By Christopher Biddle
KILLINGTON—The town of Killington celebrated its achievements and looked to the future on Tuesday, Jan. 27, as town officials, business owners, members of the community and representatives from local and state organizations met for a followup Community Visit by the Vermont Council of Rural Development (VCRD). About 70 residents plus second homeowners, students and representatives from state offices, showed up to review the progress made since the first visit in 2008 and to establish priorities for the year 2020.
In 2008, the Killington Growth Initiative (KGI) identified challenges to the town’s prosperity that included a poor economy, a decline in cultural activities, a single-season economy, and a strained relationship between the community and Killington Resort. KGI invited the VCRD to facilitate a collaborative effort that involved town government, business owners, and citizens of Killington. Together, they prioritized four major initiatives: strengthen the partnership between town and resort, develop four-season economy, establish a “healthy lifestyle” brand, and build an indoor/outdoor arts center.
While a feasibility study lead the town to abandon building an arts center (at least for the time being), the other three initiatives were implemented successfully, including the construction of a new Killington Welcome Center on Route 4, the unification of branding with consistent colors and logos, and the growth of a four-season economy.
The town showed how revenue from the annual options tax, a one percent tax on alcohol, food, hotel rooms and sales, has increased from $650,000 in 2010 to just over $900,000 in 2015. Revenue for the third quarter (July to September), when the town spends the majority of its marketing budget, increased by nearly 50 percent from around $60,000 in 2009 to just below $120,000 in 2015.
Mike Solimano, president of Killington Resort, received praise from both the presenters and members of the audience for the resort’s role in helping achieve the 2008 objectives. Interim Town Manager Richard Horner cited Cooler in the Mountains, Killington’s summer music series, as one of the obvious benefits to a strengthened relationship between the town and resort, as the town arranges the event and the resort provides the Snowshed base lodge as the venue.
After the presentation on Killington’s progress over the last seven years, Paul Costello of the VCRD invited the audience to “champion” issues they felt the town needed to address. Over a dozen people spoke, including residents, second home owners, seasonal workers and students.
After most had had a chance to speak to the audience, all participants were given four green dot stickers and were asked to place them on the poster paper with the project they felt the town should prioritize moving forward.
The construction of a new firehouse received the most votes at 52 followed by a new recreation facility with 47, mountain biking trails with 43, affordable housing at 39 and improved gateway at 31. Reliable telecom infrastructure came in at 19, walkway and hiking trails at 13, complete street at 12, attract new/more business to town received 12, with a sidewalk to the resort receiving 7, sustaining support for forest land at 6, and developing a micro grid at 3. There was a total of 284 votes.
With regard to the firehouse being the highest priority, Horner told the audience that the town had hired a team of architects and that the town is looking to build a facility on a new site. They’re looking at a possible three-story building that would house not only the fire department, but also the Killington police department, which transitioned from a constable system in 2013. The results of a firehouse feasibility study are available on the town’s website. The current firehouse was built in 1974 and underwent renovations in 1984 and 1998, but is now out of code and no longer meets the needs of the department.
The second highest priority was championed by Select Board member Chris Bianchi, who said mountain biking is a “huge economic driver for the town.”
Meghan Smith, an area resident and Vermont commissioner of tourism, championed the cause of affordable housing in the town, stressing the importance of having young families that can afford to live in Killington.
Costello summed up the event, saying that it was exciting to “look back eight years, to see a community that lifted itself up, whose people lined up strategically, and put their backs to the plow together, and that folks accomplished great things . . . this is where true democracy happens,” he said.