We hope you enjoy this interview with David Schoales, candidate for Brattleboro Selectboard.
Which seat are you running for, and why do you want to be on the Selectboard again?
I am running for the three year seat and I want to serve a few more years to help assure the good progress we made over the past four years continues as new members gradually replace us.
Give us your stump speech/qualifications...
I've served on a day care board, health center board, land trust board, school boards, union boards- lots of experience working with others to get things done that will help my neighbors. I'm a good listener, a strong advocate, I love learning new stuff, and I care a lot about what happens to people.
How did you end up in Brattleboro and why do you stay?
I came in 1969 to get a Masters in Education at Antioch, which was in Putney at that time. I stayed because I met so many terrific people and found a welcoming and progressive-minded to community.
What do you think of the Long Term Financial Plan?
It is a "plan" that allows us to see the things we can anticipate and prepare for so we are in a better position to handle all the things we can't see coming or prepare for.
Do you agree with the Capital Plan as it stands for the next few years?
Yes, as much as you can agree with a plan. It will change as needs and conditions require. Ani DiFranco has a line I apply to pretty much everything- "What happens always adjusts to fit what happens after that."
Recent Selectboards (yours included) have had concerns about Brattleboro’s role as a “hub town” - do you share these concerns? Why or why not?
I do share the concerns. We have a heavy property tax burden in Brattleboro because we provide the infrastructure for people to come to their jobs and the regional business and services economy to thrive. Our school tax is among the lowest in the region, but when we add the municipal tax, our total property tax is nearly twice that of the surrounding towns. That's one of the many reasons I am so opposed to Act 46- it will extend the pattern of having Brattleboro property taxes go to provide services to people living in the surrounding towns.
How do you feel about local representation, and Representative Town Meeting?
We get a large turnout of well-informed, caring citizens who thoughtfully consider the issues facing our town and make decisions about our future. I like it. I would be sad to see the school portion of the meeting go away if voters approve Act 46.
When and how should citizens comment on town issues? What’s the best way for citizens to express their views?
Whenever and however they can. We have print, radio, BCTV, and online media that are receptive. We have a park right in the middle of town. The select board and school board begin every meeting with public comments. We all have phones and emails. The town offices have people in them all week to receive input. If someone has a grievance with the town, I suggest people start at the point where a decision can be made if they want something done- come to the town or school offices or the board meetings.
There is often talk of finding new sources of revenue to make Brattleboro more affordable for residents. Have any ideas on bringing in more money?
Every time we invest in an energy improvement project, we save money and avoid a tax increase for decades.
A large proportion of the properties in town are government or non-profit, which means the town receives little or no revenue for the services we provide that enable them to function. We have the ability to track and approximate the cost of these services. If we did that for a few years, the data might indicate an approach to getting more support from them and/or the state/and feds. Without that information, all we can do is wring our hands and complain about our property taxes.
The key to our economic growth is people having good jobs, and that means having citizens who are able to fill the jobs that exist or are being created. The town is limited in what we can do, but we do a lot of jobs and we might help by developing some training or internship opportunities for lower income people in our region to learn valuable skills and get the experience needed to get a job.
We have loans and grants to help businesses expand, which is by far the most effective way to increase the number of good jobs in town.
Conversely, a board can make adjustments or cuts to save money. Do you have any ideas for increasing our savings with new efficiencies or cuts?
Yes. Energy savings investments. We found grants and some town money to support the Town Energy Committee's work, which helped us save thousands on our streetlights and get energy audits of town buildings. We know what we need to do and how much it will cost and how much we will save. Now we need the leadership to get it done. I hope the town meeting reps will vote to put $10,000 back into the budget for an energy coordinator.
We have to keep putting things out to bid and keep our eyes and minds open to new ways of doing things. We saved $30,000 by putting our audit out to bid, and will save between $200k and $400k on health insurance because the town manager worked WITH the unions and the Richards Group to find an insurance program that continued the excellent care for our employees, reduced premiums, and managed the out-of-pocket costs in a way that will encourage employees to make healthy choices.
Thoughts on Town offices remaining at the Municipal Center?
Yes. Stay and upgrade the building. It is never cheaper to pay rent for space.
Where do you find inspiration?
From people, especially children. I get a lot of energy from working with others to solve important problems. I was very lucky to be elected at a time when we were nearing the end of a difficult stretch for the town. Four "new" people joined the board, the town manager quit, the skatepark and the skating rink "blew up", the police station and fire department buildings were crumbling, and we had no clear plans for any of it. Dave Gartenstein's commitment to fully hearing all voices and carefully, transparently explaining everything we were considering, drew us together as problem solvers instead of agenda pushers. We made progress everywhere and found a lot of ways to pay for it without clobbering the taxpayers. Working with this group of people in that manner has been very satisfying.
The same is largely true of the school board, where two very smart and dedicated chairwomen pulled some pretty unusual people together to got things done for our children. Unfortunately, the distractions and divisiveness of the Act 46 process has done a lot of damage, but that will be over soon.
Is there anything we didn’t ask about that you’d like everyone to know?
I love my wife and my kids.
We have a really unusual and terrific town and I'd like to continue working to make it even more unusual.
"Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but uncertainty is an absurd one."