The Brattleboro Selectboard held a mostly happy meeting Tuesday night. Most seemed happy that their budget meetings were behind them, John Allen was happy he only had a few meetings left on the board, and all were very happy by somewhat surprising news of a very large grant to help pay for the waste water treatment plant.
The board heard a substantially complete report of the police and fire facilities, with final details expected soon-ish. The Main Street bridge will be repaired, highway mileage has been counted, a liquor license issued, committee member appointed, and meetings set. Heated lunches may be soon available at the Gibson-Aiken Center, too.
There were no opening remarks from Chair Kate O’Connor, but Town Manager Peter Elwell had a whopper. He told the board that Brattleboro had just learned from the Department of Environmental Conservation of a grant award of $2,368,442.12.
Elwell explained that a pollution control grant applied for in 2013 was successful and funding is just now coming available. He said we are eligible for as much as $5,051,189, but full funds aren’t yet available. The funds will go toward paying down the balance in the Utility Fund, specifically sludge and septic handling at the waste water treatment facility. “It’s unequivocally good news.” Full details at the next meeting.
He said a discussion of utility rates would follow.
David Schoales noted the passing of Rene LaPlante, a local Optometrist and his father-in-law. “You were sure to get a story with every eye exam,” he said, adding that most were repeatable in mixed company.
John Allen said that he had a great practice for a long time.
Howard Fairman informed the board of conversations and correspondance he had with the Town Manager regarding heat at the Gibson-Aiken Center. He said radiators were not heating the area where senior citizens eat, leading many to wear coats and coverings during lunch. “Senior citizens don’t tolerate cold.” He asked the selectboard if they could fix the radiators.
Elwell said they had looked into the situation and found that the building’s heating system only has one “zone” and it was a challenge to balance all areas of the building. He said the solution would be to create more zones, and that would come after an assessment and would require a capital investment.
Fairman said that he had been treated well, and that bringing this to their attention wasn’t personal. He just wanted the heating system fixed, so people could eat lunch without being bundled up.
John Allen thought there could be a quicker, temporary solution. “How about we put some electric heaters there when it is cold by the windows? They’d be about $75 each.”
Schoales agreed. “On while people eat.”
“You should be able to chew your food without rattling your food,” said Allen.
Nothing was set for certain, but the Town Manager was taking notes and looked ready to buy some heaters.
Acting as Liquor Commissioners, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved a second class liquor license for Indo-American Grocery on Elliot Street. Their parent company changed their name to Rattan Corp. and a new director was added to the company, triggering a need for a new license.
Police-Fire Facilities Projects
“Our final regular report,” said Kate O’Connor.
“I should have counted them all,” said Elwell, unable to give a precise total of how many reports have been given.
“Where would you start counting?” asked David Schoales. Others agreed that a starting point might be hard to find.
So Town Manager Elwell gave the board his”final routine update” on the police and fire facility projects. The facilities are complete, but there is a bit more money left and a few things that could be done, and a special Representative Town Meeting required.
The three facilities projects have been completed in 17 months at a cost of $12.8 million. Elwell estimated that just under $300,000 should remain when all bills are paid. This would leave open the possibility of a new roof and carport at the police station, or something else, but these decisions would be subject to committee review, selectboard approval, and a special Representative Town Meeting vote.
Elwell said that regardless of how to spend the remaining $300,000, Representative Town Meeting representatives must meet for a special meeting to approve $64,725 worth of electronics for the dispatch center at the police station. Previous RTM action allowed for spending up to $4.5 million on the police station. “There was an intermediate cap for the police station, and we bumped up against it.” He said this one final bill would take them over.
Elwell said the dispatch equipment has already been bought and installed, but he paid for it from the Capital Fund balance. Elwell explained that requiring RTM representatives to authorize the re-allocation of funds will allow for proper accounting of project funds, and the Capital Fund can be reimbursed.
The three possible remaining projects are a replacement of the police station’s “high roof” area at a cost of $90,000, the building of a carport to cover and protect police vehicles at a cost of $140,000, and a radio box receiver for the Fire Department at the dispatch center for $33,000 to help with a transition from analog to digital pole equipment all over town.
“The roof really needs to be done,” said Elwell. “We don’t want the old roof to leak into the new building and equipment.” He said the roof was the highest priority.
The Police-Fire Facilities Building Committee will be meeting to review those additional requests before making a recommendation to representatives. They’ll meet after all bills have been paid, within a few weeks.
“How can you spend $64,000 out of the Capital Fund without our approval,” asked O’Connor.
“Because we disclosed it to you,” said Elwell, “and it’s the proper, legal thing to do.” He said the town needed to pay the bill, and if it had been paid from the project it would have gone over the cap. “A proper temporary place to do it subject to disclosing it to you.”
“Money can be spent without the Selectboard’s approval?” re-asked O’Connor. Elwell said yes, to pay bills. He said it was one reason the Capital Fund balance fluctuated. Bills come in under and over budget, and sometimes the fund pays them, depending on the work being done.
“This was a bond and approved by Representative Town Meeting,” noted Allen.
“It’s alarming to me that money can be spent without us saying it is okay to spend,” said O’Connor. She said she understood why it was done, and wasn’t accusing anyone of doing anything bad, but it wasn’t sitting well with her.
Elwell said that for anything over $10,000, he will ask the board’s approval before spending. He said at other times, though, they might spend it then tell them afterward.
Schoales said he saw both points, but had concerns that what representatives wanted might not count.
Central Fire Station’s ribbon-cutting and open house is this Friday, from 3 to 7 pm. O’Connor said the other openings were really good.
“I didn’t make the West Brattleboro one,” Allen noted again for the record.
Approve 2018 Certificate of Mileage
Highway/Utilities Superintendent Hannah Tyler provided his annual accounting of all roads in Brattleboro. She said the state uses this information when determining state aid.
New this year, an additional .068 miles of road have been added to the inventory. The two spur ramps for I-91 Exit 2 are now officially associated with our road inventory under “State Highway.” These are the two little areas of road near Western Ave that connect to the main ramps.
This addition won’t increase our aid, said Tyler. It’s a state road.
Brattleboro has 6.42 miles of Class 1 highway, 13.89 miles of Class 2 highway, 64.64 miles of Class 3 highway, and 22.275 miles of State Highway, for a total of 107.225 miles.
“It seems like we should have a question for you,” joked John Allen.
“Maybe you could suggest a question,” added Tim Wessel. Tyler said she’d get back to them if a question occurred to her.
(Here’s one. Q: When were these previously unreported spur ramps first installed in Brattleboro? A: 1959.)
Bridge Inspection Report
Tyler continued by providing the board with a bridge inspection report from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, Highway Division. She said they inspect all bridges over 20 feet long on a 24 month cycle.
In December they issued a report showing that a stone was missing from the abutment of bridge #7 on US 5 over the Whetstone. This is the Main Street bridge near the Co-op, also known as the Kyle Gilbert Memorial Bridge.
The 67 foot, single span welded girder bridge was built in 1938 and reconstructed in 2003. The missing stone is part of the original bridge, said Tyler.
“Missing stone?” wondered Brandie Starr. “Was it stolen, or did it wash away?”
Tyler wasn’t certain. “It might have been loose.”
Schoales asked if there was concrete behind the stone. Tyler said she wasn’t sure, but the state made no mention of it.
Inspectors suggested replacing the missing block, and using smaller stones to secure it and preventing others from falling out.
The Department of Public Works is already working on a plan to to do the work. A masonry contractor will get it done by July of 2018.
Elwell noted that the report showed the bridge to be in otherwise good or very good condition in all categories. “It’s in good shape compared to many bridges around the state,” he told the board.
The board approved of complying with the state’s request to fix the bridge, and tell them when the work is done.
As Tyler departed, Allen had parting words. “Snow storm tomorrow!”
Felicity Ratte was appointed to the Planning Commission for a term that ends June 30, 2021.
Scheduling of Meetings
A number of changes to the selectboard’s meeting schedule were set Tuesday night, in preparation for Town Meeting and Representative Town Meeting days and new selectboard members.
Town Manager Elwell unintentionally coined a new term for two of them being held at the standard annual time: stannual. The other is the March 6 selectboard meeting, which will move to the Brooks Memorial Library Meeting Room to allow voters use of the Municipal Center for the election.
On March 14, there will be an informational meeting for Representative Town Meeting representatives at Academy School. Meet up and caucus with your district at 6:30 pm, then learn about the budget and meeting warning at 7 pm.
On March 26, new board members will be sworn-in and officers elected for the new year. This will be at 5:50 pm in the Selectboard Meeting Room at the Municipal Center.
Brandie Starr encouraged people to attend the informational meeting. “It can be exciting,” she said, adding that one can caucus in as a Town Meeting Representative. She hoped people would be civic minded and get involved.
Allen pointed out there were lots of available openings to become a representative. “Thirteen in District 1,” he said.
The Windham Regional Commission and the Rich Earth Institute are undertaking a Village Sanitation Pilot Study to test a new wastewater solution to improve faulty sanitation systems at a neighborhood scale. Part of the project is finding a good village to partner with, so a series of presentations will be held in February and March.
If selected, the village will benefit from a feasibility study and possible future grants to pay for installation costs.