Selectboard Meeting Notes – The (Almost) Million Dollar Fire Truck

The Brattleboro Selectboard heard from the Fire Department concerning a request for a new aerial ladder truck. This would be to replace a used truck, which is replacing an out-of-service truck. The board was sympathetic to the request and need, but had some concerns about the cost and how best to pay for it.

Brattleboro will be sending a letter to VTrans with a request for safety improvements along Putney Road, Central Fire Station has a ribon-cutting scheduled, and more budget meetings are on the way.


Chair Kate O’Connor said the Saturday special budget meeting was a good meeting, and available to watch on BCTV if anyone wants four hours of discussion of departmental expenses.

Town Manager Peter Elwell said the next FY19 budget meeting would be next Thursday and would address possible expansions of town services, such as new staff positions and other items. At their next regular meeting in two weeks the board will “take stock and see where changes that have been made leave us.”

For committee reports and comments, David Schoales reported on a recent diversity meeting aimed at getting a few dozen college students exploring Brattleboro as a step toward aiding recruitment.

Public Participation

To kick off public participation, Kate O’Connor invited Justin Bibee, of Youth Services, to introduce a proclamation celebrating and encouraging citizens to participate in Human Rights Day on December 10th. The proclamation was read in full and the board adopted it unanimously.

Mr. Nickerson told the board that he was concerned with increasing lawlessness in the town, and thought Brattleboro had become soft on crime. He hoped the police would protect his truck from people putting small boxes and notes on it. “I can rip a man’s head off if I have to. I don’t want to go there.”

Stuart Strothman, representing the Southeast Vermont Watershed Alliance, said that he would like the board to consider adding a line item to support the work of the organization, which monitors many Brattleboro locations. He was told it would be among the considerations at the budget meeting in two weeks.  

Police-Fire Facilities Updates

“This is comin’ to a close,” said John Allen.

Town Manager Elwell gave the board a short and sweet summary of the facilities projects, which is now pretty much just a single facility project, Central Fire Station.

Central will be substantially completed by December 15. A ribbon cutting and open house is scheduled for January 19. The ribbon is cut at 3 pm and the open house continues until 7 pm.

Everything remains within budget, and there is enough money for the board to contemplate additional work at the police station to replace the roof and build a carport.

Letter to VTrans Requesting Putney Rd. Safety Improvements

The Vermont Agency of Transportation will be getting a letter.

Brattleboro’s Traffic Safety Committee and Town staff drafted a letter to Joe Flynn at VTrans asking for safety improvements along Putney Road from the Veterans’ Bridge and the Exit 3 roundabout.

“Back in the summer we asked for a Road Safety Audit from Veterans Bridge to Noah Lane,” said Elwell, citing concerns of added pedestrian and bike traffic now that the circus school has opened. VTrans did the research and suggested changes that could be done when the rest of Putney Road is made over, somewhere around 2024-2026.

When the committee reviewed the report for that stretch of highway, Elwell said, they saw some opportunities for necessary safety improvements and decided to ask that they be done sooner rather than later. 

Tim Wessel, on the Traffic Safety Committee, said it was difficult as the Town doesn’t have jurisdiction over the state road, and the terrain has significant ledges to contend with, but thought the letter was a good initiative. He suggested one edit – that the letter begin by thanking VTrans for the quick response with the road safety audit – and others agreed.

The specific requests in the letter include:

– Narrow the travel lanes and shift roadway eastward between the bridge and Town Crier Drive.

– Paint white hash marks on west shoulder between bridge and Town Crier Drive.

– Install a guardrail on west side between bridge and Town Crier Drive to separate lanes from “goat path.”

– Improve “goat path” with hard packed gravel.

– Install one or two crosswalks at Town Crier Drive.

– Modify intersection striping and and signals to allow dedicated “walk” cycle at Hannaford/ Colonial Motel intersection.

– Conduct speed limit study and lower speed limit

Terry Carter liked the letter and noted the number of people who end up walking that stretch of road late at night because public transportation ends.

FY19 Budget – Fire Department Aerial Ladder Truck

The Fire Department would like a new, $950,000 aerial ladder truck to replace a just-purchased used vehicle which is replacing Brattleboro’s 26 year old ladder truck.

Town Manager Elwell introduced the proposed purchase by acknowledging that it would be expensive to taxpayers. Brattleboro applied for but did not receive a grant for a new truck last year.

He said the new plan was to borrow $500,000 and use $450,000 of the General Fund. To repay the loan over 10 years would require $15,000 of debt service in FY18-19, and $60,000 each year after.

He said that if the board decided not to buy it in FY19, they should set money aside for the eventual purchase.

Fire Chief Michael Bucossi said the fire department operates and maintain five complex vehicles. They get washed daily, looked over by mechanics, and inspected regularly. They get oil undercoats and have undercarriage washing to get dirt, salt, and grime off.

He said our 26-year-old vehicle went out of service because the repairs were costing more than the value of the truck, and told the board that it was age, not maintenance, that took this truck out. 

The Chief also thanked Putney for loan of a ladder truck for a month. “Very generous on their part.”

He recommended a new truck over a used one, as Brattleboro has unique needs, such as a desire for a water tank and pump on the ladder truck.

He asked the board to consider what is gained by delaying the purchase. It will come up again next year, he said.  It will be more expensive, we’ll lose value in the current used vehicle, and we’re “rolling the dice” with our current interim ladder truck. The Chief added that other needed truck purchases, such as a 1993 engine with rusted water supports, would be delayed as well.

The used, 24-year-old vehicle was bought to keep us running until the new truck could be purchased. 

It takes about a year to build the new truck.

Assistant Chief Leonard Howard III said he looked at used trucks and found a pattern of some 10-15 years old, and others 20-25 years old. He asked, and a salesperson told him the 10 year old vehicles were lemons. The older ones were at the end of their useful service. 

He also thanked Putney for loan of the ladder truck, saying without it Brattleboro would have had to rent one for $5,000 a month.

Tim Wessel asked how often a water tank is required. “100% of the time” said Bucossi. He said they start all operations with a water tank, then connect to hydrants. “The good thing is it makes us self sufficient if things get busy.”

Many board members lamented failing to get the grant to pay for the truck, and the Chief thought it unlikely that trying again would get other results.

David Schoales suggested Town staff look for ways to reduce the borrowed portion of the purchase, and pay for more of the truck with cash. “If we can reduce that half million…”

Brandie Starr said the purchase was a safety issue to her, and government budgets were unlike home budgets.

Kate O’Connor asked about the current, used truck’s future use. The Chief said other small towns might be interested to have it for limited use.

John Allen asked how often the ladder truck went out (once a day) and how often it was used (2-3 times a month). With that, he said he was against buying the new truck. “We shouldn’t put things off, but it comes down to money and people can’t afford this,” he said. “I have an old car, it still runs great. You can’t always go by age. That 24 year old vehicle might be in great shape.”

Bucossi said fire trucks have low miles, age, and use. Allen said new equipment can also fail. Bucossi said it was a necessity for the town. Allen said he’d run his old truck until it died.

“We can’t run them until they die,” said Assistant Chief Howard. “You say you get it, but you are saying we should run them until they die.”

“There’s more life in them before we need to buy a new one,” continued Allen. “Let’s get another year out of it.”

“Postponing costs taxpayers money,” said Assistant Chief Howard. “It’s not saving people anything.

Elwell asked if they needed any more information.

O’Connor said she’d like to see all the financial options of how much cash to use and how much to borrow.

Schoales reiterated his desire to borrow less for the new truck.

Wessel was considering earmarking money to be spent next year.

“Being on the Selectboard is easy until this time of year,” said Allen. “This is where it gets tough.” He said he was looking out for the working poor out there “just getting by right now.” He joked that he hoped his house didn’t catch on fire in the next three months.

The Chief said it was a hard request to make, “but we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have a concern about it.”

Franz Reichsman of the Finance Committee made the final observation. “We learned one new piece of information,” he said, “that a ladder truck can be rented for $5,000 a month. That’s 16 years for $1 million.”

He said he wasn’t suggesting the rental option, but pointing out that any urgency in the purchase decision could be offset, perhaps, by knowing a ladder truck is always available for rental.

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