By Cristina Kumka and Polly Lynn
KILLINGTON – On June 2, the Killington Select Board unanimously supported the creation of a contract between the town and a private non-profit, the Killington Pico Area Association. The KPAA was formed to create efficiencies between the Killington Chamber of Commerce, town and resort, while expanding it to a more regional association. It formed more than a year ago with an executive board made up of the past chamber president and owner of Sushi Yoshi (now KPAA president) Howard Smith, past chamber vice president and Boss Office Works owner Vince Chiarella, Town Manager Seth Webb, Killington Resort President Mike Solimano and Resort VP Tracy Taylor.
The Chamber was officially incorporated as the KPAA early January of this year.
“There was so much redundancy,” said KPAA President Howard Smith.
Smith presented the proposal with Solimano and Chiarella at the regular Select Board meeting June 2. He outlined four main benefits to their proposal: First, the KPAA would “effectively execute the plan in the 2015-16 town budget and continue the growth that has been achieved in the last five years.” Second, it would “increase efficiencies as a community related to special events and marketing.” Third, “leverage the town’s investment to attract more private dollars to Killington (thereby increasing investment in Killington)” and fourth, “open the Welcome Center seven days a week.”
The proposed contract would not raise any additional taxes and would be modeled after the contract the town has with the fire department, according to the KPAA’s written proposal. It was proposed for one year (with an option for renewal), and the town would maintain control over payments, with the Select Board still approving bills, the proposal stated.
The overall goal of the KPAA is for the resort, business community and town to collaboratively “focus on advancing the region’s economy; enhancing members’ success; and ensuring organizational sustainability.”
The contract, which would commence July 1, 2015, would have the KPAA manage all marketing and events established by the town of Killington’s Economic Development and Tourism department and the former chamber. Amy Morrison, currently the director for the KPAA as well as the events and marketing coordinator for the town of Killington, would lead such efforts.
All the functions of the town-funded EDT would be rolled into the KPAA. An annual KPAA budget would be submitted to the Select Board each year go to the voters on Town Meeting Day every year for approval, similarly to how the town’s events and marketing budget is currently passed.
While Killington residents voted in the local option taxes in 2008 for the expressed purpose of using those funds for economic development and tourism, those revenues were more recently voted into the general fund for the Select Board to appropriate as it sees fit within each annual budget.
Currently, revenue for the KPAA comes primarily from membership dues and regional merchant ski pass sales. The organization has stated its desire to continue to raise revenue through its recent expanded regional efforts.
Smith said the KPAA has already elicited the support of Green Mountain Power and Rutland Regional Medical Center and hopes to expand its regional ski pass offerings to White River Junction and the Dartmouth area.
“The winter is pretty much set… The goal is an event every weekend — spring, summer and fall. There shouldn’t be a weekend where someone isn’t saying there is something going on,” Smith told to the Board, Tuesday.
Select Board Chairwoman Patty McGrath said, “The agreement must clearly detail how the events would be managed. The people of the town want to know it’s not just handing a bunch of money over to the KPAA.”
Solimano said, “You look at the events schedule this year compared to last year…the same amount of money is being spent, but there will be more people this year because we have been working together,” he said, adding, “The goal in my mind would be to not only have an event every weekend, but more than one per weekend and see which one works the best. The goal is to get several thousand people rather than several hundred.”
All three Killington Select Board members, Ken Lee, Chris Bianchi and Patty McGrath, said they would welcome a contract on their desks from the Killington Pico Area Association.
Not all in favor
Despite support from the Select Board, business leaders, the resort and town officials, and about a half a dozen citizens raised serious concerns about the KPAA’s proposal. Some questions were raised about the pay, benefits and oversight of Morrison as a hybrid town-KPAA employee. Other questions took aim at the KPAA’s record for managing finances, personnel, marketing and events, while stating that the town, under Webb, has had a great track record, by contrast. Still others worried that the proposal would erode local taxpayer control and could end up costing more down the road. Some did not believe taxpayers should be supporting endeavors to grow a regional business association in the first place, especially if they are the one town in the region to be doing so.