I support all efforts made towards transitioning Vermont from a Dillon’s Rule state to a home rule state. Presently, that means supporting the Vermont League of Cities and Towns proposal to the Vermont Legislature to initiate a pilot program allowing limited self-governance to selected Vermont municipalities. This proposal already has the support of the outgoing Selectboard, but I would continue that advocacy.

What is home rule?

For anyone not informed, a quick general summary of the issue. Most states have a home rule structure, which means that towns have all rights and powers not specifically prohibited by state law. Vermont, by contrast, is a Dillon’s Rule state, which means that Vermont towns have only the rights and powers specifically granted by state law. This is a much more limiting construction from a town’s perspective.

This issue is most important when it comes to taxes. Brattleboro can only raise funds by a few mechanisms. The main one is property tax. Property taxes make up 86% of Brattleboro’s revenue, and thus its budget. The state also allows towns to apply a 1% rooms, meals, and alcohol tax, which Brattleboro does, and a 1% sales tax, which Brattleboro does not. Adopting the 1% sales tax is a contentious issue, but the current Selectboard is recommending to Representative Town Meeting that it be adopted.

Why does it matter?

The reason a home rule structure would be so valuable to Brattleboro is because of how tied our hands are when it comes to raising revenue to establish the town’s budget. If the 1% sales tax is adopted in 2019, it will provide a boost to revenue and thus the budget, but that’s the final option available. Moving forward, raising the property tax will be the only way for Brattleboro to increase its operating budget. There is no room for creativity or innovation.

This is particularly painful because Brattleboro, as a regional economic hub, provides services (e.g. the Brooks Library, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital) that are funded by Brattleboro’s property taxpayers but are used by residents across the region. Living in Brattleboro town, and paying Brattleboro’s significantly higher property tax, is simply a bad financial decision when you can buy property in Guilford or Dummerston and still benefit from services paid for by others. This kind of flight from a high property tax will only feed into itself, as people choosing not to live in the town further diminishes the tax base.

Whether you’re a property taxpayer or not, Brattleboro as a community suffers when Brattleboro’s ability to fund town services diminishes. Any movement towards home rule would provide necessary room to maneuver.

Oscar Heller for Brattleboro Selectboard 2019