The Brattleboro Selectboard heard sobering news about rental housing for low income citizens at Tuesday’s meeting. Section 8 funds are threatened, said the Brattleboro Housing Authority, which could impact residents and landlords alike.
The board also heard about the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect expected to start eating our ash trees in the near future if action isn’t taken soon. The board discussed bonding, budgets, project architects, and whether it was a good idea to serve liquor outdoors in Harmony Lot.
Chair David Gartenstein said he attended the West River Park opening on Saturday. He was impressed by the work of Carol Lolatte, who helped add this new park to the Brattleboro landscape, the first in 50 years.
Gartenstein also mentioned that curbside compost is now in effect and recycling is being picked up each week. He said it limits the trash going to the landfill, which lowers tipping fees for the Town.
Town Manager Barb Sondag had no opening remarks.
For Selectboard comments and committee reports, Kate O’Connor passed along a compliment she heard about clean sidewalks and thanked Dick, Missy, and the Richards Group for help with flowers and planters downtown.
John Allen passed along prayers to tornado victims in Oklahoma. He also reported that the Police Fire Facility Oversight Committee went over 12 proposals from architects.
James Banslaben told the board he had been thinking that people could get together to find private ways of funding the Police Fire project. He felt it would allow the community to team up with the town.
“I’d like to see two hot tubs added to the project,” he added. “One for men and one for women.” He said that good workouts and relaxation will lower costs of complaints and paperwork, and show support for the police and fire departments. He thought exercise equipment was vital to the project.
“We have welders. We could build the equipment ourselves. It’s just metal and weights. Thanks and enjoy the show.”
Saxtons River Distillery, Champlain Orchards, and Vermont Distillers each received a special event permit to serve liquor on Friday, June 7 from 5-10 p.m. at the Strolling of the Heifers Quiche-Off.
David Schoales caught an applicaton error and suggested a table size increase, from 8 inches to 8 feet, to prevent a Spinal Tap-esque staging mistake. Sondag said it was up to them how they wanted to serve.
They were also complimented as being one of the best liquor boards in the state by a member of the audience.
Arkham, a downtown bar, wanted an outdoor consumption permit for their location at 16 Harmony Place.
Alan Blackwell, co-owner, said they had done research and would like to have tables outside. Any concerns the town has, he said, they share. He promised to be aggressive in keeping down noise and watching the proposed outside area with video monitors.
John Allen was concerned about serving liquor outdoors downtown until 2 a.m. “Could you reduce it? That’s really getting late.”
Blackwell said that to limit the liquor consumption would also limit smokers. “We don’t want to be a nuisance, and haven’t been. We’ve been good and want to be here for a long time.”
“Many people live down there,” said Allen.
“We have friends who live in the building,” responded Blackwell. “We’ve checked decibel levels.”
Brattleboro Police Chief Wrinn said that he had concerns about the noise, but also a barrier around the area. If it isn’t high enough, drinks might get passed over, he said. If it is too high, officers might not be able to see in. He did not recommend grantng the outdoor consumption permit.
Blackwell said they’d follow whatever guidelines restaurants are required to follow.
“We just did Peter Havens,” noted kate O’Connor, referring to the recent approval of outside deck drinking.
David Schoales wanted to know more about the fence around the outside area.
Blackwell said that permanent structures need zoning and permits, and temporary ones are easier to get up quickly. he said they could do thatched fencing, pickets mounted in buckets, or ropes. “Whatever you suggest.”
David Gartenstein said that concerns about safety and substance abuse in the downtown area over the last decade led him to want to see specific designs and plans for the barrier before approving the permit.
Assistant Fire Chief Peter Lynch aggreed that a permanent structure would require extra work, such as bringing the sprinkler system outside.
Ken Schneck moved to table the application until June 4th to give Blackwell and Alyssa Blittersdorf time to bring better plans.
Blackwell said they were hoping for guidance from the Town, to hear what Brattleboro would be comfortable with, then they’d do it.
John Allen suggested they consult with the two Chiefs to find a plan they can all approve, and come back. “It’s a little vague now,” he said.
Water & Sewer Commissioners
The Waste Water Treatment Plant updates continue.
Steve Barrett and Hannah O’Connell showed the board that 99.7% of the “project construction contract value” is complete. A few small changes and two additional contract days leaves a projected completion date in early July.
“Over on time but under budget,” said Barrett.
For those following along at home, remaining work includes starting up and stabilizing the mesophilic digester #2 and thermophilic digester, testing the pump gallery, refining the SCADA system, finishing the interiors of the dewatering and digester buildings, cleaning up the site, landscaping, and more.
The Spring Tree Pump Station may need crack injection work for a wet well, depending on what engineers recommend. The Selectboard approved this work in advance if it is determined to be necessary, not to exceed $10,000.
The Black Mountain Gravity Line is still in the design phase. The work, Barrett hopes, will be done this season.
Private Drive – Senator Gannett Drive
The Selectboard unanimously approved the naming of a private drive at the Brattleboro Country Club as Senator Gannett Drive.
Steve Barrett said Senator Gannett was modest and did not like to have things named after him.
John Allen wondered if the naming was approved by the family, and Barrett said his understanding was “Yes.”
Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor
With 83% of the fiscal year is complete, the total General Fund expenditures are at 80.6% of the annual budget. The Utilities Fund stands at 67.6% and the Parking Fund is at 78.9% of their annual budgeted expenditures.
In loans due to us, Finance Director John O’Connor said Carbon Harvest had declared bankruptcy and the Town is pursuing legal strategies to collect from them. Hiyashi and Company “is way behind,” he said, because the borrower has passed away.
The CDBG Program Income Fund had over $655,000 as of April 30, 2013, with nearly $478,000 available to loan out.
Grants remain active. “We have a new grant manager starting today,” said O’Connor. “I’ll be happy to see our grants manager back.”
John Allen asked about a line item called Payments In Lieu of Taxes.
Barb Sondag said it was a bit of a misnomer, and that it included other things. The common theme, she said, is “money from entities not paying through reguar tax process.”
We’ll start the dialogue about non profits paying for services soon, promised Gartenstein.
Approval of Capital Fund Transfer
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a transfer of $765,000 to the General Fund for FY14 capital projects.
Police Fire Facility Project Bonding Options
After reviewing bonding options at their last meeting, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved amending the municipal bond application to split the costs into two bonds Tuesday night. The first bond will be $5 million for 15 years and the second will be $9.13 million for 20 years.
$5 million is what is expected to be spent in the coming fiscal year.
Finance Director John O’Connor reviewed the recommendations one more time for the board. He said the legislation just passed that would allow financing of municipal projects over 30 years. “It’s something to consider next year,” said O’Connor. “It would add costs but keep taxes lower.”
Robin Sweetapple, Chair of the Police Fire Facility Project committee, said that they were reviewing architect proposals, touring facilities to see what is being asked, and had reviewed bond proposals. And, she said, “we discuss cost saving every week.”
Town Manager Barb Sondag said they hoped to get the project out to bid by early 2014, and that changes can be made to the plans throughout the process, though she cautioned that changes become more expensive later on.
John Allen and David Schoales said the committee was a good one, and felt whatever they recomended would be information they could trust.
Kate O’Connor asked when the architect would be on board.
“It depends on interview process,” asnwered Sondag. “We got really good proposals. We have expertise on the committee.” She felt it would be hard to choose among the many good proposals.
Gartenstein tried to answer the question. “We’ll get a recommendation by June 4th, then a contract by mid-June,” he estimated.
The board decided to trust the committee’s work and see what they recommend.
An audience member asked if special consideration could be given to a local firm or architect.
Sondag said policies allow for preference to be given to local contractors “and we typically do that.” She said hiring a local firm often saves on travel costs for long term projects.
Sweetapple said that most of the architect proposals came from the northeast, with many from Vermont.
Sondag said the interviews could be at public meetings, or in an executive session.
Gartenstein cautioned that gas and education taxes would be going up in the coming year, with perhaps a 5 to 10 cent increase on the education side.
“We’re looking at every way to reduce taxes as much as possible with this bond,” said John Allen.
David Schoales said that they have a year to find ways to save money and find some money to reduce the bond.
“If the $5 million isn’t enough for the first bond, what happens? Do we borrow the extra money?” asked Banslaben.
“The board would probably borrow from ourselves,” said Sondag. “We have that buffer, right now.”
John Allen said they were confident with the $5 million number. “There’s a cushion.”
Brattleboro Housing Authority Update
Chris Hart and the Brattleboro Housing Authority gave the Selectboard an update on progress to remove Melrose residents from the Whetstone Brook floodway and an update on changes to Section 8 voucher payments.
Vice Chair of the BHA Marshall Wheelock said they were looking for a viable solution to removing the people in Melrose Terrace from the floodway. He said the move was critical and BHA had been looking for partners and HUD public housing expertise. They are also looking at ways to repair the Whetstone on the property.
John Allen noted the irony of HUD funding the project in the floodway in the first place.
“They filled the brook when putting it there,” said Chris Hart, “and it has flooded ever since.”
BHA said an independent report by graduate students at the Kennedy School for Public Administration is due out in the next few days, and that it would be shared with the public.
David Gartenstein asked if the housng would remain in its current location, or if it would move. If so, where?
Wheelock said they have to move. “The wisest choice is to find someplace else.” He said they had been looking at different sites.
“Crowell Lot?” cracked John Allen.
Chris Hart said there were four locations being considered. Vacant lots near Renew and Walgreens, Moore Court, and Hayes Court. “The state understands the urgency of the situation and need for funding.”
She said they have 85 residents to move that shouldn’t be in a flood hazard way. “It’s a lot of units. We’ll work hard to make it happen.”
David Schaoles said he was new to the Selectboard and wondered “what’s our relationship?”
“It depends on what I’ve done,” joked Hart.
“Our board is appointed by you, and we have a responsibility to the Town,” said Wheelock.
“it is its own entity, but works closely with the Town,” added Sondag. “Housing isn’t easy.”
“We’re micromanaged by the Federal government,” said Hart. She said it was too complex for towns to deal with the regulations.
John Allen asked about the timeframe for the project. Hart said it was enormously complex, but that she hoped it would be complete within 3-4 years.
Until then, she explained, BHA accepted Flood Hazard Mitigation money and is putting in flood gates, raising water heaters, and making internal improvements. “We have a stash of sandbags.”
Hart said there would be a lot of public communication coming throughout this process and suggested that a Selectboard member could come to their meetings. There were no immediate volunteers.
The second major issue for the BHA are changes to Section 8 voucher payments. David DeAngelis said that formula changes have resulted in fewer dollars for low income rental applicants. So low that they closed their waiting list over four years ago.
Sequestration has further threatened funding, and leads them to face decisions about cutting payments and keeping all in the system, or keeping payments the same but cutting the number of people receiving assistance. There is some set-aside funding to cover costs through the end of the year.
Hart said the system was absurd. “We can have no reserves according to HUD. If you have reserves, you’ll get no money for vouchers.”
A reserve is needed, though, because HUD sometimes misses payments, and BHA wants to pay the 147 or so landlords on time.
In addition, Hart explained, payments are based on the number of vouchers in use and the number goes down each year due to lack of funding, giving them less money for the next year. The process continues and Brattleboro has lost about 40 vouchers in the last 4 years, she said.
“It boggles the mind,” said Hart. “It’s an extremely serious problem for renters and landlords. They’d like to starve these programs. It’s not pretty.”
Emerald Ash Borer Update and Grant
John Ogorzalek and the Tree Advisory Board told the Selectboard about the invasive Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), a major threat to Vermont trees.
He warned them that when it comes to the community, there is no cure for ash trees once infected, and 2-4 years later the trees die off. He called it “a moral and financial hazard to the community.”
Brattleboro is high risk, he explained. “We may want to do pre-emptive work to protect some of the more beautiful ash trees,” he said. “It’s on all sides of us. It’s a matter of time. It’s the aesthetics of the community.”
The EAB has been detected in neighboring states and easily and quickly moves long distances. If infestation occurs here, ash and firewoods could be quarantined.
There is no state or federal funding for treatment or removal of individual trees.
Bob Everingham, local arborist and volunteer with Forest Pest First Detectors said it’s a big deal, and they need to work on a plan.
Ogorzalek said that Rochester, NY innoculated all of their trees and protected them. It may be that Brattleboro will do partial innoculation. “We’ll be knocking on the door in 2-3 months,” he warned the board, with a plan.
“Is the ash a popular tree in southern Vermont?” asked John Allen.
Dan Adams, Brattleboro’s Tree Warden, said that the EAB goes after green and white ash, which represent about 6% of the forest here. It’s the tree in the Harmony and preston Lots, and in front of the Post Office.
Once you lose one, he said, it can be costly. It needs to be removed, the stump ground out, and a new tree planted to replace it. “No shade for 10-15 years,” he added.
The board accepted a $500 grant to help develop a plan to fight these forest pests.
Maps Online Demonstration
An abundance of municipal information is now available online. The system is called Maps Online. It has maps and other information about parcels of land in Brattleboro.
Assistant Fire Chief Peter Lynch has been working on the project for years, and was a good spokesperson it.
He explained that the web-based system uses a layered format to provide information about parcels of land in town. Some layers are for departmental use and others are available to the public. Its database is updated once a week and much of the information is real-time.
The Planning Department uses it for zoning, permits, site plans, and occupancy issues. The fire department uses it to know building information when responding to emergencies, saving them time in shutting off power or locating hazardous materials. It helps them pre-pan for fires at commercial buildings.
It helps departments eliminate guesswork to get standardized, up-to-date information quickly. Business license forms are fed directly into the system as one of the methods to gather data.
The maps can show road closures, too, which the Town feels will be useful for future storms as well as mud season.
Chief Dispatcher Wayne Stires said the public can use the system for identifying specific information about properties. Layers can be turned on and off to see documents, building photos, bus routes, voting districts, hunting areas, parking lots, satellite views, and more.
A layer for ash trees could be set up, said Lynch, in response to a question from the Tree Advisory Committee. “The hardest part would be identifying them. You could use GPS to locate them on the map.”
Feedback on use of the system is being gathered and departments are being trained on using it.
Give it a try: http://www.mapsonline.net/brattleborovt/
Municipal Appraisers Office
As part of the Selectboard’s quest to meet with Department Heads, the Municipal Appraisers were there to answer questions, but their visit was postponed due to the late hour. They did give a quick report: the Grand List is up 1%.
Ken Schneck said he had previously supoorted hearing from town departments at regular meetings, but was withdrawing that support. “These agendas are getting longer and longer,” he said. He said he’d rather meet every week for two hours than every other week for four hours.
David Gartenstein said they might make extra time during the summer to do these interviews, but there were drawbacks. “We want TV coverage for public information about them.”
Town Enters Loan Agreement with Mesabi For Brooks House
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved loaning Mesabi, Inc. $100,000 from the program income, a fund resulting from Community Development Block Grants being repaid. It’s a 10 year loan at 3% interest.
Bob Stevens said it was a small necessary piece of the funding. “We’re scrambing to have it all come together.”
Barb Sondag said it was an approval of the document with terms— the loan was already approved last year.
Other loans permitted by the agreement include $950,000 from Mark Richards for operating reserves, $2 million nominal rate loan from the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, $4,422,917 bridge loan from Mascoma Savings Bank, $1,417,500 Junior Term Loan from Vermont Economic Development Authority, $6 million Senior Term Loan from Mascoma Savings Bank, and a Mesabi loan for $350,000.
Lot Line Adjustment in Harmony Lot
The Brooks House and the Town of Brattleboro will swap a bit of land in Harmony Lot in an effort to straighten lot lines and maximize parking spaces.
Citizens have 30 days to comment.
Washington Street Retaining Wall
The retaining wall at Washington Street, it seems, has not fixed itself and will need repairs made by the Town.
Steve Barrett said that a fieldstone wall was failing and needs to be replaced. He said an engineer has been hired to develop a plan, and recent cost estimates were in the $175-200,000 range for a precast concrete block system. It is an option to re-lay stone, and Brattleboro may do that in other situations, but he didn’t recommend it in this situation.
Ordinance Amendments – Chapter 11, Second Reading
The second reading of proposed ordinance changes to Chapter 11 went smoothly Tuesday night. The changes primarily impact mobile food cart vendors, though there were some other edits, and insertion of liquor rules from the board’s Rules of Conduct.
Police Vehicle Purchase
Brattleboro Police were approved to purchase a 2013 Ford Police Interceptor. The car will come from MHQ of Marlborough, MA and costs $32,495.12.
It will be painted to match our fleet, and come with special Code 3 police lights and sirens. They’ll be trading in a 2007 Dodge Charger with about 100,000 miles on it.
Lease Agreement with Connecticut River Transit
A 5 year, $100 a month lease agreement with Connecticut River Transit was approved by the Brattleboro Selectboard at Tuesday’s meeting. The agreement calls for increases of 1% each year for the 106 square feet small office at the Transportation Center.
CRT will also assume responsibility for locking the lobby at the end of the day, beginning June 1.
Police Union Local #506 Contract Agreement
A three year contract between Brattleboro and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local #506 was approved Tuesday night. The contract includes 1.5% increases each year and step increases. A health insurance plan and education incentives have been altered. Shift pay will move from a percentage to a flat fee. The contract will be retroactive to January 2013.