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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Selectboard Meeting Notes: Budgets, Democracy, And Future At Risk - And A New Town Manager!


Brattleboro’s new town manager, Peter Elwell, was front and center for his first official meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard. He was quiet for most of the meeting, but had a few strong words about dipping into the Unassigned Fund Balance for non-emergencies.

The future of the Committee of the Future was called into question by the director of Planning Services, a first public hearing was held on a series of proposed changes to the Town Charter, the skatepark committee has a new location to study for feasibility, and a wide array of budget matters were deferred for action at a special meeting of the Selectboard scheduled for January 29th at 5:15 pm.

Preliminaries

Chair David Gartenstein welcomed the new Town Manager for Brattleboro, Peter Elwell. “The knowledge and experience he brings is a great hope for going forward as we deal with all the challenges we face,” he said by way of introduction.

He mentioned that there would be a special meeting on January 29 to make final budget decisions, and also that there was still time for anyone interested in running for town office to pick up a petition before January 26.

Town Manager Peter Elwell thanked town staff for holding down the fort during the long search for a new Town Manager, but said he was grateful for how it unfolded, which gave him an opportunity to return to Brattleboro.

Elwell wanted all to know that he was available at any time to discuss town issues. “Call me and we’ll get together. I can meet you out and around town. We can work together.”

He thanked the Selectboard for putting their faith in him. “I’m excited to be here and get started.”

For Selectboard comments and committee reports, David Schoales pointed to a school board community conversation on Wednesday night, and hoped people would attend. He said the Windham Solid Waste Management District budget passed 13-9, and that he planned to attend a conference on leveraging climate change for economic development. 

Schoales also asked that he be allowed to place an item on the ballot asking about recycling containers at Fairground Road. A decision on this suggestion was deferred until January 29 so Schoales could draft language for others to consider.

Public Participation

Gordon Bristol said he had good news for the board. The final payment of a loan given by the town was being paid, and he wanted to provide feedback on the use of the loan money. He said they took a commercial building, used the money to make improvements, made it LEEDS equivalent, and it is now used for Veteran’s Affairs. They pay taxes to the tune of almost $20,000 a year and employ eleven people. He thanked the town for the loan.

Dick Degray made another appeal for donations to the Christmas Stocking, adding that a new anonymous donor would match donations up to a certain amount. He encouraged people to give what they could to help reach the $90,000 goal.

Liquor Commissioners

Acting as Liquor Commissioners, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved five (of potentially eight) special event permits for a Beer, Wine & Cheese Festival to be held at the River Garden on February 13. There is a $20 admission fee, and attendees must be over 21. There will also be ample food to sample.

Vermont Hard Cider Company, 14th Sta Brewing Company, Citizen Cider, McNeill’s Brewery, and Hermit Thrush Brewery all received special event permits allowing them to give out samples and sell product. 

The Selectboard also heard a proposal from Town Clerk Annette Cappy to streamline the liquor license process. She suggests that all liquor licenses be renewed at one meeting “on the condition that renewal documents are received by the town clerk’s office and are complete.” If there are concerns with specific re-applications, they could be discussed and voted on their own.

Cappy says the change would lead to a smoother workflow for all involved, and would allow the Selectboard to do all licenses at one meeting. It would also get renewals to the state level for final review in a more timely fashion.

The board had difficulty with this idea at first, but were eventually convinced that they retained enough oversight control, and that Cappy and other town department heads would most certainly flag for their attention any problems or violations that arise.

It passed 3-2, with Gartenstein and O’Connor against.

Water & Sewer

Acting as Water & Sewer Commissioners, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved a loan application for $960,700 to cover all remaining costs of the Black Mountain gravity line sewer project. The loan comes via the State of Vermont Revolving Loan Fund.

The board also approved contract revisions with Hoyle, Tanner, and Associates for their engineering, design, bidding, and administrative services associated with the Black Mountain project, estimated to be about $112,000.

The project will involve using a horizontal drilling process that uses the existing 4 inch pilot bore as a guide. The hole gets reamed out with multiple passes of the drill to make space for a 24 inch casing. Once the casing is in, the pipe is placed inside, using spacers to maintain the proper incline. The depth is just shy of 700 feet.

The project promises long term savings to taxpayers by elimination of a pump station and all associated costs of running, maintaining and eventually replacing such a facility.

Unfinished Business - The Future

The Brattleboro Selectboard continued their discussion of whether they should place an article to form a Committee of the Future on the agenda for Representative Town meeting. At issue at the previous meeting was whether the article’s sponsors should be required to gather signatures, or if the Selectboard should simply place the item on the warning.

A new wrinkle emerged for the future of the Committee of the Future in the form of a memo from Planning Director Rod Francis, questioning whether the proposed committee would “be duplicative of, and potentially in conflict with the role and purpose of the Planning Commission.” 

In his letter, Francis told the board that any planning beyond the five year scope of our Town Plan is “increasingly fraught with inaccuracies and becomes speculative in nature and is captive to ideological preoccupations of Committee members and participating public in the absence of clearly defined roles and responsibilities.”

In all, Francis said that the Town Plan and process  addresses many of the areas targeted by the proposed committee, and that any committee would become a liability to existing “thoughtful contemplation of the future.” He suggests that no committee be formed, and if one is, that it not be funded.

All of this came as a surprise to Spoon Agave, who came once again to ask the board, in his words, “to place on agenda something they (Representative Town Meeting) wanted on the agenda.”

“Now I don’t undertand what’s being introduced,” said Agave. “It’s almost as if you are saying you can overrule the town meeting itself” from putting on its agenda items that members want added.

He was somewhat annoyed at being presented with this challenge at the last minute. It’s normal, he said, if there is new information, to inform the other party beforehand. “Now I find myself learning at this last moment that there have been memos, opinions, and discussions not shared with me or the Town Meeting moderator. These points you raise may be legitimate, but should be discussed at town meeting, when the body hears the motion they asked to hear.”

David Gartenstein thought the current article went beyond a report asked for by town meeting representatives. “If you want to make a permanent committee of Town Meeting, it should be done through the Charter or Representative Town Meeting.”

“Have you read the town charter?” asked Agave. “Representative Town Meeting can form committees as they see fit. You feel your interpretation is that theTown Meeting only wanted to see a piece of paper and not be able to form the committee?”

Gartenstein said he had read the Charter and yes, he felt that representatives simply asked for a report on forming a committee, not the formation of a committee.

Donna Macomber thought Agave raised interesting questions about process, but that Francis’s memo raised concerns.

Agave said he hadn’t seen the memo, but that he’d be happy to read it and respond. John Allen thought the issue should be tabled until Agave could do just that.

Dick Degray questioned the original intent of the town meeting representatives, and whether they called for an action. Agave said everyone understood and voted for a proposal to form the committee. He said that Gartenstein had now suggested that the Selectboard controls the agenda of town meeting.

“It’s a very significant question to ask, and I’m very glad that it is being asked” said Agave. “Do the people of this town control their own agenda? Can they talk about what they want to talk about, or is the Selectboard the gatekeeper?”

Macomber said she saw the Selectboard as “a body welcoming fo fruitful conversations of process. A conversation worth having.”

“But nothing was about process here, “said Agave.

The matter was tabled until January 29th’s special meeting, a meeting that will be very similar to this one, but with more decisions.

Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor

The Brattleboro Selectboard heard the numbers for December, courtesy of Finance Director John O’Connor’s monthly reporting of where things stand with a variety of town budgets and funds.

We are halfway through the fiscal year. The General Fund expenditures are at 52% of the annual budget. The Utilities Fund expenditures are at  54.5% and the Parking Fund at 45.7% of their respective annual budgets.

Police & Fire Project expenditures this year total $17,162.

The town has just over $4 million in money loaned out, and just over $420,000 to loan out. 

There are 45 active grants and 10 in the pipeline.

Public Hearing - Youth Vote, Overspending Veto, and Term Limits

The Brattleboro Selectboard held the first of two public hearings regarding potential amendments to the Town Charter that will be up for vote by ballot in March.

Kurt Daims, spokesperson for the proposed changes, gave an overview of what would happen if the three changes were adopted.

“These amendments are drafted to increase voter participation and turnout,” he prefaced.

The first amendment, if accepted, would define voters, for the purposes of voting at Town Meetings, as all persons who have reached 16 years of age and have taken the Voter’s Oath. Daims said 16 year olds pay taxes and should be allowed to vote. “It’s a learner’s permit for citizenship,” he explained.

The second amendment would allow voters to petition for a referendum by ballot any decision made at Representative Town Meeting that leads to an expense of more than $2 million. 250 voter signatures would be required. “It is completely undemocratic for Representative Town Meeting to reject an ordinance of the people. This would restore us to the pre-2012 way of doing it,” he said.

The third amendment limits Town Meeting Representative terms to six consecutive years. They may return to office after a three year pause. “Just collecting petitions, many said they don’t like Representative Town Meeting. They want to abolish it. ‘We need a mayor.’ They are complaining, and want extreme measures. We drafted this to provide a change that allows and promotes more participation. The only thing wrong is people aren’t participating. Term limits will allow that.”

Other proposed changes to the Charter include moving the election of Town Meeting members to November from March,  asking employers to provide two hours of paid leave for employees to vote at town meetings, asking the Town Grand Juror to enforce minimum wage and act as district attorney for the town, and other changes to petition by referendum.

Spoon Agave said while he might differ on particulars, the changes should be adopted even if some might be shot down later by the state legislature.

“Our democracy has become very weak, by all measurements,” said Agave. “The numbers of people participating have shrunk almost to a point where the government can no longer function. The people making decisions have no legitimacy if the people aren’t participating.” He said the essence of these amendments was to strengthen democracy.

Dick Degray said that he might run for Selectboard again. “I have a few days.” He then listed objections to the proposed amendments.  He felt term limits should be self-imposed, so there would be enough people at Representative Town Meeting, and that institutional knowledge would be preserved. He said anyone can go to the BUHS budget meeting, but few do. “There is an opportunity for you to participate.”

Degray said that there were ample ways for people to vote at times other than on election day with early voting. He thanked Daims for his effort to increase voter turnout.

David Gartenstein reminded everyone that there had been a recent Charter review, with a committee working three years on numerous proposed Charter changes, and that Representative Town Meeting had voted on them individually after substantial consideration. His concerns were that the state doesn’t allow 16 year olds to vote, that the proposed change to signature requirements would violate state law, and that voters have numerous ways to already bring initiatives that are not ordinances. 

He continued. He felt that terms limits would prevent people from participating, and was anti-democratic. He said that moving elections to November had already been considered and rejected, and that the 1st Tuesday is not the same as the first Tuesday after the first Monday, so elections would not be at the same time using the wording in the article.

Finally, he said, it was probably not legal to ask employers to pay for employees to vote. He said they would look at these proposed changes, but they ran the risk of being damaging to town government.

Dora Bouboulis, one of at least three former Selectboard members in attendance, joked that it seemed like alumni night. She was concerned that these changes weren’t enough, and if brought up now could damage chances for other reforms in the near future. “I think government is seriously flawed and needs major changes,” she said. “These are small changes.”

Agave said term limits were in effect for many town boards and committees, and even the president. “Our founders thought it more democratic with term limits in place,” he said.

Kathryn Turnas, a town meeting representative, asked if the amendments would be voted as a block, or as individual items to consider. Gartenstein said it was three amendments, and two had multiple times been included as blocks. Turnas objected to that approach.

Daims said terms limits would help get people to run for office. “We need people to know it is a different kind of body. They don’t like that assembly, so they don’t want to join. Term limits would create vacancies, the character of the assembly will have changed, and they will join. “

Bouboulis urged the selectboard to put it on the ballot but not take a stand one way or another. Kate O’Connor said she felt it was her job to take a stand and give her opinion. Schoales said it would be censorship not to express the board’s views.

“I think our obligation is to try to make sure the voters of the town are fully educated about the content of what is being presented and what it would mean for Brattleboro’s form of government, said David Gartenstein. 

This first public hearing came to an end.

Skatepark Site Selection

Planning Director Rod Francis and Recreation & Parks Director Carol Lolatte came before the Brattleboro Selectboard to inform them of the latest skatepark site news, that the Agency of Natural Resources is frowning on the Selectboard’s choice of the Theresa S. Brungardt Senior Area as a possible location for the skatepark.

Town staff and BASIC members met with the agency to present a conceptual plan. Due to the location being situated in the “River Corridor,” DEC saw potential for hazard. The agency said it was a poor location for further public investment, and that significant investment would be required to make the land stable for development. In other words, it would be much better to use a different location.

With this new information in hand, the board quickly revisited the previously-vetted list. The top sites from that process were, in order, Elm Street Lot,  Crowell Lot, Living Memorial Park behind pool and basketball area,  Living Memorial Park upper field.

David Gartenstein said that of the remaining sites, he thought Elm Street and upper Living Memorial Park were the only real options.

Jeff Clark, of BASIC, said his personal view was that upper Living Memorial Park would be more acceptable, especially if a bit more could be added, such as swings and benches, to get more people up there.

Others agreed, but Carol Lolatte expressed concerns for the safety of the children, and those skiing and snowboarding in the winter. She worried both that the out of the way location would draw a bad element, and that the location was too in the way of snow sporters.

Others doubted her claims, or felt they could be addressed. Les Montgomery said that it would not be in the way of skiers. “It’s right at the top of the hill, and not obstructing down in the middle of the hill.”

Wendy Creager asked if the coming dog park was also a safety concern. Lolatte said it was far enough away, “but it is a concern.”

Dora Bouboulis thought either location could be made to work.

Hearing no more, Gartenstein made a motion to have BASIC investigate the feasibility of a skatepark at the upper Living Memorial Park location, it passed unanimously, and there was applause.

FY16 Budget Discussion

The board again discussed the FY16 municipal budget, beginning first with an unresolved item of whether the art museum had requested any money for improvements. They had not, said Patrick Moreland, and the budget dropped by $7,000 to about $15.7 million.

Dick Degray again made his pitch for buying air packs using the Unassigned Fund Balance. “It’s better than incurring debt.

David Gartenstein told him he would hear some strong views on the matter from the Town Manager in a moment.

The board will vote on the final budget at a January 29, 5:15 pm special meeting.

Kate O’Connor pointed out that there is $20,000 in the budget request toward the skatepark, but it wouldn’t be reflected in the total budget until adopted by town meeting representatives.

Gartenstein reminded people that while taxes will go up 2%, there is still the additional expense for households of paying for trash bags come July. “It’s additional costs being shifted beyond what is in this budget,” he said. “ I don’t want anyone surprised.”

Unassigned Balance Discussion

Town Manager Peter Elwell’s first official recommendation for the board was strong advice to establish a policy to use the Unassigned Fund Balance (the “surplus”) only for non-recurring expenses.

He said that non-recurring expenses included items like repairs to the Green Street retaining wall, or for fixing the Elliot Street bridge. Other, sometimes expensive items, such as dump trucks, should be thought of as recurring, as they were part of the town’s plan for existing programs even though the expense might occur again in a decade.

Establishing this policy, Elwell said, would do two things. It would smooth out the impact of dealing with unanticipated events, and “you run the town government operations on what people can afford.” 

He said it was dangerous to use the Unassigned Balance Fund as a balancing tool. One bad year, he said, would be a double whammy to taxpayers: the impact of the bad year’s event, and then the cost of catching up again.

“Especially given the circumstances currently facing the town, and the bigger picture,” Elwell said, “all of that together makes me feel strongly that my first recommendation to you is to use it for non-recurring expenses.”

Dick Degray agreed, he said, in general but felt that some expensive items could be bought with the fund in order to save the added expense of interest on loans.

Selectboard members were lukewarm to their first recommendation from their new town manager.

John Allen thought it would be hard to differentiate what was a reoccurring (sic) item and what was reoccurring (sic). “I’d have a hard time clarifying, “ he said, adding that streets and bridges always need work.

Donna Macomber thought they should investigate what was an expected expense, and what was a more usual expense.

David Schoales said it was important to have guidelines, and that they could use the request for a policy as a good guideline. “Things happen, despite intentions.”

Elwell tried to reign them back in by talking about recent expenses they’ve approved. “You wanted to replace two cruisers a year, not as a one-off, but to buy two a year. Same with paving. It’s a standard you wanted to maintain. Those are easy to identify as recurring expenses.”

“It is important to me that we work hard to view something expensive within a program as something that is recurring,” he further clarified. “The program occurs year after year. There is room for discussion, and whether it is a prudent policy, but I feel it is.”

Elwell urged them to be careful. “You can adopt it as a guideline,” he said, but warned “Don’t rely on the unassigned fund balance this year.”

Kate O’Connor was the only board member to voice support for the policy, saying that it was the way people do home budgets, with monthly expenses and then things you don’t expect.

Final decisions on using or not using the Unassigned Fund Balance will happen at the January 29 special meeting of the Selectboard.

Local Option Sales Tax Discussion

The board deferred taking any action on re-introducing the 1% local option sales tax until their January 29th meeting.

They were tired.

Contract with Town Attorney

The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a one year contract with Fisher and Fisher for town legal services and representation, with a 1% increase over last year.

Appointments of Town Attorney, Treasurer, and Town Clerk

The board appointed Fisher and Fisher Law Firm as Town Attorney, John O’Connor as Town Treasurer, and Annette Cappy as Town Clerk, each for another year. The appointments must be ratified by Representative Town Meeting.

»

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Welcome to our new Town

Welcome to our new Town Manager. He has his work cut out for him.

 
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Selectboard overboard, "gatekeeepers" again

Just because something is on their desk, the selectboard thinks they have complete authority over it. The representative town meeting is a branch of our government, and sets its own agenda, as Spoon Agave said, and the selectboard had the simple job of placing the Futures Committee on the warning for that agenda. But the board had begun an improper discussion of the proposal, and would not let go. Then, during the hearing on the Pro-Democracy Amendments (town charter amendments promoted by Brattleboro Common Sense) the same kind of thing happens again. Mr. Gartenstein issued his comments and further said that the board would further publish its own (his) opinions after the hearing to guide the town. When Dora Bouboulis advised the board to remain neutral, Mr. Schoales objected and Ms. O'Connor pleaded (paraphrasing) "Isn't this what we're supposed to do?".
The answer is, simply "No, that is not what you're supposed to do.". The town charter assigns the selectboard specific limited duties. Guiding the town is assigned to the RTM, not to the board. For the amendment hearing the selectboard's job was the eighth on their list: to "provide for the orderly conduct of hearings". Over-reaching their authority twice in one evening ! Why can't they just stick to what they're supposed to do ?

 
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Selectboard hubris of the week

***“Do the people of this town control their own agenda? Can they talk about what they want to talk about, or is the Selectboard the gatekeeper?”***

No! The people of the town have absolutely no control. And now it looks like even representative town meeting is surplus to requirements.

***David Gartenstein reminded everyone that there had been a recent Charter review, with a committee working three years on numerous proposed Charter changes, and that Representative Town Meeting had voted on them***
Isn't that part of the problem? The people who are governed by the charter didn't get to vote on it, it was voted on by two groups of elected officials (rtm and the Legislature).

***Gartenstein concerns were that the state doesn’t allow 16 year olds to vote, that the proposed change to signature requirements would violate state law.***
Oh, David, David, David. A state's attorney should know that if Brattleboro passes suffrage for 16-year-olds or changes signature requirements and it is approved by the Legislature, then it becomes a state law (in Brattleboro).
The charter is a state statute. Most things in the charter violate standard state laws, that's why you have to have a charter to do them. Representative town meeting violates the state laws that the free towns in the rest of Vermont follow.

"Dick Degray said that he might run for Selectboard again."
AAAAAHHHHHGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH! GGGAAAAHHH!

***He said anyone can go to the BUHS budget meeting, but few do.***
Few do because the culture of participatory democracy in Brattleboro was squelched long ago.

 
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ULMP SKATE PARK

Let's make the ULMP Skate Park a reality, please contribute to it's funding!!!!

 
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Tax increase

Lets be honest and call this what it is. It is a 6 cent tax increase. Not a 2 cent tax increase. (Its really at least 8 cents after the anticipated education rate increase factors in)

I get 6 cents from adding the board's claimed 2 cent increase with the ~4 cent cost shift of PAYT cited in today's reformer.

I challenge the board to explain how another 6 cent municipal tax increase after last year's increase, which came after the previous year's increase, is sustainable. I again ask them if they are aware of what the property tax rate is doing to real estate prices in the town, and once again suggest they poll local real estate agents for their input on that matter.

I find the idea of raising the 1% local option tax *again* to be indicative of a desperate lack of creativity and will to live within available means. If we were vermontlocked deep within the state, or on the NY border for example, the 1% option tax would likely be more viable. However, being on the border of 0% sales tax New Hampshire means a 1% local option tax is absolutely foolish and short-sighted. Drive along Route 9 or 119 and watch the commercial development on the NH side clearly intended for Brattleboro customers and this should become obvious.

If PAYT will save the town about 4 cents in tipping fees, then IMO we should be seeing a tax rate REDUCTION of at least 2 cents.

Are they really ready to drive us so quickly over the 3% property tax rate mark? As the payments on these bonds increase, we will surely get there in short order.

I find the statements made by this new town manager to be promising, (Hey, lets actually you know, plan ahead, radical concept right?)

I strongly encourage the town to commit to a level tax-rate (at the very least we need to stop the bleeding) and operate from a standpoint of what the revenue allows us to afford, and to make the structural changes necessary to live within that budget.

I do not regard threatening to slash the low-hanging fruit of the rec/library staffing to be the structural changes necessary. Whether threatening those departments so specifically was an intentional scare tactic or simple laziness and lack of creativity is something I can only blindly guess at. While they should not necessarily be exempt from any necessary cuts, they should certainly not be the sole bearers of it.

 
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Tell me please, short of

Tell me please, short of selling our home of many years, how does one convince the "powers that be" (Selectboard/RTM) that people simply cannot afford it anymore and that these huge tax and other increases will drive many of us out of Brattleboro and possibly out of Vermont?

Talking does no good as they don't listen.

Voting does no good as they don't do what they say they're going to do for whatever reason. Remember Dick DeGray campaigning as THE BUDGET HAWK?

Brattleboro is becoming a town for the arts, the well to do and the tourists. How sad!

 
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Convincing the "powers that be"

Hello, Carrottop.
People don't vote as much as they should, because the government doesn't listen. It's a vicious cycle. Anyway, the democratic process is all we have. If the government isn't listening, TALK LOUDER, be persistent.

The referendum is good way for the people to correct town government. (The Pro-Democracy Amendments will strengthen our referendum power over excessive spending.) The board is scared that there will be another referendum.

In most cases you can easily become a "power that be" as town rep so that you can vote on the budget. By my theory confusion, fatigue, ignorance, and the selectboard are are the determining factors in the voting of most reps at RTM. (See opinion in Jan 23 "Reformer") So, you can have a strong influence as a rep, IF YOU GET ORGANIZED WITH OTHER REPS.

 
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Brattleboro won't be a town

Brattleboro won't be a town for the arts for long unless this tax problem is resolved. There has to be a tax base of some sort in order for artists to live here. If residents move out there will certainly be no money for subsidies for the arts and art organizations.

 
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local taxation

"Drive along Route 9 or 119 and watch the commercial development on the NH side clearly intended for Brattleboro customers and this should become obvious."

Yes, it is sad that NH markets itself as "tax free" when it does collect taxes and it does run state and local governments. Vermont residents shopping in Chesterfield and Keene, Walpole and Lebanon - not to mention Massachusetts and New York actually do owe Vermont sales tax by Vermont state law.

Continuing to repeat the lie that New Hampshire is "tax free" is self destructive. A Vermont resident buying a $300 bicycle in Keene owes the State of Vermont $18 if they intend to actually use the bicycle. That is why the Vermont tax is called "sales and use tax".

I am reconsidering the 1% tax even though I have been voting against it at RTM for years. I completely agree that PAYT should result in a noticeable reduction in municipal tax. We are shifting a cost from the taxpayer to the trash producer for the purpose of creating an incentive to reduce tipping fees and increase recycling/composting. Introducing PAYT without a noticeable tax decrease is grossly unfair and horrible politics.

In terms of creativity with town finances: When are going to look realistically at how the arts economy and the non-profit economy can contribute to the viability of The One and Only Brattleboro/Arts Town? As we shift from an industrial base to a creative/social service/education base we need to recognize that these new sectors can - and must - contribute fairly and effectively to our towns finances. Let's discuss it.

 
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Mostly just New Hampshire

Under state law Vermont residents only have to pay sales tax to Vermont for purchases made in states with no sales tax or a lower sales tax than Vermont, on goods that are intended to be used in Vermont. If the sales tax is lower than Vermont's, you're supposed to send Vermont the difference. So you don't have to pay Vermont for purchases made in Massachusetts (6.25% vs. Vermont's 6%). In New York the state sales tax is 4% but there's also local sales tax - which, combined, is usually around 8%. So it's unlikely you'd by anything in New York for which you'd have to pay any additional tax to the state of Vermont.

The PAYT cost shift is more than just from taxpayers to "trash producers." It's a shift from the wealthiest property owners to the poorest, which is, no doubt, why the town's uppercrust has been salivating for PAYT for so long.

 
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MA, NY and PAYT

Thanks for the info on MA and NY. How do mail order purchases fit into this? I still avoid stores in NH that advertise themselves as 'tax free'. It is a lie.

I think you are wrong about the 'upper crust' 'salivating' for PAYT. Having the 'trash' essentially wash out with the tide for all these years has left us with nearly a half million dollars annually in 'tipping' fees. I love that term 'tipping'. It leaves me with a quaint image of the garbage slipping off a truck into a bottomless hole.

Time to compost, recycle, reduce and reuse. At the same time it is just plain wrong to take trash 'disposal' off the taxes without passing on the financial relief in some meaningful way. On that we perhaps agree.

Trash is not a class war. We have been fouling our nest in many ways - this is only one of them.

Andy

 
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Passing on the relief

Brattleboro has taken a series of successful steps to reduce the waste stream, increase recycling, and increase composting thanks in large part to opponents of PAYT.

PAYT, in some form, is now required by state law, so it's not possible for things to remain as they are without a charter change approved by the legislature. But in Brattleboro the subject has been discussed over and over again, and one of the conclusions has been that PAYT is a regressive fee that shifts the burden of public sanitation onto those with lower incomes, and provides tax relief for businesses and owners of valuable properties. So any relief that may be passed on will go to those who have the most, paid for by those who can afford it the least.

Saying that the upper crust is salivating might be hyperbole or just flat out wrong, admittedly. But the selectboard members and others who, by their incomes and positions, are peers of the town's upper crust, have been so adamant about forcing PAYT on Brattleboro residents, and so dismissive of suggestions for alternatives, that one must suspect their constituency is, at the very least, supportive.

 
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PAYT

The person who organized the referendum that overturned the Rep Town Mtg (RTM) decision to implement PAYT is now working with the town to make PAYT work in Brattleboro. I believe his new position is based upon the fact that systems are now in place that will allow anyone - with a modicum of effort - to drastically reduce their waste stream. Curbside compost and recycling make it possible to cut your trash down to a single bag every couple of weeks.

The ones "adamant about forcing PAYT on Brattleboro residents" are in the VT state legislature. Landfills are closing. The only operating landfill in Vermont is in Coventry - 150 miles north of Brattleboro (practically in Canada). We must stop hauling organic waste hundreds of miles when that waste can simply be composted locally. The days of throwing cabbage leaves in the trash are OVER!

Your complaint that PAYT will benefit "those who have the most, paid for by those who can afford it the least" could be applied to electric bills, water bills and any other metered service. I am tired of the stereotype that the poor cannot learn to be efficient with their trash. Low income families are among the most skilled and innovative when it comes to being efficient.

The crime is in taking the tipping fees out of the town budget and then not passing that savings on to the taxpayers who will be buying 'metered' trash collection. As a possible rep at this years RTM (I am up for re-election) I will vote against any budget that does not make a credible effort to pass the savings from taking tipping fees out of the budget on to the taxpayers and renters screaming for tax relief.

PAYT is not the problem. It is the inevitable solution to the problem of removing personal responsibility from the cost of solid waste disposal.

Andy

 
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I don't think anyone is

I don't think anyone is saying that " the poor can't learn to he efficient" I'm a senior with a very limited income and I consider myself quite" efficient". I recycle, I shop with reusable bags, I'm consciously not buying products with excessive packaging. I believe what older and low income families are saying to the Selectboard and PAYT committee is that they need to listen when we tell them we can't afford to spend $200 -$300 a year on special trash bags. That was an estimated cost stated at a previous SB meeting and it's unreasonable and unrealistic to think that people who are already struggling to pay bills and eat can take on that large an expense. The Selectboard has refused to even consider having landlords absorb some of the cost of bags for their tenants and their r General attitude has been that the cost of those bags isn't a big deal for anyone.Well, it IS a big deal and one that needs to be acknowledged and a solution found for before PAYT is rushed through in this town.

 
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PAYT problems

Yes, the issue with renters is a problem. If a landlord receives a windfall tax reduction because of a property tax reduction of 3-4% due to removing tipping fees from the town budget - that would certainly argue for the landlord passing those savings on in some form. A landlord with an assessment of $1,000,000 in properties will see about $35,000 in tax 'reduction' due to removing tipping fees from the town budget. That is a lot of bags!

The problem is that we will be presented a budget that does not reflect this savings. I see your issue clearly. When RTM first approved PAYT years ago we had a compromise allowing free bags just for the asking in year one of the program.

I cannot agree that PAYT has been "rushed through" in this town. We discussed it ad nauseum at RTM for years. We compromised on free bags for whoever wanted them for the first year. The referendum washed all that away. We have spent years discussing PAYT, instituting curbside compost and improving recycling. There has been no "rush" to get where we are today.

The Vermont Legislature has provided the impetus to make it happen by July 2015. All that is left is to fight like the dickens to make it fairer. As I said in an earlier post, the select board has a big problem on their hands if their budget does not reflect these cost shifts. Metered trash pick up is inevitable. The transition is the problem.

Andy

 
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I think if you're trying to

I think if you're trying to get a proposal in places without being willing to look at how it will adversely reflect on a huge percentage of the residents then, yes, it is being rushed. It doesn't matter how much it's discussed if those discussions don't include how to make this a good thing for the entire town - not just properly owners. The SB seems to be relying on the " good will" of landlords to somehow help their tenants defray the cost. I can tell you with no hesitation that my landlord would NEVER do that and I'm pretty sure he isn't the only one. This needs to he fixed before it goes into effect.

 
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Fixing PAYT

I am honestly interested in hearing how to "fix" it. When RTM passed it the first time we agreed to a year of free bags for whoever felt they needed the bags or felt they could not afford them.

I believe your number for the annual cost of PAYT is a bit too high. My family - and others - have studied the actual volume and content of our household trash. Back when RTM was studying this we did a six month record keeping on our trash and found that PAYT would cost less than our tax share of what the town was paying in the budget - if all compostables and recyclables were dealt with correctly.

Folks I talk to who are getting ready for PAYT are finding that their recycling and compost goes out every week (FREE pick up) and their trash goes out on average every two weeks. I figure on buying about 30 bags a year for a family of three. Depending on the mix of small and large bags this will cost roughly $100 a year.

Tipping fees will continue to rise as landfills become more expensive and further away. Taking tipping fees out of the town budget will have the effect of reducing one of the costs that pushes taxes higher. I understand that renters pay property taxes in their rent and have a stake in stabilizing taxes.

I do not believe we have the option of not following state law on this.

Andy

 
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The numbers I gave of $200

The numbers I gave of $200 -$300 annually came from a Selectboard member not from me. I realize that this is a mandatory requirement but individual cities and towns have some degree of flexibility in how they put it into play. They can choose to offer a set number of bags free to low iincome residents; they can offer a lower cost to those same residents; they can require landlords to provide a set amount of bags per tenant- once those are used people would be responsible for buying their own; they could decide to do tags so that people could use their own bags; they could decide to NOT go with the most expensive bags on the market. Lots of choices available that would lessen the financial burden of the elderly and low income. I don't think that the Selectboard is interested in pursuing any of those options. Right now I probably spend about $60 a year on trash bags. I don't think I should have to spend more than I'm currently spending so that property owners can get a tax break.

 
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Slowly increase cost of bags over time

As you and others have pointed out, we're in pretty good shape for PAYT - all the other steps of weekly recycling and curbside compost are in place. We could do a bit more to recycle more items, but we're in a fairly good place in terms of being able to move things out of trash bags right now. I've gone from a few bags a week years ago to one bag every week or two. That will cost me about $150 next year - money which which will magically materialize in my budget.

How could it be fixed or improved? It could be rolled out so that the price impact is more gradual.

When the town wanted a new Water Treatment Plant, they didn't make everyone pay the full impact water and sewer fee at first - they ramped up (and are still ramping up to the eventual rate to cover the cost). They said "Hey, this is going to be a shock to people's budgets, so let's gradually increase the fees over time to soften the blow."

The same could be done with PAYT. We could start with 50 cent bags this year, then next year go to a dollar, or something along those lines. It would be a nice consideration for those on fixed incomes or those with other cash flow issues. Make it gradual.

Rejecting the paid bag approach and demanding stickers would be a way to make the program less costly, if you'd like to make a positive financial change. The reason for bags, they said, was it was easier for haulers. (Not us, the users of the system…)

Remember that though they adopted the paid bag approach for now, they said we could move to stickers in a few years after things got going.

So, this could be improved by lowering the cost overall by using a less expensive approach, gradually increasing fees over three to five years to soften the blow to home budgets. Pretty easy in theory.

 
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Math correction!!

Mea culpa - I really screwed up my math on the tax "savings" from taking the tipping fees off of the town budget. Apparently my calculator only works if the operator puts the right numbers in the equation.

I believe the tax savings on 1 million dollars of assessed value would be under a thousand dollars. Still quite a few bags.

Apologies!

Andy

 
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The poor pay, the wealthy play

And I'm tired of people telling those with low incomes to "learn to be more efficient" and keep paying more, while telling the wealthy they can do as they damned well please and still enjoy a nice tax cut. People with low incomes already generate less trash because they CAN'T AFFORD to consume as much as the wealthy. And people with low incomes are already more efficient because they can't afford to be wasteful. But with PAYT, their costs will rise more than any tax cut or domestic "efficiency" program can counter.

And I agree, it should apply to any municipal service - water, road plowing, sewer, police, fire. I don't think adding trash collection to the list of regressive taxes in the town is the great step forward some seem to think it is.

I'll tell you what PAYT is, it's an unfunded mandate.

 
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This savings to the town of

This savings to the town of about half a million in tipping fees is not a one year thing. Its a savings that should effect the budget year after year after year etc, etc, etc.

That being said I don't understand why the talk is about the town helping out only the first year.

What is the reason the town should not supply the bags at no cost or a VERY LOW cost year after year after year etc etc since our taxes and rents are not being reduced?

How many bags could be provided for about a half a million dollars yearly?

Is the quoted $2 and $3 cost for a bag the "real" cost or is the town making a profit on the the bags?

 
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Gradualism and the cost of plastic

I like the concept of gradualism. That was indeed what lead to the idea of a liberal dose of free bags in year one of the original RTM PAYT article. I have heard no talk of gradualism or free bags for this year's roll out.

If we were not facing so many other budget pressures (if we lived in the best of all possible worlds) the movement of a half million dollars off the town's budget would result in lower taxes and encourage rent stabilization. The context for PAYT is complex. We have the statewide (worldwide) crisis of how to best manage solid waste in a sustainable manner AND the budget problems in our town.

With regard to the cost of the bags, the actual cost of the bags is fairly minimal. The reason we are paying $2-3 per bag is to raise the funds for transporting non-recyclable and non-compostable waste to a facility somewhere else and to pay the tipping fees on that waste.

I like the idea of charging less for the bags in year one - but keep in mind that taxes will be pushed higher if the income from the sale of PAYT bags does not cover the cost of the program. The whole point of a 'metered' trash system is to have users feel the actual economic cost of solid waste management - proportional to their own use of the system - while at the same time providing away to reduce those costs through diverting trash to recycling/composting - or to avoid bulky trash items in the first place.

There is no profit anywhere in the system. That is the problem... it is a growing cost to the whole community. How to respond in a fair way is the challenge.

Andy

 
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So the fairly minimal cost of

So the fairly minimal cost of the bags is being inflated by the town to pay for the tipping fees for transporting non-recyciable and non-compostable waste somewhere else.

So if the $2 or $3 that we pay doesn't cover the tipping fees for transporting non-recyciable and non-compostable waste somewhere else we may see further inflation in the cost of the bags.

So thats probably why the suggestion of putting a sticker on regular bags went over like a lead balloon.

So where is the almost half million dollars for tipping fees that is taken out of the new budget going?

 
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What are we buying when we buy PAYT bags?

When you purchase a PAYT bag you will be buying more than a bag. Obviously plastic bags do not cost $2-3. The cost of the bag is not "inflated" by the town. The cost of the bag includes the cost of collecting your trash, driving it to a landfill, paying the tipping fee and your share of the cost of administering the whole trash program. The more trash you produce the more it will cost you to have it "thrown away". Recycling and curbside compost are ways to reduce the need for trash bags. PAYT puts the cost of carting trash to the landfill on the producers of that trash in a way that reflects the quantity of trash you produce.

Here is an excerpt from the Brattleboro Selectboard meeting notes of December 16, 2014. In it you will see that bags vs stickers, subsidizing bags for low income users, and the cost shift as it affects renters were all on the agenda. To answer your last question: The tipping are being taken out of the town budget and will be paid for by the proceeds from the $2 and $3 bags.

"...providing trash bags for sale to provide incentives for residents to utilize the recycling and composting programs in order to reduce the amount of solid waste. He said the Committee agreed to offer 33 gallon bags at $3 each and 13 gallon at $2 bags each to cover costs of disposal fees, transportation fees, and cost of the bags, as well as administrative costs. He also spoke about updating the Town ordinances to include curbside composting, requirements of Act 148 requiring variable rate pricing for residential trash (PAYT), a recent RFP that was sent out to bag manufacturers, bids received in response to the RFP, education services that will be necessary to move to a PAYT system, and whether to provide bags on a sliding scale to lower income families. He said that eliminating the purchase requirement of the bags would remove the incentive to recycle and compost. Gaskill and Spencer also discussed several aspects of implementing a PAYT program. Chelsea Nunez, Property Manager for Brattleboro Housing Authority, said that implementation and enforcement of the PAYT system would increase the burden on administrative staff and she asked to consider incentives to landlords to encourage tenants in dense population areas to participate in the PAYT program and avoid the easier route of providing dumpsters.
There was much discussion by the Board about the PAYT requirements, strengths and weaknesses of providing bags or stickers, the price of the bags to consumers, disproportionate cost difference between the two sizes of bags, whether to institute a sliding scale for bags, and tenant/landlord involvement and cooperation. The Board asked for additional information about the RFP and the bids received. The Board agreed to proceed with use of bags rather than stickers, to sell two sizes of bags for $2 and $3 each, and not to provide bags on a sliding scale. The Board asked that the Committee investigate alternatives to deal with the cost-shift on tenant/landlord issues."

 
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I don't see any mention of

I don't see any mention of why the decision to not provide sliding scale cost bags was made. Did the Selectboard try to get input from elderly or low income residents as to how this woud impact them? Did they seek advice or opinions from agencies or people who actually work with low income people? Was there any thought process behind their decision other than the usual " this doesn't impact me so I'm not going to look for alternatives"? I'm guessing the answer is no.

 
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Why no sliding scale on PAYT bags?

The Brattleboro selectboard was asked that exact question at tonight's board meeting, 1/29/15. The answer given was that the transition to PAYT is a statewide mandate to move to a metered approach to solid waste disposal (the more you throw, the more you pay). Providing free or reduced rate bags works against this statewide mandate by reducing the incentive for all citizens to reduce their solid waste by diverting as much as possible to recycling and compost.

Another way to say this is that we are all in this together. Time to reduce the use of landfills (which are expensive) and increase the use of recycling and compost (which reduce the cost of solid waste). We will all be better off in the long run by changing the culture of "throwing things away".

If it is any consolation, I believe that the average household can reduce solid waste to one bag every two weeks - $100-150 per year. It will require that we all change some of our current habits and conveniences.

Andy

 
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That might be one of the

That might be one of the stupidest, most shortsighted answers this Selectboard has ever given and there is a big contest for that.They honestly believe that if they make something a little easier; a little more fair that it REDUCES the incentive for people to do it? I'll tell you what reduces the incentive to participate in a program. When something that is supposed to be a good thing for the town, for the environment, for future generations is turned into a punitive action against those residents who want to participate but can't afford to do so without a little help. This "we make the rules and we don't care if it's fair" approach that this board takes on not just PAYT but many issues that affect people's quality of life is going to come back to bite them in the ass.
For someone living on $850 a month from Social Security, an additional expense of $150 or $200 a year makes a noticeable difference. This is a bad decision they are making.

 
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If we want to be fair....

... then the first bag per week should be free, simply given away for each apartment dweller(s) or household in town, any additional bags per week should accrue the full cost per bag plus the cost of the first, this way low income people who supposedly produce "minimal"(some buying heaps of cheap plastic crap at Walmart the exception of course) trash output could have the one bag and those better off households supposedly consuming " adsorbent, mass amounts and quantities", thus producing excess waste, a by product from fulfilling their insatiable appetites, will be paying for more bags!
I don't expect this suggestion to be accepted because PAYT will not welcome the idea of the free initial bag or keeping tally of each persons bag allotment, however if the intention is really to encourage recycling then this makes sense even thought the revenue gained may be less. To some the price of an extra bag or two may be insignificant to some peoples desire to rid themselves of unwanted trash or it's build up and if that is so then this would not encourage recycling but does add to the revenue. Where does bagged dog/cat droppings fall in all this, there has to be a huge amount of that to deal with?

 
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Responsive Governance

-We’re on a budget, paying for bags will definitely put a squeeze on an already squeezed household.
-So, consume less.
-We’re on a budget, we’ve been forced to cut back for years as prices continue to rise.
-Yes. There’s so much conspicuous consumption in our society.
-I haven’t gotten a raise in five years.
-Maybe you should show more initiative at work.
-Somehow I don’t think you're hearing me.
-I’m hearing you, we all must make sacrifices for the common good.
-What are you giving up?
-I’ve given of my time talking to you now.
-So you are saying, this policy will hurt me more than you but that’s just the way it is.
-I didn’t say it was just, I said it was how it is.

 
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If this is directed to me I can only say...

This plan would avoid a sliding scale type approach in that it allows all of us to be "responsible" up to one bag which is free, thereafter it is up to all members of a household to contribute for each additional bag they fill collectively as a group or by those who are responsible for them as they have the biggest impact to our landfills. Beside the fact everyone is equally allowed one free bag, this will benefit the elderly living alone or those low income apartment dwellers able to keep their trash output down to the one bag. Our community would be less likely to suffer the desperate drive by trash drop off thrown to the less traveled road side, "an irresponsible attitude/ action" if at least one bag is free per week.

I imagine there are very few of us here in Brattleboro that aren't on a tightening budget of some sort or aren't hurt or affected by the present economy to whatever degree, if they are out there feeling no pain, I don't know them personally and certainly don't share the boat I try to stay afloat in, which in fact may fail to remain sustainably buoyant soon enough if the onslaught doesn't let up, it's scary no doubt, then we get hit again with PAYT, does that sink me for good?, maybe not, but it puts another hole in the boat already riddled with emergent tax burdens by taking away one of the oars needed to keep a steady and balanced course or ditching the security of a life vest if we have to momentarily bail. We have to begin to jettison some of these relentless and increasing costs to tax payers or cast off and head for shallower waters elsewhere to sink in because as it is now we're getting in too deep with any remote land mass to support us on the horizon fading away!!!.

 
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the vignette was not directed at you

It was overheard in the hallways at the Dept. of Disconnections.

Borrowing your nautical metaphor, I appreciate that you float creative approaches to town problems, and are empathetic in your concerns.

(..and your cat litter question from earlier is a good one...)

 
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I appreciate your commentary as well

....to add to the metaphor, just when we need to bail out the incoming seepage the most our big dipper is taken away and replaced with a soggy Dixie cup with another riddle to solve, just dated myself!

 
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Kitty litter... good question... good answer...

From the Windham Solid Waste Management District website:

"Kitty litter can be composted, FREE of charge, in the Windham Solid Waste Management District's organics composting program, or your curbside compost container."

Check out the WSWMD website. You may - or may not - be surprised by how little of your trash is trash.

Andy

 
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Dog waste is compostable

Dog waste is compostable (is that really a word?) however the plastic bag you pick it up in is not.

I can see where that may create some problems when walking a dog.

 
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Thanks for info

I still think the one bag free per week plan (maybe just the actual cost of the bag itself) with the additional bag charge per household thereafter could be tried out, the bag allotment tally may be kept by a newly developed committee that could eventually offer valuable data on quantities and output sources for the future statistical evaluation. I guess I'll have to start putting saw dust in the poop bags if this is going to work for composting unless there is a biodegradable liner of some type out there.

 

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