If you’re a Middlebury resident, when you get your Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 4, vote “Yes” on Article 6.
• It is the best plan Middlebury has seen in 20-plus years of trying to resolve this issue. For 2 cents on the tax rate, the town would get a $7.5 million value. From a taxpayers’ perspective, that’s money well spent on a town building we all know needs significant renovation.
We can spend the $2 million now, and have Middlebury College chip in with $5.5 million, or pay $6.5 million to $8 million down the road.
At the end of the day — with all the other issues put aside — that’s the crux of Tuesday’s vote: Solve the problem at 2 cents on the tax rate, or delay with another round of fractious debates over the next decade, and end up paying three, four or five times more down the road — with all of the future burden falling directly on town taxpayers.
That’s the hard-nosed business side of the equation and, emotions aside, it is a very matter-of-fact decision to make.
There are also features of the new plan that are exciting:
• The new municipal building would remain as an architectural anchor in the heart of the downtown and will create an even more dynamic and vibrant town center. It is an exciting opportunity that will likely create a hub of spontaneous activity — volleyball, Frisbee, pick-up soccer, places to sit and talk or read or work via WiFi on a park bench in the sun — in which even more people enjoy the heart of the downtown.
• A new municipal building and recreational facility also will be far more energy efficient than we could ever afford to accomplish by renovating the existing facilities. Renovating a 30,000-square-foot building that was built in 1916 and bringing it up to modern energy-efficiency standards is not only difficult, but expensive. New materials and new building practices starting from the ground up create a much greener building to heat and maintain over the next 100 years or more at substantial savings to taxpayers.
• A more complex reason to support Article 6 is protecting the town’s tax capacity. We know that Middlebury has one of the highest tax rates in the state. That limits the community’s flexibility to meet tomorrow’s rapidly changing world without pushing taxpayers to the point of moving elsewhere if taxes are raised higher to meet unexpected needs or opportunities.
If the town votes against Article 6, and instead opts to renovate and build new on its own, town taxpayers will face a $6.5 million to $8 million plan that would consume 7 to 8 cents on the tax rate for the next 20 years. That’s a tight noose to wear around your neck for a long time.
Without such limitations the town could think of making itself a tech hub, for example, which might require high-speed Internet capabilities suitable for the next generation of tech start-ups. If towns have it, new high-paying jobs could follow; if you don’t, those jobs will go elsewhere. Similarly, if town leaders were to try to create more affordable housing options here, options are limited to try to create revolving loan funds, or tax breaks for creative commercial solutions, or anything of the sort.
In fact, for the past couple of decades Middlebury has been on the wrong end of a tax spiral that has seen the tax burden climb as resources diminish. Changing that paradigm is essential if Middlebury is to remain vibrant and an affordable place to live.
Town residents have an option to save $5.5 million in tax capacity by approving Article 6, which could be the difference between creating a vibrant economy in Middlebury over the next 15-20 years, or watching those opportunities pass by because we’re hamstrung by punishing tax obligations made today.
The vote Tuesday is about choosing affordable projects today that create the flexibility the town needs to make smart choices as opportunities arise in the years ahead. Vote “Yes” on Article 6.
Angelo S. Lynn