The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a new contract with Brattleboro firefighters Tuesday evening. Negotiations began in 2016, stalled, resumed, and just recently wrapped up. Firefighters will be getting a retroactive raise going back to when the process began.
Liquor licenses, a finance report, a grant for bulletproof vests, and an update on Windham Regional Commission were all punctuated by news that this meeting was John Allen’s final regular selectboard meeting.
Chair Kate O’Connor began by announcing that it was the final regular meeting for John Allen. She said that it was his second tour of duty, so he might return for a third.
“There aren’t enough drugs out there,” said Allen, regarding any idea of returning.
O’Connor said that she appreciated that Allen had been a defender of taxpayers. “The decisions you made were really looking out for the people of Brattleboro.” She said he still had to attend Representative Town Meeting on Saturday, and had to drive her home after the meeting.
“She lives four houses up,” said Allen.
Town Manager Peter Elwell also thanked Allen.
For selectboard comments and committee reports, the praise kept coming. David Schoales noted that his five years with Allen were fun, interesting, and sometimes challenging. “When you think you are right, you hold your ground and try to convince us,” he said. “Thanks.”
Brandie Starr said they always treated each other well.
Tim Wessel, participating via speakerphone, said that he posted a letter of thanks on iBrattleboro (“I saw it,” said Allen.) He thanked Allen for his service, which he said was filled with candor and humor. “Thanks for keeping our feet to the fire.”
Allen thanked the thankers. He said his greatest supporter, though, was his mother-in-law Nancy, who will have to find something new to do on Tuesday nights.
“We didn’t always agree,” said Allen to the board, “but it didn’t matter.” He explained that despite differences, they always left meetings in a good mood. “Not a bad word ever.”
Allen then went on to thank the ASL interpreters, BCTV, town employees, and me and Lise. He also had a word for critics. “For the 7 people on iBrattleboro who hate my guts,” he offered up as advice, “use your real name. And lighten up. Life is too short.”
He said he’s had a great run.
Dale Joy came to the board with a complaint about how Rod Francis handled a recent NEA grant. She said she was concerned to see him being nominated to the WRC board later in the meeting. “He’s still in question and being investigated,” she said. “I don’t understand why he’s moving up in the political world.”
Town Manager Elwell said he was aware that some in the community were unhappy with the process and outcome of the NEA grant, but it had been fully vetted and scrutinized. “It’s unfortunate to hear that kind of allegation in public, naming a name,” he said.
Joy said the NEA was not done vetting the grant. “Very few liked what he did,” she said. “We’re not done with this.”
Kate O’Connor suggested taking the issue up at a future meeting, so newer board members could understand the full situation. Elwell offered to provide a description of the grant process and outcomes. O’Connor noted that the selectboard was involved and made decisions, as well.
Nick Nickerson inquired about school safety, and asked if there was any doubt that our police could respond and whether kids would know to call the police if they noticed something suspicious.
Elwell and Schoales both noted the ongoing collaboration between schools and public safety officials.
John Allen said that the Chief of Police was probably more on top of it than anyone realized, but asked “Is there ever enough [being done]?”
Five local businesses desiring renewal of the liquor licenses appeared before the Brattleboro Selectboard to explain recent violations and steps taken to make sure it won’t happen again.
Four of the five served alcohol to minors. Indo-American Grocery had multiple violations.
They each explained themselves.
Avenue Grocery said their error was not reading an ID correctly and a beer was sold to a minor, an “honest mistake with no great excuse.” While they felt the compliance checks were a form of entrapment, they have been re-trained and now know that 1997 is the cutoff year.
Price Chopper had a rogue employee enter an incorrect date into their ID checking software. They have no tolerance for this sort of thing, and the employee was terminated. They said they have extensive training, daily reminders, advanced software, and good polices in place. (Also, the store will change names in June to become “Market 32.”)
Indo-American Grocery didn’t sell anything to minors. They were cited for being late to a seminar, and also a matter of everyone being on payroll. When the DLC inspector came to talk, the manager had his son (owner of another business) step in to handle customers. While doing this, the inspector asked if the son was on payroll. He wasn’t, but now is.
Arkham sold a beer to a minor, and feel awful about it. They’ve been re-certified, and have held multiple staff meetings related to the matter. “No excuse. Ir was a mistake and shouldn’t happen.”
Hotel Pharmacy asked to come to the next meeting, and their request was granted.
With all of the explanations in place, the board approved liquor and other related licenses for all applicants except Hotel Pharmacy.
An “Aye” was heard from the speakerphone during voting, reminding fellow board members that all were present and voting.
Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor
Finance Director John O’Connor gave the board his regular monthly update on the annual budget, covering February of 2018. It’s the 8th month of the fiscal year, with 66.7% of the year complete.
The General Fund expenses are at 67.7% of the budget. Utilities are at 68.4% and Parking Fund expenditures are at 66.5%.
The Solid Waste Disposal Fund revenues are at 62.9% and expenditures are at 63.3%, with the regular note that February bag revenue and collection costs get recorded a month later.
Brattleboro has loaned out $4,464,652, and has $427,301 in available funds for additional grants and loans.
There are 48 active grants and 10 in development.
Dale Joy asked what was meant by loans being in “default and reserve?” John O’Connor said that it showed that while a loan was in default, the town has set up a reserve to offset the loss.
Windham Regional Commission Annual Report and Appointments
Planning Commission Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin and Planning Services Director Rod Francis came to the board with an annual report from our representatives to the Windham Regional Commission.
Francis explained that during the previous year, WRC worked on Act 64 (water runoff), the Vermont Clean Water Act, and Act 174 (renewable energy planning). WRC also completed a Brattleboro road inventory, and works a great deal on decommissioning of the nuclear plant.
WRC serves 27 member communities in Windham, Windsor and a bit of Bennington counties, providing assistance in planning and zoning as well as a link between local, state and federal government. They have a particular interest in regional planning.
Our representatives, McLoughlin, Francis, and Sue Fillion, contribute more than 200 hours a year in meetings and committee work. McLoughlin helps monitor what goes on at the state level. Francis helps review projects and works on issues of economic development and housing. Fillion works on Brownfield Re-Use.
“Your budget is large” noted John Allen.
“Not insignificant,” replied Francis, though he pointed out that most of the funding comes from state contracts to implement state policies.
David Schoales wondered how much Brattleboro contributed in addition to our assessment by paying staff. He tried some quick math, using $30/hr as a rate for contractors and estimated $60,000 a year for 200 hours.
Both McLoughlin and Francis thought that number to be quite low.
“Do other states have something similar,” asked John Allen.
“Counties,” said McLoughlin.
The board re-appointed the pair, McLoughlin and Francis, for another year of service.
Dale Joy tried to ask Francis about how well he planned to account for his work with WRC. She mentioned the NEA grant and that ” I hope you are doing better with this.”
“I’m not going to answer that,” said Francis.
“I don’t think you should,” said Joy.
Kate O’Connor interrupted to remind all that the NEA grant would be discussed fully at a future meeting.
Collective Bargaining Agreement with Brattleboro Professional Firefighters Association
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a new contract with Brattleboro Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 4439. The collective bargaining agreement will cover July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2019.
The agreement is the result of years of negotiation, going back to the summer of 2016. This new agreement will provide retroactive wage increases.
Elwell said that the old contract ran out, negotiations got underway, but then stalled. “We went through mediation and fact-finding, but it didn’t resolve the matter.” He said they resumed unassisted negotiations and found a way to reach an agreement. He said it was positive for both the Town and the firefighters.
An across the board wage increase of 2% will be effective retroactive to July 2016. Another increase of 2.5% will be retroactive to July of 2017, and a third increase of 2.5% will come in July of 2018 to cover the third year of the agreement.
The contract has been updated substantially and has some interesting provisions. The Firefighters union may not strike. There is a sick leave pool, where employees can donate their extra sick leave to others. Firefighters are allowed to vote and serve on juries. They must live in Brattleboro or a designated surrounding town. They may not use Town equipment for personal use.
Elwell says that with this agreement in place, all four collective bargaining agreements between Town and employees are now on the same cycle, which he hopes will make future negotiations more efficient and more fair to all employees.
Elwell said regular selectboard watchers will have noted the many recent executive sessions, and thanked the board for the extra time they spent.
The board accepted a grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance for $4,053.08 to replace bulletproof vests in the Brattleboro Police Department.
O’Connor forced Allen to make the motion, noting that the grant had an additional 8 cents tacked on at the end and she knew that drove Allen “nuts.”
“You know me too well, Kate,” said Allen.
VCDP Implementation Grant Public Hearing
The Agency of Commerce and Community Development recently gave $1 million to support the expansion of G.S. Precision. The grant period has come to a close and the Brattleboro Selectboard held a final public hearing to finish off the project.
Patrick Moreland gave a summary. The project allowed the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation to help G.S. Precision by acquiring and expanding two existing manufacturing facilities, adding new employee parking, and purchasing of new equipment.
31 new positions were to be created. 86 new employees were hired as a result of the expansion. The taxable value of the buildings also increased.
Adam Grinold of BDCC thanked everyone for working rapidly to get the project landed in Brattleboro.
Schoales wondered about the tax impacts. Moreland said that before the project, G.S. Precision paid about $94,000 in property taxes, and now it is closer to $125,000. He said a substantial part of that goes to schools, as there is a 10 year tax stabilization agreement for the town portion of their taxes.
Assigning Motions for Articles
The last item for the board Tuesday was to assign each Representative Town Meeting article to board members so they could take turns making motions on Saturday. There are 25 for the Town this year.
Kate O’Connor reminded all that the meeting begins at 8:30 am at Brattleboro Area Middle School.
“We have to sit in a circle and sing Kumbaya,” said John Allen, referring to a new seating arrangement being tried this year.
Board members took turns volunteering for or being assigned the various articles. Brandie Starr happily volunteered for the long Human Services list. John Allen will have the honor of the final motion.
“That’s special,” said Allen.
David Schoales reminded all that there is a school budget meeting Wednesday night at 7pm at Oak Grove School.
Allen, who had read all motions during this meeting, made his final motion to adjourn.
“I’m not voting for it,” he said. “I want to stay.”