Selectboard Meeting Notes: Sondag Sayonara, Strand Ave Stress, Skating Rink Committee

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard was the final regular Selectboard meeting for outgoing Town Manager Barb Sondag. Former Chair Dick Degray appeared during Public Participation to offer her a sincere, heartfelt send off. A public thank you and farewell is scheduled for later this week.

Residents of Strand Avenue came to request that the road and retaining wall repair project on their street be temporarily halted to enable a discussion of closing the street to vehicles. They were told it had been decided long ago to allow cars to go through, but that recent project mishaps would be straightened out.

The Selectboard voted to form a citizen committee to research long-term ice rink options, the board heard about the Recreation and Parks department, and they worked on granting of permits, permitting of grants, public hearings, and more.


Chair David Gartenstein began the meeting by thanking Barb Sondag for her years of service to Brattleboro, reminding everyone that her term ends Tuesday at 5 p.m.. “She’s been Town Manager for 7 years and is leaving Brattleboro on sound footing,” he said, “…better than when she found it.” He invited everyone to the Selectboard Meeting Room on Friday July 19 from 3-5 p.m. for cake, punch, and saying goodbye and thanks to Barb.

He also noted that the final Paint the Pavement project report has been prepared and presented to them, noting that it was a nice community building project.

For a final time, Town Manager Barb Sondag offered her remarks. She thanked the press, BCTV, and the staff of the Town of Brattleboro. “It’s been a good time,” she said. “A great group of people to work with for the last 10 years.”  She quipped that she had practiced a different goodbye speech, and John Allen challenged her to recite it, but she declined.

Kate O’Connor said the public didn’t realize how much work Sondag did to prepare the board for meetings. “Thanks for guiding us.”

“We have no presents, cards or money,” said John Allen. “We’ve all heard blah, blah, blah. She encouraged me to run and to get me out of my shell, and I thank her for the friendship we have. I treasure it.”

“In my five weeks, you’ve been very welcoming,” added Donna Macomber, “and I appreciate getting off to a fabulous start.”

Gartenstein noted the absence of David Schoales, who he said was sick at home, “maybe watching.”

Public Participation

“I represent the old guard,” began Dick Degray. “Barb was Assistant Town Manager when I started. It was a difficult time in town. Our former Town Manager stepped down, Barb stepped in, and we appointed her.”

He said the Selectboard did a search and Barb was the best candidate for the job. “She handled a difficult period in town with class and dignity.” She grew into the job, he said, and met with any and all that wanted to have contact with her.

“There were black clouds over our town,” he continued, “and she got us through that period. We want to wish you well.”

He got a bit emotional. “You owe us nothing, we owe you everything. From me and all board members, thank you,” he said, adding “I’m going to miss you, and you are always welcome back here in Brattleboro.” Sondag was moved and thanked him.

Kate Anderson also thanked Sondag, on behalf of the Town Arts Committee.  “We thank Barb for serving as our liaison, and for sharing in a vision of the role the arts play in a healthy community and economy.”

Water and Sewer – Waste Water Treatment Plant

The monthly report from Hoyle Tanner was given by Steve Barrett and Hannah O’Connell of the Department of Public Works.

Barrett said they met Tuesday for the 97th time, and was excited to close this project down soon.

Work continues on the Therophilic Digester. There is continued installation of spray foam insulation, installation and start up of gas safety equipment, and start up and testing of the Mesophilic Digester # 1 and Pump Gallery. Finishing work at various buildings continues, as does SCADA software use and testing.

Barrett told the board to expect discussions of damages, as the project is late.

They’ve used up 118% of the project contract time, and 99.7% of the contract value has been completed.

He said the Spring Tree Pump Station costs went up by $2,280 and eight additional contract days were added to the schedule to facilitate wet well and channel concrete repair work, increased flood door height, and getting rid of slide gates between wet wells.

The installation of the Black Mountain gravity line is still in the design and permit stage. O’Connell said they had been meeting with engineers. The project is under review at VTrans, she said, since it goes under 91. Archeology and historic preservation reviews are also underway.

Barrett said they hoped to be done with the project by this fall.

The board approved the changes, 4-0.

As for the budget, just over $1 million remains in the contingency fund according to Finance Director John O’Connor. Total drawdowns on the project amount to $29,557,590.81, with a balance of $1,993,871.69 left. He said it should be enough to pay for what remains, though additional funding will be required for the Black Mountain project.

Gartenstein said Representative Town Meeting approved up to $32 million. “Will it be under that amount?”

O’Connor said Black Mountain would be close to $1 million.

Skating Rink Ad Hoc Committee

A new committee to look into specific skating rink issues is being formed by the Brattleboro Selectboard. Barb Sondag outlined her vision for the group, and suggested goals and issues to undertake at Tuesday’s meeting.

She suggested the committee look at options that consider installation costs, types of refrigerant, energy efficiencies, current and future operating costs, seasonal use of the facility, and the financial burden to the users that will end up paying for this.

John Allen said “we do get committee’d out in town, but I can see forming this so Barb can rest assured that things are being taken care of.”

Sondag said an ad hoc committee could have members from outside of Brattleboro.

Kate O’Connor asked if the committee should have an end date “so it wouldn’t drag on.”

Sondag said the committee could recommend a timeframe, perhaps coming back early next year with their reports. “Once they make their decisions, you may end up with a few types of proposals,” she said. “Carol will keep them on task.”

Gartenstein said he welcomed members from surrounding towns that use the rink, such as hockey association members, to apply.

The committee will have five members as recommended by Sondag. Interested persons can contact the Town Manager’s office to be considered. The deadline is Thursday, August 15th at 5 p.m. to apply. Interviews will be on the 20th, if necessary.

John Allen asked what happened to the money allocated by Representative Town Meeting.

John O’Connor said it is in the capital fund. “It’s been transferred.”

Fire Department and Recreation & Parks Discussions

Fire Chief Mike Bucossi and Assistant Fire Chief Pete Lynch returned to answer questions from the Selectboard about their department.

David Gartenstein asked about them being the responder of first resort for many things going on in town. He said they were trying to find efficiencies going forward, and decide if the services we provide are the ones we should. “Are there things that you respond to that go beyond the scope of what the Fire Department should respond to?”

The Chief said he was comfortable with the services they provide. “There’s the fine line between what we can and can’t handle, but I feel comfortable with what we’re doing as a department.”

John Allen asked the same question a slightly different way, again probing to see if there were redundancies. “You are always the first ones there…”

“I think I know what you are referring to,” said Bucossi, “and I think we should continue what we’re doing.”

Recreation & Parks Director Carol Lolatte also had a chance to tell the board about her department. She said they had a “programs” side and a “facilities” side to the department.

Recreation and Parks has 9 full time employees, 40 seasonal employees, and hundreds of volunteers. They run nine youth sports leagues, over 20 after school and summer programs for youth, over 15 adult leagues and programs, 15 special events, and 30 or more events for seniors. They also handle facility schedules and reservations.

There are over 130 acres of Town-owned park and cemeteries that include playgrounds, mini parks, buildings, traffic islands, a swimming pool and an ice rink. Recreation and Parks is also responsible for the maintenance of the Gibson-Aiken Center.

They are “pretty successful” in finding grants and fundraising, said Lolatte. Recent fundraising helped buy a new dasherboard and chiller barrel for the ice rink, and is paying for the development of West River Park. She said she got a donation from someone who liked to go there, then go snorkeling.

“Lights are coming soon,” she said. Recent weather has caused it to go slower than planned.

The department is using RecTrac registration and reservation software to help streamline their work. Lolatte said it was of great help to the department. They also try to look for ways to reduce energy costs and save money whenever possible, such as putting timers on lights and faucets.

If faced with a 5% cut (about $40,000), Lolatte said they’d cut back hours and weeks at Gibson Aiken, the pool, and the ice rink, and reduce swim lessons and summer programs.

If given a 5% increase Lolatte would like to replace aging, energy-inefficient windows at the Gibson Aiken Center, and use the balance to make small improvements in parks to signage, seating, picnic tables, lighting, and similar touch ups.

Kate O’Connor asked about staffing and the West River park. LoLatte said she added one seasonal employee.

Gartenstein asked about the RecTrac system. “Could it save staff hours?”  Lolatte said no. “It’s not that type of reduction.”

Gartenstein then asked about the difference between resident and non-resident costs, and whether our fees were good.

Lolatte said they received about $20,000 a year from non-residents. For a class or program, registration fees cost non-resident youth $15 more, and non resident adults pay an extra $20. She said those numbers came from ballparking what other towns charged.

Donna Macomber asked what the WebTrac online component would cost. Lolatte said about $7,000.

(No one asked why we call it Recreation & Parks rather than Parks & Recreation.)

Town Manager Search Process Update

Chair David Gartenstein gave another status report to update the public on the Town’s search for a new Town Manager. He said they had met with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and have worked on a job ad and description and distributed them to the public for review.

Gartenstein said they reviewed statutory requirements and looked at other town manager descriptions from around the state to create the job description. He said the Selectboard drafted the job listing.

Tuesday, the board approved the job description and advertisement, 4-0.  John Allen said they are trying to both move quickly and get the word out to the public.

Gartenstein then outlined the rough schedule to find the new Town Manager.

According to their supplementary materials, from July 17 to August 30 ads will be run and information will be available on the Town website. The application deadline is August 30.

VCLT will review applications, rank them, and send them to the Selectboard by September 6. They will be given to Selectboard members and/or a selection committee for review. They’ll select interviewees by September 16 to give to VCLT.

VCLT will then schedule phone or in-person interviews. After the first round, the Selectboard/Selection Committee will select applicants for second round interviews.

The second round of interviews will be held September 30 – October 1 and may include meeting with staff and touring the town.

On October 2nd, Gartenstein will notify VCLT of their finalist(s) and VCLT does reference and background checks. They’ll report back by October 16.

The new Town Manager employment agreement will be negotiated during the week of October 21, and employment could be confirmed at a Selectboard meeting in late October.

Kate O’Connor noted that if they had two qualified candidates, the October timeframe might get tight. She said they might want to interview again after a background check.

Donna Macomber said they were trying to be thorough.

Gartenstein said the schedule is proposed, not final, and concerns have been duly noted. He said they’d add the Rutland Herald – Times Argus as a place to advertise the job. Allen said they should try to reach every major news outlet. Others said it could get expensive.

The new Town Manager could start as early as November.

Preliminary FY13 Year End Report

Finance Director John O’Connor was scheduled to tell the board about the preliminary final numbers for last year’s budget, but invoices and data are still coming in. He hopes to give his preliminary report in August, and final unaudited results in September.

For loans, there was the single Brooks House loan in June for $150,000. A few are late, one is in bankruptcy, and one in probate he said.

David Gartenstein asked about the audit process. O’Connor said the preliminary work involves confirmations of balances. The auditors then “come back to dig into the numbers after we close the books. They’ll do the audit of those numbers. I’ll do the financial statements for them.”

Sondag said this is the second year Brattleboro has prepared our own statements.

“In the past, we paid them to do prepare our statements,” explained O’Connor, and paid them to audit the work they did for us. “Now I do them.”

“We had to get to the point where the information was solid,” added Sondag. “It’s a key measure of our fund managing success.”

Community Development Block Grant Public Hearing

The Brattleboro Selectboard held a Public Hearing regarding the Windham-Windsor Housing Trust Scattered Site Grant. Michele Morris of the trust’s HomeOwnership Center gave the board an overview of the program.

Brattleboro is the “lead agency” for the organization and will be applying for $1.2 million in Vermont Community Development Program funds.

The money gets used to fund the Southeastern Vermont Rehab Loan fund, which is managed by the Windham Windsor Housing Trust. This goes out as loans to low and moderate income homeowners, and some of the money goes to overhead. About 50% pays for staff, said Morris.

Morris said they employ staff specialists to provide a variety of services, often to help elderly or disabled populations. They also have administrative staff to assist in the process.

John O’Connor said the Town’s responsibility for the program was minimal. The Trust handles all the records. “We’re a pass through organization,” he said. “We have to endorse the work and paperwork for drawdowns.”

Kate O’Connor asked if was a single request for funding, and Morris said it was and would pay for two years.

“I may have a conflict of interest,” said O’Connor of her being on the state loan fund board. She said the board didn’t typically give out single payments of $1.2 million and wondered if Morris had talked to anyone in Montpelier. Morris said that people in Montpelier suggested doing it this way. “But we may get less,” she admitted, sounding confident that they would find a way to work with whatever amount was approved.

No public spoke during the public

Zoning Ordinance Amendment Public Hearing – Mobile Food Units

After holding a required Public Hearing on the matter, the Brattleboro Selectboard voted 4-0 in favor of a new Zoning Ordinance that regulates mobile food units and food carts on private property. The ordinance adds new definitions and standards for the mobile food units and carts, and operators will need a zoning permit.

Rod Francis, Planning Director, was on hand for the public hearing in which no public spoke. He said the Selectboard and Town staff had suggested the changes and the Planning Commission wrote them.

He said operators would get an annual permit on July 1st of the year, and that it would help smooth the process between property owners and mobile food operators. The fee will be $40 per year, in addition to the costs of vendor’s license and business license.

John Allen asked if there was an outcry for this new ordinance. Francis said no, “but it is a growing issue.” He said it had more to do with the rewrite of Chapter 11.

The Planning Commission had already held a Public Hearing on the ordinances. Vendors held a vigorous discussion that evening, said Francis.

They’ll go into effect in August.

FY14 Paving Contract

Lane Construction of Northfield, MA will be receiving $257,436.20 for the FY14 paving of Old Ferry Road, Quail’s Hill Road, Bullock Street, Whipple Street, Bridge Street, part of Marlboro Avenue, and Wellington Drive. No Vermont firms responded to the RFP.

Lane had the low bid.

“Twenty cents?” said Allen.

Strand Ave Project Update

Barb Sondag was given the task of providing a project overview.

She said there were two retaining walls on Strand Avenue in need of repair, and they have been discussing them since 2006. “In 2007 there were discussions about the road and whether to close it,” she explained, adding that the road was closed in the winter of 2008.

She said regardless of whether the road is closed, the retaining wall work must be done. Work began this spring, but stopped about three weeks ago when it was noted that the wrong size concrete blocks were being installed. After some clarifying meetings, bigger 20 inch bricks will be ordered and installed, but this will delay the project slightly.

Sondag said that the board had received letters from members of the public asking that Strand Avenue be on the agenda for discussion.

With that, the floor was opened to the public and almost every resident of Strand Avenue spoke.

Lawrence Williams and his wife Eva Shelby from 15 Strand Ave. said their house was most directly impacted by the work being done. They said things started out well, but now seems to lack project oversight. They described minimal workers on site, smaller than expected blocks being used, and concrete slabs being placed six inches from their deck. They said they were just hearing that the block size would be increased.

“We have a lack of confidence in BUR for this project taking place outside our kitchen window,” said Williams. “We need to keep a closer eye on things.” He said he’d like the slabs removed from near his deck and for them to use the specified distances indicated in the plans to place the wall.

“Did Steve answer your concerns?” asked John Allen.

“Yes,” said Williams. “It’s not completely resolved, but I’m confident Steve will stay on top of it.”

Steve Barrett defended BUR and blamed the block size mistake on a communications mixup. “The contractor thought he had the approval for the smaller block and the engineer thought it was larger. They proceeded in good faith based on what they thought was approved.”

Liza King and Rick Neumann who live in the church on the hill took their turn to address the board.

KIng said she’s lived on Strand 30 years. During the work stoppage, she told the board, the residents started talking and realized all of them were in favor of closing the road. She worried that traffic would increase with a wider Strand Avenue, “the steepest road in town.” She asked the board to stop and look at what’s happening to her neighborhood.

Neumann said it was a perfect opportunity to create a green space in the community and to recognize that people want bike paths and places to walk in the woods. “Could we get a motion to put this on hold to look at closing the road more closely?” He felt widening the top of the road makes it more dangerous.

King agreed. “Vote for continued work stoppage so a better solution can be found.”

Barrett said the issue of the width had already been addressed by the Traffic Safety Committee and with legal advice. He said they suggested it remain open for two lanes of traffic so two cars could pass each other. he said he had other comments from residents in the area that want it kept open.

“It was about 14 feet wide and will be about 16,” said Gartenstein.

“14 feet was safer, since cars couldn’t pass,” responded Neumann.

Other residents talked about the beauty of the neighborhood, and the chaos of the project. “It felt like the Keystone Kops with excavators. We’ve been told to trust the process. Young trees have been ripped out and the wrong sized blocks are used. The current work stoppage should continue,” said a woman who enjoys the neighborhood views, especially in winter.

Tom Grasso of 26 Strand had a couple of technical issues he wanted on the record. “The catch basin might be on our property and we may need to figure that out,” he cautioned. The boundary marker between his property and his neighbor’s was torn up and will need to be replaced, too.

“The walls need to be fixed,” said Grasso, “but Strand is a dangerous route in winter coming down the hill. I suggest we close it to vehicles and fix the walls. There are other ways into the neighborhood.”

Others agreed.

“This is another long, slow project and we all forget pieces of it,” said Barrett. “It makes it difficult. I have emails from residents saying that are happy Strand Ave is open in the winter. There is a mix of opinions here.”

He said the Fire Chief has to think of his ways in and out, and Williams Street was closed during Irene. he reiterated that BUR is a good contractor. “There was a miscommunication. I have to take some responsibility. We’re spread a bit thin, but we noticed the problem and are going back to the original mission and decisions to keep it open.” He promised DPW would follow through with oversight.

Gartenstein said there are a series of issues. and thanked everyone for expressing their concerns. “We heard about this 10 days ago and have heard many concerns tonight. We have to look at the number of routes in town from the brook up to Western Ave. None of them are optimal. Crosby and Williams is a dangerous intersection. Adding more traffic there is not a good solution.”

He said the Traffic Safety Committee looked at closing Strand almost six years ago and decided to keep it open. “I hear your concerns, and have been through there. It’s a great neighborhood.”  In the end, though, he said the road is a public road. “Failing to comply with specifications is something we can deal with. It will be a little bit wider and closer to specifications.”

John Allen said it was a hard process to close a street. He said he’d like to see how the finished product looks, then consider options.

“I hear what everyone is saying,”’ said Kate O’Connor. “Some concerns are with the construction project, and those issues will be addressed. So that’s better than when everyone walked in.”

“The process of closing a road is for Traffic Safety to do a study, then to do a ordinance change,” said Sondag.

Donna  Macomber said she went out and looked at it today. “I love that the word accountability has been used,” she said. “It must proceed with caution.”

She said she understands “the compelling request” made of the Selectboard. “It matters to us. We need to preserve as much of the neighborhood as we can. We hope for your understanding in our need to keep the road open. The town matters to us.”

Gartenstein  encouraged the neighbors to keep in touch with Public Works.

PFFP – Hire Northeastern Collaborative Architects

Northeastern Collaborative Architects was awarded an $850,000 contract for architectural services for the Police-Fire Facility Project. Barb Sondag, David Gartenstein, and Steve Horton negotiated the contract details. The design and oversight team is just about in place, said Gartenstein.

PFFP – Buy Property

The Brattleboro Selectboard voted to buy the Custom Laundry property at 14 Church Street near the downtown fire station so that there will be room to expand the new fire facility. The purchase and sale agreement says the cost is $290,000 and the landowners must take down the building.

There will be environmental studies done by the Town, and both parties agree to share responsibilities for out of project remediation efforts up to a $50,000 limit. If it costs more, they’ll negotiate further.

Barb Sondag said they are watching the budget, which she said comes from a preliminary conceptual estimate. They’ll be watching the numbers for each property individually as well as the overall costs. There is also a new fund for this project to help track revenues and expenses at each building. The budget will be updated as necessary to reflect changes.

PFFP – Continue Project Management

The Police-Fire Facility Project project manager Steve Horton’s contract will be extended to include project management services through the end of the construction. The Police Fire Facility Project committee made the recommendation to the board Tuesday and the Selectboard approved.

The Selectboard was impressed with Horton’s early work guiding them through design considerations and hiring of architects. They decided that rather than let him go when the construction documents were complete, they’d keep him on until the buildings were done and occupied.

Brattleboro Heating Oil Contract

Discount Oil of Keene, NH was given the contract for prepaid heating oil for the next year.

Brattleboro will buy 82,000 gallons of #2 heating oil at $3.197 per gallon, less than what was budgeted. Fleming Oil put in an unsuccessful bid at $3.299 per gallon.

John Allen asked if the Town has looked into co-op buying for cheaper oil. John O’Connor said he hadn’t looked into it, but would.

Committee Vacancies and Appointments

The Selectboard appointed Tristan Toleno to the CPCC for two years, Merribelle Coles to the Conservation Commission for four years, Deborah Silver to the Tree Advisory Committee for three years, and Kathleen White to the Energy Committee for three years.

The ADA Advisory Committee is in the process of revising bylaws, so the Selectboard decided to wait for that process to conclude before adding anyone to their committee. James Banslaben would like to join when the opportunity arises.

Vacancies remain on town committees. Discussion

Postponed again, this time because David Schoales wanted to discuss them and was absent.

Local Hiring Discussion


Soap Box Derby Permit

The annual Daniel Kornguth Soap Box Derby on John Seitz Drive received a permit for their August 18 event. If it rains, they have permission to race on August 25.

Fairpoint Pole and Wire Location Petition

Fairpoint asked Brattleboro for permission to place a pole in the town’s right of way along Harris Avenue, near #10. The line will go overhead and across the street.

Kate O’Connor wondered if it would bother anyone on Harris Ave. Sondag said they always get complaints, especially if trees have to come down.

The Selectboard endorsed the pole placing plan with a vote of 4-0.

Renaming a Private Right of Way

The Selectboard voted 4-0 to rename a private right of way previously known as Buttonwood Hill. The new name is Buttonwood Drive.

Barb’s Exit

Barb read the meeting schedule for a final time, beginning with the announcement of her public farewell this Friday and ending with the date and time of the next Selectboard meeting.

The board then continued in a brief executive session to discuss a contractual matter, with no additional business anticipated.

So ends an era.

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