Brattleboro’s Town Plan revision was adopted by the Brattleboro Selectboard at Tuesday’s meeting. It was one of many items in a packed agenda that included financing of the new fire truck, preliminary design work on a possible police carport, and likely train station improvements.
The usually dull Parking Fund overview was spiced up by a request for a comprehensive look at the parking system, with public discussions, prior to approving any capital improvements. The FY19 Solid Waste Budget was introduced, finances were discussed, goals were adopted, and we learned that Brattleboro has a new Indian restaurant.
Finally, Brattleboro’s two confidential employees received a 2% raise, along with other non-union positions.
Neither Chair Kate O’Connor nor Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland had any opening remarks, other than to point out that Town Manager Peter Elwell was not there.
For selectboard comments and committee reports, Brandie Starr mentioned Camp for a Common cause coming up this Friday at the Common, and invited the public to participate.
For public participation, Wayne Estey told the board he had seen garbage trucks on Main Street taking recycling and trash in the same truck. He said he also ranks Brattleboro among the four poorest towns in Vermont.
Moreland said he’d follow up with him regarding the garbage truck.
Liquor Licenses – India Masala House
The Brattleboro Selectboard, acting as Liquor Commissioners, granted a first class liquor license and outdoor consumption permit for the India Masala House, located at the Quality Inn on Putney Road, and formerly known as Tequila Red.
Shanta Lee Gander asked owner Madan Rathore his plan for longevity. He said he had operated restaurants in Keene and Greenfield, and was happy to be in Brattleboro. “I want to retire here,” he said, explaining his move to Brattleboro.
Town Plan – Second Public Hearing and Adoption
The board held a second and final Public Hearing for the revised Brattleboro Town Plan.
The only ”change” was not a written one, but an informal agreement to work hard to fill committee vacancies, especially those of the Arts Committee, to make sure Town Plan objectives would be met.
Brandie Starr asked the public not to have anxiety or panic due to the Town Plan. Most of the work, she explained, was done at the ground level, and it is a living document that changes over time.
The Planning Services department plans to print fewer copies, but continue the availability of the Town Plan on flash drives for those who want a copy.
The revised Town Plan was adopted by the Brattleboro Selectboard.
Brattleboro Selectboard Goals for 2018-2019
The board continued their discussion of Selectboard Goals for the coming year. New items added since the discussion began include consideration of a 1% Local Options Tax, consideration of PILOT payments from non-profit property owners, and specificity about upcoming energy improvements.
Also added: support work on housing, economic and community development, and enacting Brattleboro’s resolution of being a Compassionate Community.
Kate O’Connor asked if anyone had any additions or changes. Hearing none, they adopted their goals.
Proposed Letter to Vermont State Board of Education and VT Agency of Education
The Brattleboro Selectboard continued their discussion of a possible letter to the State board and agency of education.
The letter was suggested by David Schoales, and had been edited down to reiterate that voters rejected merger plans, a viable alternative plan has been submitted to meet the goals of Act 46, and that “we ask that you consider these expressions of the public will as you review options for the future of our town school districts.” There is also an attachment with further information about how a merger would impact local tax rates and other matters.
Even this edited version caused concerns. Starr didn’t really like the word “viable” but didn’t want to dwell on it. O’Connor didn’t want to mention the alternative (to merging) plan, but could agree to a letter saying that the votes occurred. Tim Wessel didn’t think the issue was a matter of business for the board.
Schoales agreed that the word viable “was a judgement,” and agreed to take out the sentence about the alternative plan. And rather than make it a letter from the Selectboard, it was agreed to turn it into a resolution, with signatures of approving board members.
It will be re-worked and returned for action.
Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor
Finance Director John O’Connor presented the board with financial reports for April, with 83.3% of the fiscal year complete.
The General Fund expenditures stand at 81.8% of the annual budget.
The Utilities Fund is at 84% and the Parking Fund is at 85.5%
Solid Waste Disposal Fund revenues are at 78% and expenses at 80.5%, noting as usual that monthly bag revenue and collection costs are recorded a month later.
$4,451,923 has been loaned out, and $442,162 is available for additional grants and loans.
Brattleboro has 49 active grants and 10 in development.
Wessel asked why there was an 857% increase in professional services for the Listers. It’s a one time expenset, he was told, associated with the transition during a retirement, and some outside assistance called in to help out.
O’Connor asked if remaining sidewalk expenses would be spent this spring and was told work would be done now that winter was over.
Starr suggested artistic painting of crosswalks. Wessel suggested looking into diagonal crosswalk stripes downtown.
Financial Management Questionnaire and Internal Controls Checklist Review
Every year, the Town signs off on a Financial Management Questionnaire and Internal Controls Checklist, showing that we abide by good financial practices and reviews.
John O’Connor said that the questionnaire has simple questions, such as whether we do training, and if we have policies. The checklist is a bit more detailed, but is also focused on financial procedures, such as whether any computers can be accessed remotely.
This led to a mini-discussion of internet security. David Schoales asked if allowing support staff remote access left them vulnerable in any way. John O’Connor didn’t know, but thought it might.
Brandie Starr said she had experience with secure systems, then started to describe the internet as a series of tubes with information flowing in one direction, which caused Tim Wessel to repress a giggle.
Patrick Moreland said no one is secure, but all reasonable precautions have been taken, and frequent backups are made.
Kate O’Connor asked when the Town could stop reporting a cash box break-in from long ago. John O’Connor said never. “It says “has there ever been…,” he explained, so it must be reported.
Wessel asked if board members should attend financial training sessions, and John O’Connor said he’d look into possible options for them. Schoales said the best training so far, in his view, is “asking John questions.”
Grand List Certificate of No Appeal or Suit Pending
Another annual letter of compliance was signed by the Brattleboro Selectboard. This is a letter to the State of Vermont letting them know that the 2017 Grand List is final and no appeals or lawsuits are pending. It’s true, says Town Assessor Jenepher Burnell, so the selectboard certified that fact.
East Orchard Street Paving
Johnson Asphalt Paving of Northfield, VT will receive $34,468.50 for the paving of East Orchard Street from Upper Dummerston Rd to Gibson Rd.
“What are we losing by going cheaper, beyond just the price tag?” asked Shanta Lee Gander.
Moreland said previous experience showed them to be a good value.. Wessel said he had faith in the Department of Public Works to evaluate companies.
Aerial Ladder Truck Financing Options
The purchase of a new aerial ladder truck for the Fire Department has already been approved by Representative Town Meeting, but the financing of said truck was on hold until more information about borrowing options could be gathered.
With the new information in hand, it turns out that borrowing $500,000 from a local bank is the most cost effective.
John O’Connor explained that a 10 year bond from the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank would have an interest rate of about 2.547%, with no option to pre-pay.
Banks offered a range of rates, with TD Bank being the highest, at 4.20%. Peoples United offered a 3.35% rate, and Community Bank said they could do it for 3.22%.
Brattleboro Savings & Loan had the lowest rate for the 10 year term at 2.32%. “Pretty amazing,” he said, for a ten year loan in this economic environment. In addition to the better interest rate, the bank note can be repaid early if we choose do so.
The Brattleboro Savings & Loan loan was approved by the Brattleboro Selectboard, and the application to the Vermont Bond Bank will be withdrawn.
Police-Fire Facilities Project Carport and Committee Disbanding
The final recommendations of the Police-Fire Facilities Building Committee were acted upon by the Brattleboro Selectboard.
The committee recommends using the remaining bond funds (about $314,000) to build a carport for the new police station (about $150,000), buy a $33,000 digital alarm receiver for Central Dispatch, and replace the high roof at the Police station. The remaining funds would be held in reserve until the work was complete.
David Schoales suggested they pause and consider the total range of possible ways to spend the surplus before agreeing to the recommendations. “We should look at other things and how that money could be spent.”
Kate O’Connor asked why, if the roof was a priority, was the carport design being asked for? Moreland said both were in progress, and the carport design will help the board make a decision as to whether to continue and build it. “If the board wants to potentially do the carport, then we should have a good plan and budget.”
The board voted to spend up to $10,000 to complete planning and design work for the carport. Money will initially come from the General Fund and paid back from the remaining bond funds.
Once the designs are complete, a Representative Town Meeting will be convened to authorize changes.
With the final recommendations in hand, the selectboard voted to officially disband the committee and thank them for their service.
Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant for Police Department
Brattleboro Police were given permission to apply to the Bureau of Justice Assistance for $1,598 to cover half the cost of bulletproof vests.
Union Station Train Platform Improvements
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved of up to $15,000 to be spent on design work for improvements for train passengers at Union Station.
Moreland explained that the project is intended to meet the minimum required improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and these funds will cover the cost of a preliminary design and project budget to meet ADA standards as well as address a other possibilities to improve the station.
He told the board that Union Station was purchased from Central Vermont Railway in 1972. While Amtrak has been using the basement as a station, they have never had a formal lease with the Town. A future lease agreement will be created.
Some improvements, such as a new canopy, places to sit, and better access, were discussed and designed in 2003 but shelved due to budget limitations.
The United States Department of Justice says that accessibility improvements must be made nationwide by 2020. In Brattleboro, Amtrak will add a raised concrete platform and railing, lighting, drainage improvements, and a raised concrete sidewalk from Bridge Street to the entrance to the station.
Inside of the station is Brattleboro’s responsibility. Amtrak has shared a confidential list of issues to be adressed.
Steve Horton and a project architect will be hired to review previous station concepts, develop project budgets, and return to the Selectboard with better information.
“Our station isn’t friendly at all,” said Gander.
“It discourages bikes from being taken on trains,“ added Schoales.
FY19 Parking Fund Budget
Patrick Moreland told the board that the FY19 Parking Fund has $849,800 in revenues. Parking citation revenue is being reduced to $170,000 to better reflect reality, hood rentals are going up $6,500, and the Town is raising the rent in the parking garage for Dottie’s and Experienced Goods. Overall, parking revenue is expected to be down 3%.
Expenses are expected to drop by 6%, to $777,000. Insurance rates are down, staffing is about the same, and averaged snow removal costs have been increased by $10,000. Again, some adjustments have been made to better reflect reality, and five year averages were used to calculate FY19 expenses.
Cash balance at the end of FY18 is projected to be $154,755, and of that, the Assistant Town Manager suggested keeping $100,000 set aside in case of emergency.
The parking garage is almost paid off — only three more years to go. When that happens, the Parking Fund should see an increase in cash flow of about $225,000 per year. Until then, the Fund remains lean, and capital improvement projects must be limited. Possible improvements this year included stairs at the parking garage, or paving of Preston Lot, using the roughly $54,000 now available.
Parking meters to take credit cards might get installed. Moreland explained that projections show a possibility of increased revenue from meters that take credit cards, and that increase could be used to pay off a loan to get IPS Group Smart Meters’ M5 Smart Meters installed. They are $472.50 each, if you want one. The Town would buy 175 for $83,000.
Rather than borrow from a bank, the Parking Fund will borrow from the Utility Fund for five years at 2.32%.
Improvements to the kiosks in lots are less certain, but a trial program will be undertaken.
Brandie Starr wanted more time and information before agreeing to new meters. She called for a fuller discussion before looking at the capital plan, one that included smart meters but also broken machines and kiosks and dynamic pricing. She hoped for a look at current town ordinances, costs for parking meters, the parking study, and needs of people who live and park here.
Schoales suggested new kiosks in the parking lots.
Gander said she drives motorcycles and bikes and wants to discuss how they get to park.
Wessel asked if fellow board members felt they should have the discussion before approving the new credit card-accepting meters.
“We don’t have a ton of money, so we need a comprehensive look,” said Starr.
Schoales said yes, hold it up.
Wessel reminded all that the parking fund was not paid for by property taxes, it is paid by users of the system.
Stephanie Bonin of the Downtown Alliance said she hoped they talk about parking lot lights, and suggested looking into app-based parking instead of spending money on more meters.
Dave Cohen said that one thing that restricts bike use is the lack of downtown bike parking. He hoped their discussion would include bikes of all shapes and sizes, and possibly devoting some current car spaces to future bike parking spaces.
Franz Reichsman questioned the price of the new meters, saying an iPad could do more and costs less. He did concede that his iPad was not in the weather 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
David Schoales wondered if credit card payments were becoming passe, with people now favoring phone waving as a method of payment.
Wayne Estey said people in surrounding towns don’t use smart phones as much as us city folk, and wouldn’t use apps.
The Parking Budget discussion will continue June 5, with a larger discussion of the parking system to follow.
FY19 Solid Waste Budget
The board began discussing the FY19 Solid Waste budget.
Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland gave the overview. He said that with changes to the system each year for the past three years, it continues to be challenging to create budgets for the Solid Waste Fund. Nonetheless, another transfer from the General Fund will be required to keep trash bag prices reasonable and the budget balanced.
Because of the reliance on the General Fund, Moreland suggested in his memo they reconsider whether the Solid Waste Fund should continue to stand alone, or worked back into the General Fund budget.
Overall costs are up. Collection costs rise annual, and the cost of bags from Waste Zero rises 5% a year.
Shanta Lee Gander asked if any study was done to see how Pay As You Throw impacted people, especially renters. Moreland said he knew it was tough for some people. “It would have to be.”
Wessel said that by recycling and composting, much of the weight is avoided and trash is limited. Gander said her apartment was small and she was restricted with space.
Wayen Estey asked if this fund had a reserve like the others. Moreland said no, but it does get transfers from the General Fund.
This budget will be discussed further and possibly approved at the June 5 meeting.
2% Pay Increase for Non-Union Employees
Raises! If you work for Brattleboro and are not part of a union (ie, managers and supervisors, and “two confidential employees”) the Brattleboro Selectboard just gave you a 2% pay raise. This is an effort to keep non-union and union raises even for all Town employees.
No one asked what a confidential employee was. Luckily, I had sent an email to Patrick Moreland earlier in the day, asking just that.
He wrote that a “confidential employee” is someone who as a regular part of their duties assists management with the data collection and analysis associated with the collective bargaining agreements.
Moreland also cited 3 V.S.A. § 902 (17): “Confidential employee” means an employee finally determined by the Board as having responsibility or knowledge or access to information relating to collective bargaining, personnel administration, or budgetary matters that would make membership in or representation by an employee organization incompatible with the employee’s official duties.
July 3 Selectboard Meeting Discussion
Shall the selectboard meet the day before Independence Day?
Yes, they shall. But just for a few moments to approve the new tax rate. Fun!
Town Committees and Boards – Vacancies
The Town will issue their annual list of vacancies in Town committees and boards, and board members read the list aloud at the meeting.
In a slight twist, a Second Constable must be appointed by the board.
Inspector of Lumber, Shingles and Wood and Weigher of Coal are obsolete, ahem, but somehow still on the list of positions to be filled.
Disband the West River Park Committee
The West River Park Committee successfully completed their work of funding design and development, and the West River Park is complete, so the committee has been thanked and disbanded.
The park project was begun in 2007 with a search for new field space.
The Fire Department says they responded to 15 overdoses in April, and administered Narcan three times. The Police report responding to 12 overdoses. The Library now has Narcan available, if necessary.
The new street sweeper is in operation.
The Harris Hill Junior Ski Jump program is being revitalized, with work to restore the 10 meter jump at Living Memorial Park. The disc golf course will also be expanded to 18 holes.
225 property owners were sent overdue tax notices in April.