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Opinion: Corporatization of town property raises questions

On my morning walk through Middlebury today, I saw a disturbing sight. The large granite blocks outside the new town office building now sport corporate advertising. I knew the selectboard was considering this approach to fundraising, because my company had been solicited for funds.
Several months ago, an emissary of the town contacted our business and explained the town’s plan to offer a “select group of businesses” the opportunity to have their name on granite benches that would be installed outside the new building. We were told the price of participation was $3,000 per bench. I explained that our business couldn’t afford that large a cost, but we would be happy to contribute a few hundred dollars to the cause. We were told the deal was all or nothing. Only donations of $3,000 would be accepted. We had to decline.
This news bothered me enough that I raised my concerns at the next selectboard meeting, and I was told the board would look into the issue. I have never heard a word since.
I find the sale of corporate advertising on town property offensive on two fronts.
First, the town is not a nonprofit like the Town Hall Theater. The town has the authority to raise taxes to fund repayment of bonds and the operating expenses of town government. The Town Hall Theater — and other nonprofits — must constantly solicit donations, and one tool they use is the “buy a brick” method to memorialize a donation. A business and a community have only so much capacity to give, and I believe when government competes for those contributions, our true charitable efforts are threatened.
My second objection is this: Where is the plaque with the names of every taxpayer in Middlebury who is paying the costs of this new office building? There are many taxpayers in town who pay many thousands of dollars a year in taxes to the town. There are many taxpayers living on very tight budgets who still pay their town taxes each year. Where is the recognition of that ongoing commitment to our town?
The commercialization of public property may seem like an easy way to raise a few bucks, but I wonder at what real cost.
Paul Ralston
Vermont Coffee Co.
Middlebury

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