Selectboard Meeting Notes: Public Works in the Spotlight, Few Women Apply For Town Manager Job

The night belonged to the Department of Public Works. From project updates and truck purchases to the spotlight of a departmental presentation, Steve Barrett and Hannah O’Connell had their hands full with budgets, outlines, explanations, and answers.

The Selectboard was informed that Brattleboro’s FY13 budget has been completed and the town ended up with a small surplus in the General Fund.

And of over 60 applications received, we learn that only four women applied for the job of Brattleboro Town Manager. A new citizen committee of an indeterminate number of members will help with the second round of interviews.


Elm Street remains closed after last week’s large thunderstorm, began Chair David Gartenstein. He said the Department of Public Works would continue to do repairs and the Town would help property owners with damage as best they can.

He also offered condolences to Steve Barrett for a loss in his family.

Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland expressed his appreciation to the Department of Public Works for their response “to 5 inches of rain in 1.5 hours.” Hannah O’Connell and Al Franklin were especially helpful, he said.

For Selectboard comments and committee reports, David Schoales thanked John O’Connor for a tutorial in budgets. He added that a downtown team of consultants had given good suggestions for improvements. “I’m usually skeptical of those things, but was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this.” He said they’d return to help implement some of the ideas generated.

Donna Macomber reported that the Arts Committee is looking for places in town for local art. She said the Selectboard meeting room was a candidate for adding artwork to the walls. Publication of an arts guide is coming, and the angel project is getting good feedback.

Public Participation

There was no public participating Tuesday evening.

Liquor Commissioners – The Grille of Brattleboro

Acting as Liquor Commissioners, the Brattleboro Selectboard unanimously approved a first class liquor license for The Grille of Brattleboro, a new Canal Street establishment owned by Michael Gouin. They did not grant his request for an outside consumption permit but, as it happens, did not reject it either.

Gouin said that he and his wife will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at the restaurant formerly known as Champ’s Pizza. He said the menu will be similar to a diner menu like Chelsea Royal, and he hoped to build a deck at the back of the building or perhaps have some tables out front for public seating when the weather permits.

Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland said the board could grant the liquor permit, but the Zoning Administrator would need to approve the outside space, and possibly the Development Review Board.

Gouin said he didn’t know anyone else who had to go before the DRB for outside seating. “I’m not sure why I’m being asked to do this. Why ask for this all of a sudden?”

David Gartenstein said the Zoning Administrator would decide if a permit would be needed for outdoor seating, and his ruling could be appealed to the DRB. The Selectboard shouldn’t weigh in yet, he advised.

“I hear both sides,” said John Allen.  “There is a line in the sand here, but who is drawing it?  I hear what you are saying, but I don’t know who makes the decision on when the DRB steps in.”

Kate O’Connor said she didn’t have enough information to make a decision.

“We’re being asked if the outside consumption permit be granted, so we need to ask where it will be served, if they are in uncontrolled parking areas, if they are restricted,” said Gartenstein. “We need to look at these things.”

“We should do the same thing we did with Arkham,” said Allen. “They didn’t go before the DRB.”

David Schoales shifted the questions back to the requirements. “We always get a police a fire report. Without that, it is hard to grant the permit.”

“I want to see a plan for how you will set it up. We asked Arkham for one,” added Allen. “I have no problem with that.”

“You are stepping on both sides there,” observed Gouin.

Gartenstein reiterated what he hoped to see. “I’d like a specific plan for where it will be served outside, how big the area is, is it restricted from the parking lot, does it have a fence around it,” he said. “All of those things before I can vote on this.”

“The outside consumption isn’t that important,” Gouin said. “I’ll withdraw it.” He said he didn’t have the information they wanted, and winter was coming. 

The liquor license was approved, with no outside consumption request attached to it.

Water and Sewer Commissioners

The Brattleboro Selectboard continues to receive updates on the Waste Water Treatment Plant and Pump Station project. Hannah O’Connell and Steve Barrett gave the report.

Barrett said they were “looking for a close out date” with PC Construction. For WWTP geeks, work continues in the start-up, testing and optimization of the two phase digestion process and SCADA control system. The testing will take a while. 

The power co-generation system was running well during a test, Barrett reported, but the storms last week caused power outages that triggered emergency backup and equipment failure. He said they are still trying to find out what went wrong.

The monthly report says that Hoyle Tanner and the Town of Brattleboro are negotiating with contractors over change orders. PC Construction has submitted their most recent payment request, but Hoyle Tanner says work remains to be completed. Barrett said the contract has provisions damages of $1,500 day, but no decisions have been made yet.

The new plant has had lower than expected flows, said Barrett. He explained that the trend is downward. As rates go up, people conserve. As people replace appliances, more efficient models use less water.

Spring Tree Pump Station is substantially complete, with just a few items remaining on the to-do list.  Barrett said it was a tricky job, but it went well.

O’Connell reported that plans for a gravity line for Black Mountain’s sewer remain under review by VTrans, and the town is working to secure easements for the project from abutters.

The town received a small credit for using less Bridge Steel Coating, saving us $367.

Finance Director John O’Connor said the project remains within budget. Of $31,607,462.50 in total financing from six funding sources. $1,752,331.61 remains. Barrett said about $1 million is still owed to the contractor.

Also in the monthly report was news that Hoyle Tanner is looking at the costs associated with the delays and will be creating an amendment to their contract for the Selectboard to consider. They expected the project to be done in July, and need to cover their additional time spent due to the unfinished construction.

Lastly, the Selectboard signed a declaration of official intent to “reimburse certain expenditures from proceeds of indebtedness.” This is an official way of saying that the Black Mountain pump station work will be paid for in accordance with law when bond funds are available.

FY13 Year End Report

Finance Director John O’Connor said the year ended with about a $75,000 surplus for the Town of Brattleboro’s General Fund.

With the fiscal year completed in June, total General Fund expenditures were 99.81% of what was budgeted. That closes the year with a surplus of $839,785 of which $765,000 will be spent on Capital projects in the next year.

Utility Fund expenditures were at 88.73% with a surplus of $566,389.  The fund was up due to rising connection fees for water and sewer, and some depreciation for the Waste Water Treatment Plant taking effect.

The Parking Fund ended up at 97.17% with a surplus of $35,802.

The Town was owed $4,155,932.35 in outstanding loans, and $438,827 was available to grant or loan out.

O’Connor said it had been an active grant year. 32 grants were active at the close of the year, 33 had been closed, one was pending closure, and 14 grants were in the application process.

See the full numbers here.

There were a few questions about property tax collection. O’Connor said that unpaid taxes must be deferred 60 days after the close of the fiscal year. This year, deferred taxes rose $150,000 to nearly $500,000. He said these numbers show in balance sheets but not in the budget summary.

“This shows we had 12 million in billed taxes, and we collect 99.08%,” said David Gartenstein.

O’Connor said tax sales were coming up, but some properties are hard to sell.

Monthly Financial Report with John O’Connor

O’Connor continued his reports with a look at the monthly finances for August 2013 (FY14).

With about 17% of this fiscal year complete, O’Connor said there were no obvious trends, nor any cause for alarm. All three Funds were roughly as expected.

Just over $16,000 has been spent on Police and Fire Facility work.

The Town has $432,500 to grant or loan out. There are 38 active grants and 11 in the application process.

Departmental Report – Public Works

In their ongoing quest to better know their departments, the Brattleboro Selectboard invited the Department of Public Works to their Tuesday meeting for an overview presentation to the board. Hannah O’Connell and Steve Barrett gave the presentation on behalf of their department.

The Department of Public Works is comprised of five divisions, with Highways and Utilities being the primary work for the department. The Highways part of the department would be the focus of the presentation.

It’s a large department, with over 35 full time employees doing maintenance and highway work. Utilities employees are in addition to those numbers, said Barrett.

He said the DPW spends $1.4 million on highways and $4 million on utilities each year, and oversees projects large and small.

There are morning meetings to set the work schedule, and weekly assignments are shared by supervisors keeping track of schedules and employees.

DPW participates in many committee meetings and are brought into the planning process for large projects. The department writes and applies for their own grants, and prepares budgets for projects.

Barrett said they respond to public concerns. “We actively answer the phones.” He said follow-up for complaints is often in person.

The department has an office manager who answers phones and acts as a central dispatch officer for workers out on projects. She also handles payroll.

There is an engineer technician working for both the highway and utility divisions to help with construction inspections, database maintenance, GIS mapping, and as a water treatment backup operator.

O’Connell said the department is responsible for 50 miles of paved and 32 miles of gravel roads (gravel helps keeps the roads from blowing away), extensive sidewalks, culverts, 52 bridges, retaining walls and more. There are 83 miles of plow routes.

David Gartenstein asked how this compared with other towns, speculating that urban centers spend more to maintain their infrastructure than rural towns.

Barrett said it was true that we would spend more. More paving, he explained, leads to more demands on drainage. In-town locations have more runoff because they have fewer parking lots and large flat roofs; rural areas have less due to fewer impervious surfaces. 

Barrett said it was hard to compare towns. “Each town is unique,” he told the board. Some have more hills and more pumping, some treat their water and others do not.

“Maintenance costs exceed capital outlay,” Moreland told the board.

O’Connell continued the presentation, explaining that the DPW helps with washouts, mowing, line striping, street sweeping, brush trimming, and preparation of roads for major paving projects. They maintain in-town catch basins, plus culverts and bridges.

Gartenstein asked if the street sweeper was necessary. “It’s expensive to maintain.”

Barrett said that by using less sand in the winter, the amount of sweeping has dropped over the years. He said the machine is used to clean up glass after accidents, and to clean dirt and dust from the streets each spring. In the fall it is used to clear leaves.

Gartenstein asked about the sidewalk plow. Barrett said it’s use had dropped, too. 

“In 1995 we had three plows doing 18 miles of sidewalks. After budget reductions, staff was reduced to 10 or 11 miles and one person,” he said. He added that it can sometimes take over a week to clear the route after a snowstorm.

O’Connell pressed on with the presentation. The DPW is responsible for 52 bridges of varying size and structure, all of which get washed in the spring to remove salt. She said they have a small maintenance crew that repairs over 60 vehicles and most DPW equipment, boilers, gas pumps.

“Just about anything except transmissions,” said Barrett. “And work under warranty.”

O’Connell said unanticipated expenses hit the DPW each year in the form of rain and snow storms, water main breaks, washouts, retaining wall failures, and fires.

Barrett said they had made progress with a schedule that starts at midnight, use of community service and student labor, the computerization of their GPS system, more efficient vehicles, automated salting control to reduce salt use, and more efficient boilers.

O’Connell said they had no lift for large vehicles, the office needs better systems for handling phone calls, for time, and for billing. She said that deferring maintenance costs means that projects are becoming bigger and more costly than had preventative work had been done.

Barrett said that roads in poor condition were worth spending money to maintain rather than solely focus on the really terrible roads. He said some roads in town haven’t been repaved in 30 years.

He told the board that the salt shed on Fairground road is an original fairground building, and the DPW facility was built in the 1950’s. Looking at the big picture is something the department is trying to do to reduce long-term costs.

Asked about 5% increases and decreases, Barrett said that a drop of five percent would mean a reduction in services and deferred maintenance, which increase long-term costs. “We help get people to work and school, and help get emergency services around,” he told them.

If the budget went up five percent, “we’d address issues we’d eliminated, like guard rail repair,” said Barrett.

Donna Macomber asked what the ideal road repaving schedule would look like. Barrett said every 15 years on average, depending on traffic. “Seven years for main roads,” he estimated.

She asked when the Town dispatch assisted the DPW. Barrett said on weekends and off hours they help relay messages to a department employee working on call. O’Connell said the DPW also keeps Central Dispatch informed of road repairs and closings to keep everyone informed.

Three Pick-up Trucks for DPW

Brattleboro’s Department of Public Works got permission from the Selectboard to purchase three pick-up trucks from Shearer Chevrolet. By using a state purchasing contract to purchase the vehicles and saving a bit with two trade-ins, the total cost comes to $84,993.

Two new trucks will be 1/2 ton 5.3 liter, 8 cylinder gas engines with bed liners. The third will be 1 ton 6.0 liter, 8 cylinder that comes with a plow and bed liner.

David Schoales asked why a diesel vehicle wasn’t chosen. He also asked if the DPW had considered natural gas as a fuel.

Barrett said a diesel engine would be more expensive, and not good for the truck’s intended use at the Waste Water Treatment Plant. “Payback wouldn’t be effective.” As for natural gas, he said they had tried an electric vehicle and small vehicles, but haven’t yet explored natural gas vehicles.

Brattleboro will reuse one of the older truck models as a replacement for a Municipal Center vehicle that failed inspection.

Pole Petition From Fairpoint

Fairpoint requested and received permission to put some DSL internet equipment inside a town right of way on Ames Hill Road.

Gary King of the DPW approved of the plans after meeting with Fairpoint to work out the location (further from the road than existing poles). 

The Selectboard voted to allow them to be able to install their two new cabinets and stub poles.

Mobile Food Cart Permit Fee

Mobile food cart vendors will soon pay the Town of Brattleboro $30 to cover the costs of administering a new permit to allow them to operate their carts on private property in town. This decision accompanies zoning changes for mobile food carts made earlier this year.

Carts of public property will need to get a vendor’s license. Those on private property will pay the new fee.

The fee covers work involved to administer the permits.

Everything takes effect January 1, 2014.

New Skating Rink Boiler

Carol Lolatte, Director of Recreation and Parks, was in a fender bender said David Gartenstein. She wasn’t seriously injured, but she was a bit banged up by someone Gartenstein said was both drinking and texting.

She made it to the meeting, though, to suggest to the board that they accept a $38,215 contract to replace the boiler and hot water heater at the Nelson Withington Skating Rink at Living Memorial Park in Brattleboro.

Dead River and Jewett Plumbing bid on the project, and Lolatte suggested going with the lower bid. Dead River’s bid was $532 less, so they will be doing the work to replace an 18 year old oil-fired boiler and 40 year old water storage tank with two new high-efficiency LPG-fired boilers and hot water heaters.

Lolatte said the work was needed regardless of the compressor decisions to be made in the coming months, unless a high end option for the compressors was being contemplated. She doubted a high end plan would be considered.

“This is for heat and hot water.,” she told the board. “180 gallons of hot water are needed for the Zamboni, eight to ten times a day.” She said the system will heat the locker rooms, warming area, office, snack bar, and bathrooms. Of the current boiler she said “it is old and undependable right now.”

David Schoales thought that the need for this work might be eliminated when the compressor research is complete.  “If it isn’t broken, I’m hesitant to replace it.”

Lolatte wanted to correct any impression that the boiler wasn’t broken. “We do have breakdowns. We are having issues with it.” She didn’t think it would make it another year without more repairs and lost rink time. A repair can cost between $200 and $800 per incident, she told the board.

“And it breaks at the most inappropriate time,” said John Allen. “I see both sides, I see the concern. I have faith in Carol.”

Lolatte pointed to energy savings. “This will let us be all propane at the rink, and will save money on fuel costs.”

The board agreed and approved the contract with a vote of 5-0.

DUI Enforcement Grant

The Selectboard accepted and appropriated a $5,000 grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety DUI Enforcement Program. It will be used to reimburse police salaries and other expenses related to DUI enforcement.

OP Enforcement Grant

The Selectboard also accepted and appropriated a $2,000 grant from the Governor’s Highway Safety OP Enforcement Program. It will be used to reimburse salaries and other expenses related to enforcement of laws relating to distracted or aggressive driving and speeding.

John Allen wondered if Carol cared to comment. She declined.

OP stands for occupant protection.

Municipal Planning Grant

This $20,000 grant application, if approved, would help cover costs associated with the large Planning Department task of rewriting zoning ordinances. 

Planing Director Rod Francis told the board that the grant would require a $6,000 match, and that the funds would be added to $30,000 already set aside for the project (an amount that could cover the required matching funds.)

The board was told at a recent meeting that total costs for the project could exceed $100,000.

The Brattleboro Selectboard voted in favor of forwarding the grant application to the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. They also voted in favor of signing a resolution adopting the grant, as required in the grant application.

Town Manager Search Update

Chair David Gartenstein said the Vermont League of Cities and Towns had received 62 applications in response to the job advertisement for a new Brattleboro Town Manager. While there was a wide range of experience represented, only four women applied for the job, which he called a disappointment.

Some applicants had years of town managing experience and some had little or none. Some were lawyers, some were businesspeople, and others came from municipal positions.

Gartenstein said the board had begun reviewing the applications in executive session to narrow the list for first round interviews. These will be in executive session with three town employees observing. The goal, said Gartenstein, would be to narrow the list further to 2-3 candidates that can be brought for second round interviews.

In the second round, candidates will meet with a citizen committee, employee group, and the Selectboard, and will tour the town with Patrick Moreland.

“A wide range of applicants,” agreed John Allen.  “Yep.”

Formation of Ad Hoc Town Manager Search Citizen Committee

The Selectboard voted to form an ad hoc committee of citizens to help advise them on the search for a new Town Manager. An unspecified number of members will provide feedback to the Selectboard on second round interviews with applicants.

The committee will meet with candidates in confidential executive sessions to ask questions approved by the Selectboard.

The Selectboard established the committee, but set no limit on how many people could serve. 

If you are interested in applying, let the Town Manager’s office know your intentions by Thursday, September 26 at 5 p.m..

“A good committee to get on,” suggested John Allen.

(UPDATE: Wednesday morning’s press release says the committee will have five members.)

Committee Vacancies

There remain opportunities for you to get involved and to serve the town by volunteering for various Brattleboro committees. 

Specifically, you could lend your assistance and expertise to the Agricultural Advisory Board, Arts Committee, CPCC, Development Review Board as alternate, Honor Roll, Inspector of Lumber, Shingles and Wood, Senior Solutions representative, Town Service Officer, and Tree Advisory Committee.

As always, let your intentions be known to the Town Manager’s office. There are no deadlines, so apply any time the spirit moves you.

Town Manager Application Executive Session

The Brattleboro Selectboard ended their Tuesday meeting by stating their intention to go into executive session for a personnel matter (reviewing more job applications), and planned to take no further action when they came back out.

Comments | 2

  • Don't drink and text and drive

    I have to say that I was pretty amazed to hear that the driver that hit Carol was both drinking AND texting WHILE driving.

    Drinking and texting while sitting on the floor in an empty room is a bad idea.

    While driving? Please don’t do that, people.

    • Exactly

      I used to be a texting while driving person. Believe it or not, it was the AT&T commercials that finally got to me, you know, the ones that show the text that was sent/received before a horrific crash. I have not done it in over a year. It is so not worth it. No matter how busy you are it is not worth it. You are someone’s precious cargo, and the other people that are sharing the road in what ever way are someone’s precious cargo too…

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