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Middlebury denies AquaViTea’s tax break request

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard has declined Aqua ViTea’s request for a five-year suspension of its municipal property tax levy, a reduction that would have totaled around $92,400.
The reason: The popular kombucha-manufacturer’s request was judged by the town’s Tax Stabilization Task Force to be more of an abatement pitch than something that could’ve been accommodated through a municipal tax stabilization policy that is currently up for revisions.
“The current town of Middlebury tax stabilization policy does not include any provisions for considering a request for abatement as a tax stabilization option,” reads a conclusion issued by the task force, led by Selectwoman Heather Seeley. “The general criteria refer to tax stabilization on new construction or updates to existing structures and/or new machine/business personal property purchases. The application by Aqua ViTea does not propose any new construction or existing structure upgrades. Nor does the application propose maintaining the current tax amount. The task force found the criteria on machinery/business personal property irrelevant because Middlebury no longer taxes machinery/business personal property. Therefore, the task force agreed unanimously that the application as presented be rejected.”
Aqua ViTea operates out of a 63,454-square-foot facility at 153 Pond Lane that it leases from Vermont Industrial Parks. The company’s 2017 total property tax bill is $52,737, with the municipal portion being $18,480. The larger balance of the bill relates to education property taxes.
In his application, Aqua ViTea CFO Jordan Benjamin said the tax break would help the company’s efforts to recruit and install additional tenants into a headquarters that is currently too big for the growing company.
“Aqua ViTea does not require the full 63,454 square feet for production and has found other companies in need of both warehouse and production space,” Benjamin wrote in his application. “Some of these potential tenants could bring in synergies, such as shared warehouse space and production equipment use that would benefit both businesses. Any sub-lease agreement would pass along the pro-rata share of property taxes. Reducing the tax liability… would reduce the sub-lessee’s expenses and incentivize the tenant and encourage job creation.”
Aqua-ViTea currently has 41 full-time-equivalent workers and plans to add around a dozen more in 2018 with salaries ranging from $35,000 to $80,000 annually. Company officials argued the short-term effects on the grand list in reducing the tax liability for Aqua ViTea would be “more than offset” by the long-term impacts of job creation.
The task force will now turn its attention to updating the town’s tax stabilization policy in an effort to make it more effective and user friendly.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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