The energy of the Brattleboro Selectboard was spent on many issues of energy – from a demonstration of carbon use during a fuel oil purchase to appointing, oddly, multiple weighers of coal. Energy improvements were contemplated, but not firm enough to take hold quite yet.
The conversation about diversity continued, with a status report and a plan to survey experts and others in the community before jumping in with decided plans. Green Street and surrounding areas will get a new network of trails. And the board asked for an ordinance to ban single use plastic bags from retail outlets.
Chair Kate O’Connor reminded everyone that there will be a parade and fireworks on the 4th of July in Brattleboro. The parade is at 10 am downtown then the festivities move to Living Memorial Park for the rest of the day, with food, music, and fireworks.
Town Manager Peter Elwell reported that the pool was repaired in time and opened Tuesday at 1 pm. He said the recent heavy rain damaged gravel roads, and washed out others. Black Mountain Road seems to have gotten the worst of it, and early estimates for damages are around $25,000. Private property was damaged as well.
Elwell was pleased to report that the state agreed to Brattleboro’s suggestion that Rt. 30 remain 40 mph from Brattleboro to the I-91 bridge. The only caveat – Brattleboro will be responsible for enforcement of the limit.
Elwell reminded everyone that the switch to single stream recycling begins on July 3. Do as you do now, or take advantage of combining all recycling in one container. Your choice. The Old Ferry Rd. center will accept drop off recycling once the Fairground Road containers go away.
John Allen reported on a positive WSWMD meeting, noting that everything was pretty much moving ahead.
Tim Wessel said the most recent Traffic Safety Committee meeting focused on wheelchairs and sidewalks. He pointed out that property owners can help make it easier for everyone to get around by trimming back hedges and clearing walkways of garbage cans and recycling containers as soon as possible after pickup. He added that a Rt. 5 safety evaluation would be taking place to look at the sidewalk-less stretch between the bridge and NECCA.
O’Connor noted that NECCA was now in and using their new building, too.
“We want people to be able to safely walk there,” said Wessel.
Stanley Lynde, of Lynde Motorsports on Flat Street, came to start a process to protect his property from extreme flooding during heavy rains. The street floods, he said, and cars go by causing waves that damage his operations. He said he was lucky Monday because John Allen came by and witnessed it firsthand.
“A no wake zone,” said Allen. “It was awful. It’s the lowest spot in Brattleboro.” He said he was mad when he saw a car go by that inundated his shop with water.
“I’m open to anything,” said Lynde.
Town Manager Elwell said that a real solution will take analysis and planning, which the Town will do, but in the short term they would loan him barricades to put out in the street during storms.
Daniel Quipp, of 350Brattleboro, wanted to verbally make note of his invitation to board members to ride bikes around town.
The Brattleboro Selectboard continued their discussion of diversity Tuesday evening, both reviewing actions taken so far and looking at next steps in a continuing process.
Chair O’Connor reviewed their decisions from the prior meeting. The board voted to create a job posting mail list, to expand the recruitment net as wide as possible, to conduct board and staff training in welcoming, inclusive environments, to increase cultural awareness and appreciation of diversity, to consider additional ideas from the community, and to have the Town Manager propose a process for promoting diversity through community engagement.
The Town Manager weighed in with work done thus far. Since the June 6th meeting, Elwell reported, the Town website has been updated, the job posting email list has begun, and discussions regarding training are underway.
Elwell said that his initial work at proposing a process for promoting diversity and community engagement has led him to the conclusion that it would be a mistake to develop this plan in a hurry or in a vacuum. “We can’t effectively plan without understanding what’s already going on.”
He’d like to reach out to a broad cross section of stakeholders to find out current activities, lessons already learned, and what sort of specifics the Town should pursue for follow-up.
This slower pace, he said, is not a reduced commitment to diversity issues, but an appreciation for the importance and complexity of the work, and the need to proceed without rushing.
Elwell proposed stakeholder meetings, opening the discussion up to anyone interested in assisting, and developing a set of specific recommendations for community engagement and Town training as next steps.
The board liked the recommendation. O’Connor said it was important to “do it right and well,” and felt his approach did just that.
Brandie Starr appreciated “seeing that we’re not the experts” and the outreach to experts in the community.
Tim Wessel said it was essentail that it become a community conversation, “not just the six of us up here.”
A woman named Becca asked what happened to the discussion of a diversity board. She was told that it could be something that gets recommended during the outreach effort, and was encouraged to tell interested people to talk with the Town Manager.
Pete Nickerson, “here for four years and 66 years on the wild side of the Mason Dixon line,” asked for a definition of diversity. He hoped it was wider than just sex, color, or sexual orientation. “Isn’t it wider?”
Elwell said it was indeed wider than the traditional legally-protected classes. David Schoales read the wider definition included in the previous meeting’s memo on the subject. It points out other examples of diversity, such as income level, education, skills, and experience that the Town considers part of the mix.
Nickerson said he was a phobic and being phobic kept him out of many things. “It’s not just black, homosexual, or female,” he explained. “I’m the only one sitting by the door. I can’t sit at the front of the bus.”
This caused a nearby woman to rise and say that she was both female and queer, but also had social anxiety, like Pete near the door. She said diversity was all about difference, and no one being left out. “I take your feelings into consideration, too” she said to Pete.
David Schoales and John Allen cautioned that there was only so much the selectboard could do, but that they would do it. “The selectboard won’t come up with a miracle. We can cast a wider net in hiring. That’s about it” said Allen.
Ezlerh, from the Root Social Justice Center, said he just returned form Detroit, where they were doing lots of community projects. He hoped any conversations would acknowledge our history, “filled with darkness,” and think of future generations.
He said “this community is great because of the work already being done. I hope it gets better from the work I put in. We all want to heal this beautiful earth. I’m excited to see what we come up with.”
Wessel reminded everyone that they were board members, but also members of the community. “We’re all in this together.”
Police-Fire Facility Projects
Town Manager Elwell gave his regular update to the selectboard on the two remaining facilities projects.
He said things were progressing well, and that the police would begin moving in to their new station within a month or so.
Central Fire Station is undergoing extensive interior work, and if all goes well the fire department can begin using some of the space in August, and all of it in November.
Everything remains within budget, as well.
“Looking great,” said Allen.
Monthly Financial Report with John O’Connor
Finance Director John O’Connor gave the board updates on all budgets as of May 30. Eleven months and 91.7% of the fiscal year is complete.
The General Fund stands at 87.4% of the annual budget. The Utilities Fund expenditures are at 88% and Parking Fund expenditures at 95.9% of their annual budgets.
The Solid Waste Disposal Fund revenues (83.4%) and expenses (81.2%) are always a month behind, with bag revenue, curbside collection costs and tipping fees recorded in June.
Brattleboro has issued just over $4 million in loans and has $461,426 available for additional loans and grants.
There are 49 active grants and 13 in the application process.
Tim Wessel asked about a line item of “railroad revenue sharing,” and was told it was a mysterious payment from the state, paid by railroads. “We get what they give us,” said O’Connor.
Kate O’Connor asked about tax revenue from AirBnB users and was told by John O’Connor that there should be 1% rooms and meals tax being collected and paid, though it was hard to know for sure.
Dale Joy suggested they search AirBnB for “Brattleboro” then make those people pay the $50 business license fee. “Look online to find them.”
Transfer to Capital Fund from General Fund
David Schoales wanted to suggest that the board transfer funds to pay for energy efficiency and conservation projects. He thought he saw $750,000 in year end surplus available, and felt it could go to energy projects to reduce future expenses.
The noble idea, however, was never proposed. Other board members felt the best time to allocate funds was during budget planning, though Brandie Starr saw some merit in a token transfer of funds to get things underway.
The Town Manager and Finance Director were also not in favor of the plan. Both felt the surplus, if any, would be closer to $200,000, and could easily be eaten up by an emergency repair.
Tim Wessel expressed the mixed feelings, of wanting to keep taxes low but also invest in something that could save money down the road and was good for the planet.
Tad Montgomery suggested that the projects might be better funded as a total package, to average the “low hanging fruit” with quick payback with some of the longer payback items. He said the Energy Committee may ask Brattleboro to sign on to the US Climate Accord.
In the end, Schoales made no motion. “I didn’t do my homework,” he said, “ and don’t want to toss a number out.
FY18 Heating Oil Bid
As has been the practice for some years, the Town of Brattleboro and the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union combine their orders for No. 2 heating fuel oil in an effort to get a better price.
For FY2018, The Town requested 77,700 gallons and the WSESU would like 63,900 gallons, for a total of 141,600 gallons. Six bids were received, with the low price being supplied by Discount Oil of Keene at $1.789 per gallon.
Other bids: Cota& Cota – $2.15, Sandri – $2.1094, Dead River – $2.0191, Barrows & Fisher – $1.936, H&B Energy – $1.93.
This price provides estimated savings, based on averages, of about $13,000.
The amount of fuel provided Daniel Quipp with an opportunity for a visual exercise. He had people hold a tape measure to see 26 feet of distance, then asked them to imagine it as a cube. He then asked them to imagine lining the streets with these cubes, from their meeting room, through town, to Guilford.
Each cube, he explained, represented one metric ton of carbon dioxide, and the line of cubes was equal to the amount of CO2 that would result from the 77,700 gallon purchase.
While acknowledging there was no reason to cancel the fuel order, he wanted to “implore you to think about responsibility for the carbon you emit. It will hang around for hundreds of years.”
John Allen pointed out that Quipp had mentioned buying heating oil himself.
“We don’t get to be perfect shining examples,” said Quipp. “I rent a drafty, poorly insulated home. I’d rather have subsidies for me to weatherize. I’d like to get off oil. I feel bad calling and ordering oil. That’s what it is to be alive right now. To know what we do is a disaster.”
Parking Lot Improvements
Zaluzny Excavating Corporation was given a contract for $293,850 worth of parking lot improvements at Tuesday’s meeting. This pays for “maintenance level” paving of Harmony, Harris, and the Gibson-Aiken lots, and some pedestrian improvements in the Harmony Lot. There will be drainage improvements near Gibson-Aiken as well.
The Preston Lot, originally part of the planned improvements, will become its own project due to not having enough money to do it now.
Dog Park Fence
Rec & Parks Director Carol Lolatte presented the selectboard with four bids for fencing at the new dog park planned for Living Memorial Park, near the anticipated skate park.
690 feet of 5 foot high black vinyl chain link fence will be installed by Cheshire Fence for $10,500. Private fundraising pays for the park, and over $19,000 has been raised for the project. (The three other bids were closer to the $19,000 amount.)
“Sorry we can’t use the Brattleboro company,” said Starr,” but the price speaks for itself.
Extrication Tool Purchase
Want a battery operated Hurst extrication tool? If you are the Brattleboro Fire Department, the answer is still yes.
A grant application for such a purchase was recently denied, and the old extrication tool is showing its age, so the department asked the Brattleboro Selectboard to make this purchase. To pay for it, they propose trimming some features from the pumper-rescue truck recently ordered, and using some other savings on proposed capital projects.
The newer tool cuts faster, and can cut through newer, harder steel.
It was noted that this replaces a gas powered tool, another small step toward reducing fuel use.
The board approved the purchase.
Promise Community Grant
Rod Francis explained a new grant received by the town. Brattleboro was one of seven Vermont communities to get money to plan, and now implement a Promise Community project.
The project, Francis explained will focus on the Green Street neighborhood, defined roughly as Canal Street to Birge, to Cherry and Estey gazebo, to Willams, To Western Ave near Avenue grocery, down High street into town. The goal is to improve walkability and position the school centrally in the community.
“The grant will fund the development of a trail netwrok,” said Francis. The project will aim to strengthen all parts of the Green Street community by connecting two town parks, Green Street school, and two neighborhoods with new trails (on existing community pathways) and community events.
The trails are described by the grant as “family-friendly and trauma-informed” and will be made with the support of the arts community. The trails, project planners hope, will improve physical and emotional health of those using them. Creating the trails will be an important part of the process, offering a chance for collaboration in the community.
The grant says common green areas will be used to strengthen family connections and deal with issues of class and generation.
Brattleboro will act as fiscal agent for the project. KidsPLAYce will manage the work and hire a project coordinator. The Green Street Promise Community Advisory Board will provide oversight.
The money was accepted, and sub-granted.
Patrick Moreland told the board that the Town of Brattleboro has done some research into a potential ban of single use plastic bags. In short, some places charge fees, while others try outright bans. Others opt of a fee and ban hybrid.
The fee approach still keeps the plastic bags in circulation, a downside he acknowledged, but encourages a behavior change by coupling their use to a small charge.
An outright ban might lead to lawsuits, or retail outlets skirting definitions by making bags slightly different than what is specifically banned, he told them.
The hybrid bans all plastic bags and puts a fee on any other alternative, which has the legal benefit of not promoting any option over another.
Essential considerations, according to the Town Attorney, are to use a standard definition, employ standard exemptions, have a uniform application of the law for all retail outlets, and have a period of education and outreach.
“We can draft an ordinance based on any path you choose,” he said.
Kate O’Connor asked for a refresh of the ordinance process, which includes first and second readings, a public hearing, public notice, and a waiting period before taking effect. She wanted it to be clear that there was an ample public process ahead for anyone with concerns or ideas to weigh in.
Starr asked if Moreland had looked at examples in other “Dylan’s Rule” states (like Vermont, where municipal government can only do what the state allows them to do.) He said yes, and that the Town Attorney felt they could impose this through the Town’s authority to regulate solid waste. He said it could be challenged for being to narrow, or capricious, or something else.
John Allen wondered why big retailers weren’t there.
“How many people look at selectboard agendas,” said O’Connor.
Tim Maciel, the petition organizer, said stores were generally behind the idea. “It speaks to who we are as a community.” He liked, and reminded the board that Brattleboro voted for, the total ban option.
Franz Reichsman said he was typical, and always brought his reusable bag to the store “and always leave it in the car.” He said he deserved to be punished, perhaps by walking back out to get the bag. He said he wasn’t sure if it were true, but he had heard that there would be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. “Not sure if it is true, but the very idea is horrifying,” he said.
The board was reminded of remarks at an earlier meeting about thinking about how decisions impact low income residents. Wessel said a free bag option was essential.
“Let’s just ban them,” suggested O’Connor. “We can get so complicated. Just ban it and let retailers decide. We don’t have to get into it.”
Dale Joy said that cloth bags work well. “We’re a conscious community. People will try to keep up with this effort.”
Allen felt paper bags could become an environmental problem. “Not if we grow hemp,” countered Starr.
“What if people use a prohibited bag,” asked Wessel. He said everyone has a bag of plastic bags, and they are handy. Others agreed, but the ban would be on retailers giving them out, not on people re-using them.
The Town will draft an ordinance based on the total ban option.
The Town of Brattleboro will sign a new memo of understanding with town staff unions regarding worker compensation in an effort to reduce rising costs associated with the benefit.
Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland said the price increases were alarming and unsustainable. Over the last 5 years, Workers Compensation insurance costs for the Town have risen 129%, an increase of $254,666. This is in part because Brattleboro has held a less than ideal rating. When the rating is not ideal, costs go up (which then will cause the rating to be even less ideal and costs to go up more…)
To escape this cycle, Moreland said, Brattleboro has worked with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to tighten up our system, such as designating Clear Choice MD Urgent Care as an official medical provider for occupational health services. The Town’s internal procedures for incident/injury review have been updated, and improvements to returning employees to some form of work as soon as possible.
Clear Choice was the only local provider of occupational health management services, said Moreland, and is using Brattleboro as a model to expand throughout Vermont. By designating them, Brattleboro can save significant amounts by avoiding the emergency room more often.
Clear Choice will designate an RN to manage the program. Injured employees would still see doctors, but information would be better coordinated.
Town Manager Elwell said that Brattleboro uses Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for annual physicals, and employees would still go to the emergency room if necessary. “Most claims can be handled at Urgent Care,” he said.
Moreland said department heads are now personally involved in each incident, to review what went wrong and how it can be avoided in the future.
John Allen felt the hospital should develop a program that the Town could use. “It would be good give and take for them to do it,” he said.
The Town’s four collective bargaining units (Brattleboro Professional Firefighters Association IAFF Local 4439, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 98, New England Police Benevolent Association Local 412, and United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers Union Local 944) approve of the proposed changes.
The annual June committee appointment session went off without a hitch. Everyone was appointed en masse, sans the Weigher of Coal.
This obsolete position dominated the appointment process this year. The seat was somehow contested, with Tim O’Connor and Ryan Stratton both wanting to take on the responsibility of waiting to be called to weigh some coal.
This caused the Selectboard to schedule an early meeting time for the purpose of interviewing the two candidates for the position that requires no work whatsoever. In this, they learned that Stratton would like to use this position as a way to explore history. O’Connor, meanwhile, had multiple years of experience waiting to be called to weigh coal.
It was a tough decision. Statutes and charters were consulted. It was possible, perhaps, though not completely and clearly permitted, to appoint both applicants to the same position.
“I want to be a risk taker,” said Starr.
And so it was done. Brattleboro has two Weighers of Coal.
Kate O’Connor said her father volunteers for the position each year because his father worked at Barrows Coal long ago.
O’Connor also noted the service of Corky Elwell and Chuck Cummings on the Nelson E. Withington Fund Advisory Committee, and the passing of Mr. Cummings.