The Brattleboro Selectboard took up a number of somewhat ordinary agenda items at their postponed regular meeting Monday evening. Facility updates, grants, certificates of mileage, parking lot contracts and other mundane matters were handled with ease. There was a minor TIF tiff, too.
The high points, perhaps, were discussions of solar net meter credits, the new energy coordinating volunteer position, and news that the most recent storm broke our sidewalk plow.
I confess. The first 15 minutes or so were missed due to a streaming glitch, which had me reloading web pages and talking with Vlasta at BCTV. She and Roland got things working again quickly.
I’m guessing that there was some mention of snow in addition to the approval of minutes, after which we joined the meeting in time for the first official agenda item.
Police and Fire Facility Projects Update
Town Manager Peter Elwell gave the board his regular update on progress at the three facilities projects.
The West Brattleboro Fire Station has been used for a meeting of the building committee. Finishing work will take place over the next couple of weeks, a blower test will be held soon, and the Fire Department will soon be moving in to their new station. A ribbon-cutting and dedication will be held in once it warms up and after the old station comes down.
At Central Fire Station, steel was delivered a bit late but with no significant consequence to the schedule, and the steel frame is now being assembled. The building should be done in November of 2017.
Work to prepare the tenant space for the Brattleboro Reformer continues and is expected to be completed in early March. A bit of interior demolition work is going on in the space for the police and work will ramp up once the Reformer moves in.
Trivia fans can note that office furniture for the Central Fire Station comes from the Vermont Department of Corrections’ furniture making program at a cost of about $7,000.
Approve 2017 Certificate of Highway Mileage
Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett told the board that every year they send the State of Vermont a verification of Brattleboro’s road classification and number of miles. “It verifies classification and number of miles, and that’s used to distribute state aid.”
Usually this document has few changes, he explained, but in the last year Brattleboro has discontinued .10 miles of Minshall Street to become a Town Trail, and Wickopee Hill Road was reclassified from a Class 3 to Class 4 highway.
Brattleboro now has 6.42 miles of Class 1 highway, 13.89 miles of Class 2 highway, 64.64 miles of Class 3 highway, and 22.207 miles of state highway, for a total of 107.527 miles in town.
We have 7.83 miles of Class 4 roads, and .10 miles of Legal Trail.
Kate O’Connor asked how the state aid was determined. Barrett said that each year the state determines a budget, and we get a percentage for each mile depending on how the road is classified. He added that this year’s changes were minor and would vary the state aid by small amounts.
Engineering Services for Parking Lot Improvements
Stevens & Associates received $27,000 for design, bidding, and project oversight of parking lot improvements. Harmony Lot, Preston Lot, Harris Lot, and parking at Gibson-Aiken are included in the project.
Patrick Moreland explained the contract is about 9% of the $300,000 to be spent on parking improvements this year, which he said was a reasonable amount to spend to make sure all projects are managed well.
David Gartenstein, David Schoales, and Dick DeGray all had questions about why the contract being presented hadn’t been put out to bid.
Officially, there is no requirement that professional services be put out to bid, and in this case, the Town staff felt Stevens & Associates were well-qualified, knew the parking lots well, and understood the retaining wall and Harmony Lot.
Elwell also noted that there wasn’t much time to gather bids this time around if the board expected the work to be done this season at a reasonable cost. He suggested future contracts such as this could be put out to bid with proper lead times built in to the schedule.
The board generally liked the idea of future bidding, and approved the contract.
Sidewalk Plow Breakdown
Steve Barrett wanted the public to know that the sidewalk plow broke today, causing a delay in plowing while a chain drive was repaired. The plow is back in action, he said, but with the snow blowing attachment it might take a bit longer than usual to get all the sidewalks clear.
Brattleboro used to have three sidewalk plows.
John Allen asked why Maple Street sidewalks weren’t cleared. Barrett said it had been, but was removed from the plow list during budget cuts in previous years.
Sky Solar Net Metering Agreement
Brattleboro will purchase solar net metering credits through the Windham Solid Waste Management District Group Net Metering project (WSWMDGNMP, for short.) The Brattleboro Selectboard voted to authorize the Town Manager to enter into the agreement.
Town Attorney Bob Fisher endorsed the contract he had worked on. He said the price is $0.139 per kWh for the 18 largest municipal electric agreements, and is expected to save $86,000 in the first year, though the rate may go up or down if the market price for electricity changes.
Being located in Brattleboro, the solar array is expected to generate an additional $57,000 of tax revenue, and may help stabilize the finances of the WSWMD.
Tad Montgomery asked what percentage of Brattleboro’s electric load was covered in the agreement. No one knew for sure, but there was a guesstimate of perhaps 20%, and he was told they would get the precise number to him.
Montgomery asked if the energy credits could be transfered within town accounts, and was told they could be re-allocated. He suggested the Town increase the percentage of credits.
Right of First Refusal - 1037 Western Avenue
Brattleboro has a right of first refusal on the property at 1037 Western Ave. The property owner has received a bona fide offer, so the Town must decide if it should be purchased ($400,000), or release the right and pass on the offer.
This property is adjacent to the A.W. Richards Housing at 1063 Western Ave., and Brattleboro’s legal interest stems from earlier partnerships and transactions at the location.
The decision was quick. “Does anyone want to buy it?” asked Gartenstein. Fellow board members remained silent.
The board chose to pass on the offer of purchase and allow the sale by Brattleboro Real Estate Investments to the other buyer, Yitzchok Raskin.
Volunteer Energy Coordinator Position
Brattleboro’s Energy Coordinator position has been vacant for some months now. To help keep project momentum, the Energy Committee’s Chair Michael Bosworth and Town Manager Elwell drafted a volunteer energy coordinator position description.
Kate O’Connor wanted it to be clear that this was not a Town employee, but a citizen volunteer. Elwell said that by having the board appoint, rather than hire, it helps to keep that important distinction.
David Schoales was against this, arguing instead for a stipend to go with the position. “I hope Representative Town meeting will vote to go back to what we had.”
Tad Montgomery reminded the board that the Energy Committee endorsed the idea of a paid position, either full or part time, or a volunteer with a $10,000 stipend. The paid element was essential to be able to hire someone to help get grants. He also suggested sharing job descriptions with Hartford, VT, when the time comes, as they had hired someone full-time as an Energy Coordinator.
Elwell explained that this position allows for a someone to volunteer immediately, and still allows for later consideration of a part-time or full-time position by the board. “The full gamut will be reviewed in the months ahead. This is a quick way to see if a volunteer can step forward for a while.”
The Selectboard approved of the position description 4-1, Schoales against, and is now taking applications from those who’d like to be considered.
Tax Increment Financing
The Brattleboro Selectboard joined Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) in advocating for Brattleboro’s access to the State of Vermont’s Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Program. BDCC paid $5,000 to join a consortium hoping to lobby the state to make the TIF district more widely available.
Town Manager Elwell explained that the TIF program allows for towns to form special tax districts to promote development. Increased taxes in the district from economic development could then be used for municipal infrastructure projects related to that development.
There’s no immediate need for such a district, and it would take a lot of work to implement, said Elwell. Still, staff recommended advocating for the district in order to be able to use it in the future, if a situation arises where it would make sense.
Adam Grinold of BDCC said that “a TIF may not be needed today, but we see it as a necessary tool for future projects. We can’t anticipate that a developer will spend time to arrange for a TIF district [on their own] - It needs to be on the shelf ready for them.”
DeGray asked some specifics about a Brattleboro TIF district, but was generally told that the answers will not be known until the state allows for exploration of TIF districts.
He was told that the Town would likely set a boundary for a district, and that the difference in tax income from the property due to new improvements would be applied to infrastructure improvements related to that project for some undetermined period of time.
David Schoales and Kate O’Connor felt it smart to offer an endorsement of BDCC’s TIF efforts. “It’s good to be in solidarity with towns that want to do this,” said O’Connor. “We’ll need them [when we want hub town help]. There’s nothing negative about it.”
Gartenstein said he wouldn’t support BDCC because BDCC had made “no efforts to help the Town with regional economic hub issues.” He didn’t see the need for a TIF in Brattleboro.
Grinold disagreed that BDCC had done nothing for the Town, pointing to growth in the Grand List. Gartenstein reiterated that he was talking specifically of regional economic hub issues.
BDCC got their support 3-2, with DeGray and Gartenstein against.
Interlibrary Loan Courier Grant
Brattleboro accepted $180 to help fund interlibrary loan courier expenses.
Elwell introduced the agenda item. “It’s a $180 grant...”
“I’m ready for a motion,” said Gartenstein.
The funding comes from the Vermont Department of Libraries. Green Mountain Courier is used for delivery.
Small grants don’t need the board’s approval for application, but sometimes receiving a grant requires the board to take action to accept and appropriate it, no matter how small the amount.
Aquatic Nuisance Grant
Brattleboro’s Planning Department received the go-ahead to apply for a grant to fund an aquatic biologist to survey, document, and create signs regarding invasive aquatic species, specifically the water chestnut. The project will include the Connecticut River, West River, Sunset Lake and South Pond.
$3,800 toward the effort will come from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Watershed Management Program, if the grant is approved. Laurie Calahan will do the work with the help of volunteers.
Other invasive species they’ll be monitoring include Eurasian milfoil, curly leaf pondweed, Japanese knotweed, and phragmites.
Preventing the spread of invasive species is part of Brattleboro’s Town Plan.
$950 of the grant will be matched by volunteer hours.
Ariel Nelson has been appointed to the Citizen Police Communications Committee through June 2017.