Selectboard Meeting Notes: Unmentioned Police Surveillance Powers, Delinquent Taxes Increase

Some news from Tuesday night’s Selectboard meeting wasn’t mentioned at all during the meeting. In the written departmental report from the Brattleboro Police to the Selectboard were listed two items that neither the Police nor the Selectboard spoke about during the presentation to the board: powerful software to gather and evaluate intelligence of potential criminal activity, and live, remote access to private video systems in town.

From the Finance Director we learned that delinquent taxes increased by $100,000 in 2013. The Police Fire Project gained a Construction Management firm, the swimming pool will get some much-needed attention, and angels will begin appearing around Brattleboro in September.

Read on for full details.


Chair David Gartenstein began by noting the flurry of construction around town as a sign of “health and vitality of the town,” mentioning work at the hospital, state office building, dental facility, Auto Mall, new Comfort Inn, Aldi’s, and scaffolding going up this week at the Brooks House. He said the sidewalk along Whetstone pathway near the Coop has been reconstructed. 

Gartenstein wanted to let the public know that Carbon Harvest had defaulted on the loan given to them by Brattleboro, and the town is filing suit to recover the funds.

He also thanked the Fire Department for their prompt work responding to a fire last week.

Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland let everyone know that the town’s telephone system has been acting up. “The 251 numbers have been down,” he said. “You can call us at our 254 numbers.”

There were no Selectboard comments or committee reports.

Public Participation

Anne Bolte had a suggestion for the Recreation and Parks Department: don’t close the pool as early as August 11, like this year.

She said she swims there regularly and sees “so many happy people” using the pool. “It’s beautifully managed with professional young people working there. It’s a delight.”

Bolte said that other area pools close later in the summer . “Greenfield closes on September 2nd. Keene closes on August 24th,” she told the board. “We’re not getting all of our money’s worth if we leave the last weeks of summer unused.”

James Banslabin asked if local hiring could be stipulated when grant money is received. he also suggested the town consider working with the Vermont Technical College and BUHS to find engineering students to work on projects such as the skating rink. “It could be like a lab,” he said. 

Patrick Moreland said there was a provision in procurement polices that said local firms could be hired.

Water & Sewer Commissioners

While most of the waste water facility work is substantially complete, work continues on the Brattleboro pump stations that feed the new Waste Water Treatment Plant. Director of Public Works Steve Barrett updated the board.

The big facility is 100% complete as far as the construction contract goes. 122% of the project time has elapsed. Only one person remains doing work to get things running smoothly and is focused primarily on SCADA control systems and the digester. The methane capture and energy generation systems are not yet operational.

Barrett reminded the board that there could be liquidated damages due to delays, but no decisions have been made to pursue them yet. 

David Gartenstein asked how the final close-out of the project would go.

Patrick Moreland said big projects vary in the way they wrap up. “There are various change orders that the construction company doesn’t want to support. You enter a phase where negotiations become important,” he said.

Barrett said he is having discussions with the engineers and contractors, and the contractors will come back with a proposal soon.

“There are significant change orders and costs associated with engineering,” said Gartenstein of work remaining on the list. “Large ticket items have yet to be resolved.”

Barrett said there was still a million dollars in the contingency fund, and hundreds of thousands of changes remaining plus engineering costs. “Decisions need to be made.”

Barrett then gave an update on the pump stations.  Spring Tree Pump Station is about 99.9% done, with a punch list of final fixes to take care of before it is finished. “It came out very nice,” said Barrett. “It should make a big difference, with newer and better equipment.”

The plans for the Black Mountain station are still being reviewed and permits are being issued, with construction expected to begin in the spring of 2014. This station will feature a gravity-fed line that goes under I-91 featuring approximately 1227 feet of 8” sewer pipe using open cut and trenchless technologies. It will eliminate the need for the pump station entirely, which Barrett said will save money in the long term.

David Schoales asked about other DPW projects such as Chestnut Hill repairs and fixes to retaining walls.  Barrett explained they were part of the regular yearly plan of repairs. Gartenstein added that the Selectboard will begin discussing next year’s budget at the next Selectboard meeting.

In the end, the Brattleboro Selectboard was happy to approve new change orders that gave the town a $28,000 credit. Savings came from a skipping the first fill-up of fuel and chemical tanks (they were already full), motor switches, and other small changes.

The project remains within budget according to Finance Director John O’Connor. Of the total $31.5 million of funding provided, $1.8 million remains. The funds came from a combination of grants, loans, and bonds. “Looking at the remaining items, we should have more than enough to pay what remains. We should have $400,000 left over,” said O’Connor.

Moreland said Black Mountain costs need to be kept in mind, too. “It’s part of the total cost of the project.” O’Connor said it would be paid for with loans.

The board also approved a 20 year, zero percent interest (with 2% administration fee) loan application for $56,000 to fund the engineering and final design of the gravity line at Black Mountain Road. The loan comes from the Vermont Clean Water Revolving Loan Program. A separate loan application will be filed for construction costs later on, said O’Connor.

Gartenstein reminded everyone that repayment of the Waste Water Treatment Plant costs comes from local water and sewer fees. “That’s why they have been going up.” He warned that the board would soon discuss and approve a Utilities budget with new rates for the coming years.

Monthly Financial Report with John O’Connor

Brattleboro Finance Director John O’Connor said that the town’s budget was in good shape as the first month of the new fiscal year wrapped up. “No trends or surprises,” he told the board.

With 8.3% of the fiscal year complete, the General Fund expenditures are at 9.3%. O’Connor noted that this was due to a semi-annual insurance payment.

The Utilities Fund stands at 8.8% and the Parking Fund at 6.3% of their annual budget expenditures.

Brattleboro has just over $4 million in outstanding loans and $438,000 available to loan out from program income.

There are 37 active grants and 12 more in the pipeline.

See the full financial report here.

Gartenstein asked O’Connor to explain how the Town could show $12 million in current taxes at the beginning of a new year financial statements. “We didn’t collect all of that in one quarter. Why is it here?”

O’Connor said the town recognizes revenue when it is billed. Receivables show how much has been paid to date. “If we don’t collect the full amount, we have to defer costs. Delinquent taxes are up by about $100,000 this year.” He said it would have an impact on FY13 final numbers if deferred.

Gartenstein asked for a a status report on when the board would see year end figures for the prior year.

O’Connor said said they are waiting to book deferred taxes and accrued vacation adjustments, the two big items remaining. He estimated an FY13 surplus of about $100,000.

John Allen asked about the auditors.

“They finished their field work and we hope for a report in December,” answered O’Connor.

Police- Fire Facility Project Financial Update

O’Connor also gave the Brattleboro Selectboard an early look at the plan to finance the Police-Fire facility project. Patrick Moreland said he had asked him to develop a system for tracking invoices, costs, and revenues.

He told the board that a new Capital Fund has been set-up to track project revenues and expenses. He said a new system has been established to track which of three locations (Fire Central Station, Police Station, or Fire Station Two) an invoice would be applied. This will help him monitor finances for each site as well as overall costs of the project.

The project manager will review all invoices, as will the Director of Public Works and the Town Manager.

$5 million in bond proceeds has come through thus far, he said.

Police Fire Project Construction Management Services Firm Selected

The Police Fire Facility Project committee received and reviewed seven proposals for construction management services in response to their July RFP. Project Manager Steve Hotrod came to the board with the committee’s recommendation for the firm to be chosen.

After interviewing the top three firms, said Horton, each was rated. The committee chose  DEW Corporation of Williston, Vermont. Horton said they have done similar projects, had the staffing on hand, and excellent software for integrated management, energy modeling and other technological needs.

John Allen said the hiring process was fun, with “lots of different viewpoints.” He said each firm did a great job and that “it came down to internal mechanisms for getting this off to the right start. The next phase is the most important part of the project. It was nice that (the decision) was unanimous.”

David Gartenstein asked about the estimating expertise of the firm, and for Horton to describe the design and planning team.

Horton said DEW has ten staff dedicated to estimating and has done similar projects. “They have worked on other local projects and have saved us money on those. As for the team, it is large. We have the building committee, interested staff, architects, construction managers, and others behind the scenes. Thousands of people will be involved.”  DEW will add an estimator, mechanical coordinator, project manager, superintendent, and one or two assistants.

“What does the Construction Management firm do?” asked John Allen.

Horton said it was a term for a professional builder hired early to help us with estimating and to become a member of our team. “We get to audit their costs,” he told Allen and the board.

Bill Knowles  wanted to know who would be in charge to make sure it didn’t go over budget. Horton replied that diligence has to happen from the start.

“We’ll review estimates a dozen times before construction,” he said. “We’ll have a contingency fund set aside for the unknowns, but will be clear about all aspects of construction and costs.” Horton mentioned a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) type of contract “that says that if we agree to their GMP, any savings come to us and if there is an overrun, they get absorb it.”

Knowles  mentioned a prior project that went a million dollars over budget.  “It’s irregular and unethical to let a contractor to get that far off budget,” replied Horton.

“What level of quality of workmanship and materials does a GMP imply?” asked James Banslabin.

“We’ll have a specification manual with the quality level, and lists of companies that can meet those specs will be provided,” said Horton.

The board voted to authorize the Interim Town Manager and Selectboard Chair to enter into contract negotiations with DEW MacMillan.

Watching Angels Public Art Show

Brattleboro will be home to a public art installation by artist Meg Donahue for the month of September. Kate Anderson of the town Arts Committee joined Donahue for a presentation about the project to the board, but Donahue did the talking.

The project is called “Watching Angels” and involves placement of 100 angels, each with uplifting messages, about town.

Using a broad definition of “angel,” Donahue encouraged submissions of angel art that was primarily whimsical. There will be a German Shepherd angel near the Police Station, for example. No advertising, religious art, sexual content, negative imagery or political was accepted for the show.

Donahue said that both local and international artists are participating, and that there was more interest from artists outside Brattleboro than within.

Town departments have seen and approved the list of installations. Donahue said there will also be “gratitude walls” for people to write what they are grateful for if they are so inspired.

“Our intent is to be an uplifting, positive, and inspiring show in the way the angels among us remind us of the best of ourselves,” she said in her overview memo.

David Schoales asked if there was a guide to the angels around town to make them easy to find. Donahue said people would discover them as they find them and that the random discovery was part of the fun of finding one.

Moreland said the Arts Committee does a good job vetting the theme of public art projects. He suggested the board spend some time to set expectations of how work will go from approved concept to installation.

“If one goes missing, will it be replaced?” asked John Allen. Donahue said she’d see how it goes and try to put something else up in its place if that happens.

Donna Macomber asked if this has been done in other communities, and if other angels might show up that weren’t officially sanctioned.

Donahue said the “Before I Die” walls in New Orleans provided some inspiration, but that this was a unique, original creation for Brattleboro. She said there was always a possibility that other angels might show up.

“Better than the moose in Bennington,” quipped John Allen, starting a century long war with our neighbor to the west.

Gartenstein returned to the suggestion by Moreland.  “We’ll develop guidelines for concepts to be reviewed to become full town projects.”

Brattleboro Police Department Departmental Report

Police Chief Gene Wrinn was the departmental guest of honor at Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting, on hand to share details of his department with the board. It’s all part of an ongoing effort by the board to better understand how the town operates. He was joined by Mike Fitzgerald.

Wrinn reported that the Brattleboro Police do patrols, investigations, handle dispatch, and record keeping. There are 23 officers and four recruits due to graduate the Police Academy in November. The department has eight full time and four part time dispatchers, two full time detectives, administrative support staff, an animal control officer, and social work officer.

The department’s first priority is to respond to emergencies. Since January 2013, Brattleboro has had 93 assaults/attempted assaults, 52 burglaries, 242 larcenies, 50 frauds/embezzlements, 78 vandalisms, 781 suspicious persons or circumstances (the most common call), 292 lockouts, 200 trespassings, 345 citizen disputes, 227 citizen assists, 388 agency assists, 459 animal problems, 216 welfare checks, and 377 accidents according to the Chief. 

Fitzgerald explained some of the ways the department is becoming more efficient. First on the list was the Plan of the Day (POD) to share information about patrols, permits, special events, and other information summarized from numerous town sources. Everyone is literally on the same page.

For the last 3 years, Fitzgerald explained, officers have had a “minimum expectation for proactive motor vehicle stops” each month, and the minimum is increased each year. “We are encouraging lots of stops,” he told the board.  “Nothing but positive comes from that.”  In 2012, Brattleboro Police made 8,360 motor vehicle stops.

“I had a question about that…” began John Allen. He let Fitzgerald explain the reasoning.

“It shows our presence in town,” said Fitzgerald, “and you’ll see us. It gives contact with local officers and the citizenry. You can drive away and feel positive. You may not be happy, but it can be positive.” He added that criminals drive, “so we do interdiction work to catch criminals and prevent crime.”

Allen wasn’t so sure it was all positive. “I can see where people would perceive that as going the other way.”

“If they aren’t speeding or have a headlight out, how do you stop them?” asked Kate O’Connor. She wondered if they, perhaps, would “see Kate driving by and would decide to pull her over to say hello.”

“You have to have made a violation,” said Fitzgerald. Wrinn jumped in to add, though, that there is “a whole range of motor vehicle violations we can stop you on.”

O’Connor continued. “Some will see the minimum numbers as quotas to meet.”

Fitzgerald objected. “There is no such thing as a quota. It is a measuring tool.”  If officers are doing nothing in particular, “we want you to stop motor vehicles.”

He went on to say that downtown walking patrols have been increasing to 2,834 hours downtown in 2012, up from 400 hours just a few years ago.

“What are the hopeful outcomes?” Donna Macomber asked of the walking patrols.

“To interact with the community, and to deter crime,” said Fitzgerald. “We don’t know how many crimes we stop by being out, but we are hoping it happens.”

Fitzgerald continued with the report, telling the board that the department uses the internet and mobile data computers to help streamline their operations, and are looking forward to using a new automatic license plate reader as soon as state training is complete. Wrinn said he looked forward to increasing revenue by uploading parking ticket violations to the license plate reader database when it becomes available.

Wrinn said that If the budget went up by 5% ($90,000), the department would add technology and update video cameras in cruisers. If it went down by 5%, staff would be reduced. He said they also hope to move to a new reporting system called Valcor that was developed for the Burlington Police, and that they looked forward to the new facilities currently being designed and built for them.

David Gartenstein asked about redundant emergency services arriving on scene. Wrinn said it was better for everyone to show up and send someone home rather than risk someone not being there who was needed.

Bill Knowles said he was pleased with the report by the police, but wanted to express outrage at the stealing and burning of the flag at the downtown memorial. He said it was “a message, not a petty crime.”  He described it as an awful, intentional incident and felt those responsible need to be prosecuted.

James Banslabin praised the emergency services in town. “Does the license plate reader read the cardboard plates, or plates in the back windshield?” he wondered.

Wrinn said the license plate reader “takes thousands of picture a minute” then scans and reads them, and checks them against databases. “It has limits,” Wrinn said of its reading ability.

Not mentioned at the meeting or asked about by any board member were two other major highlights noted in the written report to the Selectboard.

1. The police use I2 software for information gathering. They describe it as an “in-house software program being used to gather and evaluate intelligence information for potential criminal activity.” The I2 software comes from IBM and enables law enforcement to access and analyze large amounts of data (databases, social media, etc.) on known and unknown suspects.

2. The police have “numerous video access points to review privately-owned video recorders for quickly obtaining evidence and reviewing footage to assist in investigations. These access points allow officers to login remotely to view live feeds as well as recorded events.”

Accept Justice Assistance Grant for Police Department

The Selectboard approved a $19,960 grant from the Edward Byrne Memorial. The Justice Assistance Grant funds will be used to assess additional communications needs due to a mandatory switch to narrow band radios. The Police Department will also purchase radios and repeaters.

Wrinn said narrow-banding is designed to limit bleed through from other radios, but since it’s implementation earlier this year it has caused numerous problems. This grant is intended to help clear things up, he said.

Accept Grant for Swift Water Equipment

The Brattleboro Fire Department received a grant of $11,892.40 to purchase protective and safety equipment for swift water rescues. The money comes from the Vermont Department of Public Safety.

Chief Mike Buccossi said Irene showed our swift water rescue weaknesses. “We made 30 rescues during Irene,” he said. 

Accept Grant for Raincoats

The Fire Department will also be purchasing high visibility rain jackets thanks to a grant of just over $1,100 from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns PACIF Grant program. It requires a match, and the department planned for it in their budget.

Swimming Pool Architectural and Engineering Services Selected

Carol Lolatte, Director of Brattleboro Recreation & Parks, came to the board with a request to hire Aquatics Group of Waterbury, VT to evaluate repairs and upgrades to the swimming pool at Living Memorial Park.

“We have a 300,000 gallon pool open from June 15 to August 11,” she began, explaining that it was popular and used by swim teams, swim instructors and students, and the public at large. 

Brattleboro’s pool was built in the 1950’s and renovated in the 1980’s. She listed the issues with the pool.  “The bath house needs renovations. The pool deck needs repairs. There are lots of leaks. The filters need to be upgraded. We’d like to use less chlorine,” and so on. She said this firm will come back with recommendations.

“Where is the leaking water going?” asked John Allen after hearing that the pool went through millions of gallons of water this summer.

“It’s not evident anywhere,” said Lolatte. She guessed that perhaps it was under the parking area, but really didn’t know. Allen remained concerned that it was going somewhere.

The project was approved as part of the FY14 Capital Plan, so the board authorized the $25,000 expense.

Brattleboro Committee Appointments

The board nominated a number of Brattleboro citizens to various town committees: Lacey Kowalczyk to BASIC (Skatepark), Rebecca Balint to Development Review Board as alternate, David Petrie as a Fence Viewer, and Jane Wheeler to the Senior Solutions Board.

(The board couldn’t resist cracking a joke about Fence Viewers. In fact, we now have all three Fence Viewer positions filled, and have had two active cases in the last two years. Ahem…)

Also appointed were Donald Dompier, Evan Chadwick, Richard Sullivan, Bob Rueter, and Randy Smith to the new Skating Rink Committee. John DeAngelis, Lester Humphreys, and Tim Cuthbertson were interviewed but failed to get the required votes.

Brattleboro PACE Program Management

This agenda item wasn’t ready for prime time, so they passed over it and will return to the topic at a later meeting.

Comments | 5

  • Thanks and correction

    Thanks, as always, for this detailed write-up of the meeting. I really appreciate the depth of these reports.

    One correction on the financial report regarding recognition of revenue — it now says:

    “O’Connor said the town recognizes revenue when it is billed. Receivables show how much has been paid to date. “If we don’t collect the full amount, we have to defer costs.”

    When we do not collect the expected amount from the town billing of taxes, the town then defers revenue (not costs). This will decrease our year-end surplus. If we deferred costs it would increase our year-end surplus.

    The delinquent tax amount is an issue that will need to be tracked closely. It is up $100k this year, but we haven’t hit the new amounts for the police/fire expenses yet. And, our water and sewer will take a big jump. If we don’t collect our taxes in a timely way this could be trouble for the town in the future.

  • Thanks, Chris

    Thanks for the write-up, Chris. Very interesting about the police surveillance, how it echoes the national hullabaloo, and of course the fence viewer.

  • Greatly appreciate these

    Greatly appreciate these write-ups!

  • Brattleboro voted against the "Patriot Act"

    Without knowing the specifics, I’m just wondering if this new surveillance violates the RTM vote of a decade ago…

    Of course without having the PD report and too pressed for time right now to look up the vote in the old iBratt site I can only raise the question.

    Thanks for the great report, Chris!

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