Selectboard Meeting Notes – Number of Things, The Annual Hurting Of Feelings, and Climate Action

The Brattleboro Selectboard had numbers on the agenda for their final meeting of 2017. Budget numbers, audit numbers, financial reports, grants, and even dates on the calendar. They talked about numbers, reviewed numbers, noted errors and omissions, and made calculations.

They also had the annual visit from the designated downtown organization to hear about workplans and budgets. If you were expecting this to go smoothly, think again. Traditions must be kept…

In other matters, Brattleboro is taking action regarding climate action by joining the Vermont Climate Action Coalition.


Chair Kate O’Connor said that she probably had remarks but wouldn’t make any. “Just move on.”

Town Manager Peter Elwell had no remarks.

For selectboard comments and committee reports, John Allen noted the passing of former Selectboard Chair Steve Steidle. “He was a good friend and a good member of the board,” he said. “A good friend and sad to see him go.”

Public Participation

Wayne Estey gave the board written remarks and then told them of his disappointment with the Town Arts Committee. He said the mission statement contained elegant words, and many well-meaning people had attempted to meet it, but the committee has held only 47% of their scheduled meetings. 

He said the Tree Committee and the Cemetery Committee meet more often. “The trees and deceased are well-represented, artists not so well.”

He suggested giving the committee some funding, and to create an agenda item for a future meeting to discuss funding the arts mission statement. “Arts are an economic driver for this area,” said the former economist and retired attorney.

Liquor Commissioners

Acting as Liquor Commissioners, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved two liquor licenses.

Walgreens at 896 Putney Road was approved for a second class liquor license, and Holiday Inn Express received a first class liquor license. 

Walgreens is replacing Rite Aid at the end of January as part of a national purchase of (most of) the chain. Attorney Merill Bent said not all stores nationwide would become Walgreens, but all in Vermont were part of the transaction.

Frank Lagrande, for Holiday Inn Express, said they would be selling single serving containers from their gift shop for guests’ convenience.

Police-Fire Facilities Projects

Town Manager Elwell gave the board a “facilities update,” though it was primarily an invitation to the ribbon cutting of the third and final facility, Central Fire Station. The ceremony will be at 3pm on January 19 with an open house until 7pm. He said a few punch list items remain, but just about everything is done.

$263,606.91 in project funds remain. Elwell said this opens up the possibility of additional work – a carport, new roof for the new police station, or maybe other things – but the decision will be made at a future meeting after input from the Police-Fire Facilities Building Committee.

Errors & Omissions to the Grand List – Over $2 Million

The Brattleboro Selectboard approved the list of errors and omissions to the 2017 Grand List. 

Acting Town Assessor Jenepher Burnell explained that there were seven changes, as a result of a BHA hearing, fire damage, abandoned mobile homes, and incorrect values being assigned.

There were also 12 corrections to Business Personal property files.

“Normally, we think of errors as corrections,” said Town Manager Elwell. “In this case it is mostly circumstances that have changed since we first filed. Not poor judgement.”

Overall, the Grand List was revised downward by a total of $2,241,723, with real estate being responsible for $1,413,660 of the decrease.

Elwell reminded everyone to keep the number in perspective. “The overall impact is a tiny fraction of our $1 billion Grand List.”

Financial Reports with John O’Connor

The first two financial reports, audit results, were summarized by the Town Manager.

The first was the Audit and Financial Statements for FY17. “Clean again this year,” he said. “No findings.” 

(If you want the Town’s financial details, in detail, this is your report. For example, the total recorded assets of the Town are just over $100 million, coming in at $106,879,039. Some holiday party trivia for you.)

There was also a single audit for FY17. “There was a finding,” Elwell said. “An oversight where we did a drawdown on some funds.” He said that typically grant funds get spent, then reimbursed.  With the brownfields grant, the Town was able to draw down funds for the program.

“We drew funds down but didn’t expend all we drew down,” he said. “It was all accounted for, but the auditors noticed that those funds should have been spent within three days.

He said the balance was repaid to the EPA, and everyone knows how to do it properly now. He pointed out that the federal employees they talked to about this hadn’t seen a situation like this before. “They learned from this finding, too.”

Brandie Starr asked how often the Town put out an RFP for auditors. Elwell said this was year two of three.

Finance Director John O’Connor  said he wanted to add that there was just over $700,000 in surplus above and beyond the 10% rainy day fund. Elwell added that this was already accounted for in the budget and wasn’t a new surplus.

“The audit confirmed the number,” said O’Connor.

Finally, O’Connor gave the board the monthly finance report for November 2017.

41.7% of the fiscal year is complete. General Fund expenses are at 43.3% of the annual budget. Utilities are at 46.1% and the Parking Fund is at 36.1%.

Solid Waste revenues are 40.4% and expenses are 36.4%. Bag revenue and collection costs get recorded a month later.

Brattleboro has loaned out $4,441,669, and has $399,533 available for additional grants or loans.

Brattleboro has 42 active grants and 12 in development.

John Allen asked about loans in default. O’Connor said one was a loan to Cultural Intrigue for about $67,000. He cautioned that there wasn’t a lot of revenue coming back into the program at the moment, Commonwealth Dairy’s loan had been repaid, and the board would likely have less flexibility with loans for a while.

Kate O’Connor then mentioned some sort of discussion that the board will have that the other board members know about. She looked around to make sure other board members knew what she meant.

Public Hearing – VCDP/Windham & Windsor Housing Trust Scattered Site Grant

The selectboard held a final public hearing to close out the recent VCDP/Windham & Windsor Housing Trust Scattered Site Grant.

The program ran from October of 2014 until this autumn, and had three main components: residential rehabilitation via a revolving loan fund, counseling and education, and home purchasing counseling and classes.

In Brattleboro, 8 homes were fixed up, 171 residents took advantage of counseling and education, and 53 homes were purchased.

Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Annual Workplan and Budget

As is tradition, the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance came to the Selectboard with a report on their previous year, budgets, and a plan for FY2019. In it, they give details of downtown flowers, lights, ad campaigns, and other activities.

As is also a bit of a tradition, an optimistic downtown organization felt defensive under the questioning of selectboard members.

The big news for the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance for FY19 is the plan to return to hiring an executive director rather than rely on part-time coordinators. The new executive director, Stephanie Bonin, gave the selectboard an overview of the previous year’s accomplishments.

The golden ticket chocolate bar promotion was “a marketers dream,” she said, getting attention on the Conan cable program and in other places. She said work with VBSR to increase the Brattleboro presence in their coupon book was also successful, with 33 local coupons included this year, up from four the year before.

She said they continued to have success with flowers and lights, and that the facade program continues to assist with matching grants for new signs and awnings.

Bonin said they make some small matching grants to help with small projects.

Organizationally, they’ve worked on a new 5 year strategic plan.

She said membership in the organization is up, and use of Facebook social media has increased.

Bonin hoped to set up Google docs to share workplans and budgets with 127 members. She said she’d teach them all how to use it. “Google Docs will be my best friend.”

DBA was asking for $78,000, and said they would raise an additional $37,630.

Tim Wessel asked about reductions in digital marketing (the higher number last year included a new website) and why the economic development grants were being reduced. Bonin said economic development wasn’t always a budget item, and was sometimes an investment in time, such as attending the Hinsdale Bridge design meetings.

John Allen questioned whether the additional private funds could be raised. Bonin said that this year the organization had the intention to raise it, while last year they did not.

Allen said that every year he gets more confused, and always questions why a downtown district was needed. “It’s constantly in flux. I don’t understand it. I don’t see how you’ll raise this,” he said. He noted that DBA salaries were higher than some Town staff department heads. 

This triggered a series of defensive remarks from DBA and supporters.

Bonin said Brattleboro’s downtown was amazing and unique, and there was a need to keep it strong.

Ted Kramer reminded Allen that BaBB was created by concerned merchants before downtown improvement districts were created by the state. “Vermont values downtowns, and the downtown organization makes downtown great.” He noted the many years of well-intentioned individuals who volunteered.

Allen said he had heard that speech before. He said he didn’t know if DBA was responsible for downtown being great. “Every year we hear ‘We will try something new and do it better.’”

David Schoales voiced support for the DBA, saying that he had seen progress over the years on partnerships, in effectiveness, and in meeting goals. “There’s no other place like our downtown.”

Larry Cassidy said there were 27 vacant stores when BaBB was formed. “People cared about town, and we fought against Home Depot and Walmart,” he said. “It was not run well, it was sloppy, but we brought the town back.” He said he didn’t understand the scrutiny.

“We’re talking about our town. We’re fighting bigger foes now, with Amazon and Google. No one downtown is in the black right now,” he said. “Let’s get together and do the best we can.”

Craig Miscovich said that he was literally invested in the downtown, with law offices and the Brooks House in the zone. He praised Bonin and her family for investing in the Brooks House (Duo).  He said owners and merchants voted on and wanted this budget. “I’m not sure I understand the criticism from the board,” he said.

“No one here is criticizing,” said O’Connor. “Just asking questions and doing due diligence. No one criticized Stephanie.”

Miscovich noted that a board member had said that the salary for the executive director might be too much.

Tim Wessel defended the questioning. He said it was reasonable to question the salary, given that the private donations had not yet been raised.

John Allen said he was sorry if he hurt any feelings, “but I bring it up because it comes up each year.”

Miscovich said the budget was overwhelmingly adopted by the people who will be paying the assessment.

Donna Simons said Brattleboro has a great downtown. She asked if Allen knew about the National Main Streets program (no).  “You ask the same questions, and suggest you do it to understand,” she said to him. “If you learn, you wouldn’t ask these questions. Take the time to educate yourself about sustaining downtowns. Brick and mortar is crumbling.”

She said Brattleboro’s downtown was a gem not only in the country but in Vermont. “How often do you get out?” she asked.

Dick Degray agreed that Google and Amazon were threats. He was worried that some members didn’t pay any assessment but voted on budget matters. He also questioned whether the DBA board could set aside surplus funds.

“The board doesn’t have the authority to do that with the surplus money,” he said.

Kramer said “this was an issue for Dick,” but it didn’t have traction with members.

Brandie Starr said she had some initial concerns about the level of detail in the budget and some less than positive comments coming from someone associated with the organization, but had confidence now.

Wessel asked about membership and was told property owners were always members, and others could join and vote for $25 a year. He said he was concerned that some members who paid a greater assessment might feel more entitled, and therefore was concerned a bit about their structure and democracy within the organization. 

The selectboard generally approved and will do the specifics of a warning to Representative Town Meeting in January with a request for $78,000.

The downtown flowers are estimated to cost $22,700 for FY19. 

Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition

Town staff and the Brattleboro Energy Committee were granted permission by the selectboard Tuesday evening to join the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition, and plan for tracking related actions.

Why this one? Elwell said it has a Vermont focus, is relatively easy to join and participate, and offers a chance for many people on staff and volunteering to take part.

The VCPC aims to achieve the targets set by the US in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which means 90% renewable energy by 2050 and a significant reduction of emissions by 2025.  The program offers a community dashboard for stating pledges and entering data related to actions taken.

Elwell said Town staff and volunteers will be able to set local goals and collect data. He said it was work they’d likely do anyway, but would be publicly accessible.

Brattleboro joins Burlington, Montpelier, St. Albans, and South Burlington, and 43 other public and private member organizations of the VCPC.

Micheal Bosworth wanted it to be known that local businesses and organizations could participate, sign up, and add to it.

FY19 Proposed Budget Review

As a final action of 2017, the Brattleboro Selectboard reviewed the FY19 Budget to-do list with the Town Manager to see what, if anything, was missing.

Town Manager Elwell read through his list of unfinished items. The board wanted to get distracted by details of certain numbers, but Elwell cautioned them away. “Don’t do that tonight.”

The small additions tonight included a request to add the number of employees supervised to the HR Professionals survey, and information about possible grants to pay for a new fire truck.

There was a request to consider giving 15 free banners across Main Street to an organization, but the board passed on the opportunity.

There was a suggestion to include Efficiency Vermont in any discussion of streetlight upgrades or changes.

With that, the board reviewed the suggested schedule of January budget meetings. One each week through January 23rd. Tim Wessel wondered if, perhaps, maybe, if they worked hard, maybe they could be done by the 16th?

A few other members giggled. “I know why Tim wants to do this,” said O’Connor.

The board adjourned until the new year.


Police responded to 11 overdoses and 1 overdose death in November. They caution this is just the number they responded to, and the actual number is likely higher.

Firefighter Al Olney is retiring, taking 30 years of experience with him.

Cheryl Dyer, office manager for the DPW, is retiring after 25 years of service to Brattleboro.

Assessor Russell Rice will be retiring from the Assessment Office in January.

Comments | 3

  • An interesting skate park challenge

    Excellent write-up as always Chris, thank you. “The Annual Hurting of Feelings”!

    I wanted to just point out one nice moment at the end of the meeting that you didn’t mention: John Allen, who along with me and others on the board supports the skate park construction, suggested a challenge that if the public would match what the town contributes (if approved), he would donate his entire 2nd board salary payment to the park ($1500). I thought this to be a generous gesture, and worth noting!
    Here is that moment in case anyone wants to watch that happen:

    Thanks again Chris!

    • yup

      Thanks for the addition.

      I thought it was a nice gesture, too. I think I skipped it cuz:

      – the board hasn’t approved of donating any amount yet
      – the item hasn’t been warned
      – Representative Town Meeting Reps haven’t approved it
      – it’s a personal offer, not a board or Town action

      Sort of like not mentioning that Dick Degray thanked the DBA for thanking him for his hard work. : )

      In both cases, the contributions are appreciated, though. And, duly noted, I’ll make a big deal about it if it comes to pass.

      And, as long as I’m commenting, I’ll join in wishing the Steidle family well after the loss of Steve. Not an easy way to see someone go. He was a calm board presence during some difficult years, and often advocated for following tradition.

      • Of course!

        Agreed that it wasn’t exactly “news” since it’s such a personal comment on a TBD story, but let’s just call it my addition to the reporting and a “human interest side note”!

        Yes I was also saddened by Steve Steidle’s passing, and I wish his family well.

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