Published March 01, 2004
KILLINGTON, Vt. – The sign welcoming visitors to Killington heralds this ski-resort town as the heart of Vermont.
On Tuesday, though, residents will vote on whether they want the town to secede and join New Hampshire following a simmering dispute over property taxes.
The town has spent $20,000 so far on the effort, researching the advantage of joining the state 25 miles to the east and possible ways to accomplish it.
"People are frustrated," said David Lewis, Killington's town manager.
The resulting two-page resolution on the town ballot reads like a throwback to the 1700s, when the restive American colonies chafed under the rule of the British monarchy.
Historians said the town's push to join New Hampshire is fueled by the same secessionist impulse that's run throughout Vermont history.
"It's a strong impulse," said historian Paul Gillies (search). "It's imprinted on us."
Killington was originally chartered in New Hampshire in 1761. In 1777, Vermont, including the town of Killington, declared its independence from New York and New Hampshire, states that both had claims to the territory.
Five years later, the towns of Guilford and Halifax tried to secede from the then-Republic of Vermont, claiming the state was an illegal entity. That movement was quickly squashed, said state archivist Gregory Sanford (search). Vermont ultimately became a state in 1791.
This time, Lewis said he and other residents among the town's population of 1,092 are tired of paying millions of dollars in state taxes and getting little in return.
At the heart of the displeasure is the state's system of financing education, which dramatically increased property taxes in communities deemed to be property wealthy.
That frustration drove Killington to challenge parts of the law in state Superior Court, a battle it won in 2002 when a judge ruled in favor of the town. Killington's jubilation over the decision was short-lived, however; In October the Supreme Court overturned the ruling.
"That was the last nail in the coffin," said Lewis.
Secession activists say the town's restaurants, inns and other businesses send $20 million a year to the state capital in sales, room and meal taxes, but the state returns just $1 million in municipal and education aid.
Secession, said Lewis, is the town's final recourse for challenging the state, and he believes the legality and economics behind the move are sound.
An analysis by the firm Northern Economic Consulting (search) shows Killington residents and businesses would benefit from New Hampshire's lower property taxes and, most importantly, the state's lack of a general sales and personal income tax, Lewis said.
Even if voters agree, that won't put the definitive stamp on the issue; rather, it will trigger a lengthy process of selling the idea to New Hampshire and Vermont officials, he said.
"The whole issue is predicated on whether New Hampshire feels they wish to take us, whether they feel the political and other ramifications are worth them accepting us," said Lewis. "That's not going to be an easy issue."
New Hampshire officials said they would wait until after Tuesday's vote before taking action on the idea.
"We'll wait to see what the results of the vote are and we'll go from there," said Wendell Packard, spokesman for New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson.
But it is Vermont legislators who have the ultimate power to create — and dissolve — a municipality within state boundaries.
That might explain why the passion fueling the secession movement in Killington isn't exactly equaled among state lawmakers, for whom the issue has stirred more skepticism than empathy.
"I think that in the long run, after they have a chance to express their displeasure, they'd more successful in having their issues addressed by working through the system," said John Bloomer, one of three state senators who represent Rutland County, where Killington is located.
Such a lackluster reception does not deter Lewis, who said the ski mountain that Killington is famous for will only increase in appeal after the town joins the Granite State.
"People can ski Killington, New Hampshire, in the middle of Vermont," he said. "I'm not sure that will do anything but create some novelty interest — but it can't hurt."