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Opinion: Middlebury should take long-term approach to land

As the Middlebury selectboard considers plans for the land behind the Ilsley Library (termed the Economic Development Initiative — EDI) they should keep in mind the fact that highly valuable community-owned pieces of property in the downtown area are becoming less and less, and sale of the parcel under consideration should only be undertaken as an absolute last resort.
Rather than sell the property, the town should seek to lease it to a developer under extremely favorable terms (e.g. $1 per year) in return for partial ownership, perhaps as a silent partner, and thus share in the profits generated from the development. Should the EDI prove successful, it is likely that the town will enjoy profit-generated income for many decades and will eventually take in much more than what can be obtained from selling off the land directly. Such a scenario, that develops an alternative income stream for the town, is extremely important these days since taxes keep rising at a rate that is difficult for many residents to keep pace with, and folks are already getting to the point where they are having difficulty paying them.
This same approach might also be considered for the in-town hydroelectric project planned for the falls downtown. By becoming a partner in the new energy business and sharing in the profits (perhaps in return for giving up water rights and waiving tax payments) the town is likely to earn more money from the sale of electricity over time than it ever could collect in taxes.
Additionally, the board should consider the fact that the selling off of public assets to private individuals, corporations or institutions is precisely part of the reason that today we are seeing the extreme wealth inequality that is currently enjoyed by the richest 1 percent of Americans.
Businesses typically don’t go selling off extremely valuable assets unless they are in financial trouble and have no other choice. The town of Middlebury should do the same and instead work to turn the land behind the library into an asset that will generate income and improve the quality of life for residents for decades to come.
Ross Conrad
Middlebury

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