Editor’s note: this was submitted as an open letter to the Killington Select Board on Dec. 10.
As the Select Board leads the effort to bring a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) District to Killington, it appears obvious that the Board and SP Land are orchestrating an effort to promote this project in the most favorable light. We have recently seen several articles in the Mountain Times telling us how great such a district would be for Killington and future development. Using St. Albans as a success story, it quotes the city manager saying “TIF is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet.”
I hate to play skunk at the garden party but, as taxpayers, perhaps it’s time we started to ask some hard questions as we load our weapon with this magical bullet. First, let’s look at TIF. Yes, St. Albans may be a success story but there are other stories worth telling. South of St. Albans, and often in the news, is the TIF funded redevelopment project in downtown Burlington. This project, which tore down the mall and downtown parking, was supposed to have been completed in, I believe, 2021 or 2022. Instead, due to various factors including financing issues and extended litigation, Burlington is now home to a rather large hole in the ground and a project now forecast for completion no earlier than 2026. While the problems may not all have been directly related to TIF, the project was thought to have been another “silver bullet” for downtown redevelopment and instead has caused great harm to other downtown businesses, proving that no project is problem free and “silver bullets” are hard to find.
Now let’s look at Killington and development of the village now known as Six Peaks. The current village design, requiring the elimination of convenient on-site parking at Snowshed and Ramshead, has been on the table for at least 15 years. I have, admittedly, not been a fan of this design as I believe it is bad for resort customers and, thus, the resort itself. I spoke about this at several planning commission hearings on the project years ago as it moved through the initial approval process but, in the end, the commission approved the design with relatively minor modifications as they had neither the legal authority to kill the project nor the desire to be seen as the cause of its demise.
The fact of the matter is that it’s KSRP’s sandbox and it’s their business.
At least since its approval by the town and subsequent approval under the Act 250 process and probably well before that, SP Land has been looking for a developer or developers to bring this project to fruition. What we now know is that upfront development costs are such that the project is not viable financially. This should have come as no surprise to anyone paying attention, especially KSRP and its wealthy backers in Texas and Utah. Not only is the project poorly thought out from a customer viewpoint, it is also poorly thought out financially. As a result SP Land, which was formed in a land-for-debt swap with ASC [American Ski Company], has been on the dead money expressway for years, unable to find an off ramp.
That brings us to the current option, TIF, being promoted as a good deal for Killington. Let’s get real. Some of the wealthiest people in the country, billionaires if you will, won’t pony up a measly few million (actually estimated at $33.8 million) to construct a water pipeline needed to develop their investment. The Select Board, however, in its infinite wisdom, now wants to become a partner in this project, pay for the water system through bonding, and sell it to the town as a panacea, adding in a few more items such as affordable housing to sell the deal to the taxpayers. One of our Select Board members, possibly wearing rose colored glasses, says that the board won’t approve this plan if there is any risk to the taxpaying public. Seriously, all projects come with risk and to say otherwise is hubris. It’s that kind of thinking that brought us the Titanic. A public information meeting is now scheduled for Jan. 4. In my opinion, the Select Board must present (at a minimum) all the financial information supporting the town’s involvement with Six Peaks and SP Land, more detailed information on a municipal water system, more detail to support development of so-called “affordable housing,” basically to address the following:
1. What are the operating costs for a municipal water system, how many customers are projected, and what will the price of water be to its residential and commercial customers?
2. At a time when the whole country is short on workers, how will the construction of affordable housing bring currently non-existent potential employees to Killington?
3. Finally, and most importantly, given the timeline and the costs, what are the risks to Killington taxpayers and what steps is the Select Board projecting to mitigate those risks?
My understanding is that Killington residents do not get to vote on whether to move ahead with the TIF application. We only will get to vote, somewhere down the road, on whether to issue bonds to support this effort. Let’s make sure now that we’re not currently boarding the Titanic, moving full speed ahead through iceberg filled waters, failing to pay full attention to the risks.
Art Malatzky, Killington