Wine and beer at galleries and bookstore events will have to wait until Vermont offers up definitions of galleries and bookstores. So sayeth the Selectboard.
Brattleboro’s Police-Fire Facility Project oversight committee has been formed, a new skating rink compressor will be purchased, and Brattleboro has begun the first of what may be many solar energy projects.
The new Selectboard got off to a good start, with a new commitment from the Chair to hear all viewpoints. The new seating arrangement is, from left to right, Schneck, Schoales, Gartenstein, Sondag, O’Connor, and Allen. Longtime Selectboard watchers can make of it what they may.
Chair David Gartenstein began the first meeting of the new Selectboard by congratulating and welcoming the new members Kate O’Connor and David Schoales, and returning member John Allen, to the board. He said his goal in chairing the meetings is to make sure everybody has an opportunity to speak fully to the issues, both Selectboard members and members of the public., and that he would speak last after others had a chance to speak.
Town Manager Barb Sondag had no opening remarks.
There were no committee reports, but Gartenstein noted that the agenda item had been changed to “committee reports and selectboard member comments” to give everyone a chance if they had something to share.
The annual discussion of Selectboard Rules of Conduct was brief. Gartenstein said the rules had been circulated to board members and posted online. There were no comments, questions, suggestions, or edits to rules, and they were adopted 5-0.
New Selectboard members were offered Committee Assignments to fill seats where the Selectboard is expected to participate in other committees and boards. Schoales and O’Connor will serve on the Capital Grant Review Board. Allen will attend Police Fire Facility Project meetings, and continue overseeing the Waste Water Treatment project. Gartenstein will attend Traffic Safety meetings. Schneck will serve as representative to the Rental Housing Improvement Program loan committee. Schoales will go to Small Business Improvement Program meetings.
Ken Schneck nominated and voted for Dora Bouboulis to serve as WRC rep, but O’Connor got the majority of votes.
The Selectboard also took up the matter of board goals, and the process by which those goals will be set. Schneck explained that one year they had them, and another they did not, and that the year with them was an improvement. Reviewing the goals quarterly, he said, helped.
A meeting to set goals was scheduled for April 11 at 5:30 pm.
Kurt Daims welcomed the new board. The change in leadership will allow for a friendlier climate and relations between the board, downtown, the people, and Town Meeting Representatives, he said.
Daims reminded the board of the change in support for the Police Fire Facility Project at Representative Town Meeting, and re-read the adopted recommendation that the Selectboard scrutinize the bonding and offer modest budget increases in coming years. He hoped the board would schedule a discussion on this issue.
Terry Carter said that she had come to a formal agreement with Barb Sondag regarding questionable prior conduct of the officer that shot the dog on the playground. She said it took both time and lawyers, but she wanted to publicly thank Sondag, Chief Wrinn, and Captain Fitzgerald for their professionalism and patience. She had plaques created for each of them. “My hope is that from something unfortunate something positive happens,” she said. “Some thought it was trivial, but many of us made the decision that it was a symptom of a bigger issue in our country.”
The plaque had a quote from Robert Green Ingelsoll that begins “The superior man is the providence of the inferior. He is eyes for the blind, strength for the weak, and a shield for the defenseless. He stands erect by bending above the fallen. He rises by lifting others.”
“Thanks for working on this,” said Chair Gartenstein. “It makes the town better and stronger.”
Paul Cameron rose to remind the town of the Vermont Home Energy Challenge to make homes and apartments more energy efficient. “The savings can be remarkable, up to 20-30%,” he said, adding that there were extra incentives such as reduced rates on energy audits and more. Homeowners and landlords were encouraged to get involved.
Liquor Commissioners – Wine and Beer at Galleries
New Vermont state laws allow for short-term licenses for the purpose of serving of wine and beer at galleries and bookstores. The law, however, doesn’t define gallery or bookstore and Town Clerk Annette Cappy asked the Selectboard for guidance at their February 5th meeting. That board placed a moratorium on these new licenses until the new board could take up the issue.
The new board took up the issue Tuesday evening. Cappy reiterated her concerns about the permits, including the definition of who may apply, where they may buy the liquor, and training issues. She said the board could tighten restrictions, but not expand them.
Ken Schneck said he came to the meeting ready to compromise, but hearing Cappy’s concerns got him “right back to where I was.” He said the permit seemed like a severe relaxing of standards, and there was no need for these permits when a store could hire a caterer or get a special event permit. “We can decide not to grant them,” he said of the new permits.
John Allen agreed. “I didn’t read the minutes from before, but it seems unsettling.” He thought they were opening a “can of worms.”
Cappy said that licenses can be revoked, but the permitholders face no repercussions if they are lax. “Those with a license are more careful and responsible,” she said.
David Schoales asked if the training was different for special event permits.
“It would be the catering permit,” explained Cappy. “Windham Wines has a catering permit, so you could hire them to come in to cater. If there were an incident, they are the license holder.”
“I don’t see the difference,” said Schoales.
“The legislature has made a decision to authorize another type of license, and we can impose restrictions,” said Gartenstein. “We can add additional criteria requiring training and insurance, and allow this type of license just like any other.”
“And to require that they purchase the liquor from the State of Vermont,” added Schneck.
“Right,” said Gartenstein. “Why prohibit it here in Brattleboro? We can regulate it effectively.”
“But the state hasn’t said what a gallery is,” said Allen. “If they hang a picture, they are a gallery. We’re opening ourselves up for a lot of liability.”
Schneck said they were opening local businesses up to liability. “There is a proof of insurance issue here.” He said if they adopt too many guidelines it will be prohibitive, and “then what’s the point?”
Town Manager Sondag said that there was a clear reason for permits like this. “Every so often a place has a special event and they may have alcohol.” She said her concern was the number of permits on a given night in a given area, and suggested the board limit permits on bigger nights downtown.
“If we allow this, then we have to debate if someone is a gallery or bookstore,” said Kate O’Connor. “A catering permit would be more defining.”
Beth Shrader of the BAPC said she was looking forward to working with the new board to provide technical assistance about drugs and alcohol. She said the permit simply allows serving, not selling, of alcohol, and that Richards Insurance said that businesses would need a special insurance endorsement to be covered for liability.
“I’m worried about the blood alcohol limits,” said James Van Slater? “It is a six hour permit. Could it be restricted to a few drinks, or shorten the time to a two hour permit?”
Schoales looked at the options in the administrative report. “I move we not approve these until the state defines gallery and bookstore.”
“If we do that, what if we don’t like the definition? Can we look at it again?” asked O’Connor. Gartenstein said they could decide when that happens.
“Another option would be to make the criteria include hiring a caterer,” said Schneck.
“Vermont allows it so you don’t have to own an establishment to get a catering permit,” added Josh Hearne.
“I didn’t hear anything tonight from a gallery or bookstore,” observed Steven K-Brooks. “Do they desire this?”
“There have been inquiries,” said Cappy.
The board approved waiting or the state to offer definitions 4-1, with Gartenstein against.
Liquor Commissioners – Licenses
7-Eleven, Barnaby’s Productions, and Elliot Street Fish, Chips, and More all applied for and received their respective licenses.
7-Eleven got a renewed second class liquor and tobacco license for their store at 1020 Western Ave., recently under new ownership.
Barnaby’s received their first class liquor and entertainment license for their location at 95 Main Street. Joshua Hearne is the owner. He said the plan is to relaunch the space in a new direction to create a truly dedicated music hall like the Iron Horse. He said there would be music five nights a week, including nights for open mic, local music, regional and small national acts, and even folk, jazz and comedy. “Come on down and see a good show,” he said.
Kate O’Connor asked about the capacity of the club. Hearne said it was 100 people.
Beth Shrader of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition asked how Barnaby’s could be operating for the last few weeks under Rocky Top’s license, if Rocky Top had closed?
Gartenstein said that the renewal deadline is April 30th, and Rocky Top wasn’t renewing.
Shrader said she appreciated the detail of the Selectboard Meeting reports on iBrattleboro.
David and Lauren Manning are the new owners of Elliot Street Fish, Chips, and More, and a first class liquor license.
David Manning told the board that it is a small fish and chips eatery plus falafels and eventually hamburgers. He didn’t want the license so he could become a bar, he said. “It’s a service to those who want a beer with fried fish.”
He told the board he took the state training and said it was fun, and written by and for Vermonters.
Water and Sewer – Waste Water Treatment Plant Update
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a credit to the WWTP project in the amount of $5,294, and heard about an additional change that reduced costs by an additional $4,091.
There were also changes at the Spring Tree Pump Station, which added $8,500 to their SCADA allowance estimate and 14 additional contract days.
Rick Ethier said that the “big stuff” is done at the Waste Water Treatment Plant. He said little things remain, the lawn would be coming once it warmed up outside, and that things are winding down. He also reported that the Town had received a few loads of septic. “It’s working.”
“They pay to dump septic,” said Town Manager Barb Sondag, adding a “Cha-ching” sound for emphasis.
Ethier said the Spring Tree Pump Station preliminary work is underway. He said the old tank is out, new parts are on site, and new power service is being installed soon. The SCADA (control system) upgrades are adding to the cost, but the system allows Public Works to call up the system online from remote locations.
Sondag said the system sends alerts and has reduced staff time by allowing employees to be off-site using a laptop to monitor the plant on weekends.
“It also adds contract days,” warned Public Works assistant Hanna O’Connell.
Ethier explained that there was some concern that two local New England companies might get held up, which would hold us up, and may result in the extra contract days. “They are notorious for getting there when they feel like it.”
“If we don’t approve the decrease, what happens?” asked John Allen. (laughter)
All changes, increases and decreases alike, were approved.
Police-Fire Facility Committee Appointments
Seventeen people stepped forward to serve on the Police Fire Facility Project (PFFP) oversight committee. Just before Tuesday’s meeting, the Selectboard interviewed a number of candidates.
Before choosing members of the new committee, Kate O’Connor raised the issue of “process.” She said she was concerned that some applications had come in after the deadline, and worried about the precedent it would set if they allowed them to be considered. “When we set a deadline, we set a deadline. It’s not the people, it’s the process.”
Ken Schneck said he didn’t disagree, but that something had shifted at Representative Town Meeting, and the deadline for committee applications was before that meeting. “It’s niggling in my head.”
John Allen agreed with O’Connor. “It’s the process.”
David Schoales also agreed about process, “but we’re elected to be reasonable.” He said there were good candidates, and he’d like to consider them all.
“I don’t disagree, but I sorta disagree,” said O’Connor. “There could be people out there right now watching who’d like to join the committee.” She said if they extend the deadline, it should be warned so others could apply.
“Anyone who applied late can go to the meetings and speak to issues,” reminded Schneck.
“It’s just the process,” said Allen, again.
David Gartenstein said the discussion at Representative Town Meeting was a “very productive airing of concerns for and against the project.” He said the roll call vote was an excellent exercise in democracy. “I never did that before.”
He said he came away with the feeling that the committee needs some people who were opposed to the cost, and that lingering questions would best be answered by having them on the committee. He said he personally contacted some and asked them to put their names in for consideration. “They’d be useful and welcome additions to the committee, to question the scope and cost.” He suggested that board members opposed to allowing those who missed the deadline to make a motion saying they would not be considered.
“I’m in a quandary as to what to do,” replied O’Connor. “Do we want a huge discussion of process and precedent?”
“This is service on a volunteer committee to the town,” said Gartenstein. “I view it differently.”
O’Connor expressed concern that this would set a precedent that might impact the upcoming appointment of a Selectboard member.
“It’s nice to get it out in the open and address a problem that could occur,” added Allen.
“Make a motion that those who missed the deadline can’t be nominated,” suggested Gartenstein.
Steven K-Brooks said there would be no precedent, as this is a special case of a controversial issue that required a sense of cohesion.
John Wilmerding said he asked the Town Manager at Representative Town Meeting if people could still apply, and she had said yes.
O’Connor changed direction. “It was great to interview everyone. Every person had a concern about the cost.” She said it would be helpful to know what the committee requirements are. “It says technical oversight? Is that the mission?”
John Allen, having served on the Waste Water Treatment Facility oversight committee said that they needed a “good, round committee that will work together and get all viewpoints in.”
With that, rounds of nominations and voting occurred. The new PFFP committee members appointed are Robin Sweetapple, Eli Gould, Phil Chapman, Prudence McKinney, Dave Emory, Anthony Farnum, Kathy Dowd, and Steve Phillips. The committee size was expanded to nine members, with John Allen, the Selectboard representative, being allowed to vote in the committee and on the Selectboard.
“I’ll set up a meeting to meet the project manager,” said Sondag.
Intercreditor Agreement – Shire Town Properties
Shire Town Properties has a Small Business Assistance Program loan with Brattleboro, and three commercial mortgages. The Selectboard gave approval at Tuesday’s meeting to allow the three commercial mortgages to be consolidated. The agreement is among Brattleboro, Shire Town, and Merchants Bank.
The agreement leaves Brattleboro in second position, rather than fourth, for repayment.
Prospect Hill and Morningside Cemetery Seasonal Maintenance
Turner & Renaud of Dummerston was granted a contract for $17,800 to perform seasonal maintenance for cemeteries at Prospect Hill and Morningside.
Net Metering Contract
Brattleboro has entered into a 20 year agreement with Integrated Solar of Brattleboro and Green Lantern Capital of Waterbury to provide electricity from a photovoltaic system. The agreement provides for discounted electricity costs for the town and an projected savings of $16-18,600 per year.
The proposal did not identify a site for the photovoltaic array, though there was a notation of “TBD/landfill?” in the summary.
Lester Humphreys of the Brattleboro Energy Committee said the two biggest factors were savings for the town, and the location of the solar panels. He said the decision was narrowed to two proposals. “One had land, one had higher savings.” Savings for the town won out.
Humphreys said they asked for the company to build a system on a site to create solar power, and solar power credits would go toward the Town’s electric bills with a percentage of those credits given back to the provider. “If the system generates less power, we just buy it as we do now.”
He said the town will get guaranteed savings, and the company will get a reliable customer for 20 years with a good track record of paying its bills.
“The more that’s generated, the more we save,” added Sondag.
Humphreys said the town could add other systems to increase the savings. He said Brattleboro could issue another RFP, create a fixed rate system, build a town-owned system, or just wait and see how this first project goes.
He said saving could be greater than projections show, if the town continues to reduce its consumption.
Schoales said the town could generate extra power and find others to purchase excess energy credits if we reach our limits.
John Allen and David Gartenstein asked if there was any risk to the town. No, answered the committee.
Sondag said one risk was if the company went out of business. The town could lose credits and discounts, and that could throw off budgets if prices suddenly jumped.
“I see no downsides to this,” decided Allen.
Sondag said there were other ways that could net greater savings, but the town would take on more risk. She said they could do more projects like this.
John Wilmerding said that a public interest entity could be created to provide renewable energy facilities, and it could be the answer to the current monopoly on power in Vermont. He warned that contracts should be carefully considered, and the town should have multiple options, including the right to buy the system, when the contract ends.
One of the other bidders on the project was there and asked if inflation was considered. The committee said yes. “It would be the same for all the companies and could be compared equally,” said Humphries.
Wilmerding brought up other possible downsides, such as possible new taxes on large arrays, or court challenges from Green Mountain Power. Nonetheless, he felt the project should be done and problems sorted out later. “You should build two.”
Jason Cooper, a member of the committee, said he was in favor of adopting two proposals. He said one concern is that this works now due to a favorable tax environment that could go away. “The tax benefits may not be there past this year to build these. It may be good to take on a second one this year.”
Schoales said he would like the contract to specify that new hires for this project be from Brattleboro. “We’re spending this money in this community. We educate kids for careers.”
O’Connor thought it was a good idea, but questioned whether they’d be placing a condition on the company that could not be met. Allen thought it could be in the form of a suggestion.
“We need to recognize there aren’t jobs for the kids we’re educating,” explained Schoales. “(Integrated Solar) are going to make a couple million dollars on this deal. It’s reasonable to ask them to spend some of it here.”
“I’d like to talk to legal counsel,” said a concerned Town Manager. “That would be a difficult contract to negotiate.”
“Maybe we express the concern and ask them how they’d address that concern,” offered Cooper. “They could bring their suggestions.”
“That’s reasonable, and would give us an idea of how they will respond to our suggestions,” said Schoales. “We need to be hiring people in Brattleboro, and have more contracts coming up.” He said he’d ask for this clause again.
“This is out of the blue for me,” said Sondag. “If the board is going to be doing this going forward, I have a lot more work to do. If you are putting in a stringent requirement, then it needs to go in the RFP.”
Sondag said the town did have unemployed people, but it didn’t necessarily mean the unemployed can build a photovoltaic system.
The representative from Region Solar, an unsuccessful bidder for the project, said that his company had teamed up with a tech center to help create a jobs program in another location. He said the board could select RFP’s using a weighted system that gives points for such things.
Schneck said he liked the local hiring options being incorporated at the RFP stage of the process with future projects.
The board voted 5-0 in favor of the project and scheduled another discussion for May to look at additional possibilities such as a suggestion by Schoales to think bigger and consider generating enough to sell to large non-profits in town.
Strand Avenue Reconstruction
The Selectboard unanimously approved BUR Construction of Claremont, NH to reconstruct two retaining walls on Strand Avenue. The cost for the new wall will be just over $314,000, with $175,000 of the funding coming from a state grant and the balance from Brattleboro’s General Fund.
“Wouldn’t it be cheaper to close Strand Ave?” asked John Allen.
It is an older stone wall in a tight space. The repair will involve “soil anchoring” to drill into the mountain, insert rods, and put a stone face to the outer, visible form.
Town Manager Sondag said it took many meetings to find agreement in the neighborhood, and also that the original project had been made from old pieces of sidewalk.
DuFrense Group Contract Error
Town Manager Sondag was authorized by the Selectboard to negotiate a contract for engineering of downtown sidewalk repairs. She did this, but also entered into a contract for just over $50,000 with the DuFrense Group to do the work. She wasn’t technically authorized, and recently noticed the error.
“I’m asking for forgiveness,” said Sondag.
The Selectboard retroactively ratified the contract-entering, and all is well with the sidewalk repair engineering contract.
Senator Gannett Drive
A private drive off Upper Dummerston Road owned by the Brattleboro Country Club will be renamed Senator Gannett Drive, in honor of Senator Robert Gannett, after everything is checked and made certain, at some time in the future.
Goal Setting Meeting
A special meeting for the board to discuss goal setting is scheduled for April 11th, at 5:30 p.m. Board members were encouraged to get their goals in early to the Town Manager.