Local option tax on target to pay off Middlebury bridge

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s local option tax has generated $1,335,614 in its first two full years of collection — an average of $667,807 annually, which town officials said puts the community comfortably on pace to retire the 30-year-bond for the Cross Street Bridge.
Figures provided by the town of Middlebury show the 1-percent tax on rooms, meals, sales and alcohol generated $202,515 during the third quarter of 2010. That’s the strongest quarter ever, and well ahead of the $186,917 in taxes generated during the same quarter of 2009.
It was during the fourth quarter of 2008 that Middlebury first instituted local option taxes (with voter approval) to cover $7 million of the $16 million Cross Street Bridge debt. Middlebury College gifted the remaining $9 million to help cover the cost of the 30-year bond.
Officials had estimated the local option taxes would generate around $700,000 each year, exceeding the minimum $600,000 needed annually to retire the town portion of the bridge project debt. While the current average of $667,807 is less than anticipated, it is still more than adequate to cover the bill, town officials noted.
“Certainly, we are encouraged,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the latest returns. “It gives us reason to have confidence in the figures going forward.”
Fueling officials’ optimism is that Middlebury’s local option tax has raised adequate yields in spite of having been instituted during the height of the recession. This would seem to bode well for the future, according to Middlebury Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo.
“The results are so much stronger during the second year than in the first year,” said Colangelo. “We seem to be on the right track now.”
The taxes raised $641,937 in year one, compared to $693,677 in year two. As the economy gets better, local officials are expecting that figure to go up. If it gets to a point where there are more local option tax revenues than are needed to retire the bridge project debt, the selectboard will ask taxpayers whether they’d like to spend some of the excess on local projects, or retire the bond debt more quickly.
Town Manager Bill Finger stressed there’s no indication there will be excess tax revenues to use anytime soon. And he noted there is an indication the bridge project could come in “a little bit over” budget. That extra cost — which was still being calculated as the Addison Independent went to press — is associated with some extra features town officials chose to add to the scope of work in order to improve the project (such as the granite posts fronting Two Brothers Tavern on the border of the new roundabout intersection).
Meanwhile, early evidence suggests the Cross Street Bridge is fulfilling its promise of lessening traffic congestion in downtown Middlebury.
Traffic count information supplied by Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley shows an average of 4,981 vehicles use the Cross Street Bridge each day.
“That’s just under 5,000 cars a day diverted from Main Street,” Hanley said. “It has made Merchants Row and Main Street far more pedestrian-friendly and it has reduced traffic in Court Square. It has had the residual effect of keeping the traffic flowing.”
Not all the bridge reviews are stellar. Some residents have complained about the bridge railing obscuring site visibility at the intersection of South Pleasant Street and Cross Street and when coming out of the Ilsley Library parking lot. Others have criticized the placement of the new directional signs and the timing patterns of the new signals at Academy Street and Court Street, which Finger said he has looked into.
But, for the most part, feedback has been pretty positive, according to Finger.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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