Local News

Killington Select Board Forum sparks contentious debate


By Sarah Calvin

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, the Killington Pico Area Association (KPAA) hosted a Select Board candidate forum for the public. Incumbent Jim Haff and challenger Andrew Gieda are vying for the open seat on the board and answered a series of questions, which they were given the day prior.

Around 25 people attended the forum in person. It was also livestreamed on Facebook where 38-46 more people watched live, and over 1,000 have watched since. The video is  also available on PegTV. The candidates responded to a series of prepared questions.

Local businessman Andrew Gieda introduced himself as an educated immigrant who is willing to work for his dreams. Born in Belarus, Gieda first came to the U.S. as part of the J-1 work visa program, which allows foreign college students the opportunity to work in the U.S. during their summer break. After completing the program, Gieda matriculated into Castleton State College in 2005, graduating in 2009 with a degree in business management. He currently is the owner of Killington-based home design company InStone Design.

Select Board incumbent Jim Haff opened with his love of skiing, citing Killington Resort as his initial reason to move to the area. Haff and his wife, a Rutland native, raised three daughters in Killington, all of whom now attend/attended Smith College in Massachusetts. Haff is a longtime local, having moved in 1997. He became interested in town government in 2006 and first ran for Select Board in 2010, serving three years.

He said he doesn’t want to go back to the days when the town was divided “us versus them.”

He currently also serves as the interim zoning administrator for the town.

When each candidate was asked why they are qualified to be on the Select Board, Gieda reiterated the importance of his college degree, also citing his background in construction as an aid to the town’s Killington Forward initiative. Haff described his previous work with the Killington Forward program and his previous nine years on the Select Board.

Gieda is running on a platform of change, seeking to energize Killington voters to rally around a fresh perspective. Haff is counting on his established track-record within the town and his previous work with local government as well as private-public partnerships to win him another term.

The next topic presented was the proposed municipal budget, which includes a 9% increase for FY2025.

Haff said he fully supports the budget, which sees a greater allotment for the Killington Fire Department. The fire department recently came under town control after asking for aid due to an increased call volume and waining volunteerism.

“[The Select Board] is making it so that this town is safe and there is a fire department here that can answer every call and get to your house,” said Haff, adding that most of the calls are for the departments EMT services, not fire, “85% of our calls are emergency calls for health, not fire,” he said.

When asked the same question, Gieda called the town budget “incorrect and illegal” as the budget includes salary increases for town employees and Haff, who himself is employed by the town, did not abstain from voting.

Haff rebutted that the town got legal advice on that matter and because it was a 3% raise across the board for all employees, it was not a special consideration.

Gieda feels there is a widespread “lack of accountability” amongst town governments, and thinks allowing employees to vote on their own pay is an ethical violation. He furthered his point by holding up a clear plastic water bottle and a soda bottle, comparing himself to the clear bottle and Haff to the soda bottle and calling for greater transparency within local politics.

Haff responded by citing the town’s public notices in advance of meetings and the ability to listen in via Zoom as well. The candidates traded cutting remarks, with Gieda recounting an experience in which he felt he was kept out of what should have been public proceedings and Haff suggesting Gieda doesn’t understand how government works. The debate was subsequently moved along by the moderator, who asked the candidates what their priorities for the town would be should they be elected.

“My priorities [are] to make sure that Killington Forward keeps on going forward,” said Haff, referring to plans that include constructing a new municipal water system, extensive road reconstruction and a workforce housing development, which will also support Great Gulf’s new resort village (the increment tax of which pays for the majority of those plans). “This town has a lot of issues going in front of it, especially with our tax rates. ”

Gieda responded, “My number one priority is to bring back the volunteers [and] lower our fire department budget. We have to watch our expenses, we have to be efficient.”

Gieda emphasized he’d like to see Great Gulf begin breaking ground on their development at Killington Resort’s Snowshed and Ramshead base area so the town could see some income from the project as soon as possible. After that happens, he said, he’d be open to the town government expanding, but would prefer to keep costs low for townspeople until the project can generate some revenue.

When asked what he thinks Killington does best, Gieda recalled the immediate outpouring of aid and donations his neighbor received when her house burned down, and held up a Vermont Strong license plate, reminding the audience how the community came together during Hurricane Irene in 2011 and again during the flooding this past summer.

Both candidates also discussed the obstacles the town faces, such as lack of affordable housing, expensive tax rates, and the absence of a unified municipal water system.

The biggest issue put forth was the question of the proposed new building at Woodstock High School. Haff is against the construction of a completely new building. 

“We can’t afford the school as a new school,” he said. “Where is that money going to come from? I’m for a new school if we can get other schools to close, so I am for a new building but not for 600 [students].”

“We can’t spend the money we don’t have,” Gieda agreed. “In Europe, some buildings can be 300 years old and they’re still standing. [This plan is to] demolish a building and spend $100 million plus. My kid might go there in 10 years, but then, am I going to be still around? I can’t afford to live here, that’s the reason I’m running. Everything is [becoming too expensive] and it’s pushing us locals out of here.”

To view the recording of the entire debate, visit pegtv.com.

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