By Laura Krantz, VTDigger.org
Vermont’s ski industry has outgrown the terms of decades-old leases of state land that were designed to help resorts grow and now result in lucrative deals for booming resorts, a state audit released last week found. By most measures, the public-private partnership between resorts and the state is successful, but the lack of uniformity among leases creates a system that is difficult to control and creates extra cost for taxpayers, the report stated.
Lease payments have declined over the past 20 years, when adjusted for inflation, according to the audit. Ski resorts in the past half-century have diversified their revenue streams and those new sources are not captured in lease payments. The state made a critical error in not requiring regular opportunities to update the 50- to 100-year leases it has with ski areas, Auditor Doug Hoffer said.
In 2014 the auditor’s office investigated the leases of the seven ski resorts that use public land: Bromley, Burke, Jay, Killington, Okemo, Smuggler’s Notch and Stowe.
The goal of the leases has been to help develop and promote recreational sports in Vermont and to that end, the partnerships have been successful, the auditor said. However, the leases are outdated, he continued.
They were crafted when the resorts were locally owned, fledgling businesses that the state helped in order to boost tourism. The earliest lease was initiated in 1942 with Bromley Mountain. The leases expire between 2032 and 2060. They govern about 8,500 acres of public land.
On Tuesday, Jan. 20, Hoffer called on the Legislature and administration to restart discussion on the leases and attempt to standardize the agreements.
“It’s not as if they’re a start-up needing a helping hand,” Hoffer said.