Killington sees greener pastures in N.H.

Vermont town's vote to secede likely symbolic

March 03, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

KILLINGTON, Vt. - At the annual town meeting yesterday, the agenda moved quickly from item to item: Elect a library trustee, discuss grants and serve the coffee and doughnuts.

But even before all that, the residents decided literally to move on, by seceding from Vermont and joining New Hampshire, 35 miles to the east.

The overwhelming voice vote will most likely prove only symbolic: Killington's secession would require approval from the legislatures of both states, and Vermont lawmakers have given no indication that they will support it. But there is no denying that the issue brought out the largest crowd for a town hall meeting in years, attended by perhaps 300 of this ski resort's 1,100 people.

The vote was the latest salvo in a tax battle that has endured since 1997. The law that sparked it all, Act 60, transformed the state's school financing system from one administered through local collection of property taxes to one based on a state tax pool. As a result, the residents of property-rich towns like Killington began paying significantly higher taxes, in effect subsidizing less-affluent towns.

Killington challenged the law in court, and a judge ruled in its favor in 2002. But the state appealed the decision, which the Vermont Supreme Court overturned last year.

Incensed local officials then began exploring "the last resort," in the words of Town Manager David Lewis: making Killington an island within Vermont by "moving" it across the Connecticut River to New Hampshire. Lewis and the three town selectmen plunked down $10,000 of the town's $4.5 million budget for an economic analysis.

Killington now sends $20 million a year to the state in tax revenue - property, sales, room, meal and alcohol - and receives back only about $2 million in education and other aid. The analysis showed that by moving to New Hampshire, it would halve its state payments and would get a little more back.

"We're not against helping out and paying our fair share," said one town selectman, Walter Findeisen. "What we're against is having it socked to us. The best thing to do is to leave the state. The state doesn't want us."

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