The biggest news of the Tuesday meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard came not from the agenda but introductory remarks. The Town manager announced that Planning Services Director Rod Francis was leaving Brattleboro in the next couple of weeks.
This was followed by an unscheduled but surprisingly active discussion of aggressive panhandling in the downtown area.
Beyond those matters, the skatepark hired a design firm and got some extra cash, contracts and grants were approved, the utility budget passed, a long resolution was adopted, and more.
Vice Chair Brandie Starr led the meeting, and had no opening remarks. Chair Kate O’Connor and Tim Wessel* were absent.
Town Manager Peter Elwell had two comments. The first was that the Fire Department has won a statewide “significant” award as first responder of the year. The award will be presented in Brattleboro at some point in the future.
His second bit of news was that Planning Services Director Rod Francis was taking a job in Norwich.
“It’s a nice move for him, but we lose a valuable member of the team,” said Elwell. He said Francis’s work can be seen all over town, from redevelopment projects such as the Brooks House to town plans and new land use regulations. “Norwich’s gain, our loss.”
For selectboard comments and committee reports, Shanta Lee Gander said that work to enact becoming a compassionate town is underway, with informational and educational forums planned for the fall.
David Schoales added that there would be spiritual leaders to speak on compassion, human resource workers, social workers, members of the restorative justice community, artists, and others involved, with many opportunities to get involved.
Dick Degray asked for a status update in renting of empty Municipal Center space. Elwell said they are working on alternatives if the state can’t move in, and will have more to report in the month or two.
Degray asked about the crosswalk lighting that he helped champion as a former selectboard member. Elwell said it was delayed due to a patent dispute, and was temporarily off the list of approved safety items. Now that is back on the approved list, they will be ordered and installed.
Degray then brought up panhandling. “It’s jumped to a new level,” he said. “It’s epidemic at this point.” He described a new, more aggressive panhandling with “people chasing you down the street asking for money.”
He said it has gotten progressively worse in recent months and if the Town was doing anything about it, “it wasn’t working.” He hoped it could become a future agenda item.
Ezlerh said it was an important discussion to have. “We have more people in town struggling,” he said, but the problem was nationwide. “How often do we sit and talk to these people? We need to listen.”
Donna Simons of Candle in the Night said Brattleboro was a generous town, with many organizations working to make lives better, but she agreed that there was a new form of aggressive panhandling going on downtown. She attributed it in part to a lack of a police presence, and the police station move to Putney Road. Downtown has more panhandlers than customers some days, she said.
Zach Corbin of Peter Havens agreed. He also wondered why there were so many open containers being tolerated downtown. He said he’s been chased down the street, sworn at, and customers had been accosted on the deck. “I’ve noticed it as well,” he said of the aggressive panhandling uptick.
Starr said it was a touchy subject for her. The Town was aware of the new aggressive panhandlers, she said, but there’s no law against it unless someone assaults another person.
She said “the wall” had closed (the area adjacent to the Flat Street parking lot. “Some think that if it closed it would solve everything, and now it has happened and there’s no place to congregate. It will take a while for the dust to settle on this.”
Starr said that the scale of the problem was hidden and “now other people will see the magnitude.” Regarding addiction, she said there was no good program available to get people clean. “Medicaid pays for three days.” Until something comes along like a new clinic offering a month of detox, this problem will continue.
“Police are doing what they can, but it is a lot of people.” She said the solutions wouldn’t be quick.
Schoales said that the board had spent much time on the issue last year. “It’s a long term problem and a community effort.” He felt an agenda item was warranted, perhaps to hear from organizations working on related issues.
Gander hoped to suggest that in addition to a police beat, there be a beat of therapists or counselors.
“We need to trust people, or else they become trustworthy,” added Ezlerh.
The Brattleboro Selectboard, acting as Liquor Commissioners, approved of a second class liquor license for Peter Havens. The plan is to sell wine, beer, and gourmet food in the space formerly known as Jasmine’s Bakery.
Zach Corbin said they would featured items from the restaurant, as well as some Vermont meats, breads, and cheeses. The store would offer sandwiches and eventually take out meals.
FY19 Utility Budget
Brattleboro’s FY19 Utility Fund budget was approved by the selectboard.
At a previous meeting, board members requested a summary of revenues and expenses, and they got it along with a technical description of why it is hard to do because of full accrual accounting and depreciation.
Shanta Lee Gander asked how the public could know more about the quality and safety of the water supply. The Town manager promised an agenda item on the topic in the fall.
Steve Barrett, Director of Public Works, said that the annual water quality report has shown good quality water in Brattleboro.
Wastewater Treatment Plant
Barrett stayed to report that the wastewater recycling system at the Waste Water Treatment Plant has failed, and there is only one company that can fix it. Gustavo Preston Company will get about $15,825 to repair their proprietary system controls (ie, a zapped computer). The actual cost will be determined by parts and labor used.
The board was told that the recycled water system uses waterwater treatment effluent water for washing and cleaning plant tanks and equipment, building heating and cooling, bio solids press and dewatering, and cleaning of the primary treatment grit system. It runs 24 hours a day and conserves millions of gallons of drinking water per year.
* (Tim Wessel is reported to be on his way, but stuck in traffic on Rt. 9 due to an accident of some sort.)
Economic Development Administration Grant
Brattleboro is applying for a $420,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help pay for water and sewer improvements, but only if the Culture Made Vermont project moves forward at the Exit 1 Industrial Park.
The grant, if approved, would pay for about half the cost of the waste water pump station project.
Parking Capital Improvements and Parking Study Follow-up
Town Manager Elwell said that a schedule to consider various parking system matters has been created, and topics were in two clusters.
July 17th has been set aside to discuss smart meters, kiosks, parking apps, financing options, parking garage repairs, and downtown bicycle parking.
On August 7th, lighting and painting at the parking garage, shared parking agreements, price adjustments, off hours signage, and improved parking information will be up for discussion.
Town staff is also helping the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance install a summertime wooden bike parking space with a donation of $1,000 toward the $2,000 project. The wooden “parklet” space would be bought from Montpelier, which just so happens to have one available.
In the warm weather, bikes could park. In winter, it would be taken away and stored.
Dick Degray wasn’t sold on the idea of losing a parking space. he said he was a fan of bikes, but they were “strewn all over.”
Elwell stressed that the parklet would not? solve all bike issues, and was simply a first step and low-hanging fruit.
* (Wessel is reported to be listening actively to the meeting, and not slacking off. He is still on his way.)
Aerial Ladder Truck Financing Resolution
A final fire truck formality, a resolution authorizing capital improvement borrowing, was adopted by the Brattleboro Selectboard. The resolution, it is hoped, will satisfy the IRS that the aerial ladder truck is indeed a tax exempt municipal purchase, and not part of the Town Manager’s growing fleet of personal, private ladder trucks.
If you are a resolution trivia fan, this one is one of the longer resolutions adopted by the board, filling two pages. It was also not required to be read out loud, to the relief of the three board members potentially in line to read it.
Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor
Eleven months (91.7%) of FY18 have passed, and Finance Director John O’Connor told the board where things stood. “We’re having a good year.”
The General Fund expenditures are at 87.9% of the annual budget.
The Utilities Fund stands at 92.1% and the Parking Fund is at 92%.
The Solid Waste Disposal Fund revenues are at 86.1% and expenses at 87.6%. May bag revenue, tipping fees, and collection costs get added in June.
Brattleboro hs loaned out $4,446,599, with $449,356 for additional loans or grants.
The Town has 49 active grants and 16 in development.
Gander asked about loans that were overdue, and O’Connor walked her through the circumstances of those behind in payments.
Schoales asked if there were any big outstanding costs remaining. “No,” answered O’Connor.
Elwell estimated they would end the year about $500,000 better than budgeted, “which means we won’t draw down the fund balance as much as we thought.”
“The lion’s share will be in health insurance” he added. Schoales said they should track the new insurance system closely, and Elwell agreed saying that it was critical so they can watch and manage the maximum amount of risk each year.
Small Business Assistance Program – True North Granola
More financial formalities. True North Granola is applying for a $30,000 line of credit with Brattleboro Savings & Loan, but has an existing 2016 SBAP loan with the Town. To make this happen, subordination must occur.
Specifically, the board approved subordination of the Town’s SBAP loan to BS&L’s line of credit, and agreed that the Town would have a second position lien on True North Granola.
The board agreed that they were usually at the bottom of these loans anyway.
* Wessel arrives. “What did I miss?”
Skatepark Design Bid
Stantec, of Boston and Burlington, will get $42,350 to design Brattleboro’s skatepark at Living Memorial Park. Other lower bids were rejected, said Carol Lolatte, due to concerns about working remotely and cold weather design abilities.
“The design phase is an exciting crossroads for us.”
The Stantec proposal was “consistently good, across the board” she said, and a ranking system put it at the top of the contenders. Stantec had also done previous planning for the proposed skatepark at the Crowell location.
Gander liked the choice. “It can help build relationships in the region.”
Vermont Community Foundation Grant for Skatepark
The skatepark design and construction fund received another grant, too. The selectboard approved accepting and appropriating a $3,000 Spark! Connecting Community grant from the Vermont Community Foundation.
Department of Corrections Grant
The Brattleboro Selectboard accepted and appropriated $300,000 from the Vermont Department of Corrections to help fund the Brattleboro Community Justice Center for FY19 and FY20.
Elwell explained this is the primary funding for the BCJC.
Starr said that as the public had all left the room, she wouldn’t ask for public comments for the remainder of the meeting.
Rescue, Inc Annual Contract
The annual contract with Rescue, Inc. was approved by the board. For FY19, Rescue, Inc will receive $240,792.26 from Brattleboro.
Elwell explained that Brattleboro is phasing out a previous discount program with Rescue, Inc by FY23. Services the Town provided in early years were no longer in place, he said, save for the property tax exemption.
Gail Kennedy-Haines and Janis M. Hall were appointed to the ADA Committee, Robin Renzoni-Sweetapple to the Design Review Committee, and Milton Eaton, George Harvey, and Thomas Finnell to the Energy Committee.
There are new vacancies on the Brattleboro Housing Partnerships Board of Commissioners, and other committee vacancies remain.
Starr said that it clearly shows there are several different ways to get involved with the Town, on different topics, for different lengths of time.
She ended by saying she was strongly considering volunteering for the Weigher of Coal position, and quite possibly the Inspector of Wood Shingles, and Lumber. 😉
Brattleboro Police responded to 10 overdoses in May, none fatal. The Fire Department reports responding to two fatal overdoses and a “possible explosive device at the Retreat.”
Brattleboro billed $56,509 in penalties for delinquent property taxes on 482 properties in May.
Engine 2 is on the way, with final lettering and testing going on in Foxborough, MA.