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Killington Town Meeting Day preview

Q&A with Killington Town Manager Michael Ramsey

Staff report

Submitted
Town Manager Michael Ramsey enjoys a day on the slopes.

In advance of the upcoming Town Meeting Day vote, March 5, the Mountain Times caught up with Killington Town Manager Michael Ramsey to clarify some of the more nuanced articles voters will be asked to approve.

Article 1 asks voters to elect officials (a moderator, Select Board member, lister, cemetery commissioner and library trustee) and Article 2 asks voters to approve paying property taxes in three installments. We’ve skipped over those here, but look for upcoming coverage of the only contested position: one Select Board seat. Incumbent Jim Haff is being challenged by Andrew Gieda. A public forum for the candidates will be held Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 5 p.m. at the Killington Welcome Center and posted on Facebook.

Article 3 asked voters to approve a municipal budget that is up 9.5% over last year, a $611,520 increase ($7,021,304 vs. $6,409,784) what are the major drivers for this increase in town spending?

Michael Ramsey: The driving force behind the FY25 [municipal] budget increase is staffing, but talking to municipal managers in neighboring communities, a 9.5% increase in operational expenses is not an outlier. For a bigger picture, averaged out over six years, Killington has had an annual tax rate growth of 4.7%. This figure was calculated by taking the rate from 2019 (.4665) and finding the percentage increase to 2025 (approximately .6), then dividing it over 6 years.

I’ll go into more detail about emergency management later in this Q&A, but it’s important to understand that municipal leaders throughout the state are struggling to operate governments on lean budgets that exclude funds for proper staffing. A big reason for this is that Vermont’s historical model of volunteers running governments alone isn’t adapting well to the high expectations of taxpayers, advancements in technology, and mandates passed down from regulatory agencies.

We are also trying to compete with funds that are offered on the state and national levels. Unfortunately, rural communities oftentimes fail to be competitive on this stage because they (we) lack the capacity to apply, manage, implement, and monitor multiple outside-funded projects with significant impact at the same time. 

It’s our mission to take advantage of grants and loans that have disproportionately been awarded to more affluent communities and to do that, we need to invest in highly capable professionals to work in our local government. Killington is strategically taking on complex projects through Tax Increment Financing (TIF) that include developing a long-deserved ski village and municipal water system, working with FEMA to reclaim millions of dollars in flood repairs, and grabbing at every outside dollar available to improve the lives of our current and future residents.

There seems to be an increase in administrative positions at town hall over the past year. Is this the case? What positions were added and why were they needed?

MR: It’s slightly more complicated than this, but yes, our team has grown. Allow me to elaborate.

After a few months following my appointment [last summer], we saw the need to restructure the planning and finance departments. In planning, we hired Lisa Davis-Lewis full-time as the director of planning so that she could shift from being a hired outside consultant to a more permanent fixture within the organization. This change allows her to work more closely with staff and continue the amazing work she performs on the “Killington Forward Initiative” and everything else planning-related. It’s important to note that the planning director was not outside of the budget, and on top of that, we no longer pay consultation fees due to having this position filled.

In the finance department, we have brought on a highly qualified Finance Director Mary Ellen Keenan-Haff, who has brought together a high-functioning finance team, which allowed us to cut a previously budgeted line item that called for a mid-level staff accountant. For clarity, Keenan-Haff’s position was budgeted for but was previously titled “Finance Manager.” 

To manage FEMA projects, highway grants, capital budgeting, and future infrastructure, the Select Board authorized the creation of a public works director position, which is now being held by Abbie Sherman. Although her salary is a new budget line for FY25, a large majority of her pay will be covered through FEMA aid and will eventually be heavily subsidized by ratepayers of the new municipal water system. Due to this, we can expect a decrease in expenses for the FY26 public works portion of the General Fund budget, and perhaps a saving in FY25, too.

Next year’s proposed budget calls for more personnel, which has caused some voters to feel uneasy, specifically in an increase in multiple full-time positions added to the fire department. How many new positions does this year’s budget include for the fire department and other departments?

MR: Building a fire and police department that can keep up with industry standards and make our community safer is a targeted goal of the Select Board, so let’s look at some of the numbers that influenced the proposed FY25 emergency management budget. In 2022, the police department worked 692 cases and responded to 1,219 calls. In 2023, the caseload increased to 1,044 with 1,701 calls.

As for the fire department, Chief Ginther and his team responded to over 55 calls last January, which included two structural fires and two deaths.

To keep up with our needs, the FY25 budget plans for a total of six paid firefighters/EMTs, and five police officers. This is an addition of three firefighters and one police officer from FY24.

By far these changes had the most significant impact on the upcoming budget, but we need to be able to respond to every emergency in the fastest way possible. Without the additional emergency service personnel that the town is requesting from the voters, responding to emergency calls effectively and efficiently will present a challenge that comes with unnecessary risk.

Last Town Meeting Day, voters approved $1.6 million “for the purpose of purchasing and renovating the property at 2046 U.S. Route 4 to become the new Town Hall?” What’s the status of that project? What’s the timeline for town hall to move in? What’s the plan for the current town hall building? Will is be able to help serve the recreation programs and camps this summer?

MR: Moving the town hall is a big project, but we’re giving it all we’ve got.  Structural engineers will have inspected the building by the time this article makes it to the printers, and I’ve been told that architectural plans will be completed by then also. We have about $600,000 to renovate the building, which includes the installation of a vault for the clerk’s office, a voting center, new office spaces, and a stairway to connect the clerk’s office downstairs, with the administrative offices upstairs. We hope to be in the new space by late summer. After that, the old town hall will be a hub for seniors, historians, and the recreation department.

Excitingly, one last time we get to share the town hall on River Road with the kids who are signing up for camp this summer!

The final two articles on the ballot this year are unique. First, Article 4: “Shall the Town of Killington authorize cannabis retailers and the retail portions of integrated licensee operations in the Town pursuant to 7 V.S.A §863?” Can you explain this in a bit more detail? What are the limitations for retail cannabis, geographically in town, size of operations, distances from schools, etc.?

MR:  Put simply, registered voters in Killington will have an opportunity to choose whether cannabis can be sold in town or not. In preparation for this vote, the planning commission and the Select Board ratified zoning bylaws after two public hearings to restrict the sale of cannabis to the commercial Killington basin district along Killington Road.

If voters opt in for retail cannabis on March 5, the newly adopted bylaws also require that facilities be less than 3,000 square feet of sales area, be 500 feet from a licensed childcare facility or any public or private school certified by the Vermont Agency of Education, and be 250 feet from a municipal park or recreational facility.  More information on the amended bylaws can be found on our website.

The second unique article this year is Article 5. “Shall the town authorize the Select Board to perform a study on the impacts of leaving the Mountain View Supervisory Union?” Can you explain what the study would be and what value its results would have for the town?

MR: This one is still coming together, but the general idea is that if passed, the town will hire a firm to weigh the pros and cons of leaving the MVSU. I’m not sure what impact this article will have on the passage of the school district’s budget, or the school boards’ push for a new middle/high school; however, I do believe the warning of the article is justified. There are less affluent and fixed-income residents in Killington who will not be able to afford to live in our community if something isn’t done about education spending, and leaders must do everything possible to limit the exposure from decisions being made on the state level that are harmful to vulnerable and marginalized communities living within our town. 

Vermont needs to take a holistic approach to solving the problem. This requires us to fix the housing crisis by incentivizing sustainable development, create standards for school design/build to provide more equitable opportunities across the state, and think seriously about how much infrastructure we need to give all children in Vermont a good education.

 

 

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