Well, town meeting season has come and gone, and once again it was a great exercise in civil democracy. In my other life as a journalist, I got to cover several local town meetings and even got on statewide television, courtesy of the good folks at Vermont PBS, to weigh in on the events on Vermont This Week, in my view one of the best programs on the air that covers Vermont politics (and I’m not saying that just because once in a while I get to be on it – check it out at https://www.vermontpbs.org/vtw/
Locally, the main issue we were following was the decision in nearby Manchester to help fund a new business organization aimed at promoting the town and the reasons to come here, visit and enjoy what’s on offer. Whether its shopping, dining, lodging, or a remarkable array of outdoor recreational opportunities, from hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, skiing (boy, are the conditions great right now — Cross Country skiers take not – it doesn’t get better than this) or almost anything else, you’ll find something to do to make the weekend getaway or vacation be that spiritual renewal you perhaps have come in search of.
Two years ago, our local chamber of commerce went out of business from financial reasons and for awhile the area’s businesses have struggled to to get the word out about all the fun things in store (and in stores) in the area. Last year a group of volunteer business folk organized themselves into a new group, called the Manchester Business Association, opened a Visitor’s Center and started up a website http://www.manchestervermont.com.
The decision voters faced at town meeting was whether to endorse pulling $50,000 from a revenue stream known as the local, option tax – a one percent surcharge on many, though not all, retail sales, rooms, meals and alcohol purchases (p.s. – we don’t charge that here in neighboring Sunderland, where our shop is located). That bucket of money has traditionally been used to reduce pressure on local property taxes and using it to support local business — which will hopefully have the knock-on effect of stimulating more business and thus paying for itself, in effect — was a reach for some residents and town officials. We’re glad they saw their way to “Yes” on this one. Manchester and this part of the state needs to continue marketing itself to keep up with the likes of Stowe, Woodstock and all the other attractive places to visit in Vermont.
One of the caveats that comes with accepting public money for marketing and other efforts though is that the group will be under some constraints to market “Manchester”, and not all the other attractions that surround the hub. We have great skiing to tout at Stratton and Bromley. Great theatre – among other things – in Dorset. Here in Sunderland we have the best access to canoeing or kayaking along the Battenkill, as well as a cool covered brigand some nifty shopping opportunities (and not just here!). There’s a great lodging establishment nearby at the historic Hill Farm Inn – https://www.hillfarminn.com – and lots more.
So the next step is for the new business group to reach a point of celebrating not just Manchester, but all the surrounding towns and attractions – creating a win-win-win (us, them and most importantly, you, the visitor).
Meanwhile, we’ll tag along for the ride.