Selectboard Meeting Notes: Goals Approved, Brattleboro Budgets Explained

Lacking two members, the Brattleboro Selectboard took up a relatively light agenda in their absence. A liquor license was approved for The Tavern, Selectboard goals were approved, and new members were appointed to town committees.

Town Manager Barb Sondag took advantage of the reduced work load for the meeting and took time to educate new board members, and the public, about budgets, committees, and other various reports that Selectboard members receive.

The class was short but informative, and the meeting’s business was done within an hour.


Chair David Gartenstein was absent without explanation, as was John Allen. Vice Chair Kate O’Connor led the meeting with a board of three. She had no comments as Chair, and did a good job leading her fellow board members through the agenda before them.

Town Manager Barb Sondag said that there will be a public meeting concerning the downtown sidewalk project on April 25 at 6pm in the Selectboard meeting room to update people on the status of the project, and to present conceptual plans for people to evaluate. She says they are making an effort to do outreach and solicit feedback.

For Selectboard comments and committee reports David Schoales noted that the latest water quality report says our water is clean and safe.

There were no members of the public participating in Public Participation.

Liquor Commissioners

The Selectboard approved a first class liquor license and outdoor consumption permit for The Tavern, the restaurant located at the Colonial Motel. The restaurant will have a new owner, Vivek Ayaan, LLC, by early May.

The new owner, Shamir Patel, said it would be the same menu and beverages as before. “It’s mostly a hotel service,” he said. “The restaurant is an extra amenity.”

Patel say he hopes to sub-lease the restaurant to an experienced restauranteer. “We don’t want high traffic,” said Patel adding that they are not changing anything about The Tavern. 

He said he is looking forward to moving to Brattleboro.

Water & Sewer Commissioners

Hannah O’Connell and Rick Ethier gave the Brattleboro Selectboard the monthly update on the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Work at the plant is just about done, they report, and pump station renovations are beginning to take the spotlight.

Ethier said work at the plant was winding down and they hoped to have all the construction “out by the end of the month.” He said they were working on a punch list of small corrections.

A single change order was noted, costing $1,042 and two additional contract days, and includes items such as an extra computer jack, additional lighting, and less paint than originally expected.

Explaining that change orders of this amount don’t require Selectboard approval, Town Manager Sondag said that the main point of mentioning this one was “to let me sign subsequent change orders.” She got approval to do so, 3-0.

O’Connell described work at the Spring Tree Pump Station. She said they were working on permits, and had completed a bypass of the main pump. “It took longer than expected.”

Ethier agreed. “It was planned well, but we had some bumps in the road” adding that the company had done a good job with work to the building.

At the Black Mountain Pump Station, O’Connell said they were looking to see what was under 91 and planning how to drill. This pump is being replaced with a gravity fed system.

John O’Connor wasn’t there for his WWTP financial report.  

Sondag took the time to educate new board members about the report they had in their packets. She said the financials show change orders in process, and potential changes which may become change orders later on. She said that our engineer is negotiating a revision of some additions, and has provided a list of things not to approve. 

O’Connor asked if that meant he recommended that work not be done. Sondag said yes, but that it could also mean that our engineer feels the work was stipulated in the original contract and Brattleboro shouldn’t pay extra.

Schoales inquired about the budget showing the project being $2 million under cost.

Sondag reminded the board the project wasn’t done, and that a million of it would be used for the Black Mountain portion of the project. “It will come in on budget.”

She then continued explaining portions of the report that show sources of funding and drawdowns. She pointed out that the money they were drawing now was from a recovery zone bond.

“Super!” said O’Connor.

“On or under budget is the way we are headed,” added Ethier.

“You said it on TV, so it will be true,” said O’Connor.

Monthy Finance Reoprt with John O’Connor

Finance Director John O’Connor, as noted above, wasn’t there for his monthly financial report. 

Had he been there, he would have reviewed his report to the board that covered the period ending March 31 and showed 75% of the fiscal year is complete. In it, the General Fund expenditures are at 74.6%, Utilities Fund at 59.7%, and the Parking Fund stands at 70.7% of their annual budgets.

Town Manager Barb Sondag took John O’Connor’s absence as an opportunity to explain the enterprise funds and budgets the Selectboard receives each month.

“The General fund is for general operating costs for the main work we do as a municipality,” she began. 

She continued by explaining that expenditures are broken down by department, but the Municipal Center has its own budget. “Other departments have their buildings in their budgets,” she said, such as the Library and Recreation & Parks. Sondag said they could allocate things differently, such as by square footage.

Salaries and overtime expenses are in individual departmental budgets, she said, but benefits are a separate department. She said there has been talk of splitting them out among departments to better show the true costs of each department.

Sondag said they don’t split out risk management costs of worker’s compensation or insurance. “We may, but we’d lose some history if we do it. There will be a couple of years that are hard to compare to the next.”

She said the board could take things to another level to look at overhead costs and split them among departments. An example would be Town Manager costs.

Transfers into the General Fund budget, she said, are from various enterprise funds and cover costs of dispatch, legal, and accounting services.

David Schoales asked why the budgets showed revenues ahead of expectations.

Sondag said that property taxes are accounted for when the bills go out (not when they are paid) “so we’re always a little bit ahead.” She said she looks at other line items to get a better sense of how things are going, such as the Library or Town Clerk’s numbers. In that regard, she noted, the Town Clerk is somewhat behind due to fewer dog licenses.

Recreation & Parks is harder, she said, because their seasons are split. She gave the example of pool passes being sold right now for use later in the year.

The accounting is different when it comes to the Utilities enterprise fund report. Sondag said that water use changes with the seasons, with more being used in warmer months. The big difference, though, is that depreciation is figured in. For Utilities, that comes to $1.6 million. “That’s why it shows a negative.”

Sondag said that enterprise funds should show profits.

The Parking fund, another enterprise fund, was described as “pretty much on target” with permits somewhat lagging. Sondag joked “we like the Parking Fund (report) because it is one page.”

O’Connor observed that boot income was up.

Sondag said yes, and that there were seasonal aspects to meter revenue. She noted that the Parking Fund also showed depreciation ($266,000), and that that number covered a $200,000 principle payment each year.

The monthly loan report ending March 31 shows just over $4 million loaned out. Sondag said that the loan report shows the type of loan and its status. “Some are deferred for a period of time.” Carbon Harvest is showing that their payment is late, she noted.

Program income and unrestricted revenue balances show $640,778.

“The grant master list shows all the grants and how we are spending them,” said Sondag. She said they totalled about $1 million, excluding CDBG grants. 

“Very helpful,” said O’Connor.

“Our grants manager resigned?” asked Schoales.

“Yes, we’re looking for a new one,” answered Sondag.

“Super! That was very cool,” said O’Connor.

Selectboard Goals

The Brattleboro Selectboard adopted their goals for the year, which had been discussed at a special meeting on April 11.

“We had a meeting and came up with goals,” said Kate O’Connor.

“This list is what we agreed upon at the last meeting,” added Ken Schneck, making it clear that although three were there to vote on the goals, all had agreed to them.

Barb Sondag explained that the goals covered seven areas – financial, project oversight, purchasing, economic development, the Town Plan, operations, and miscellaneous other goals.

David Schoales suggested that the goals could be easily found on the Selectboard page of the Town website.

The town budget and financial matters topped the list, with revenue generation included. The board hopes to understand town departments and look for efficiencies, with an attempt at year round budgeting. They want to look at all aspects of finances, including PILOT and forms of revenue generation.

Other goals include overseeing the Police Fire Facility Project, committing to local hiring of contractors, and working to to attract and develop businesses. 

The Selectboard hopes to begin work on the Town Plan, take up substance abuse issues, and aim for culturally inclusive policies and practices. 

Smaller goals include attempting board collegiality, improving public participation and the process by which people are informed of relevant issues, the DID, the historic train building (Archery building), a “360 evaluation process,” and planning for Committee orientation.

Peter Van der Does asked about one goal in particular.  “When it says public participation, what if we wanted a town wide vote on an issue?

“The Charter explains it,” said Schneck. He said that the goal discussed here is “more about the public interacting at our meetings and projects that impact specific areas.”

The Town Charter is the place to go, agreed Sondag. “I’m not being vague, but it depends a bit on what you are asking.” She suggested he go to the Town Clerk for petition information, or the Town Manager’s office for additional help.

“If there was more participation like that,” said Van der Does, referring to the energy around Pay As You Throw,  “there would be more people here.”

“We want to get information out ahead of time, so people don’t have to search for it.” said Schoales.

“Super!” said O’Connor.

The Selectboard goals were approved, 3-0.

Police-Fire Committee Voting

At the last meeting, the Selectboard set up the Police-Fire Facility Project Committee with eight members of the public and John Allen as the representative from the Selectboard. In order to avoid tie votes, they approved Allen to be a voting member of the committee.

The Brattleboro Charter forbids this however, so this week the board undid their error. John Allen will not be voting at the Committee level. He will, of course, retain his vote for related matters that come before the Selectboard.

“It was brought to my attention that it was prohibited,” explained Barb Sondag, “so the board should correct the motion.”

She noted that some committees allow for Selectboard member voting, such as Traffic Safety and the Capital Grants Review Board, but if all the members of a committee are appointed by the Selectboard, Selectboard member voting may not occur.

“I appreciate when people point them out so we can correct them rapidly,” Sondag said of the error. She also informed the public that there hasn’t been a committee meeting yet, so no voting occurred.

The trio voted 3-0 to remove the committee voting privilege.

“Can the Selectboard vote on something if not all are present?” inquired Peter Van der Does.

Kate O’Connor explained that three members of the Selectboard constitute a quorum, and they could then vote.

Committee Appointments and Vacancies

The board decided that David Schoales will be the representative to the WSWMD, with Dora Bouboulis serving as alternate. Former representative Jane Southworth is stepping down.

James Banslaben will join the Citizen Police Communication Committee. On his application, he also volunteered to be a Liaison of the Community to assist the Town Manager, and suggested Brattleboro invest in gold. Banslaben will also join the Honor Roll Committee.

Naomi Pollica, an optical design engineer by trade, will serve on The Development Review Board as alternate.

The Skatepark committee (BASIC) will be joined by new member William J. Bushey III, a longtime skateboarder who helped build the ramps at the Boys & Girls Club.

West River Park and Arts Committee vacancies, at the recommendation of the Town Manager, will be filled at the annual reappointment period of May and June, with full committees ready to go July 1.

Sarah Rice is stepping down from the Arts Committee, and Joe Bushey is leaving the West River Park committee.

“Sarah is an amazing presence in town,” said Ken Schneck. He said she helped create the concrete quilt and painted a panel, “and we’ll add to it this summer.”  He said she had been a fantastic chair of the committee.


Continuing the educational portion of the program, Town Manager Barb Sondag explained four additional items that are often on the agenda.

The warrants list, she said, are bills that have been paid. Each has been reviewed by a Selectboard member, then the full package comes to the board for review.

Monthly Department reports often show summaries of major projects, important meetings, budget or staffing concerns, and possible challenges coming our way.

The VY quarterly report is in response to litigation between the state and VY, she told the board. Due to our location, Brattleboro in an interested party. She said the Town Attorney writes an update on the status of the litigation on a quarterly basis.

The final item that sometimes appears is the Brooks Memorial Library Trustee minutes, a monthly summary of their activity.

With that, the meeting was complete.

“We can tell our colleagues we were done in less than an hour,” said Kate O’Connor.

Leave a Reply