By Polly Lynn Mikula
KILLINGTON—On Town Meeting Day, March 6, voters in Killington will be asked to approve general fund expenditures of $4.4 million, of which $3.17 million will be raised by property taxes. This represents a tax rate of $0.41— a 4.4-cent increase per $100, or 11 percent, over last year.
The three candidates running for the one open seat on the Killington Select Board have all stated that the town budget is a priority. This week we asked them to further explain their positions.
First time candidate Kelly Lange said she supports the current budget and encourages voters to pass it.
“I will be voting ‘yes’ on the current budget,” Lange said, adding that she thinks it addresses past obligations as well as important future initiatives but also looks for meaningful cuts so as to limit the tax increase for voters. “We knew our tax rate would be going up this year, but efforts were made to mitigate the increase,” she said.
“After reading the auditor’s report and executive summary [in the town report] and familiarizing myself on this year’s budget, I think it’s clear that we are getting back to where we need to be,” Lange added, citing “clearing up the Irene debts and building back up a reserve fund (which the auditor told us should be a priority).”
Candidate Jay Hickory disagrees. He says he plans to vote “no” on passing the budget on Town Meeting Day and urges other voters to vote it down, too. “I don’t trust the numbers,” he said. “I believe it needs to be looked at better with a new person on the board and reappropriations need to be made, minimally,” he said.
When asked for specifics, he suggested that “trims” could be made at the library, recreation department and the town offices themselves. He would recommend getting those extra costs out of the budget all together with the hope of lowering the tax rate.
Past Selectman Jim Haff said that while he personally cannot vote for the budget without all the pertinent debts (“missing chapters”) included, he’ll respect what the voters choose. “I’ve learned a lot in listening to voters, so I’m good either way,” he said. “If the voters want to pass it, we can work with it, but if for some reason the voters don’t pass the budget, I do think we could do better.”
Haff said that in 2011 when the budget was defeated, “it was a very smooth transition that year. We were able to cut about 10 percent from the budget and there was no noticeable changes in town operations.”
Haff added that there is always “fat” in a budget that can be cut, but doesn’t feel the current Board has made those though choices. “Two months ago, in a Select Board meeting, the Board was talking about a 10 cent increase, now they’ve worked it down to a 4-5 cent increase. But the way they did that was just to delay things,” he said.
But Haff cautioned that cuts would most likely be negated by responsible reallocation of those funds to current infrastructure capital plans and debts. “Let’s get down to business, find our true financial situation so we can put a plan together to get rid of our debts and move this town forward.”
“We have seen the recent success of the town’s mountain bike trails,” Lange said of town investments. “But voters have to see the benefits of those investments; so we always have to make sure we’re getting the return on those investments… We also have to make sure that we look at all the components to be sure we understand how it might affect other investments, infrastructure and departments so we don’t end up paying more in the end.”
With regard to the town-owned Green Mountain National Golf Course (GMNGC), Lange said, “My priority, in general, is to get the golf course at least to a break-even point, where it’s not losing money.”
Jay Hickory suggested looking into “subletting food and beverage” at the golf course. “The town doesn’t need to be in food and beverage. If we subbed it out we could plan on the money and would have no hassles,” he said. He also feels that the golf pro and golf manager should not be the same person. Adding that he distrusts current town leadership, specifically citing the manager/golf pro at GMNGC, the town manager and Select Board.
Jim Haff explained his position. “I believe I’m different on the budget issue because for the last eight years my position has always been that the town should be looking after the core departments, which include: library, school, recreation (which should include the golf course), highways, and public safety,” he said. “We need to invest in what we have, we need to keep the infrastructure we have in shape and not forget what we have while wanting to build new.”
Haff cited improper budgeting for the future needs of the golf course and town pool as examples of investments needed for existing infrastructure.
“I just want to bring the facts forward and let voters decide,” he said. “My issue with the budget (confirmed by the auditor) is that we have not been given all the chapters in our budgets, so how do we, as a community, make the right decisions and set the property priorities for our town? “
On Monday, Feb. 26, from 7-8:30 p.m. the Killington Pico Area Association will host a Killington Select Board Candidates Forum. The event will take place at Killington Welcome Center. All three Killington Select Board candidates have confirmed their attendance. Citizens may submit questions prior to the forum by emailing [email protected] The event is free and open to the public.