall will vote on whether to join the secession movement.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Winhall Selectman Rudy Weaver says seceding from Vermont may be a long shot, but it’s not a joke – especially in resort towns like his.

(Weaver) “Towns like Winhall and Killington and Ludlow – taxes are a burden that’s just becoming too great. And I think there’s no one willing to listen to reason and try to compromise and come up with reasonable solutions to this problem.”

(Keese) The problem, Weaver says, is Vermont’s education funding formula and statewide property tax fund. He says it asks too much of towns where fulltime populations are low and property values are rising faster than elsewhere in the state.

Winhall, at the foot of Stratton Mountain, has roughly 12-hundred vacation homes and only 250 full-time residents. Under the current formula, the town pays about $6 million to the statewide education fund. It gets about a $1 million back in support of local education.

(Weaver) “I moved to Winhall from New Jersey. I looked around very carefully. We picked Vermont, it’s a beautiful state. I picked Winhall because the taxes were low and I had wanted to retire there.”

(Keese) But in the past four years, he says, his taxes have gone up five-fold. Many of his neighbors are in the same boat.

(Weaver) “But from what we hear talking to our own representatives there does not seem to be a real desire to come up with a meaningful solution that we would all be happy with.”

(Keese) So Weaver says Winhall turned to Killington, and its town manager David Lewis, for advice.

(Weaver) “Like the town of Winhall, they were left with very few options. Aand I applaud them for trying to make a statement, having the fortitude to investigate options and actually come up with a plan. It’s a long shot but I think that at least they’re trying to do something. And I think more towns should sign on and do the same thing.”

(Keese) Lewis, the Killington town manager, has been invited to talk with several towns since Killington launched its secession initiative. But only Winhall plans to bring it to a vote.

Meanwhile, Killington residents will vote again on the secession issue this year by Australian ballot. A number of voters tried to force a paper ballot reconsideration after last year’s meeting, but they were too late.

Lewis says he thinks residents are pleased with how the effort has been going. New Hampshire legislators are considering a bill to set up a bi-state panel to explore a possible transfer from one state to the other.

(Lewis) “On related aspects we’ve continued to work with the Vermont governor and with representatives and through the legal process to try to deal with the inequities of Act 60 and 68. So we’re not putting all our eggs in the New Hampshire basket.”

(Keese) Winhall’s Rudy Weaver says he hopes to send a message about the level of unrest, so officials in Montpelier will open up a dialogue. If that doesn’t happen, he says he’ll be more than happy to cast his lot with the Granite state.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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