Brattleboro became the first town in the state to ban single use plastic bags under 2.25 mil in thickness. It was the culmination of nearly a year-long effort of citizens and officials, and was adopted by a split-decision of the Brattleboro Selectboard.
The Library plans to end late fees and fines. FY19 budget revenue, capital projects and purchases, a new step for alcohol license holders to comply with, abatement of some past due taxes, and happy moments were all part of this pre-Thanksgiving meeting.
Chair Kate O’Connor wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving and invited all to the tree lighting at Pliny Park on Friday the 24th. Hot chocolate at 5:30 pm and tree lighting at 6 pm, concluded her happy news.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said he also had some news in the “happy” category. FEMA just changed Brattleboro’s community rating from 9 to 8, meaning that for property owners with flood insurance, rates should go down. He said it was a team effort to do the planning and public works to get the better rating.
There were no other committee reports or board comments, and no public participation.
Liquor Application Addendum
Acting as Liquor Commissioners, the Brattleboro Selectboard considered an addendum to the liquor license process. The new step would have applicants present their Alcohol Sales Policy to the Town. Currently they simply attest to having one.
Cassandra Holloway of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition requested the change. She provided the board with a template they could offer licensees, and also gave the Town an incident report form they could share with license holders. She volunteered to review the policies and follow up with license holders if anything was missing from their policy.
She said her program was about to begin Mystery Shoppers, age 21 and up, to test local license holders. Any information gathered would be shared with the establishment.
One gentleman rose to complain that BAPC was “pretending to be Vermont liquor inspectors and are overstepping their boundaries.” Holloway disagreed, saying it wasn’t a compliance check, and businesses ask to participate.
Holloway also suggested the board could consider alchohol density ordinances, limiting how many establishments could sell liquor in a given area, such as downtown.
Town Clerk Hilary Francis, the one who would be tasked with handling the new paperwork, had some questions. How much review should she give each application? If it was missing a significant part of a sales policy, should it be sent back or forwarded to the board? She said that in any case, it would add to the workload.
Elwell assured her that the deal called for the Town to collect the policies but not review them. “We’d note that they submitted one, to make it a matter of public record.” Francis was fine with not having to review anything.
Mr. Nickerson asked what was the problem with serving liquor, and what right do we have to tell people they can’t have liquor or sell it? He found the discussion to be patronizing and paternalizing. “It’s a free country, let’s keep it free.”
The board approved of the change.
Abate Past Due Utility Balances
Two mobile homes at Tri-Park had past due utility balances abated Tuesday by the Brattleboro Selectboard, acting as Water & Sewer Commissioners.
46 Valley Road ($266.69) and 3 Record Drive ($483.83) are the properties. One was abandoned and one was destroyed by fire. Tri-Park Cooperative is handling the demolition.
Finance Director John O’Connor said that by writing off the past due amounts, Tri-Park can move ahead with finding new, tax paying homeowners. “It’s in both our interests.”
Police-Fire Facilities Projects Update
Town Manager Elwell said Central Fire Station continues to be a hub of construction and finishing activity, with the expectation that the Brattleboro Fire Department will be using the new space before the year is finished. The new main entrance is complete, and a ribbon cutting will be planned for early in the new year.
All that remains at West Brattleboro is some finishing (by the end of the month) and landscaping (to be done in the spring).
Roof replacement and a carport are still being considered for the Police Station. Together they are estimated to cost $240,000. If approved, the remaining project bond balance will be just over $30,000.
Kate O’Connor asked if everyone was happy with the new buildings so far, and was told that yes, in general, everyone is happy.
Ordinance to Ban Single Use Plastic Bags
A modification to the mil thickness of plastic bags at the previous meeting led to a new second reading and adoption of Brattleboro’s ban of single-use plastic bags Tuesday night. The vote was 3-2, with Kate O’Connor and John Allen against.
The new thickness cutoff is 2.25 mil. Bags under this size are prohibited, with a few exemptions for bags such as those used for dry cleaning, newspapers, produce, bulk foods, uncooked foods, or meat.
O’Connor and Allen said they weren’t against the ban per se, they just wanted it to be 1 mil.
Members of the public were moderately appreciative of the board’s effort, though many hoped it was a first step toward more plastic banning. Others hoped the ban could take effect before July of next year.
“I’m not loving the timeline,” said Brandie Starr. “It’s wicked long.” She said, however, that perfect could get in the way of good, and she’d vote for the ordinance.
It takes effect July 1, 2018, though businesses can begin anytime before that date.
Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor
Finance Director John O’Connor gave the board the financial update for October. With four months under our belt, 33% of the fiscal year is complete.
The General Fund expenditures are at 36.5%, Parking Fund at 27.2%, and Utilities at 34.7%. These include some big, annual and semi-annual payments.
Solid Waste stands at 30.6% for revenues and 29.8% for expenses, with the usual caveat that October bag revenue and collection costs get recorded a month later.
Just over $4.4 million has been loaned out, and $474,984 remains for additional loans and grants.
Brattleboro has 42 active grants and 13 in the application process.
FY19 Proposed Budget – Revenues and Capital
“Tonight we look at revenues and proposed capital purchases,” said Town Manager Peter Elwell by way of introducing the first of many FY19 budget meetings.
He led the board through the revenue section of the proposed budget first. Most departmental budgets were about the same as the previous year, with a few notable exceptions.
Most notable (and in the happy category), the Library will no longer be collecting late fees. Starr Latronica explained that “fines were a barrier to access for many populations.” As an example, she noted that many older patrons have transportation issues, causing a book to be late and fines to amass. “It’s especially important for seniors to read.”
She said fines develop a sense of shame. Kate O’Connor admitted having fines.
The Police will get another undetermined amount from the state as a share of the fines collected for traffic violations here. Elwell said they used a secret formula, no one understands it, and there was “no transparency to it.”
The Police will also get more income as part of up-fit costs of improvements for the Reformer. The agreed-upon improvements raise the amount of money paid back for the next four years.
No significant changes to the Town Clerk, Town Manager, Assessor, Finance, Fire, Municipal Center, DPW, or regional items portion of the budget. Municipal Center numbers will change in 2020, when the state offices start paying rent. Improvements will be paid for in another portion of the budget, not the general operating fund.
Rec & Parks fees will be up a bit.
So endeth the revenue.
The FY19 capital request, Elwell said, consisted of four projects, a few purchases, and one other item that the board might want to consider.
The projects were $250,000 for paving (down a bit, and lower than what is needed,) $60,000 for sidewalk repair and replacement, $99,000 for energy improvements to the skating rink, and $115,000 for insulation and a new roof for the Gibson-Aiken building.
Vehicle and equipment purchases include computers, two police cruisers, a Chevy Suburban, two pickup trucks, a dump truck, and a new excavator to help with roadside drainage and stormwater quality.
Brandie Starr asked if the police cruisers could be electric vehicles, but the Chief said the technology wasn’t yet in place and the state bidding system didn’t have any yet. Cruisers, he said, require extra power to keep electronics going. “We have two alternators in our cruisers,” he said.
The Suburban, he said, was needed as a mobile command vehicle, and to tow the command center trailer.
The big excitement was near universal agreement that a second sidewalk plow should be purchased. Many wanted three.
A new one would cost $139,000, plus some amount for staffing. A second plow could be a back-up if one breaks, and could reduce the amount of time it takes to plow sidewalks if both are in action.
Steve Barrett said they plow just over 14 miles of sidewalks with a 75 horsepower machine, and depending on the storm, it can take up to two weeks to complete the route.
Alice Charkes, Prudence McKinney, Mollie Burke and Terry Carter all spoke in favor of a second plow, and the importance of clear sidewalks.
Franz Reichsman asked if the Town had a vehicle inventory (yes) and an estimated replacement schedule (not quite), and wondered what the criteria for replacement was – age, engine hours, mileage, or a vehicle assessment. Elwell said all were considered, but a vehicle assessment would tell the town how much extra we could squeeze out of old vehicles. A replacement schedule is being developed.
The next budget meeting will be a Saturday morning and part of the afternoon, December 2nd. returning the board to a former practice of meeting off-schedule for budget discussions, when it is harder for media and the public to participate. They’ll discuss expenses.
At their next regular meeting, a new fire truck will be the main topic of budget discussion.
Committee Vacancies and Appointments
Todd Fontaine has been appointed to serve on the Recreation & Parks board. Other vacancies exist, and a full list will be circulated soon. Volunteer!
Nine overdoses with two fatalities in October, says the Police Department.
The Dog Park to accompany the new skatepark is complete. The skatepark is not complete.
The Town Plan is being edited for re-adoption.
The new, used ladder truck for the Fire Department is almost ready for use.