Recently Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer completed a report on long-term leases of valuable state land to Vermont ski resorts. The leases, some dating back to 1942, were designed to help the then-new and developing ski industry. Lease revenue to the state is based on a percentage of lift ticket sales, and now a larger part of resort revenue is from other sources, such as hotels, water parks, golf, etc. State Auditor Hoffer: “Our review points to old lease terms that may not be suitable for today and questions whether taxpayers are receiving fair value for these spectacular public assets,”
Now State Senator Tim Ashe, Chairman of the Finance Committee, has sent a letter to seven major ski resorts. In the letter he suggests that the time has come to explore renegotiating the land leases made decades ago. Although the decades-old lease will not expire for many years, he hopes the resorts will voluntarily discuss new terms. Then Sen. Ashe sets the bar for possible negotiations by reminding the wealthy ski resorts:
“From time to time, the Legislature considers various proposals that would have an impact on various classes of taxpayers. In terms of the ski industry, I have heard Legislators propose eliminating the property tax exemption on snowmaking equipment and other assets, and suggest creating a special non-homestead tax rate for ski areas. It seems to me that voluntary renegotiation of your lease with the State is a far superior method of striking the right balance of proceeds for the right to use public land,” Ashe wrote.
This may be a good early preview for serious negotiations to come. Perhaps not overly subtle (eh, nice resort you have there, be a shame if…), but it may be what it takes.
Protective of their favored tax situations, ski resort managers reacted to Ashe’s suggestions through friendly legislators. Some state legislators (with ski areas in their districts) received copies of Ashe’s letter directly from area ski resort owners and responded quickly. Dorset Rep Patti Komline (R-Bromley) claims the letter to be “a clear threat to try to eliminate tax exemptions currently enjoyed by ski resorts if they refuse to scrap their current leases.” Fellow Republican Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, (R-Stowe Mountain Resort) said “I think it’s inappropriate.” Sheesh, the special ski industry tax exemptions are fine with these two despite budget cuts.
The VSAA president Parker Riehle says they are still crafting a full official response to Ashe’s proposed talks. For now, however, he grabs a little boilerplate Chamber of Commerce stuff off the rack. You know, he says, the ski resort industry should not (god forbid) be facing higher tax burdens especially after all it does for the Vermont economy. “You can’t just focus on the [fifty-year-old] lease payments and think that they look too small.”
Besides, they’re quite comfortable with the status quo. “ …all [ski areas] are comfortable with the lease” agreements in place, says Parker Riehle. I am sure the VSAA resorts are quite at ease with the decades-old lease agreements and the comfy bundles of tax exemptions too.
So for now at least none of the ski resort owners or the VSAA are apparently either threatening to move Vermont’s mountains or build new ones.
Face it, this is a tough industry to take offshore.