BBC asking for added funds

Are you aware the town is asking taxpayers for permission to dip into the general fund to prop up the Better Bennington Corporation even though there is a special downtown-only tax that pays the 501c6 for its services? For the last several years this "Downtown Improvement District" tax -- paid only by downtown business owners within the district -- has allowed the town to give the BBC about $70,000 in salary and operating expenses. The BBC also can raise as much money as it wants through membership drives and events such as Mayfest. The sky is the limit for fundraising but the BBC always starts with a base of about $70,000.

Two weeks ago, BBC Executive Director John Shannahan showed up to the budget session with his hand out. The executive director of the BBC, who makes about $48,000, asked the Town to 1) approve a $4,560 increase ... 2) waive rent on the BBC's historic 210 South Street building ... 3) assume maintenance and insure the historic building ... 4) waive police fees for future events ... and 5) pay $13,430 from the general fund to spruce up downtown even though the same fund pays for "Bennington in Bloom".

All told, Shannahan asked for about $25,000 in extra monies.

"Why are they giving them rent-free!?" a taxpayer asked me this week. "It says in the Town Charter that the reason it was set up was to take the burden off the general fund and taxpayers."


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"It" is the Downtown Improvement District.

The Town Charter has a 15-point plan that says the Downtown Improvement District's role is to do whatever you gotta do to make Downtown Bennington the best little Main Street in America.

Here's how the Town funds the District:

"Appropriations other than from contributions, grants and income shall be raised solely through District Taxes which shall be assessed and collected as a tax on property as provided for in Section 509 of this Charter."

Key phrase: "solely through District Taxes" ... which means the general fund should not be used for nonprofit organizations. Isn't the general fund supposed to be used to pave our roads, fix our infrastructure, and support our town employees?

And yet during these fiscally rough times the Town wants taxpayers outside of DID -- from the 7th Ward to Old Bennington to North Bennington and all the nooks and crannies in between — to bankroll a budget that props up a nonprofit that starts with $70,000 each year and has every ability to raise thousands and thousands more.

"I think the BBC has outgrown its usefulness and now costs more than its worth," a taxpayer told me this week. "Are they too lazy to honor the Town Charter? Why is the Town bending over backward to support the BBC when it's making other very important nonprofits such as the coalition for the homeless and Sunrise and hospice care jump through hoops?"

Should Bennington taxpayers avoid this unneeded tax by shooting down the budget on Election Day to send a message to our Select Board that there are more important ways to spend our money?

— Joey Kulkin Bennington