South Burlington council leader finds silver lining in tax-hike defeat

Local News

South Burlington voters stuck down a proposed increase to the local-option tax Tuesday by a 56-44 percent margin, but City Council Chair Helen Riehle said she saw positives in the result.

“Supporting something that took about five steps of understanding is a lot,” Riehle said. “So possibly, we could come back and say ‘It costs this much and we just need rooms and meals tax, would you be willing to consider that?”

Riehle said she believes voters were confused about what the additional revenue would be used for. City leaders had discussed funding an indoor recreation center and creative arts facility, but the ballot question only mentioned the tax increase.

“We hadn’t connected this kind of tax to a specific program or project, and I think that makes it difficult for the public,” she said. “That was our mistake.”

South Burlington would have been the first Vermont municipality to increase their local option tax twice, a move that would require approval from the legislature and Gov. Phil Scott.

Voters did, however, overwhelmingly approve a .5 percent increase in the city’s rental car tax. Riehle said that may be because voters had a clearer understanding of the benefits.

“The connection between a tax on car rentals and saying we’re going to take all of that money and spend it on roads is pretty well connected and clear,” Riehle said. “I also think people driving to the polls drove over some pretty crummy roads, and so more money for roads probably sounded really good.”

South Burlington saw a relatively low voter turnout: Only 17.8% of registered voters cast a ballot on Town Meeting Day. 

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