It was a night of big things for the Brattleboro Selectboard – a big, new fire truck was ordered, and plans for a possible big $32.5m dairy processing facility were presented.
The board got an update on skatepark finances and schedule, tires in the wetlands will be cleaned up next fall, a letter about Act 46 stalled, the leaf pickup schedule is being re-examined, and goals and plans for the coming year were discussed. The board discussed energy matters, compassion, and diversity.
Oh, and for anyone seeking to get a message to Board Chair, don’t send email…
Chair Kate O’Connor invited the public to meetings on May 1 to discuss Utility Fund and Solid Waste budgets and hear a parking study report, and on May 15 to discuss the Parking Fund budget.
She added that the first of two spring leaf pick-up dates is this Friday and the other two weeks after.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said that the dates for leaf pickup were being re-examined “to make it work better” given changes in climate. He said fall dates were scheduled before many leaves fell, and now the first pickup day may still have snow.
Elwell also relayed the good news that the property owner worried about changes to the flood map at the last meeting, after some reconsideration and recalculation, is now “outside the negatively impacted area.”
There were no selectboard comments or committee reports.
For public participation, Diana Wahle of the Diverse Workforce Development Committee and Alex Beck of the BDCC reported on their successful “Bridge to Brattleboro” April 6th visit by students from the College of St. Joseph in Rutland.
Beck said that students came, did ‘job shadows’ with the Town, Retreat, hospital and businesses, and saw how Brattleboro was unique.
Wahle said some of the students indicated a desire to return to Brattleboro to work, especially those that shadowed the Police Department and Community Justice Center.
Terry Carter said she was saddened to learn at Representative Town Meeting that Hig Bronson passed away. She said he was always warm and approachable, full of fatherly advice, and respectful. She said her only regret was that she never gave him a hug.
Tax Implications of Act 46 Merger on Brattleboro Property Tax – Proposed Letter to Vermont State Board of Education and Vermont Agency of Education
At a prior meeting, David Schoales suggested that the Brattleboro Selectboard send a letter to the state education departments seeking their approval of the Alternative Governance Structure application submitted by local school boards, members, and citizens. Tuesday, he brought back a revised letter for fellow selectboard members to consider sending.
Schoales suggested letter begins:
“As you know, voters in Brattleboro overwhelmingly rejected the Articles of Merger presented to them in November. In 2014-2015, and 2017 our Representative Town Meeting overwhelmingly supported resolutions opposed to any change in our town school governance that was not supported by the public. We write to express our concern that the strong votes of our citizens might be disregarded in an imposed merger. We hope that you, Madame Secretary and State Board members, will consider these expressions of the public will as you review options for the future of our town school district.”
The letter has an attachment discussing issues of sustainability, transparency, and practicability. It makes the argument that Brattleboro’s property taxes are already high, and a school merger would increase rates further. It also points out that Brattleboro serves many low income students, and a merger would transfer necessary funds away from these populations.
None of the other board members was ready to sign quite yet, if ever.
Tim Wessel asked what evidence there was that Brattleboro’s vote was being disregarded. Schoales said the State Board of Education doesn’t have to pay attention to the vote. “The people are out of it.”
Brandie Starr asked if there was any specific action indicating that Brattleboro’s vote would be disregarded. Schoales said the Governor has been clear about favoring consolidation, and the Secretary of Education who was holding hearings on considering alternatives resigned, “an indication that the pressure on the State Board is toward consolidation.”
Shanta Lee Gander said she needed to know more before voting. and asked what the timeline was for making a decision. Schoales said he hoped to have the letter signed and delivered to the Secretary of Education in May, before a June report to the State Board of Education. They’ll make a final decision this November.
Kate O’Connor applauded Schoales for taking this on but didn’t want her name on it. “We don’t know why the Secretary has left, and no one is speaking.” She said her issue was that the Agency of Education had two proposal in front of them, and only one had been voted on in Brattleboro. She said the board doesn’t know what the community thinks of the alternative plan.
Schoales said the alternative plan was to keep things as they are, and not merge. “The alternative wouldn’t come up for a vote.”
O’Connor said most people might not know what this is about.
Starr wasn’t sure how it fit under the duties of the Selectboard. Wessel said the issues of taxation might qualify it as a matter for the board. He suggested limiting the letter to a discussion of respecting democracy.
Elizabeth McCloughlin said she had concerns about the Selectboard sending the letter, pointing out that Schoales was a member of both the Selectboard and School Board “and he’s contradicting a vote of a board he’s a member of by using the Selectboard.” She said it could cause a breach between the two boards, and that she felt the merger was a school board issue.
Schoales said the School Board has no authority under Act 46, and that our merger proposal was sent to the State as insurance, along the lines of “if we have to merge, we want to merge this way.”
Kurt Daims suggested that Representative Town Meetin Representatives are the proper body to take up the matter.
Schoales will present a revised revision of his letter at the May 1 meeting.
Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor
Finance Director John O’Connor gave the board his monthly summary of finances for March 2018, the ninth month of the fiscal year.
With 75% of the fiscal year complete, the General Fund stands at 74% of the annual budget. The Utilities Fund is at 74.9% and the Parking Fund at 75.8%.
Solid Waste Disposal revenues are at 68.9% and expenditures are at 70.1%, with the regular caveat that the previous month’s revenues and expenses aren’t figured in until a month later.
Brattleboro has loaned out $4,457,538, and has $433,679 available for additional loans or grants.
We’ve got 49 active grants and 10 in the application pipeline.
Tim Wessel asked the difference between line items for tax penalties and collection charges. O’Connor said that the penalties came from late payments, and the collection charges came from tax sales.
Kate O’Connor asked O’Connor about the long wait for FEMA reimbursement. O’Connor answered O’Connor with good news. Brattleboro has recently received the final payment, and it was more than expected. A higher than anticipated cost was reimbursed, leading to a larger payment than originally expected.
CDBG Grant Application – Culture Made Vermont
The Brattleboro Selectboard held a public hearing regarding a $1 million Community Development Block Grant for Culture Made Vermont – a possible new $32.5 million dairy processing project at the Exit 1 Industrial Park.
Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland provided the board with an overview of the project and grant, saying this was a first step of many that the board would review in coming months. For example, in coming months the Town would like to discharge the mortgage for the property, discuss a waste water discharge permit, and consider tax stabilization deals.
By submitting the grant, Moreland explained, Brattleboro would commit to between $840,000 and $1.5 million of water and sewer improvements if the project receives permits and funding. Cash from the Utility Fund would be used, and there is the potential for half of the costs to be reimbursed by the USEDA. (Read the preliminary engineers report for lots of great Brattleboro water-system trivia.)
Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation will serve as project developer, and these funds would be used to purchase new equipment fo a “value-added dairy/non-dairy manufacturing facility” of about 26,000 square feet.
BDCC will develop product formulas, get equipment, and renovate and expand facilities at the Exit One Industrial park.
BDCC plans to for a supporting organization to make purchases of the facility and equipment. Culture Made Vermont, LLC will lease the newly renovated, expanded and equipped facility.
They expect to create 46 new jobs in the next two years, and promise no less than 51% made available to households of low to moderate income. Additional jobs are expected as the facility reaches full production, about five years into operation.
Kurt Daims said he was confused about the public interest in these sewer modifications. “It only benefits the owners of this prospective business. Why do we subsidize the sewer connections they need?”
Elwell said that the project benefits the Industrial Park generally, but the community interest is that a major ratepayer would be added to the system, potentially bringing in over $300,000 a year, a similar amount as Commonwealth Dairy pays.
Wessel said it was “win-win-win. A win for ratepayers, a win for jobs in the area, and a win for the region,” adding that it was the right size and scale of industry for Brattleboro.
The board approved of the grant application, identified staff as contact people, and committed in concept to water and wastewater improvements at a cost of $840,000 if funding and permits for the project are approved.
(For board trivia fans, newest member Shanta Lee Gander read her first motion, the one relating to the concept of improvements. She ended it with “All in favor say Aye,” a line usually reserved for the Chair. This caused some surprised looks, then some giggling, and served as a perfect ice-breaker for the new board member.)
Jeff Clark, president of BASIC (Brattleboro Area Skatepark Is Coming) gave the board an update on all things skatepark.
Clark said the cost of $230,000 is based on a $46.50 per square foot estimate for a 5000 square foot park.
Grants, pledges and donations (including the recent Representative Town Meeting donation) total $170,296, leaving a balance needed of $59,704.
The Tarrant Foundation matching grant could potentially bring in $30,000, the Walmart Foundation has been asked for $5,000, $25,000 has been requested from North Face, and a request for $15,000 will be sent ot the Thomas Thompson Trust. Other grants, events, and fundraising efforts are also being considered.
The RFP for skatepark design has gone out to bid, and bids are due May 9th.
Brandie Starr said she was getting a skateboard so she could join her 5 yr old at the park.
In addition, the Brattleboro Selectboard accepted and appropriated a grant from the Tarrant Foundation – a challenge grant up to $15,000 – to help pay for engineering and construction for the park at Living Memorial Park. Personal and business donations, fundraiser proceeds, and pledges can be used to match.
BASIC reminded the public that their support now can have the greatest impact.
Connecticut River Joint Commission – Kathy Urffer
Kathy Urffer was appointed by the selectboard to be Brattleboro’s volunteer representative to the Wantastiquet Local Region Subcommittee of the Connecticut River Joint Commission. It’s an advisory group that advocates for public involvement in decisions that affect the Connecticut River and valley.
Urffer is employed by the Connecticut River Conservancy as river steward for the Connecticut River in VT and NH.
Gander asked if this presented a conflict of interest. No one could think of any possible conflict.
“I can’t see how she could really benefit in an unseemly way,” said Kate O’Connor. “We get the benefit.”
Terry Carter has been raising the issue of tires being dumped near the West River trailhead during recent public participation sessions, and this week the Brattleboro Selectboard put the issue on the agenda for an official discussion.
Before Carter could speak, Kate O’Connor gave an update. She said there will be a tire cleanup day this fall during Connecticut River Conservancy cleanup days, thanks to an offer from Kathy Urffer. It will be scheduled to do minimal impact to wildlife.
Carter gave the web address for others to report similar violations to the state: http://dec.vermont.gov/enforcement/reporting . She suggested that the town discuss having an affordable or free place to dispose of tires, and recommended the book “Ten Billion” about population and limits.
The owner of Brattleboro Tire also addressed the board, letting them know that he has never dumped tires behind his business. “We work within the guidelines and deal with the proper disposal of chemicals and tires,” he said. “I feel it is my backyard, and want to be part of the clean-up.” He added that there used to be an embankment of tires there, and it might be eroding.
Carter said she noticed new tires this year, darker than the other tires. “There’s been recent tire dumping.”
“We don’t know where they came from,” said Kate O’Connor, and Carter agreed she wasn’t there to place blame.
New Ladder Truck for Fire Department
The Brattleboro Selectboard gave Town staff the go-ahead to order a new ladder truck for the Fire Department. Ordering before May 1 avoids a 3% increase due to rises in steel tariffs, and helps keep the truck’s price under the $950,000 limit imposed by Representative Town Meeting.
The purchase is being from Pierce Manufacturing via the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s HGAC- Buy program. Our ladder truck will have a single rear axle for tighter turns and steel ladder which is stronger than aluminum ladders when heated.
$450,000 of the total wil be cash; the remainder will be financed by bond banks or bank loans. The exact financing will be worked out later.
The hopeful grant for $500,000 was not approved by FEMA/AFG.
The truck is expected to arrive in Brattleboro in May of 2019. Our new rescue/pumper is on schedule to arrive June 1.
Local Emergency Operations Plan
The board approved of Brattleboro’s annual updates to the Local Emergency Operations Plan, satisfying requirements of the Vermont Emergency Management Division. It next gets sent to the Windham Regional Commission for approval, then on to the state.
The plan has procedures for disasters and natural hazards of all sorts, with voluminous references of resources and contacts. It’s used by the Town, Fire Department, Police Department, Department of Public Works, Emergency management Director, Rescue Inc, Central Dispatch, the hospital, Town Manager, and Red Cross.
Representative Town Meeting Follow-Up Matters
The board took up their list of Representative Town meeting loose ends:
- Purchase all electricity from renewable sources
- Provide free childcare at future informational meetings and Representative Town Meetings, and maybe Selectboard meetings
- Allocate 1% of the General Fund for the Human Services Review Committee to disperse to non-profits
- Change back to previous Representative Town Meeting seating arrangements
- Review implications of Open Meeting Laws, social media, and communications among elected representatives
- Provide recycling and compost collection at future RTM, and food in recyclable containers
- Kate O’Connor added the sustainability ballot article to the list.
Elwell said that some items (energy and social media rules) were being worked on already, some could be discussed later in the year (meeting issues).
Schoales felt the renewable power should be discussed after results of the solar array project were seen in a few years. He said Brattleboro would be getting 80% renewable under that plan.
Kurt Daims said that the renewable energy from Cow Power issue was urgent, and would cost more, but was in line with momentum around environmental issues.
Board members were mixed on the issue of RTM seating, but somewhat in favor of finding a way to be seen by Representatives. Wessel noted that it wasn’t a desire to elevate anyone over anyone else, but if you are elevated, you are also a better target (of criticism.)
All were in favor of more recycling, but didn’t want to impose a mandate on school kids serving up snacks.
O’Connor pointed out that some of these RTM issues pertained to schools, and they should take them up as well.
Annual Goal Setting – CRTO and Selectboard
Town Manager Elwell presented the selectboard with a revised version of the Comprehensive Review of Town Operations – an updated list of goals for Brattleboro.
Some previous items have been completed, so their status has changed to “already accomplished.” Some items have been modified. Some that were waiting to begin are now “in progress,” and others have had their priority adjusted.
Nothing major has been added or taken out, but new priority goals include being more realistic in capital planning, and implementing more opportunities for people to pay the Town by credit card.
Schoales suggested an update on Traffic Safety, and energy efficiency projects. He added more work on diversity, and a plan for if the Town loses electricity for an extended period.
O’Connor suggested a look at the energy audits to refresh memories. Wessel wondered why the salt shed at the DPW, always teetering on the list, is still standing. “Out of habit,” joked Schoales. He suggested bringing back the MATRIX study as they plan what to do with the DPW buildings.
“That was before my time, “said Elwell.
“Is it still relevant?” asked Wessel. Schoales thought it might be, as it was the same buildings standing today that were discussed when the study was done over a decade ago.
The board also began a discussion of their own goals for the year, with a list of suggested goals being helpfully provided by the Town Manager. These include work on hub town issues, developing a realistic capital improvement plan, Municipal Center planning, energy efficiency and sustainability efforts, improved personnel and procurement policies, improvements to the Town’s website, and continuation of efforts to increase diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Gander asked that they revisit the idea of being a compassionate town, and possibly form a task force or committee for people in the community to help achieve the goals. She offered to write up a more formal goal.
Schoales liked the idea, comparing it to the oversight provided by the Finance Committee. Gander thought the model could be like Restorative Justice, whereby a committee could help resolve problems.
Mentioned in the board’s handout, but not at the meeting, is a setback in negotiations with the State for use of the Municipal Center. Alternatives are beginning to be explored. Decisions by the state seem likely by mid-summer.
Goals will be taken up again at future meetings.
Rules of Conduct
The board reviewed their current rules of conduct for meetings and hearings. In general, it passed inspection, though there was a discussion about trying to keep the agenda short.
David Schoales asked if there was a way to structure things so guests could go home early. Brandie Starr said they try not to overload the agenda.
Kate O’Connor said budget discussions needed to happen early in the meeting, but otherwise the effort is made.
Town Manager Elwell said their informal guideline is to put public issues first, issues with town staff next, then save discussions of Selectboard members come last. “Sometimes it can get stacked and someone has to wait.”
Starr agreed that budgets need to come first, to preserve brainpower.
The rules were adopted.
Annual Selectboard Appointments
The board appointed themselves to a variety of mandatory slots on boards an committees.
- Capital Grant Review Board – Brandie Starr and Shanta Lee Gander
- Rental Housing Improvement Program Loan Committee, Tim Wessel
- Small Business Assistance Program Loan Committee, David Schoales
- Traffic Safety Committee, Tim Wessel
Brandie Starr will remain as a temporary alternate to the Windham Solid Waste Management District Board of Supervisors, while the board tries to sweet talk Gander into taking the position (or find someone else.) Board efforts to make it sound fun (“You get to see how towns manage solid waste!”) got them as far as a promise to check her schedule to see if she had a conflict, which she thought she might.
Wessel wondered if Selectboard members should serve as alternates for the Board of Civil Authority when they fail to have a quorum.
Kate O’Connor said she never checks her official Town of Brattleboro email account due to spam.
Schedule for Warrant Signing
Board members were assigned duties of signing official town checks. As usual, they will take turns. Schoales gets April – June, Starr is taking June – Aug, Gander will sign for Aug – Nov, Wessel will take over from Nov – Jan, and O’Connor will wrap things up from Jan – March.
The Fire Department responded to 11 overdoses in March and administered Narcan 5 times. Brattleboro Police report they responded to 10 overdoses.
I don’t see furthering the Municipal Broadband discussion as a goal for the year. ??
Also, elected officials not checking their official accounts is a major problem. Spam is something that can be blocked pretty easily. I’ve often wondered why official emails to some Selectboard members don’t get answered, but private ones do. (Spam protection is also something a Tech Committee could have advised on.)
If the accounts aren’t going to be used, the public needs to be given email addresses that will be checked. It’s absurd that people may have been writing to official accounts with real input and needs, fully expecting it to be read and taken into consideration, and it has been ignored. Citizens thought they were providing feedback.
To be really fair and open, all unopened board emails should be gathered and shown to the public so we can know what slipped though the cracks.
Amen to that!
It’s one thing (and undesirable at that) to ignore personal email accounts, but to ignore emails in an “official” account is not acceptable. Are we reduced to sending letters via snail mail or making personal phone calls in order to communicate with Ms. O’Connor and/or others?
Email is easily cleaned up, spam is no excuse to ignore the official way citizens can contact an elected representative.
We do a lot outside the goals
Municipal broadband discussion has not been forgotten, so I will make sure it comes up, just like I’m leading the discussion on correcting our write-in ballots situation, a Chris Grotke favorite.
For these goals, which are informal and do not exclude getting work done outside of them, we tend to focus on more concrete items, not ones we haven’t even begun discussing yet.