Hartford, Woodstock go different ways on local option sales tax

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-06-2024 6:30 PM

WOODSTOCK — In Town Meeting ballot voting on Tuesday, Woodstock voters approved an article to adopt a 1% local tax on retail sales and to use the proceeds to fund town infrastructure projects. The measure passed, 997-308.

Meanwhile in Hartford, voters rejected a similar measure, 1,160-1,110. 

Hartford and Woodstock already collect 1% local taxes on lodging, restaurant meals and alcoholic beverages — which is permitted, along with a retail sales tax, by Vermont statute VSA 138. Items exempt from the local sales tax include automobiles, clothing, protective equipment, medical supplies and over-the-counter drugs.

Supporters of the new tax in Woodstock said that the new revenue stream will help to alleviate the property tax burden on residents and provide the town more budget flexibility. "The majority of shoppers are tourists" and as a tourist town, Woodstock can "leverage those tourist dollars ,” said Selectboard member Susan Ford on Town Meeting Day. 

Jeff Kahn, owner of Unicorn, a gift shop in Woodstock, who supported the new tax this year, said he had opposed it at Town Meeting in 2022, when an article proposing the sales tax fell short by nine votes. He changed his opinion after considering the number of town infrastructure projects that need funding. 

Kahn said he does not believe Woodstock’s retailers will be affected by Hartford, Woodstock’s neighbor, rejecting the tax, as an additional 1% is a relatively small amount. 

“Plus, many residents know that when they buy locally that they are putting their money back into the community,” Kahn said in a phone interview. 

The new 1% sales tax also applies to recreational cannabis. Taxing all retail sales is the only way for municipalities to collect tax revenues from cannabis dispensaries because Vermont does not provide a local option to tax cannabis exclusively.

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Woodstock has one cannabis seller, Sunday Drive Dispensary. 

In Hartford, proponents of the sales tax said it was needed to help pay for costly town infrastructure projects in the pipeline. The projects include a plan to stabilize the slopes that support Gates Street and Fairview Terrace. Replacing and rebuilding the two retaining walls is estimated to cost up to $2.8 million, according to a cost analysis last June from the town’s engineering consultants.  

But opponents to the proposed tax said that it would have given shoppers another reason to take their business to New Hampshire, which doesn’t have a sales tax.

Kendall Smith and Stephanie Waterman, who own the hydroponics supply store, White River Growpro, and the cannabis dispensary, The Hidden Grove, in downtown White River Junction, said they were relieved to hear that the proposed sales tax had failed. 

“We were really terrified what it would have meant for our (hydroponics) business,” Waterman said in an interview on Wednesday. 

In other articles on Tuesday’s ballot, Hartford voters approved the use of $200,000 in revenues raised from the town’s tax on rooms and meals to fund the purchase of a new ambulance. Voters also approved using $30,000 in rooms and meals tax revenues to fund beautification projects in town, such as flower plantings. 

But an article seeking to use $225,000 in local tax revenues for improvements at Lyman Point Park, including playground fencing, covered picnic tables and a river outlook, failed, 1,141-1,105.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216. Valley News Staff Writer Christina Dolan contributed to this report.