Selectboard Meeting Notes – Winter Roads and Education Taxes

The board had a discussion of winter road conditions, causes of potholes, methods of repairing potholes, and specific reasons why Western Avenue has so many of them.

The board considered a letter to state education officials asking to support the results of the vote against a school district merger, as it would negatively impact Brattleboro taxes. The Brewer’s Fest permit was approved, Brattleboro Words are being explored and celebrated, and a pile of tires near the Marina is a problem for plants and animals in the vicinity.


Chair Kate O’Connor pointed out that they were meeting at the library, as the polls were still open until 7 pm in the Selectboard Meeting Room.

Town Manager Peter Elwell had nothing to add, nor did other board members.

Public Participation, however, brought comments.

First was Starr Latronica informing all that the First Wednesday event this week is cancelled due to the weather, and rescheduled for later in the year. She suggested everyone stay in and read fine books.

Mr. Nickerson said that he had been looking at the differences between drug addiction treatment and punishment, and thought treatment was the better option.

He said he was also thinking about white privilege. “I don’t feel that privileged, except to be an American, and to be in Brattleboro,” he told the board. Facts, he explained, showed that while white and black people take drugs at the same rates, the arrest rate for blacks is 600% higher than for whites.

“It’s easier to arrest blacks than whites,” he said, ”and that seems like white privilege. I’m sorry to see it.”

Lissa Weinmann told the board about a three year collaborative project exploring and documenting people, places, and words in and around Brattleboro. By the end of 2020, she told the board, there will be audio tours for places important in the history of words.

She said they were looking for people to lead audio teams, and can provide equipment.

Roundtable discussions open to the public will occur at 118 Elliot. This Thursday, from 6-7 pm, there will be a discussion of Abenaki sites.

Terry Carter told the board of her ongoing effort to document, report, and hopefully remove a pile of tires near the entry to the West River Trail. She said the area is known for amazing animal life, but the pile of tires is growing and the quality of animal and plant life has declined.

She said the pile can be seen when one gets near the boathouse and to the right, and more tires were recently dumped. Carter has reported the matter to state environmental officers, and plans to do so again.

“It’s in the State’s jurisdiction,” said Elwell. “They have the ability to address it.”

Liquor Commissioners

The board, acting as Liquor Commissioners, granted a Festival Permit to Four Seasons Media (WTSA) for the Brattleboro Brewer’s Festival. It will be held on the afternoon of May 26 from noon until 4 pm at Famolare Field, 40 University Way.

It is expected to be a bigger event than in the past, and the permit was granted with a condition that all details are properly worked out with police and fire departments.

Vermont Community Foundation Spark! Connecting Community Grant Application

The Brattleboro Selectboard approved of a grant application to the Vermont Community Foundation for $3,000 toward the skatepark project.

The application is to the Spark! Connecting Community grant program, which likes to fund things that “light the spark that keeps Vermonters healthy and happy.”

“Pretty straightforward,” said Elwell.

Winter Road Maintenance Discussion

Steve Barrett, Director of Public Works, came before the board Tuesday night for a discussion of winter road maintenance. Kate O’Connor said her comments on potholes at the previous meeting were one of the reasons for the discussion, as well as suggestions by others to do nothing, plant flowers, and so on.

“This is going to be good,” said John Allen.

Barrett said this year has been particularly bad, with sub-zero temperatures, frost actions, and multiple freeze-thaw cycles. “This lifts and brings down roads,” he said, pointing to the example of manholes that appear to sink into the road. In truth, the pipes stay in place and the road has risen.

Western Avenue, he said, has special problems because of the history of its construction. First dirt, then gravel, the road was changed to concrete in the mid 1900’s. The current road was put over the concrete road, and is wider, so it is not evenly supported for the full width of the road. Add to that the way concrete behaves (cracking), and it becomes more clear why this and other roads with concrete under them (Birdge Street, for example) have more problems than more modern roads.

Barrett said the state handles resurfacing and the town handles maintenance, but there is always a point when we wonder which category a repair falls under.

He said the state plans to work on Rt. 9 west of Edward Heights, and Brattleboro has asked to continue the work into town. “It is a need.”

Allen asked if there was some way to ask the state to “do it right” by tearing up the concrete and ending the cycle of potholes and repairs. “We overlay blacktop on edges that fall in.”

“Prohibitive costs.” Barrett said it was a question of money. He said there may be new techniques or materials coming along, “or you could pave more often.”

Over 13,000 vehicles use that stretch each day, he said. “Patches don’t last long, but even if they last a few hours and it saves damage to cars, that’s worth it,” he said.” “We continue to patch.”

He told the board about three different ways to fix potholes. One cold method is often very temporary, but can last through until the following winter. One hot box method uses a hot mix is a patch that lasts longer, but isn’t as good as a hot mix. The final way, a hot mix after properly cutting and milling the edges of the pothole, is the best way, said Barrett.

To fix Western Ave, they used 27 tons of the second method. Four dump truck loads worth. “And that didn’t get all of them, just the worst of the worst.”

Barrett said that when he first became Director in 1996, his road budget was 200k a year. Now it is $250,000. He said $200,000 now pays for less than a mile of road.

He expects to be overbudget on some winter costs but won’t know for certain until the snow stops falling.

“Very helpful. Next time you can come before we editorialize,” said O’Connor.

Tax Implications of Act 46 on Brattleboro Property Tax

David Schoales asked fellow board members to consider sending a letter to the State Board of Education and Agency of Education asking them to approve of the Alternative Governance Structure application submitted by local school boards, school board members, and others.

Voters clearly rejected the school merger in November, said Schoales, choosing the current structure over a merger by a 2-1 margin.

He explained that Brattleboro’s taxes are generally 30-80 cents higher than surrounding towns.

Schoales provided a spreadsheet of estimated tax implications over the last three years if districts that had merged. It showed that Brattleboro and Guilford’s tax rates would have been higher, and Dummerston and Putney lower, had the merger been in place.

He found it odd that a law to make education more equitable would be less equitable in tax rates — Brattleboro’s taxes would go up and we’d make cuts while other towns would gain programs and services and see tax cuts.

Schoales felt a letter from the board to support the Alternative Governance Structure, a plan to keep decisions about education taxes in towns, should be drafted.

Tim Wessel asked what the school board had done.

Schoales said that at the time they were required to weigh in, December 20, they had outstanding questions about the alternative plan. They voted to not support it. The questions have now been answered. “If we don’t get snowed out, I’ll ask them to re-vote,” he promised.

Kate O’Connor said Act 46 was super confusing. “My understanding is Brattleboro has sent two proposals, one from the Act 46 Study Committee and one from the Alternative Governance Structure Committee.” She said she didn’t know enough to know which one, if any, to support.

Schoales said they had until May to weigh in before any decision were made. He said it would be November when the state announces decisions, “and then we have a month to negotiate.”

Wessel said that the proposed letter’s main thrust was the respect of the wisdom of voters for rejecting consolidation.

O’Connor pointed out that there has been no vote on the alternative.

Wessel said a letter asking to respect democracy was important, but the word “wisdom” might not be best. “That causes us to take a position.” He wondered what the board was allowed to do.

Schoales said that just as votes for candidates count, so must the vote to reject the merger.

John Allen said the issue was “so convoluted” and told Schoales there must be people out there that would counter what he was saying.

“We have legal opinions now,” answered Schoales.

Allen wasn’t impressed. “There are two distinct, strong arguments. It was a close vote.”

“It was not close. 2-1,“ said Schoales. “In all towns in the region.”

“I voted for it,” said Wessel. “Should I not support the letter?” He said he was for taking the deal, based on the information he had then. “I’d like to concentrate on democracy.”

Schoales backed off the requirement that they express support for the alternative plan, but wanted to keep the part that supported the wisdom of the voters.

Brandie Starr suggested other terms, such as “outcome,” so that it wouldn’t come across as saying those voting for the merger were unwise.

Schoales said he’d draft something for them to review.

“After [Representative] Town Meeting?” hoped Allen.

Schoales laughed and said it would come up at their next meeting and at Representative Town Meeting.

O’Connor reminded all that March 14 was the Pre-Representative Town Meeting Informational Meeting at Academy School. Caucuses for districts at 6:30 pm and a discussion of articles on the meeting warning at 7 pm.


VTrans responded positively to Brattleboro’s request for safety improvements along Putney Road. They promise to:

  • re-stripe narrower travel lanes on US Route 5 between Town Crier Drive and Spring Tree Road
  • investigate use of alternative shoulder markings, and apply them
  • add material and perform grading of the existing gravel shoulder adjacent to the paved shoulder
  • place temporary delineation between the edge of the gravel shoulder and the edge of the paved shoulder
  • perform a vehicle speed study and investigate potential for pedestrian crossings

This will happen this spring.

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