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Killington selectman frustrated with lack of fiscal responsibility in 2013 budget plan

Selectman Jim Haff, known by some as a watchdog over town spending who helped residents with their tax appeals and brought attention to nearly $1 million in undesignated funds in the town's General Fund this year,  questioned last Tuesday whether or not he will run again for a seat on the three-member Select Board in March of next year.

In an interview a day after the meeting, Haff said he didn't feel like trying to keep his seat on the three-member Board, feeling downtrodden after requesting financial prudence from the town and making little headway.

"I'm tired of sitting on the Board, trying to getting things done and having people on the Board with dreams," Haff said Wednesday.
Haff said his fellow Board members are focused on making the town a year-round attraction or offering free education to attract new residents while he wants to put the town in a better financial position.

He said his request to level-fund the 2013 budget fell on the deaf ears of Town Manager Seth Webb.

Haff also argued against spending more for summer tourism out of the town's savings.

He said Killington Resort's president himself publicly said in the last few weeks the resort supports year-round tourism but the priority now is boosting skier visits in the winter months.  

"Everything I've done has been for the taxpayer. When can you remember I've done something to benefit myself?" Haff said.
At Tuesday's two-hour public session for town officials to discuss putting articles on the ballot for voters to decide the use of $711,864 undesignated money, Haff also told fellow member Bernie Rome that he may want to align with his view on how the money should be presented to voters for approval.

Town Manager Seth Webb presented a plan for undesignated funds that called for about $108,000 to go toward constructing the town's gateway at Routes 4 and 100 and beautifying Killington Road.

The plan also called for $313,000 to be designated as a "Rainy Day Fund" to be used as contingency in case of emergencies or to cover a budget deficit.

Other funds would go toward replenishing highway capital funds depleted during Tropical Storm Irene, the fire department capital fund, an emergency generator for the school and new, upgraded street lights.

But because the money wasn't previously used for anything, voters are required, by law, to dictate how the money will be specifically used in 2013.

According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, to be fiscally prudent, it is wise if Vermont towns maintain 5 percent of its budget in an undesignated fund balance, known in this case as the "Rainy Day Fund."

That 5 percent, which would be $192,000 in Killington's case, would help avoid increases in taxes in the future, if the town has to spend more or revenue comes in less than expected, according to the VLCT.

Haff, instead, proposed voters be asked to approve a total of $421,000 (combining both of Webb's proposals) to go toward a designated reserve fund that would eventually pay off a balloon payment in 2023 for the town-owned, Green Mountain National Golf Course, indebted with $5 million.

That loan payment is expected to be about $1.1 million, according to Haff.  

Haff told Rome no one else in his seat would suggest the same.

"I can guarantee you, you won't see another person support those payments," Haff said.

There is currently no reserve fund set up for the balloon payment, but Select Board Chairman Chris Bianchi suggested Tuesday that $50,000 in annual revenue from the golf course go toward the payment.

In what would be one of his last heated debates with his fellow Board members, Haff said revenue at the course has been lower than what was budgeted, and he said, according to audit reports, there's been a difference between course revenue listed in the budget and the audit of about $100,000 over the last two years.

Haff also said Wednesday that not having answers to that discrepancy also worried him.

Bianchi said the town could use the 2012 year-end surplus, whatever that may be, toward a "golf course debt reserve."

Bianchi suggested a revised proposal, starting at a baseline $60,000 for the Gateway and Killington Road projects and about $200,000 for the "Rainy Day Fund."

He also suggested $110,000 of Webb's rainy day proposal sum be put toward the golf course reserve fund.

Rome agreed.

The Board will take up the issue again, based on Bianchi's proposal, at its Jan. 10 meeting.

All articles for the use of undesignated funds under consideration will go before the voters this March.

Cristina Kumka can be reached at cristina_kumka@yahoo.com or 770-4373.