The Brattleboro Selectboard scheduled too many weighty issues for their Tuesday meeting at the Municipal Center. As the meeting went on, agenda items were jettisoned in repeated attempts to keep the length of the meeting somewhat reasonable.
Those issues that were discussed were discussed in detail. The board learned about the Utilities Fund budget and possible rate changes in coming years, discussed goals for the coming year, received a presentation on the results of a Downtown Parking Survey, and held a public hearing on the Town Plan revision. They attended to Department of Transportation paperwork, settled a lawsuit, changed the name of a street, applied for grants, and more.
Also, a mouse.
Chair Kate O’Connor started the meeting with a congratulations to the library. The Vermont Legislature had honored the 50th anniversary at their current location with a resolution. It can be seen, of course, at the library.
Town Manager Peter Elwell invited everyone to Diversity Day activities this Friday from 5-8 pm on Elliot Street.
For selectboard comments and committee reports, David Schoales added that Friday is also Gallery Walk, and student art with diversity themes would be on display.
Tim Wessel said that the Traffic Safety Committee had good news. A pedestrian-controlled flashing beacon will be installed on Western Avenue near Holton Home to make it easier to cross.
Brandie Starr reminded everyone that the seasonal overflow shelter has closed, leaving 35 people without a place to sleep until next winter.
For public participation, a member of 350 Brattleboro praised the Town for previous action on environmental and energy issues and encouraged the board to implement the intent of the March ballot initiative.
Liquor Commissioners – Twin Flames Taqueria
The Brattleboro Selectboard, acting as Liquor Commissioners, approved a first-class liquor license for the new taco place on Main Street, Twin Flames Taqueria. It’ll be in the location formerly occupied by Brattleburger, 97 Main.
James Casterline and Amber Bergeron said they will focus on tacos, make tortillas in-house, have a “really cool” salsa bar, and employ two great bartenders. They hope to open in a month or so.
Water and Sewer Commissioners – FY19 Utility Budget
Donning their Water and Sewer Commissioner hats, the Brattleboro Selectboard discussed the FY19 Utility budget. This was a preliminary discussion in advance of approving the budget in early June.
Town Manager Elwell explained that Utilities revenue is stable. He said that this is the 5th year of a five year series of increases, and he and Town Staff recommend to keep rates (6% sewer increase, 2% water increase) as they are one more year and change the ordinance in 2019.
Director of Public Works Steve Barrett led the board through the numbers.
He said the Utilities Division lost “over 100 years of experience” with the retirement of the Water Treatment Chief Officer, Distribution Supervisor, office manager, and Utilities Superintendent, but has rehired all but the superintendent position. The training budget has increased and a new employee has been hired to help with meters, hydrants, and the new sidewalk plow.
Barrett told the board that the budget is based on water treatment of 1.2 million gallons of drinking water per day from Pleasant Valley, with back-up water from the Retreat Wells averaging 700,000 gallons per month depending on conditions. Expenses have increased to address invasive plant control, timber harvesting, fire road improvements, erosion control and water distribution improvements.
Overtime for water system flushing has been increased to help pay for the training of new employees.
The Welcome Center pump station will be completed this summer, and an odor control system will be installed.
Barrett wrapped up with a summary of capital improvement projects. These include finishing work at the Chestnut Hill reservoir, replacing the roof at the Retreat Wells Water Treatment Facility, energy efficiency improvements suggested in the 2016 Energy Audit, engineering for the upgrade to the Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Facility and a new waste process line to connect to Mountain Home Trailer Park.
General system improvements and upgrades will continue, such as water meter replacements, fixes to our sewer system, vehicle replacements, and odor control.
Odor control is a big enough issue that a study will be done, putting meters around town to measure conditions, then making adjustments at the Wastewater Treatment Facility, and continuing to monitor and make adjustments. Tim Wessel asked about the timetable for the project and was told it would begin this summer.
Brandie Starr asked how new vehicle purchases fit into Brattleboro’s concern about environmental impacts. Barrett told her about switching away from diesel to use less fuel during idling, and the use of small vehicles within the department. He said they are looking at the possibility of an electric vehicle.
David Schoales asked how DPW jobs were advertised. Barrett said there weren’t a lot of people with experience out there. He said they do a national search, and tell trade associations and other related organizations about the job opening. Even the lower level jobs, he said, require credentials, and much depends on pay and benefits.
“We just lost my Assistant to go become a Director,” he told the board. “Our employees make good candidates for other places.”
Schoales asked how water and sewer use was measured. Barrett said they measure water going in via the water meter. They don’t measure what comes out. Using the garden hose, he explained, is paying for both water and sewer.
Kate O’Connor asked why the Utilities budget kept a balance of over $4 million. Elwell said it was protection. “When something goes wrong it has to be fixed, and it can be expensive.” He again suggested they leave rates as they are for this year.
Wessel took Elwell up on the offer to adjust the model (a spreadsheet), and suggested they see what happened if rates were cut in half. “This is taxpayers money and rates are tough on people.”
He pointed out that an increase of 6% isn’t just for this year. “It’s been 2% and 6% for five years.”
Barrett responded that rates were artificially low prior to the increases. He called it a tough, uphill, responsible battle.
Wayne Estey, now a member of the Finance Committee and focused on Utilities, asked about succession plans, federal and state regulations, shutoff ability, sales forecasts, and a cost of service study.
Barrett replied that they were doing “asset management planning” that would cover succession planning and inventory, they comply with all regulations, and that Brattleboro has a “tight system” with good leak control.
As for sales forecast, Barrett said that depends on the weather. “Conditions dictate sales.”
The board also approved a contract for final design of a new Waste Process Water LIne at Pleasant Valley. The Dufresne Group will do the design work and receive $38,800, then will deliver plans to Brattleboro for Town staff to use to do the work.
If you like water system engineering, read the board materials for a full description of the intended design. It has details such as using existing lagoons for flow equalization by replacing the bituminous concrete surface, a flow control unit with an electrically actuated butterfly valve, and approximately 3,640 linear feet of 8-inch diameter ductile iron or C900 PVC pipes, among other things.
The board returned to the subject of their goals for the coming year. Since the review of goals at their last meeting, a few new items were suggested by members. Kate O’Connor first asked for the new suggestions.
Shanta Lee Gander suggested the board enact the resolution of being a Compassionate Community and establish a task force or committee to work toward the goal. “Be who we say we are,” she said, was the intent.
David Schoales suggested they add PILOT and additional revenue possibilities, to have non-profits pay for their share of town services consumed.
He also suggested goals of program-based budgetting, and re-examining Utility funding. He hoped the board would identify the next energy upgrade target for 2020, and examination of the Town’s role in housing shortages as well as economic and community development. He also suggested implementing the Compassionate Communities resolution, and work on a day-work program.
With new goals out of the way, thoughts on those suggestions began. Starr said she agreed with Gander, and with Schoales on PILOT and housing issues such as land use rights for the homeless. She said we should admit we have people without homes, and maybe some of our issues would be easier to deal with if people had places to stay safely.
Wessel liked the idea of discussing housing, but wasn’t sure about a Town committee to deal with compassion. He suggested a change to the goal to have the board discuss it, but have others in the community continue their work on it. He also brought up a 1% Local Option Tax discussion as a possible goal.
Gander wasn’t thrilled with watering down her suggested goal. “I look at plans and plans are static,” she said. “We signed off on a resolution. What does that mean?”
Starr suggested a citizen committee bring the board some guidelines or ideas. Wessel agreed, adding that existing “compassion”groups could be invited.
Elwell rained on the PILOT parade slightly, saying that they looked into estimating what services were used but it was too difficult and not valuable. He hoped there would be new ideas for income at the Regional Economic Hub meeting to be held in June.
After more discussion, the board decided to add PILOT and 1% Local Option Tax, energy efficiency specifics, housing, enacting compassionate communities, and economic development to their goals, which will be again reviewed and possibly adopted at a future meeting.
Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland was appointed to be the representative to the Windham Solid Waste Management District for Brattleboro. He both volunteered and offered up a qualifying resume. Elwell will be the alternate.
With this, at 8:34 p.m. the Brattleboro Selectboard began regular business.
Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett led the board through a series of matters related to Brattleboro roads and the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
The board approved of the annual DPW financial plan form that is sent to the state Agency of Transportation. It’s a simple form that attests that we raise funds equivalent to at least $300 per mile of town highway.
The board certified compliance for all town roads and bridge standards. This is another simple form, with check boxes to indicate we have, indeed, adopted standards and our inventory of roads is up-to-date.
Three grant applications were approved. The first is to pave a section of Maple Street ($117,205), the second to pave a section of Hinesburg Road ($97,340), and the third is to replace a failing box culvert on Hinesburg Road ($172,200).
Each paving project requires a local match. Maple Street will cost us $23,441 (20%), paving Hinesburg will be $19,468 (20%), and the box culvert will require a match of $17,200 (10%).
Barrett wanted it to be known far and wide that paving on East Orchard will NOT include the gravel sections of the road. Just the previously paved portions, people.
Marcraft v. Town of Brattleboro Settlement
Marcraft Realty Corporation, owners of the outlet center at 580 Canal Street, was unhappy with the Town’s assessed value for their property, and challenged it. Brattleboro said it was worth $2,012,170 whereas Marcraft had an appraisal showing a value of $1,300,000.
An independent appraisal was done, finding a new value of $1,360,000.
Both Marcraft and the Town of Brattleboro have agreed on a new value for the property, different from all of the appraisals, at $1,350,000. This will dismiss the lawsuit against the Town filed by Marcraft.
The lawyers at Fisher & Fisher wrote that “there isn’t much, if any, argument that the Town could raise to support a higher value” given the outcome of the independent appraisal.
Downtown Parking Study
Planning Services Director Rod Francis was joined by Andy Hill of Desman Design Management to present results the Downtown Parking Study for initial review by the selectboard. The Parking Fund budget will be discussed at their next meeting.
Unfortunately, the presentation was delayed by not having proper files ready on the computer. While waiting, the board learned that someone with a handicapped parking placard could park in any legitimate space for up to 24 hours without violation.
The presentation got started, with Hill presenting. The study looked at 13 blocks of downtown parking, from about Terrace Street to the Marlboro Grad Center and 450 feet to the east of Main Street. There are 2,314 parking spaces there, 52% of which are privately-owned. Curbside parking (194 spaces) are highly used, but only 8% of the total available.
The study found no parking shortages, with about a 71% capacity peak on weekdays and 60% on weekends. Curbside spots remain popular, but also have regular turnover. Even with anticipated growth, we have the capacity to handle it, said Hill.
The study asked people about perception of the parking system, too, and the consultants recommend a few possible improvements:
- replace meters with new ones that accept credit card and cell phone payment
- negotiate shared use agreements with private parking owners to free up spaces when not in use
- add signs for public parking reserved spaces indicating they are available during off-hours
- manipulate pricing to change demand patterns to balance our parking system use
- expand the parking information pages on the Town’s web site.
- explore biking improvements to reduce demand
The study showed that high on the list of user requests was facilities and programs to support alternative transportation. There were also concerns about unsafe areas, overzealous parking enforcement, and sidewalk conditions.
75% opposed the idea of dynamic pricing, and 75% hoped for a centralized bike parking system.
Even so, Hill said Brattleboro should try dynamic pricing by raising the cost of parking in highly desirable places, and reduce it in the places in alternative parking areas.
Hill said Brattleboro had “a great downtown, such a vibrant downtown people want to be in it.”
The consultants say that the annual report on the parking system gives the public misconceptions, such as wrongly thinking that parking tickets are a profit center for the Town, parking revenues go to the General Fund, and property taxes subsidize parking facilities.
The report suggests a medium-term goal of improving the painting and lighting of the parking garage and looking for space for secure bike storage downtown.
Long-term suggestions for increasing parking downtown include building a second level to the High-Grove lot, building a parking structure in Harris Lot, or possibly buying the C.F. Church property to build a parking garage.
Shanta Lee Gander asked what the cost of new meters that would take credit cards might cost. Hill estimated $450-500 per meter, but that companies offered leases and profit sharing, and meters could be replaced instead with a $5-7,500 parking kiosk.
Brandie Starr brought up a letter from Alice Charkes to the board’s official email addresses that warned the board that cyclists want to park close to their destinations, not at a centralized bike parking area in the parking garage. Hill agreed some spots could probably be found on Main Street.
Franz Reichsman said he was duty-bound to raise the issue of potential bias in the sampling method for the surveys taken.
Wayne estey asked about half spaces for motorcycles. Rod Francis said that Brattleboro writes a ticket to both cyclists if they share a space, and asked Hill for his opinion on the practice.
“As a non-politician, I’d say that if they are within the boundaries, if you can cram six in, go for it.”
It was now 9:30 pm. Chair Kate O’Connor decided to throw some agenda items overboard, to be taken up at their next meeting. Police Fire facility recommendations, the Solid Waste budget, and discussion of cancelling their July 3rd meeting were crossed off the list for the evening. Quite a few items still remained, though.
Town Plan Amendment Public Hearing
The first of two required public hearings was held regarding changes to Brattleboro’s Town Plan. Rod Francis explained the changes and was joined by Kathy Urffer and Sue Fillion.
Francis gave some history of how the revision came to be, that it has been fact checked, it conforms to statutes, and has been updated to show progress on previous goals.
Gander raised a question about the Arts & Culture chapter. Given that the Arts Committee doesn’t have a quorum, she wondered, does it make sense to assign new goals to the committee to accomplish?
Francis said they had to assume the committee would continue to exist for the duration (8 years) of the Town Plan.
This led to some discussion about whether a non-existant committee could accomplish goals, and it was decided it would be best to make a push for new members for the committee.
Franz Reichsman suggested the Town Plan include a discussion of plans for a path along the Whetstone. Fillion said the trail idea has been in discussion for a long time, and is in the Town Plan under the broad category of community trail system.
Wayne Estey, who had sent a long list of written suggested changes and comments, covering arts, internet, business, state issues, energy matters, publice restrooms, cleaning of Whetstone debris, and declaring Esteyville a National Park, said he wouldn’t bore the board by reading his comments, then read some of his comments.
The second public hearing, and potential approval, is scheduled for May 15.
Chair O’Connor made one more agenda item walk the plank – the discussion of upgrades to Union Station will be added to the agenda for the next meeting.
Street Name Change
Bro Place has been renamed Lilac Lane. The two property owners along this West Brattleboro street agreed, and the Selectboard approved.
Gander asked if it was a concern that there was a Lilac Lane in NH. Elwell said it was a valid concern, but that they just check to make sure there isn’t confusion within Brattleboro. “There are no other Lilacs in Brattleboro.”
Fire Department Ballistic Vest Grants
Brattleboro’s fire department would like 12 ballistic vests, and are applying to both the Walmart Community Grant Program and the Firefighter Support Foundation Equipment Grant program for the funding to get them.
These will be worn over normal protective gear only on “calls where the location or circumstances cause reasonable concern that someone might try to harm a firefighter” on the scene, such as at the scene of drug overdoses.
A small mouse came before the board at the end of the meeting. It remained silent, but let its presence be known.
The mouse joins the fly as the two wild animals to attend recent meetings of the board.
The meeting ended at 10 pm.