Selectboard Special Meeting Notes: The 12 Items of Budget-mas

The Brattleboro Selectboard had a special Thursday meeting to discuss other items not currently in the FY19 budget. This list included possible new employees, equipment, training, funding, and even some consideration of a donation to the skatepark project.

You can sing along at home. See below.

For The First Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me,  Several Possible Additions To The FY19 Budget.

Town Manager Peter Elwell told the board that since they had already reviewed the “status quo” items of the FY19 proposed budget, this meeting would be used to look at possible increases in service.

Many of the items on the agenda had been discussed at previous Selectboard meetings. The board was given a collection of memos with background information, options, and other decision-making material to help guide decisions. 

For The Second Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, One Human Resources Professional.

At issue here is whether $60,000 should remain in the FY19 budget to hire a Human Resources Professional to help manage the Town’s 150 or so employees.

Elwell told the board there was a general need for an HR professional in an organization of this size, to keep up with rules and best practices, improve the health and condition of the workplace, and protect against downside risks and liabilities to avoid problems that might pop up.

(Elwell’s memo to the board says there have been several “situations” in the past three years, that Selectboards know of these situations, that the situations must remain confidential, but that an HR professional could help the Town guard against the “occurrence of such situations” and help us address those situations as well. )

He said there was also a specific need for someone to take on these duties. As things currently stand, if HR issues arise they “become the most urgent thing that must be attended to” and divert his attention from the day to day operations of the town. An employee focusing on HR would free up his schedule to do more Town Manager duties.

Kate O’Connor wanted it to be clear that the $60,000 in the budget wasn’t the true cost. Benefits and health care would be added. Elwell agreed, but said those costs could vary substantially depending on who is hired, and what sort of health care benefits they need.

A few board members wondered why the salary was set at $60,000. Elwell said it would be a management position, but not supervising any other staff.

David Schoales wondered if the HR professional could also do the job of a PR officer. Elwell said no.

Brandie Starr and Tim Wessel voiced support for the new position.

It will be kept in consideration.

For The Third Item of Budget-Mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, One Sustainability Officer.

Elwell told the board by way of summary that the Town does a good job without a paid energy coordinator, but could consider adding a paid sustainability officer to do outreach to the community in energy and other matters. The cost for such a position was estimated at up to $95,000.

Brandie Starr said that this position was one thing she was willing to go without. “For me, this year, I look to other things that need funding.”

Elwell suggested they could continue the former practice of Town Meeting Representatives contributing $10,000 as a stipend for an energy coordinator. Starr agreed. Schoales said Representatives could increase the stipend. Wessel said they should talk with Phoebe Gooding about her first year on the job.

The board dropped this from the FY19 budget discussion.

For The Fourth Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, A New Sidewalk Plow.

Shall we spend about $139,000 for a second sidewalk plow? This wasn’t really discussed by the board Thursday evening, but was implied as an item that was expected to be purchased.

For the Fifth Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, A Sidewalk Plow Operator.

Hannah Tyler of the Department of Public Works told the board that the DPW was going to ask for a new staff member to help in the Utilities Division helping to maintain and repair 3,900 metered accounts and 1,000 hydrants around town. In the winter, she said, this employee could be the second sidewalk tractor operator.

The position would be funded from the Utilities budget, not the General Fund, but Tyler said they would need $10,000 for possible overtime costs associated with the plowing.

John Allen objected to extra money for overtime. Kate O’Connor asked why it wasn’t simply included in salary.

Snow doesn’t always fall neatly Monday to Friday during regular business hours, explained Elwell. He used the most recent storm as an example. The storm stopped in the early evening, then crews worked into the evening to clear streets overnight.

O’Connor wanted to make it clear that a second sidewalk plow would only increase the efficiency of clearing the existing 14 miles of sidewalks. No new sidewalks were planned to be cleared. Tyler said routes could be reviewed.

This item remains on the list.

For the Sixth Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, More Downtown Streetlights.

Tyler stayed on to tell the board that the DPW was responding to a concern that existing light fixtures on Main Street are not bright enough. Adding new fixtures on the west side of Main from Elliot to High street (to match what is on the east side) is estimated to cost almost $200,000. An alternative is to increase the size of the existing Main Street poles and put brighter LEDs in the existing locations.

She said that Brattleboro has three lighting zones – a residential (2,000 lumens), mixed use (3,100 lumens), and commercial (3,500 lumens). Downtown is commercial.

Brattleboro doesn’t own the light fixtures. They are rented from the power company. Larger existing lights are estimated to cost $2,000 per year.

The DPW, Tyler said, thought $20,000 for an engineer to give an expert opinion on downtown lighting might be best.

John Allen expressed amazement that brighter downtown lights on existing poles would require installation of new arms to hold them. Tyler said existing fixtures would need to be switched out, and “potentially the arm would change.”

Tim Wessel said he didn’t find it too dark downtown overall, but that there were spots that could use attention. He said they should look at specific locations. “Night time should be dark. That’s what nature is. It’s dark at night.”

Brandie Starr said she noticed a difference when downtown trees were wrapped with holiday lights. “If we wrap trees with white lights, it is really bright,” she said. “Maybe we can leave the lights up all year round.”

Wessel wondered if there were industrial, solar-powered lights that could be used.

Overall, the board rejected the idea of more lights, and didn’t like the idea of an engineer studying lights. Instead they asked for more information about upgrading the existing LED lights on Main Street.

For The Seventh Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, A Recommendation from Representative Town Meeting’s Human Services Review Committee

Emilie Kornheiser of the Representative Town Meeting Human Resources Funding Review Committee told the board the committee would be asking Town Meeting Representatives for $146,000. This was 20% less than the total requested by applicants, but an increase of $26,000 over recent years. The funds are given to agencies in Brattleboro that provide food, shelter, and other basic or urgent needs, especially those serving vulnerable populations.

Kornheiser said that needs for food, housing, and emergency support continue to increase, and there is not enough support coming from public and private sources to fill the need in our community. There was also increased instability with federal and state funds.

Here’s what they recommend:

AIDS Project of Southeastern Vermont (2,000), American Red Cross Green Mountain Chapter ($1,000), Big Brothers Big Sisters ($7,500), Boys & Girls Club ($15,000), Brattleboro Area Hospice ($1,200), Brattleboro Centre for Children ($4,000), Brattleboro Senior Meals ($7,000), Brattleboro Summer Lunch Program ($6,000), Family Garden ($2,500), Gathering Place ($4,000), Green Mountain Crossroads ($3,000), Groundworks Collaborative ($20,000),  Health Care and Rehabilitation Services ($3,500), KidsPLAYce ($4,000), RSVP ($700), Senior Solutions ($3,000), SEVCA ($12,000), The Root ($5,000), Turning Point ($10,000), Vermont Center for Independent Living ($1,600), Vermont Family Network ($2,500), Visiting Nurse and Hospice of VY and NH ($10,000), Windham County Safe Place Child Advocacy (($1,500), Women’s Freedom Center ($5,000), YMCA Meeting Waters ($5,000), Youth Services ($10,000)

John Allen thought limiting the donations to $120,000, as in recent years, would be best. This led to some discussion of whether the board should move the request along as-is, change it to $120,000 in their own budget, or come up with a new number. O’Connor expressed concern that if they approve an increase this year, it would continue to rise in coming years.

Kornheiser said this year was unique, and increases would not come year after year.

Wessel asked if organizations that might be described as “activist” caused any concern. Kornheiser said almost all requests come from organizations that advocate for their constituencies. The line between activism and human services wasn’t always a clear one, she said.

Wessel asked if an organization was required to be a non-profit, and Kornheiser said no. “We’ve funded neighborhood organization,” she explained.

This request remains on the possible FY19 budget list.

Franz Reichsman of the Finance Committee suggested the committee provide more detailed minutes. Kornheiser said that until recently they had been under a mistaken impression that their work had to be done in executive session, but it was pointed out to them that this is not the case. Anyone was welcome at the meetings, she said.

Reichsman said the executive session change was a big deal, but still thought they should put more into their minutes.

For the Eighth Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, Social Action Initiatives.

Town Manager Elwell explained that in addition to a Human Resource Professional and increased funding through the RTM Human Resources Committee to specific social service agencies, the FY19 budget requests $10,000 for implicit bias training for Selectboard and all Town employees.

A Day-Work program with Groundworks Collaborative is being explored, with details to come in January as to whether the program will work, and what the cost might be. It is currently estimated to have a price tag of about $30,000.

Starr asked if there had been any request from the Police Department for funds to support their outreach task force. Elwell said no, but also that grants were being pursued.

The training funding will remain on the list for now.

For the Ninth Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, A Miscellaneous Request from Green Up Vermont.

Green Up Vermont politely pointed out that Brattleboro is one of only 15 towns NOT giving to the program, and requested $300.

“When does it end when people ask us for this stuff,” pondered Kate O’Connor. She said she felt that way about the next three requests.

“I think we can come up with $300 for Green Up Vermont,” said John Allen. “It’s Vermont. It’s Green. I mean, really. Petty cash?”

This item will move forward.

For the Tenth Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, Some Funding for Southeast Vermont Watershed Alliance.

Southeast Vermont Watershed Alliance also politely pointed out that while Brattleboro had been  contributing $1,350 a year to help monitor local water quality, funding stopped in 2009. They hoped funding could be restored.

The board asked for more information about their budget, what other towns give, and sources of funding.

This item will be examined again in January.

For the Eleventh Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me,  A Donation To The Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center.

Wilmington’s Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center requested a donation from Brattleboro to help support their work developing horse riding skills and exercise for a range of individuals with physical, cognitive, and emotional needs. Twenty-one of their clients reside in Brattleboro.

“They’re in Wilmington?” asked Schoales.

“I’m against these little things not going through a process,” said O’Connor. “I’m being cranky.”

“Grinch!” said Allen.

With no specific dollar amount requested, the board decided to pass on this one and drop it from further consideration.

For the Twelfth Item of Budget-mas, My Selectboard Suggested To Me, Other Potential Increases in Levels Of Service.

Anything else? Elwell was making his list and checking it twice.

Tim Wessel said the board should consider throwing some money to the skatepark. “The project has been going on for years,” he said. ‘It should be a no-brainer.” He said it would bring value to families with kids, and regardless of what the Town gives, it could be used to match other funds.

Brandie Starr agreed, as did John Allen.

Wessel asked if the Act 250 permit had an expiration date. Elwell said yes, but we are “not bumping up against it.”

Elwell asked how much they’d like to put into the budget. John Allen suggested $20,000. “It’s been an embarrassment for years. There’s a dog park before a skate park, and the skate park started it. I’d like to say $50,000, so $20,000 seems like a good figure.” He said Town Meeting Representatives could raise it up or down.

Franz Reichsman pointed out that it would need to be its own agenda item for Representative Town Meeting representatives to amend the amount.

Elwell said that he would have a complete list of undecided items to review at the next meeting.

Kate O’Connor requested a list of new things, things that had changed since they started the budget process. Elwell said the list of unfinished items would be just that. O’Connor wasn’t so sure, but hoped they were picturing the same thing.

“It’s time for Star Wars,” said Wessel as they adjourned.


12 Items of Budget-mas

Other Potential Increases in Levels Of Service,

No Donation To The Southern Vermont Therapeutic Riding Center,

Possible Funding for Southeast Vermont Watershed Alliance,

A Miscellaneous Request from Green Up Vermont,

Social Action Initiatives,

A Recommendation from Representative Town Meeting’s Human Services Review Committee,

Maybe Downtown Streetlights,

A      Sidewalk      Plow        Operator.

A New Sidewalk Plow,

No Sustainability Officer,

One Human Resources Professional,

ann Several Possible Additions To The FY19 Budget.

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