The Brattleboro Selectboard had no problems guiding the town at their first regular meeting without an official Town Manager at the helm. They even did it without their Chair, too.
The board navigated concerns about downtown sidewalks, skateboarders, and homeless people in the parks. They heard an update on the SeVEDS program and gave them a second check for $25,000. They received an overview of the Town Clerk’s office, and debated skating rink compressor options once again.
The board discussed becoming another online news source for Brattleboro, and how best to prepare to hire locally for municipal projects with big budgets.
Chair David Gartenstein was not present, so Vice Chair Kate O’Connor led her fellow board members through the agenda. She introduced Patrick Moreland in his new role as Interim Town Manager.
She said there had been a recent meeting to discuss the downtown sidewalk project. The plan is to replace sidewalks from near the Coop up the east side of Main Street to Walnut Street. Work will start in April or May of next year, and O’Connor hoped people would stay informed and aware of the project.
Moreland thanked the Department of Public Works for recent Strand Avenue work. He said the proper size blocks are in place and the project is back on track. He also extended deep sympathies to a contractor who helps with computers who lost his home in a fire last week.
For Selectboard remarks, David Schoales noted that our local swim teams were state champions and winning awards and John Allen said the Police Fire Facility Project committee met recently with the project architects and “kicked around a few ideas.”
Gary Snyder of the ADA Board and VCIL returned to tell the Selectboard that he had received complaints about the sidewalk in front of the library. He asked that it be filled in.
“I’ve asked for two years,” he told the board. “They are going to file a complaint with the Justice Department.”
He asked about the sign language interpreters promised for Selectboard meetings, and told the board the library doors were heavy and hard to get through in a wheelchair. “You need a running start to get over the threshold of the first door.”
Snyder said the sidewalk by the Retreat is “horrendous,” adding that it needed to be fixed as it was an accident waiting to happen.
“I’d rather work it out than file a complaint with the Justice Department,” he told the board.
Patrick Moreland thanked him for his feedback. He said he would tell the Department of Public Works about the sidewalk in front of the library and mention the doors to Jerry. “They need a certain amount of pressure to close, but maybe they can be adjusted.”
As for the sidewalks, he reiterated that Brattleboro had a fairly limited budget for making repairs. “Immediate needs we can patch, but we have 38 miles of sidewalk. We can’t repair all that needs to be done. We’ll do the best we can,” adding “I appreciate your eyes and ears on the street.”
Jan Anderson said that sign language interpreters will start at the first meeting in September. There will be two at every meeting.
The second member of the public to speak was Bill Knowles. He said he was losing his gratitude for Brattleboro due to a number of issues. The first was a growing homelessness problem near the Co-op and the trash being left behind. “People can’t have lunch there anymore.”
The second was that skateboarders skate down Main Street and Canal Street into Malfunction Junction. “They yell “on your right” like they have a right to do this shit.” He apologized for his language.
The third issue was that volunteers clean up downtown, and one volunteer that waters plants had her garden cart stolen.
“I’d like to see consequences for leaving trash. They need to pay consequences for trashing our parks.”
The final member of the public to participate was James Banslabin. He rose and said that the economy was rough, and Brattleboro wasn’t the only town struggling to pay for repairs. He asked if the town had a plan for collapsing bridges.
The Brattleboro Selectboard granted a First Class liquor license to Hazel, a new restaurant to be located at 75 Elliot Street. It is the former location of Frankie’s Pizza. The new restaurant is named for the owner’s daughter.
Hazel will serve gourmet pizza. “A new lunch spot for a cost effective lunch,” owner Nathan Rupard told the board. They will also serve dinner and hope to open by September.
Bill Knowles said he hoped licenses depended on picking up trash in front of the establishment. Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said there were no current trash requirements, and David Schoales suggested they discuss it at a future meeting.
The board also granted a First Class liquor license and outdoor consumption permit to The New England House in West Brattleboro at 254 Marlboro Road. New owner Kurt Johnson and his wife, both new to the area, have purchased the restaurant. He said they plan to keep it as it is, then fine tune things as they go along.
VCDP Program Income Funds to SeVEDS
In May of 2012 SeVEDS asked the Brattleboro Selectboard for funds to support regional economic development. The Selectboard at the time agreed to give them $50,000 in two payments with the second coming after SeVEDS raised matching funds from surrounding towns.
On Tuesday Laura Sibilia told the board that those other funds had been secured (they raised $56,012 from six communities) and that Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies would like Brattleboro’s second payment now that the goal has been reached.
Rockingham, Wilmington, Vernon, Newfane, Dover, and Marlboro all contributed. Other towns were asked to help, but have not done so to date.
Sibilia said it was useful to go to all the towns, and thanked Brattleboro for forcing them to find matching funds in the region. Most other towns wanted to know what they would receive in return for their contribution, she said.
She explained that SeVEDS started in 2007 as a project to expand broadband and cellular service. “We realized the poor service was a symptom of a poor economy, and there weren’t enough customers here.” That led to economic development planning at BDCC (Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation).
“We’re looking at ways to grow the economy,” she told the board.
Pat Moulton Powden said that it is a truly regional effort with diverse interests. She’ll be taking over as Executive Director of the BDCC when Jeff Lewis steps down at the end of the year.
Workplace development and finding good employees needs to be aligned with education in the region, she said. SeVEDS is gathering data to help formulate plans so employers can expect qualified employees in the future, and young people can plan for good careers here.
Donna Macomber thanked them for doing a good job and said she wasn’t surprised that they’ve been having success in other parts of the region.
David Schoales said he was surprised due to the difficulty, and pleased. He asked how much money was in the program income fund, and then asked what program income was.
Moreland said that program income comes from repayment of loans from a state fund. A portion of the repaid money stays locally to seed other local programs. It can be used for economic development, job growth, and housing.
SeVEDS is currently hoping to find programs to apply to be a part of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). Kate O’Connor asked about the schedule.
Sibilia said meetings have been held around the region and focus groups had been polled. She said their list would be delivered October 24th, followed by a public comment period, and then document will be filed with the government. Other federal grants may depend on whether projects are part of the strategy. CEDS gets reviewed and updated annually.
James Banslabin said he was confused by what they do. “Are you a headhunter or employment agency?”
Powden said no. She said it was about aligning programs with needs, and networking.
Banslabin said they needed to be creative. “Will there be some return on this to taxpayers?” he asked.
Powden said if this works, existing businesses would grow, new businesses will come, and the town should see a return on its investment.
The Selectboard unanimously approved giving SeVEDS another $25,000 from VCDP program income funds.
VT Community Foundation Grant for Skating Rink Compressor
The Vermont Community Foundation has given a three year grant totaling $100,000 toward the replacement of the skating rink compressor. The Selectboard voted to accept it.
Brattleboro will receive $25,000 this year, $37,500 next year, and $37,500 in 2015. The money will be used for the long term fixes, not the quick repairs this year.
Skating Rink Repair Contract
Brattleboro is undertaking a process to determine the long term solution to making ice at the rink. Until that is complete, a stopgap measure to repair the current system in time for this winter’s skating season was agreed upon at a recent Selectboard meeting.
American Refrigeration, our current ice rink maintainer, was given the contract to replace the two current compressors. The cost will be $33,460. The contract calls for work to be completed by October 4, 2013.
Dompier Electric submitted design recommendations that the dual compressor system be replaced with a single, capable compressor, telling the board that the dual system is why repairs are needed.
Before approving the contract, John Allen said he was still perplexed and concerned. “American Refrigeration,” he began, “they haven’t done a great job up there. Why do we keep going back to them?”
Carol Lolatte said they have a good reputation, and it is old equipment. “Only so much can be done with this quick fix approach.”
Patrick Moreland said there were many ways to do things, and the committee would be looking at all the options.
Donna Macomber asked if the work came with a warranty. Lolatte said the compressors were covered.
James Banslabin said he was uncomfortable with the American Refrigeration quick fix, and liked the complete proposal from Everything Ice.
John Allen said it was the Selectboard that suggested the quick fix to get the rink open on time.
Kate O’Connor said the committee would look at the bigger picture. Applications to be on the committee are due August 15.
Town Clerk Departmental Report
Town Clerk Annette Cappy came to the Brattleboro Selectboard on Tuesday to report on her department.
Many of the Town Clerk duties are mandated by State Statute. The Town Clerk is assisted by two full-time assistants, and volunteers help with elections. “I have a good staff,” she said. “They make me look good.”
The department brings in about $183,000 a year in gross revenue.
The Town Clerk oversees all land records for the town, and has been working to digitize the older records for preservation and research. 13,000 copies are produced each year for the public each year. Land records will be online soon.
Many people are looking for birth records. More documentation is required post 9-11, said Cappy.
The office also contains vital records of births, deaths, marriages, civil unions, and burials going back to the mid-1700’s. They register dogs, track liquor, entertainment, and tobacco licenses, maintain the voter list, and help with marriages. In 2012, 66% of marriage licenses were to people from out of town.
Elections are a big seasonal task the department undertakes, helping with local, state and national results as well as Representative Town Meeting members.
Much of their recent efforts has been to streamline the process for creating and retrieving documents, and they measure the success of the department in part by how much information is currently available in a digital format.
Decreases in the budget, said Cappy, would likely mean reduced staff hours, and limits on digitization projects. 75% of the budget is labor, she told the board. “It would cause a lot of issues,” she said, such as meeting deadlines.
If the budget was increased, Cappy would increase digitization efforts, especially Grand Lists dating to the 1700’s.
Schoales asked about the old Grand Lists, and if historical grants were available. Cappy said they were seen as town records. She hoped everything would be digitized eventually.
“That’s our history,” said John Allen.
O’Connor said she appreciate all they did with state reapportionment last year.
Moreland agreed the Town Clerk’s office did commendable work.
Homeland Security Training Grant for Fire Department
Concerned that our Brattleboro Fire Department isn’t prepared for building collapses and vehicle/machinery extractions? Worry no more. The Fire Department received a grant of just about $10,000 to cover the cost of training first responders. The money comes from Homeland Security, and everyone will be trained to meet national standards.
First Wednesdays Grant for Library
Brooks Memorial Library received $500 to help support First Wednesday programs at the library. The program is a monthly lecture series and the money comes from the Vermont Department of Libraries.
The grant requires a $2,500 match, which will come from the Friends of Brooks Memorial Library.
Discussion of Brattleboro.org
David Schoales asked the Brattleboro Selectboard for some time to discuss the Brattleboro town website. Specifically, he hoped the town would put more effort into sharing useful information.
“The homepage has a box for news,” he said. “Maybe we could put updates in the news section of our website. It would take very little effort,” he said. He thought there was fodder for news in the administrative reports that the Selectboard receives with the agenda.
Moreland said that the administrative reports are already on the site prior to each meeting for all to read.
Schoales said that most people wouldn’t read the full administrative report. He said that putting news on the site would help.
John Allen agreed, he said, to a point. “I don’t know if people are lazy, but you could put out so much information and people will still say they didn’t see it anywhere.”
Schoales said those who want easy information could find it on the town website. “It’s a small step to take to provide accurate information.”
“We’d need to have a way to decide what’s posted, and a person to oversee it,” said Donna Macomber.
Schoales asked that it be on the next agenda as well.
Patrick Moreland attempted to explain a bit about how the site is maintained. “The structure of the website is managed by my staff,” he said. “I hear feedback. If there is a specific policy that the board would like to adopt, I’m all ears, but the management of the site falls to the staff, and we get feedback and try to accommodate where possible.”
“Can you monitor who clicks on things?” asked Allen.
Moreland said he thought they could. “I think we have analytics.”
He sounded reluctant to become a news agency, however. “There has been a lot of work on our website in the last few years, with input from all departments,” he explained. “I really wish to respect the work they have done and support the way they crafted the site. They did a great job of figuring out how to structure and maintain it.”
Moreland said the Snelling Center said it was a model site for municipal web sites. He said they would continue to look at how to push additional information to the public.
Discussion of Local Hiring and Purchasing
Brattleboro adopted guidelines for local hiring and purchasing a few years ago. David Schoales asked that this Selectboard revisit the issue.
“It’s another Selectboard goal,” said David Schoales. He said that, for example, the Police Fire Facility Project (PFFP) had $14 million dollars of taxpayer spending and he hoped as much of that as possible could be directed locally.
He said that the idea began with the idea of drafting a policy, but Barb Sondag talked him out of it. He said that she suggested that it would be better to just get interested parties together and discuss the issue.
Schoales said he then spoke with Jeff Lewis who advised him to challenge are organizations to train people for jobs we know will be needed. Again for example, the PPFP will need builders, accountants, and other work.
Kate O’Connor noted that Schoales efforts were similar to the work being done by SeVEDS.
“Is that out of our purview?” asked John Allen, wondering if preparing people for jobs might be better suited to other groups.
O’Connor clarified that Schoales was discussing municipal projects such as the PFFP. She said the Town would know the jobs they’ll need, and local people could prepare for them.
“It can get convoluted,” cautioned Allen. “Where are we overstepping our bounds?”
Moreland thought it might work. “We will be hiring, so identifying the types of labor and skills will be used will be useful.”