Brattleboro’s recognition of MLK, Jr. Day remains unresolved, with the Selectboard asking for more information to compare the options of adding and swapping holidays for employees.
The board had a long conversation about the future of the Melrose property, and specifically whether it would or could become a burden on the town. The Brattleboro Housing Authority said they didn’t want it to be a burden, but the board wanted further clarification before approving the PUD for Red Clover Commons.
The Entergy Funds committee is looking at their options, the skatepark visits nearly led to fisticuffs, town finances are preliminarily good, and the Selectboard approved goals. All this and more below.
David Schoales was absent, perhaps on a secret mission.
Chair David Gartenstein began with comments on the skatepark site visits done the day before. It didn’t sound as though they went well. “It seems pretty clear that there is a lot of controversy and acrimony about the skatepark and where it will be,” he said. “It spilled over and nearly came to blows yesterday.” He said that one factor lacking from the site selection committee criteria was “perceptions by neighbors on their quality of life,” and that the Selectboard needs to include such information in making their decision. He said the skatepark would be on the next, or possibly next after that, regular Selectboard meeting. “Our intention is to move it along as quickly as possible.”
He also noted that previous Selectboard would often take off every other meeting during the summer, but that they would be pressing on. “There is too much to be done.”
Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland noted that with the approval of the CEDS economic plan for the region, Brattleboro and other towns are eligible for significant grant funds from two new programs. One is for supporting public works and infrastructure and the other is for economic adjustment. The average grant award, he said, was $1.7 million.
For Selectboard comments and committee reports, John Allen reported that he didn’t know what was going on with the Police Fire facility project and wondered if anyone else had any insights. Moreland said the Chiefs had been struggling with the new idea of a combined Elliot street facility, adding that it was more difficult than originally thought.
Donna Macomber said the Arts committee had a discussion regarding capitalizing on the arts in Brattleboro, and that the Core Arts phase two findings were due in the next couple of months.
Allen asked if there were any reports on the Brooks House. Kate O’Connor said the two colleges were moving in this week, and that a downtown event to celebrate the re-opening was in the early stages of planning.
Gartenstein said that the Traffic Safety Committee had been looking at the speed and traffic counts of various locations in town, and that the average speed on Putney Road near the West River bridge was 38 mph, much more than the posted 25 mph. They may decide to raise the speed limit to better reflect reality.
Paul Canon told the board he was having trouble getting the police to take notice of what he alleged was a crack house on Clark street. “The cops say they are busy and will get to me when they can. An officer should show up if you call.” He wondered what he needed to do to get the cops to come.
David Gartenstein thanked him and said the board would look into it and follow up. “I don’t have any response to give you right now.”
“Should I put up a sign saying Crack Dealing at 101 Clark?” asked Cannon.
Brattleboro has not officially recognized Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the Selectboard was informed by a local business earlier this year that, among other things, visitors to the town find it strange to pay for parking on the national holiday.
After many months considering the situation, Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland reported back to the Brattleboro Selectboard with a list of options that could allow Brattleboro to begin to recognize the holiday.
The goal as preserving the current number of holidays for town employees, and Moreland’s solutions focused on eliminating other holidays from the schedule to make room for MLK, Jr. Day rather than giving employees another day off.
The top candidates he presented were the day after Thanksgiving, and the half days of Christmas and New Year’s eves. “Neither is an actual holiday. They are holidays of convenience. I don’t think staff would desire losing either one.”
Town employees currently observe New Year’s Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.
Town employee Jan Anderson said that employees would see taking away the day after Thanksgiving as taking away a four day weekend. She suggested a new holiday in October to honor all forms of civil rights work. “Moving holidays around is problematic.” She also wanted it to be clear that no one got parking tickets on MLK day.
Moreland took a moment to remind the board that the half day holidays were offered in lieu of pay increases to staff.
Kate O’Connor said she was not in favor of us “doing another holiday on our own. Either do MLK day or not. I’m for doing it. So, what do we switch out?”
Donna Macomber asked what the ramifications of simply adding another holiday to the mix would be. “There are few holidays for town employees. If it is possible to add another one, I’m in favor.”
David Gartenstein suggested Columbus Day be swapped out, following what the schools do. He asked Moreland to come back to the board with the financial ramifications of adding a holiday, and verification of state and national holidays.
Richard Evers read a letter to the editor he had written suggesting that perhaps the owner of Everyone’s Books, the petitioner for the holiday, should close for MLK day and give their employees off rather than making accusations. “She’d pay her respects and spare herself mortification.”
Paul Canon said that if we celebrate Martin Luther King day, we should have two Christmases and two Easters so the taxpayers can pay for everything. “Just leave it alone and keep it the way it is.”
A decision will be made at an upcoming meeting.
Preliminary FY14 Year-End Report
Finance Director John O’Connor gave the Brattleboro Selectboard a preliminary review of the FY14 year-end financials for the General Fund.
O’Connor said that he forecast a year end deficit of $461,922.49, which was actually good news. Readers will recall that the town did some budget jujitsu to conform to the wording of a Representative Town Meeting decision, spreading the impact of the action over two budget cycles. As David Gartenstein summarized, “the deficit is due to the 2013 budget, otherwise we’re in the black $350,000.”
O’Connor said “We’re in good shape. We’re doing very well on delinquent taxes. We’re going to have a good year this year and I feel positive about that.”
Gartenstein noted that there were savings in tipping fees and streetlights due to recent actions by the town to confront those line items.
Living Memorial Park Snow Sports Agreement
Brattleboro’s agreement with Living Memorial Park Snow Sports to fund, maintain and operate the ski tow and hill has had a successful history, and the Selectboard voted to continue the relationship for another four years.
LMPSS was also formally granted the authority to sell snacks to earn additional income. Jake Dixon, of LMPSS, said they still charge the incredibly low price of $5 a ticket, and it keeps a lot of kids active. She said that with better snowmaking in recent years, the group is able to serve a variety of people.
Gartenstein noted that the town pays for insurance.
Public Hearing – PUD for Red Clover Commons
Brattleboro Planning Services presented the Selectboard with a change to the zoning ordinance for the town, establishing a planned unit development (PUD) for the Brattleboro Housing Authority’s new Red Clover Commons at 464 Canal Street. It was approved, but only after a long discussion over possible burdens to the town and how they might be avoided.
Marshall Wheelock of the Brattleboro Housing Authority told the board that 55 units are planned for the complex, and the PUD has been reviewed by the Planning Commission, fits with the Town Plan*, and will be used to replace housing located in the floodway. After Selectboard approval, they would get final approval from the Development Review Board.
Wheelock said they would purchase the property after getting all approvals, including an Act 250 permit to be filed this week.
David Gartenstein asked if the reasons for the PUD were fitting 55 units on a small parcel, plus doing a residential project in a commercial zone. Planning Director Rod Francis said yes. “We don’t have good rules about large apartment buildings.” He added that the town wants to develop that area as a neighborhood center. “It’s a good fit.”
On the cusp of approval, the meeting took a turn when Gartenstein asked about language in the submitted letters mentioning that the current Melrose property could become a “burden to the town.” While he saw the Red Clover project as excellent, he wanted better language or assurances that Melrose could not become a burden to the town, and asked what sort of burden they envisioned.
BHA Director Chris Hart said that the BHA board wanted to make it clear they would not allow it to become a burden on the town, and apologized for using language that spooked the Selectboard. She said they knew that if, for example, the buildings were simply boarded up it would be unattractive, and a burden, and that the BHA board was very much against any possibility of that happening.
Gartenstein wanted further clarification, as did Kate O’Connor.
“Could a skatepark go in there?” asked John Allen. Hart said yes. Allen asked what benefit there was to holding up the approval of the PUD.
“I think best interests of town require a greater level of specificity,” said Gartenstein. He said the BHA had to do more than just want to avoid a burden.
“It’s not just wanting,” said Hart. “The board is committed to a good resolution. We have 25 State agency people coming in September to gather and talk with us about all their layers of regulations on Melrose, and to help us find a good path for the property. We don’t know how it will be used. We know some things it can’t be used for, but don’t know all the good possibilities, or what agencies and funders might come up with when we put them all in one room. It can’t cost money. It has to be a positive outcome.”
Francis agreed. “It’s complicated. Fair market value is difficult. It’s an old public housing development and not marketable. It is in a flood area, so buyers can’t use federal funds. They’d need cash. Buildings would need to be razed. Options are limited. Alternate uses run up against floodway regulations. Plus the buildings are of historic significance and can’t be knocked down. That’s where we’re at.”
“How is the town burdened?” asked Gartenstein, again.
Hart said the intention was to state that it will not be a burden.
Donna Macomber hoped a document with some possibilities for the property would emerge from the meeting in September. Hart said they hoped for five or so options.
John Allen asked if the tax structure of the property would change if it wasn’t used for public housing. Francis said yes, but that the low value would mean low taxes. He said that the property could again be used for housing, but an owner’s ability to do that easily is “severely constrained by regulations.”
Chris Connelly of the BHA asked the Selectboard to trust the Brattleboro Housing Authority. She said they worked hard for three years after Irene to get this far, and “we aren’t going to board it up and let it die.”
Gartenstein reconsidered. “If the minutes say that board raised concerns about disposition of Melrose by 2018 in two phases, and town will have no property interest, and it will not burden the town,” he said, “then I’m comfortable with the motion.”
The PUD was approved by a vote of 4 to 0.
*Brattleboro’s Town Plan, by the way, was voted the 2014 Plan of the Year by the Vermont Planners Association.
Entergy Settlement Funds Working Group Update
Brattleboro’s Entergy Settlement Funds Working Group (ESFWG) is a new committee tasked with identifying and advocating for Brattleboro’s interests in the Entergy Settlement Funds and Entergy Clean Energy Funds. Rod Francis reported on their first meeting and raised questions for the board regarding how they wished the group to proceed.
The group is just getting started but has confirmed that any applicant for funds with a proposed project in Brattleboro will be required to obtain a letter of support from the Town attesting that proposed project conforms to the Town Plan. The WRC, BDCC and SeVEDS will also review local projects.
Francis told the board that the group is exploring ways in which clear criteria can be derived from the Economic Development chapter of the Town Plan, and that they hope to use the entire Town Plan as a guiding document for project review. The group feels any review process should consider all known impacts and not just financial benefits.
The first question the committee had for the board was whether they would like the committee to simply review for a letter of support, or go deeper and rank the applications to convey the extent of municipal support. Francis said they could award points for stronger applications, or could follow up letters of support with letters of financial commitment of small business assistance loan funds. “Picking winners requires a policy decision,” he said.
David Gartenstein wasn’t opposed to ranking, but Donna Macomber and John Allen had reservations. Gartenstein countered that they had been looking for ways to become more aggressive about reestablishing our commercial base. Macomber asked to hear the other questions from the group.
Francis said the second question was whether the town would be interested in raising the maximum small business loan from $40,000 to $100,000.
The third question was whether the town should apply for funds to boost the small business loan fund.
The final question was whether to try to look for projects that would be funded by both the clean energy funds and the settlement funds. Clean Energy funds could be used to help transition more schools to wood chip or pellet heat, and possibly to strengthen the infrastructure for this energy source.
Macomber was in favor of increasing the loan amount and applying to boost the loan fund. She liked the idea of projects that tied the two funds together, but still wasn’t sure the Selectboard should pick who gets the money.
Allen said he liked the first three suggestions, but wasn’t sure about projects that could meet both fund requirements, saying that it could be staff time spent on long shots.
Kate O’Connor said that the process is political, and in the end the governor will decide. She said letters from the Selectboard in support of projects could be an influence on the decision. Or not.
Gartenstein said he was open to all four ideas being explored.
Patrick Moreland said the town was in a good position to apply to bolster the small business assistance program, having many years of successful loans as experience. He cautioned, however, against “picking winners.” He said that business activity was a good thing, as long as the business is legal. “They are all good. Picking winners can be difficult”
Applications are due September 23, but should be done by the 9th to get necessary approvals, and awards will be announced by early December.
“The timeline will be challenging for all but projects that are ready-to-go,” said Francis.
Allen hoped word would get out that Brattleboro was business-friendly. “The door is open. We need 20 more like Commonwealth Yogurt.”
AOT Grant – Western Ave Surface Maintenance
Brattleboro’s Department of Public Works received $150,000 from the Vermont Agency of Transportation for surface maintenance of the Western Avenue roads between I-91 and Edward Heights, from mile marker 4.178 to marker 6.140.
The grant will pay for resurfacing the existing roadway, plus pavement markings and necessary signage.
VDEMHS Special Operations Training Grant Application
The Brattleboro Fire Department was approved to apply for funds for equipment and training in the amount of $73,492.62. The money, if granted, will be used to cover shift fill reimbursement and overtime for training in ropes and swift-water rescuing, large vehicle extraction, and structural collapse rescue training.
The department also plans to buy 2000 feet of rope.
1st Wednesdays Program Grant Application
Brooks Memorial Library was given permission to apply for $600 from the Vermont Department of Libraries in support of the 1st Wednesdays Lecture programs.
Brattleboro’s average monthly attendance at the lectures is the second highest in the state, just behind Manchester.
Depot Street Parking – Second Reading and Public Hearing
Earlier this summer the board had a first reading to consider changes to parking along Depot street. Some drivers have been parking on the easterly side of the narrow road, making it difficult for others to get to spaces. Tuesday night the board held a second reading and public hearing.
This ordinance change outlaws parking on the easterly side of Depot street.
Town Manager Search Citizen Committee Discussion
David Gartenstein gave an update on the latest and greatest search for a new Town Manager. He said that while he had mentioned the possibility of reconstituting the Citizen Advisory Committee, he spoke with the person who disclosed information prematurely and reiterated the need for confidentiality. He had nothing for the board to take action upon.
The Brattleboro Selectboard appointed Anne Brinton to the Energy Committee and reappointed Michael Fairchild to the Conservation Committee.
Adopt Selectboard Goals
The board voted in favor of their goals for the coming year, after trimming the list of items that were not goals but questions, or phrases, such as “What should we do?”
After some rapid striking of the vague, it sounded as if the edited list ended up including the following:
1. Consider the Town’s role in economic development.
2. Attract new businesses and business development.
3. Promote town arts assets.
Police & Fire Facility Project
1. How do we successfully move this project forward?
1. How do we sustain services?
2. Should we consider restructuring the budget? Create program budgets?
3. Explore new sources of revenue.
Hire a new Town Manager
Examine Employee Handbook
1. Examine Evaluation Process
1. Pay As You Throw
2. Examine Regional Hub Issue
3. Downtown Improvement District
4. Conscience of Collaboration
5. Local hiring – Police Fire Project
6. Get focused – make what we have work better.