Selectboard Meeting Notes: Solar Farming, Quick Fix for Brattleboro Rink

At Tuesday’s long meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard the new solar farm was explained in detail and public support for the project appears to be substantial. The board also approved a “quick fix” approach to ice rink repairs in order to be able to open the season on schedule. It also gives them more time to consider long-term options for the facility. 

The Fire Department presented an overview of their operations, a store on Guilford Road was again denied a liquor permit, tax rates were set, Patrick Moreland was named the interim Town Manager when Barb Sondag officially resigns, and much more was packed into the over three hour meeting.


The meeting got underway a bit late due to some contract issues.

Chair David Gartenstein welcomed Donna Macomber to the Selectboard, and thanked other candidates for participating. He said the recent stormy weather has kept the Town departments “on edge” and he thanked them for their dedicated work. 

He said the downtown 4th of July parade begins at 10 am on Thursday and everyone is invited to attend. He said there are many activities all day and fireworks at 9:30 p.m. at Living Memorial Park.

Town Manager Barb Sondag had no comments, nor did other Selectboard members.

During Public Participation, James Banslabin welcomed Donna Macomber, and asked if Brattleboro was going to face mosquito problems. He welcomed Equilibrium to the business community “family” and urged people to shop locally. He walked away singing “Brattleboro…Brattleboro…”

Liquor Commissioners

The owners of the Neighborhood Store and Redemption Center at 502 Guilford Street returned to the Selectboard to again try to get a second class permit for the store.

The Selectboard chose not to grant the license, despite concessions made by business owner Mike Gouin to previous objections.

He and his lawyer Mark Zwicker said they had a conditional use permit from the Development Review Board. The new design puts tobacco, beer and wine in a locked room on the premises, and he promised there would be no liquor promotions.

Barb Sondag said the Selectboard no longer handles tobacco licenses.

David Gartenstein said the previous application was denied because residents were opposed, and the store was not in the traditional areas of town where liquor is sold. He said there had been a significant amount of correspondence from neighbors about the request for a new permit.

John Allen said he he didn’t want to stop anyone from having a business, “but many people have contacted me and I have to weigh that.”

Neighbors stood and objected to the new application on the same grounds as the last time it came before the board — traffic, a residential neighborhood, aesthetics, and being near a school.

Gartenstein said that in his view the new application was the same as before, the issues were the same, and was still against it.

Zwicker suggested the board consider a conditional license to see how it goes. “People worry about things, then they see it in operation. Sometimes it isn’t as bad.” He assured them that there won’t be advertising signage or stacked liquor visible to customers.

John Allen asked why pursue a neighborhood store that neighbors aren’t in favor of. “You need the neighborhood to support it.”

“There are a lot of people in favor of it who don’t like to come out to speak,” answered Gouin. 

“I don’t see what harm there is if you can’t see the liquor at all,” added Zwicker. “This isn’t a bar. No one will be hanging around. He lives there.”

“If you have the alcohol there and no one can see it, who will know to buy it?” asked Kate O’Connor.

Gouin said customers could ask him to stock something for them.

Zwicker suggested the board simply revoke the license if conditions are violated.

“Think through what that would mean for a condition to be policed,” cautioned Sondag. “Who’s going to look at it? How would you follow up?”

“Why not apply later for a license if people ask for beer at the store,” asked O’Connor. She wondered why the license was needed now if the store wasn’t going to open until October.

“If I don’t sell it, I don’t build the cooler,” said Gouin. “I need to know what I’m providing to finish my store.” He said the space was small.

Donna Macomber said the Selectboard appreciated the importance of starting businesses. “I’m glad you will go ahead regardless of our decision.”

She said enough concern had been expressed, and there was the issue of location. Plus, she said “a back room seems uncomfortable to me. Something sold by word of mouth puts an unusual spin on what’s being sold in the back room.”

The license was voted down, 0-5.

Skating Rink Discussion Continued

David Gartenstein said there had been many stalled efforts with the rink project and that the alternatives have changed over time. He said the board wanted clear choices to find a way forward.

Barb Sondag offered a quick study of ice rink operation. Ice rinks have four components, she said. A chiller barrel, compressors, a condenser, and tubing under the rink. 

She told the board there were three general options:  replacing or rebuilding the existing compressors, replacing the compressor and condenser, or replace the compressors.

“Everybody has a solution to how this can be fixed,” she said. “It’s a policy decision, and there are financial implications. It brings in over $90,000 a year plus $24,000 toward debts.”

Kate O’Connor asked about the quick fix option. She wondered if it would allow them to open on time, and if they had firm costs to present.

Carol Lolatte said it would allow them to open on time, but it wasn’t her top choice. Still, she said, she didn’t want to lose the season. “It’s heavily used.”

Sondag said the board should think of it as an investment paid for by user fees.

“I don’t know enough to know what’s right, but I’m very comfortable to go to the quick fix,” said John Allen. “I don’t want hockey people mad at me. They have sticks and are mean,” he joked, adding “we used to put a hose out back to make ice.”

David Schoales thought the quick fix approach would buy them some time to look at all the options.

Members of the Brattleboro Hockey Association said they were not mean, and that a late season start would cause parents to enroll kids in programs elsewhere. They hoped for a firm opening date to advertise, and said they took the issue of their home ice seriously.

The Brattleboro Hockey Association gives scholarships to 10-20% of their skaters and 95% of those kids are from Brattleboro.  BHA says their programs are a lifesaver for these kids.

Tim Cuthbertson warned that a compressor motor and self starter was replaced last summer. “The Town has already done maintenance on a portion of the system.”

Two refrigeration experts spoke. Don Dompier said that the rink was operating when it shut for the season and it could make ice tomorrow. He said the system was piped incorrectly and that was causing all the failures.

Another ice rink builder named Hurley said he could do the work for about $285,000, and that there was time to get the work done. He agreed that the installation of equipment at the rink was done wrong.

Anne Howes said she thought an ideal community would exist if the BUHS parking lot had an olympic sized swimming pool and above or below it, an ice rink. “An underground ice rink,” she said, “or above ground? It would be a good project for 189 million dollars.” She said we need a YMCA at Home Depot location, and there should be “$320 million somewhere for this.”

Gartenstein said the board needed to make a decision about long and short term issues. “We don’t know what to do long-term yet, but there is support for a short term fix to open the rink on time.” He suggested an ad hoc citizen’s committee be created to study alternatives to get a recommendation for a long term fix for the rink.

He then tried to put the repairs in terms taxpayers might better understand. “We would have run a surplus this year, but a substantial amount was transferred to pay for these repairs. We put aside $365,000 to pay for a rink used by the region.”

He said the town gets the money back over 20 years, “but if that money had just been available in town, we could have lowered our tax rate by a couple of pennies.”

He thought the Selectboard needed to look at the rink repairs as a burden.  “This is on the back of taxpayers. We need to look at all those issues together.”

With that, the Selectboard voted 5-0 to solicit bids to repair the compressors to open on time this year with the “quick fix” approach.

They didn’t, however, create the ad hoc committee. John Allen felt a committee would muddy the waters. “I get committeed out. I don’t know if it is the best way to go. It’s my opinion on committees.”

O’Connor said they need people who aren’t the ones bidding on the work to help advise.

David Schoales agreed that there were lots of issues for a committee to look into such as user fees, types of systems, and energy savings.  “I’d like more information and people in the community would be happy to help us. Let’s use the resources we have,” he said.

Sondag suggested they have a concise mission before forming a committee and offered to have one ready if they wanted to take it up at their next meeting. Gartenstein said they did.

Solar Farm Discussion

The Selectboard and members of the public held a spirited and upbeat discussion of the proposed solar farm project.

WE 90 Technology Drive asked a number of parties, Selectboard included, for a waiver to speed up their applications before the Public Service Board to put a 8,000 panel solar farm near the Holiday Inn. At Tuesday’s meeting the board asked for public input.

Planning Director Rod Francis was joined by Ken Grant of Winstanley Enterprises, Joel Lindsay and Dan (?)of Weston Solutions, and their lawyer, Peter van Oot from Downs Rachlin Martin.

Francis gave an overview of the process described at the previous meeting, noting that he felt the town should look for a stated policy to justify party status before the PSB, if they choose to ask for it.

Ken Grant told the board that Winstanley had been in Brattleboro for 25 years. About a decade ago they bought the former Northeast Cooperatives building, New Chapter and Green Mountain Bakery moved in, and they offered the town space for a YMCA but the project was abandoned.

“The economy started to tank,” said Town Manager Barb Sondag.

“We looked for other uses for the land,” continued Grant. “We want to develop it as a solar project.”

Joel Lindsay described the system being planned in detail. “This is a large ground mount system that will produce 2000 kW.” It will be around 8,000 solar panels the size of a double hung window.

Glass and aluminum panels will be mounted on a steel racking system consisting of a post driven into the ground. Each post will hold 8-10 angled solar panels in portrait mode. In total there will be about 1,000 racking units installed within 12 acre area. 

There will spacing between the modules which are aligned east to west and face south.  Access to the solar farm will come behind the Winstanley building and to the field. 

“It’s a good site,” said Lindsay. “There will be some trimming and clearing of trees to minimize shade near the building and on the side away from 91.” A seven foot security fence will surround the property.

The inverters would be in the middle of it all, he continued, converting DC power to alternating current to be fed into the grid. “They’ll be in 10’ x 20’ buildings. The electrical connections will be buried underground.”

He said Green Mountain Power says they’ll need to make some upgrades to the local system to allow it to accommodate the new power coming in. 

Lindsay said GMP will purchase power for 25 years. “Once the 25 year life of the system is up, we have to decommission it and the site restored.”

His partner Dan said the system will provide about 8% of Brattleboro’s 39 million residential kW hours per year on average, but on a nice sunny, spring day it could be as much as 40%. 

“I know less about solar than ice making,” said John Allen. “What are the benefits to the taxpayers of Brattleboro? How does it impact the residents? It’s a scenic corridor. How will it impact it?”

Lindsay said they were aware of the concern of the view from I-91. “There is about a 15 second period you might view this from the highway. We’re looking very carefully at it and will continue to assess it. The existing berm helps mitigate the views coming northbound.”

Van Oot said the facility would pay taxes and be subject to an Act 250 review at the PSB level.

David Schoales asked how much it would cost to build. Lindsay said $5-6 million.

“Who makes the panels?” asked Schoales. Lindsay said they hadn’t decided but there were many options.

“Will these tilt seasonally,” asked Schoales. Lindsay said solar is great because there are no moving parts, and they advise not adding any to complicate things.

In 2038 it gets taken down and the site restored, said Donna Macomber. She asked if there was anything to know about unforeseen events over the next 25 years?

Lindsay said the system had to be insured against all hazards, such as hail. He said they would give town emergency services full access and information would be shared about the system.

Van Oot added that the Certificate of Public Good will have a list of conditions, and could be extended beyond 25 years. The power purchase agreement with GMP will also have conditions, he told the board.

The public was enthusiastic in their support for the project. Many said they liked solar power and will show those driving into the state that we are committed to a green future.

Judy Davidson asked how much glare there would be. Lindsay said solar panels are designed to be non-reflective. He predicted it wouldn’t be an issue, except possibly in the early morning.

Michael Bosworth thought it was a great location and recommended the board ask the listers about the possible tax revenue. He asked if there was any limit to what we could feed into the grid.

Dan said no. “The hurdle is the interconnection agreement. They need to protect the grid, and see what our impact on the grid will be.”  He said GMP would not pay for upgrades to the system.

James Banslabin asked if he could redefine glare as reflection and absorption as transmission. “If the system is fixed, we might want to talk with the government to make sure the glare doesn’t interfere with a government satellite. I’d ask that question,” he said.

Some wanted a better view of the solar farm. Jed Leslie asked if they could remove the berm. “I’d like to see more of it. Thanks for putting this together.”

Alan Steinberg  said he finds it unlikely that farmers will drive there to plow it on a regular basis, or would want to farm there. “Solar is the best agricultural use for the land.”

One commenter had some words of caution. Steve Shriner said the Conservation Commission had written a letter with concerns about aesthetics, asking for additional screening along 91.

“Personally,” said Shriner, “solar arrays are a beautiful thing and we need more,” but we need to be sensitive to the aesthetic concerns of the state. 

He said we may reach a tipping point when “people won’t want to see these all over.” He said they  encourage cooperation to strike a good balance and hope they keep the aesthetics in mind.

Anne Howes said that solar energy was exciting, and that her calculator had one. “What we’ll do with additional electricity is almost like a secret but it is worth exploring in a tight configuration to understand what we’re doing with our electricity,” she told the board.

“The Agriculture Committee agreed that they are in favor of this, and the land is reclaimable afterwards,” noted David Schoales.

David Gartenstein said the Planning Commission should compile input, observing that “there is substantial support as well as aesthetic concerns.”

Property Tax Rates Set

The Brattleboro Selectboard set the town’s property tax rate for FY14 at Tuesday’s meeting.

Town Finance Director John O’Connor read the numbers that were included in the Selectboard meeting packets.

The new tax will be $1.1389 per $100 of property value. Downtown Improvement District properties will see an additional $.1318, Tri-Park and additional $6.8155.

“Just to be clear, this is a 7 cent increase for residents,” said Gartenstein. He asked O’Connor to double check the historical figures provided to see if Brattleboro had a 3 dollar tax rate as indicated on supplied charts.


Fire Department Report

It was the Brattleboro Fire Department’s turn to talk with the board about budgets, savings, and operations. Gartenstein suggested they start at this meeting, and if necessary continue at the next.

Chief Mike Bucossi and Pete Lynch gave the presentation.

Bucossi said Brattleboro had an all-hazards combination department with both career and call staff. There are three shifts of seven, plus administration staff. He said they help solve problems and operate in three general parts – emergency response, support services, and community service.

“We have an agreement to inspect existing buildings,” said Lynch, “with a focus on apartments and living spaces. He told the board Brattleboro has 625 buildings and 400 landlords.

Bucossi described the many programs the department handles, from maintaining the municipal fire alarm system and helping program downtown traffic lights to juvenile fire starter programs, blood pressure checks, and health fair participation when asked.

He praised the two mutual aid programs that Brattleboro belongs to as great money savers. “The Brooks House fire had 20 mutual aid units,” he said, adding that there is no cost. “It’s you help us, we help you.”

The Fire Department has reviewed and rewritten their policies to be more efficient and safer. They are getting a thermal imaging camera to see into burning buildings and make operations safer. “We’re trying hard to bring the Fire Department into the computer world,” he told the board. “We’re getting better at it.”

Lynch said they have to be trained in many areas. “We’re required to hold standards in fire fighting and medical response.” That amounts to 24 hours of training a year in fire and 36 hours in medical skills for someone to keep their licensing. He said grants pay for much of this.

Bucossi said challenges the department faced were mostly technological. Accidents involving new cars with new systems that don’t de-energize like they used to, solar panels adding weight on roofs, and compressed natural gas use were just a few.

They are also trained in railroad spills, handling drug labs if they come across them, and explosives.

The department uses NFPA standards as benchmarks, and insurance companies have scored the town well which help keep rates low for property owners. He said they continue to look at the MATRIX report, too.

If their budget saw a 5% addition ($85,000) it would be used for computer modernization to improve the department’s reporting system. If it dropped by 5% they would cut personnel.

The discussion will continue at the next regular Selectboard meeting.

Police Fire Facility Project Construction Management

Steve Horton, Project Manager for the Police-Fire Facility Project, told the board that the best way to guide the construction required for the PFFP is to hire a Construction Management firm, rather than a general contractor, to “deliver” the facility as planned.

He said a Construction Management firm helps choose the builder and competitively bid subcontractng bids. He described it as a cooperative team approach, and said it was good to get them in early in the process to work with the architects during pre-construction and estimating to keep things under budget.

The PFFP Committee recommends the Construction Management approach, he told the board.

Some federally funded projects require low bids, but this project doesn’t, he added.

John Allen said there are pros and cons to either approach.

Horton said there was more control over subcontracting choices with a Construction Management approach.

Construction Management firm approach was approved.

Annual Financial Plan for Town Highways

Each year, Brattleboro must submit a financial plan for town highways. It is used to determine the amount of state funding for our roads.

The total this year comes to $1,867,735 when all Class 1, 2, and 3 road and bridge maintenance, repair and construction projects are added up, according to Assistant Director of Public Works Hannah O’Connell.

Gartenstein said current summer paving projects include Old Ferry Road, Quail’s Hill Road, Bridge Street, Whipple Street, Bullock Street, Marlboro Ave and Wellington Drive.

The plan was adopted by the Brattleboro Selectboard.

Hazard Mitigation Grant for American Traders

The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a hazard mitigation grant application to build a flood wall at 257 Marlboro Road (American Traders). The grant would be $144,000 and would require a $48,000 match from the property owner.

Tim Cuthbertson said that when the Whetstone jumped the banks during Irene, it dug a moat around his building and went through parts of it. FEMA is considering a wall around the building with the majority built underground. It’s a one building walled city design, he explained.

If it floods again, it will meet code for a 500 year flood and will go around the building. “It goes downstream whether it goes through or around my building,” he said.

John Allen said he was punchy. “It’s 9:30.” He wondered if plans would be ready in time for grant deadlines. Cuthbertson said he hoped it would happen by the deadlines, and that they had a bit of time to submit additional materials after the deadline.

David Schoales noted time requirements for staff time. “Will we be compensated?”

Patrick Moreland said there would be a percentage to cover those costs.

The board liked the idea of submitting the grant, Donna Macomber made her first motion as a Selectboard member, and all five voted to send it along to the state.

Williams Street Sidewalk Contract

Dave Manning, Inc. of Brattleboro will get a $130, 324 contract to repair the damaged sidewalks on Williams Street, from the Elliot Street intersection to Brandon St. 

Federal highway funds pay for this at 100% said Sondag.

Town Manager Search Process

David Gartenstein said they had been active getting ready for the search process for a new Town Manager, and that the contract with the Vermont League of Cities and Town would lead to assistance throughout the process, from advertising and recruitment to hiring.

The Brattleboro Selectboard voted to sign a contract with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to assist with a search process and recruitment of a new Town Manager. They agreed to spend up to $5,000.

James Banslabin asked if the Assistant Town Manager could become Town Manager and Barb Sondag could be given $5,000 to help her move. Gartenstein said that was “speculation.” Sondag appreciated the offer of moving help.

David Gartenstein said that Patrick Moreland will, however, serve as interim Town Manager, and the board voted unanimously in agreement.

RERP Grant

The Selectboard unanimously approved accepting and appropriating the annual Radiological Emergency Response Plan from Vermont Emergency Management in the amount of $31,500.

Art on Wheels Permit

Lynde Motorcycles of Flat Street in Brattleboro applied for and received their annual permit to close the street for their annual Art on Wheels event, featuring food, music, and motorcycles. It will be August 2nd.

Sondag said there had been no issues in previous years and that it was a fun event.

Right of Way Renamed Belair Drive

The Selectboard approved of renaming a private right of way to a new name: Belair Drive. It’s off of South Main Street in Brattleboro.

Discussion of

Tabled until the next meeting.

Discussion of Local Hiring

Also tabled to the next meeting.

Selectboard Committee Appointments

The Rental Housing Improvement Program Committee was lacking a Selectboard member committee member after Ken Schneck resigned from the Selectboard. The newly appointed committee member is Donna Macomber.

We divide up the warrants for us to sign, said David Gartenstein. He proposed dividing up the remaining month signing duties amongst the new Selectboard. The board agreed and Patrick Moreland will set a schedule.

Wrapping Up

Barb Sondag read the meeting agenda. 

Comments | 5

  • Property taxes up 7%

    ““Just to be clear, this is a 7 cent increase for residents,” said Gartenstein.”

    This is just the property tax, anyone know what the school tax increase will be?

    • According to the memo

      Education rates are $2.7217 total for homestead; $2.5686 for non-residential. Full details at the top of this PDF.

      • So this is the largest

        So this is the largest percentage increase since 1996 except for 2006 and 2001 but that is a bit misleading. I believe 2006 was the year where residential properties were “revalued” so though the table shows a minus percentage as I remember it taxes jumped substantially. Most properties were revalued upwards to reflect the boom in housing prices so most didn’t see a fall in taxes but rather a rise. Is my memory correct?

        How much of this increase reflects the cost of the new police/fire station building? Most of it I would suspect. Well I hope everyone out there is doing really well financially so they can afford this.

        • a 4% increase, 7 cent not percent

          Today’s Reformer has a clearer explanation. And my error, I read the ibrat notes as 7 percent, it appears it’s a 7 cent rise. I suspect I’m not the only one who finds these tables, figures confusing but that calculates out to about a 4% increase, not as alarming as 7% but still high in an economy like this.

          At any rate, it appears that the bulk or actually almost all of the increase comes from the school taxes. Perhaps someone from the schoolboard could weigh in and explain why this increase? Would be greatly appreciated.

          Also note that only a fraction of the rise is attributable to the fire/police station project BUT note that right afterwards it is noted that the costs of the $14.2 million project will not start showing up until 2015. Is that figure correct, 14 million? Is that really the amount that was voted in? What were the calculations as to rise in taxes after that “little” project kicks in?

          “BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro property owners will see their tax rates jump by almost seven cents after the Selectboard approved the 2014 property tax rate at its meeting Tuesday night.

          Full-time Brattleboro residents will see their tax rate increase from $2.65 to $2.72. The nonresidential tax rate is going to rise from almost $2.51 to about $2.57.

          The first tax bill is due in August.

          The municipal tax rate, which is set to pay for the town services approved by Town Meeting Representatives in the 2014 budget, actually only increased by a little over a penny, going from about $1.12 to almost $1.14.

          Only a small portion of that increase is attributable to the police-fire project.

          Payments on the $14.2 million project will start to affect the budget in 2015.

          The Brattleboro school tax represents the bulk of the increase, with the residential education tax rate set to jump to $1.58 next year.”

  • First and most importantly,

    First and most importantly, thank you Chris for another great coverage of the town meeting. As much as I wanted to attend this meeting to hear first hand the resolution of the skating rink, I had to miss it for personal reasons. Thank you for offering such a reachable account of the meeting.

    This said. I am quite impressed with the manner the selectboard is dealing with the skating rink. They seem to be taking the time and seeking public input rather then dealing with this issue in an abrupt manner.

    The ice skating rink serves not only the hockey players. It must be known that this rink is used by many schools as a means to offer a affordable alternative to skiing during the winter sports period. Also, most importantly to me and many other skaters is the figure skating club that has maintained a long standing learn to skate program to both adults and children. The board sees the importance of having winter sports available and to have the ice rink open which unlike many other sports programs brings in some revenue to help cover most if not all the cost of operations.

    The recent need of repair has shown no clear answer to cost and I am in total agreement with the board to seek out a better understanding of cost. I am in hopes that some of the local offers by Brattleboro businesses to make less costly short term repairs to sustain the rink for this coming season. This seems to be a duct tape fix, but hay isn’t that why there is duct tape?

    Three cheers to Carol and the selectboard for all the effort being made towards a healthy resolution to this issue.

    Three cheers to Chris for sharing the meeting notes.
    Mark raymond

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