Chamber bandies local option tax for regional marketing

By Shawn Cunningham
©The Chester Telegraph — 2014

The head of the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce has approached the Chester and Ludlow town managers asking for their thoughts on a local option tax, saying that it could be used to market the area and hinting that the money would go to the chamber.

According to a copy of emails provided by Chester town manager David Pisha, chamber chief Marji Graf wrote on Monday, Sept. 29, “… was thinking of doing it as a REGION … for additional marketing dollars for the region. Currently only chamber members pay for our marketing when it really benefits everyone. Just a thought.”

Share your thoughtsPisha made the exchange public during last Wednesday’s Chester Select Board meeting.

“I heard from the Okemo Chamber of Commerce, wondering if the Select Board was interested in a local option tax,” Pisha told the Select Board. “I believe it would be used principally to market the area.”

“So the money we would collect through the tax goes to the chamber?” asked board member Derek Suursoo.

“I believe it does. I was told it would be used to market the region,” said Pisha. “If you wish more information, I can get it.”

“Sounds like we would collect a tax to force (businesses) to participate in a program they may not want to participate in,” added Suursoo.

“In fairness,” said board member Bill Lindsay, “we should have David get the information and look into it.”

“They thought this was a good way to spread the marketing burden away from chamber members to all citizens in Chester,” said Pisha

On Friday, Graf said she had raised the question with Pisha and Ludlow town manager Frank Heald to get their views on a regional — as opposed to a single town — local option tax to be used for marketing as she said the towns of Killington, Stowe and Manchester do.

Several municipalities in the state have local option taxes that add 1 percent to either or all of the taxes on sales, rooms and meals and alcohol. The state of Vermont keeps 30 percent of local option taxes collected, and charges $5.96 per sales tax return filed. The 30 percent goes to the PILOT fund that makes payments in lieu of taxes to local governments for state properties in their jurisdictions. Based on the receipts brought in last year and taking into account the state’s cut, a 1 percent tax would net about $84,000 from Chester.

According to Vermont law, enacting a local option tax requires a vote of the residents of a town.

Stowe town manager Charles Safford says that the Stowe local option tax raises about $800,000 per year, $350,000 of which goes toward debt service on the town’s ice arena. The rest goes toward a capital fund that can be used for “enhancements.” Safford describes enhancements as investments in the community that are not necessary, but help make Stowe a good place to live and a good destination.

No money from the local option tax goes toward marketing, he added.

In his email response to Graf’s statement that only chamber members pay for marketing the area, Pisha wrote: “Even marketing the Region does not seem to have the same benefits as before. Okemo has adopted what I call the DisneyWorld approach. They want their guests to arrive, park their car and never leave the mountain until it is time to depart. That doesn’t help any of the surrounding business in the area.”

Pisha suggested that a marketing plan would have to have “real tangible outcomes for a variety of business.”

“It’s not going to happen,”  Graf told the Telegraph on Friday, noting that the response in Ludlow and Chester to such a tax had not been positive. “My struggle is to get people here rather than Killington or Jay Peak.”

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  1. Michael says:

    A very large number of Chester businesses do not feel compelled to be part of Okemo Valley Chamber. The chamber indeed needs to think outside the box and not rely on burdening our customer base with any additional taxes. More money doesn’t equal better marketing. Efforts to raise money while also promoting the area should be evaluated, among many other things. Advertising efforts have not been effectively executed to justify spending more. I feel bad for the many businesses I seeing wastefully spending money on advertising that is not effective for their business. Spend advertising money wisely, not just more of it.

  2. Mary Jane Miles says:

    Just another good reason to shop over New Hampshire!

  3. Marji Graf says:

    I’m sorry this conversation was taken out of text. It was a simple question to the Ludlow and Chester town managers to see if this topic has ever come up. It was my opinion only that if we had additional marketing dollars for the region, we would all benefit. That’s it. I’m just trying to think “outside the box.”

  4. Michele says:

    Are you kidding me? As a small business owner in Chester it’s difficult enough to make ends meet. “Okemo Valley” (which is not a real area) has a lot of nerve to try to take from those of us who do not want to take part in their chamber of commerce. In my opinion Chester benefits little or not at all from their marketing. They push everyone to Ludlow. This would not change even if they had more money from Chester. It blows my mind that they would even consider bringing this up!