Town & Village Officials
Hungry for More Taxes
by Bruce Post, former Selectboard Member
November 2, 2020
With the global Covid-19 pandemic worsening, various members of the Essex Selectboard, Village Trustees and municipal staff are conjuring up what they seem to think is a good idea: taxing face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPEs). They also are concocting a poison pill for ailing local stores, restaurants, bars and hotels: higher taxes. And, for good measure, they would also sock it to Global Foundries.
If this sounds familiar, it is. Twice before, town and village officials advocated adoption of the so-called local option tax (LOT), which lets towns and villages add an additional 1% to the state’s sales, rooms, meals and alcoholic beverage taxes. (The town gets to keep 70% of the added 1%.) And, twice before, those proposals have failed.
In 2009, a near-overflow crowd of more than 500 at Town Meeting shouted down the proposed local option tax, fed up with the Selectboard’s propaganda and ignorance. In 2010, Essex Junction voters defeated a proposed village local option tax at their Annual Meeting.
One bone of contention: For months, the Selectboard assured residents that the only effect of the tax on major employer IBM would mean its employees would pay more for their meals in the IBM cafeteria. Fortunately, just two weeks before the vote, IBM corrected the Selectboard’s misinformation. “1% will be added to all items procured by IBM that are not directly used in manufacturing or development,” wrote David J. Anger, IBM Site Controller. He added, “This tax as it is will increase our operating expenditures significantly.” One IBM employee in the know privately confided that the added tax burden on IBM-Essex “would have been in the high six figures.”
Village Trustee George Tyler, though, seems to hope the third time might just be the charm. Despite batting 0-for-2 on both previous local option proposals, Tyler was a vocal cheerleader for another swing at the bat during a joint Selectboard/Trustee discussion on Monday, October 26.
Yet, reflecting on why the tax was pilloried in 2009, Tyler is still running the same old deception about IBM. “The biggest source of revenue that we anticipated from this would be from IBM because of their cafeteria … and possibly Global Foundries,” he said. Tyler then doubled down on his spin, “We had a hard time convincing people that ‘no, this doesn’t come out of the bottom line of the company. This comes out of the employees’ pockets.’”
Of course, they had a hard time. It wasn’t — and isn’t — true. Even Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney, a frequent Tyler collaborator, couldn’t buy Tyler’s hustle, telling him that there was more to the IBM/Global Foundries issue than just meals.
Playing along with the gastronomic theme, Municipal Manager Evan Teich came up with his own “evidence” for supporting a local option tax: the length of the line of cars in the drive-through lane at the Starbucks on the corner of Susie Wilson Road and Route 15! Caramel macchiato, anyone?
In the end, both boards asked municipal staff to prepare more information in time for the next joint meeting. Stay tuned. It could get worse.
Bruce S. Post, a former Selectboard member, was chief of staff for 1980 presidential candidate U.S. Congressman John B. Anderson