Selectboard Meeting Notes – Budget Preview, and Blinking Lights Baffle

Brattleboro Selectboard

The Brattleboro Selectboard cancelled a few possible contentious items on the agenda (the Harmony Lot mural and the Health Code violation) but still got an earful from a couple concerned that blinking safety lights on Western Ave are unnecessary and lower the value of their home. The Wessel Baffle might prove to be the solution.

Town Manager Elwell gave the board an overview of the coming budget request from Town staff. Of note: the expected 4% health insurance increase is actually more like 17%. Ouch. Call a doctor. Police cars are being uplifted, a new solar project is being considered, and more.

Comments | 9

  • Opening Remarks

    Kate O’Connor comments on Election day, and Governor Scott’s visit. Says they told him of challenges to this part of the state. She compliments Brandie Starr on her eloquence at the event.

    Shanta Lee Gander is absent.

    Town Manager Elwell reminds people of the leaf collection change of schedule (due to climate change!) Says they’ll consider to tinker with the schedule, but this Friday is the final pickup.

    David Schoales mentions painting of the roads, and the need for the State to repaint. Elwell says they were working on it. Schoales follows ups on goals by mentioning housing as a goal. For a discussion at a later meeting.

    Stewart McDermott says the Town being taken advantage of. Some houses on Canal Street, to the left of Code 3.) The owner of the commercial complex, he says, pushes snow in front of these houses each year. (He hands out diagrams). The snow obstructs driveways, he explains. The Town is expected to clean up large piles. “This owner lives out of state and why should the Town incur this owner’s snow removal expense?” Not fair, and McDermott is here to ask that it be stopped.

    (The SB asks for a report from the Town Manager)

    Nick Nickerson mentions the stoplight at Hannaford. Light gives people no time to turn. “It’s not rocket science.” Says VTrans is in town doing work, so why not help us with this.

    “We can all agree on that issue,” says Tim Wessel.

  • Health Commissioners

    Kate says the issue they were to speak about, possible health order on Oak Street, has been removed from the agenda. The landlord has been making some progress, and there will be further action only if necessary.

    (That was easy!)

  • Keep Engstrom Complaint

    Frederick Engstrom explains the light is 14′ high has a diagram, says the light is unnecessary, and the Town Manager was rude.

    He says Elwell sent national standards to them, and they appreciated it, but the communication was poor. “No one contacted us.” he says the blinking light goes into his son’s bedroom. It also impacts property values, he says. This location is different than what was planned. No one else has blinking light in front of their house. Elwell said he’d work with us.

    There should be no lights there, he says. This isn’t a high speed road, it isn’t multilane, and is next to stop signs. Three things the standards sent to us advise against. (He gives the board a handout.)

    Why can’t these light be lower? Brattleboro violates the recommendations that were sent to us. (He gives the board a handout.) The best signs are at eye level. 13 feet is above our heads.

    Our preference is for no lights. If there will be lights, they should be lower. And there should be an independent appraisal of the depreciation of the value of our house. And you should evaluate the Town Manager.

    Stephanie Keep says Elwell said the height could be adjusted, but it didn’t happen. He didn’t work with us. “Your job is to work with people.” This is the third apology I got from the Town. I expected we’d be consulted on this project.

    Kate – how did the decision get made?

    Elwell – DPW and consultants, with review by Traffic Safety Committee, and Selectboard approved this one. This came from a grant, with the State paying half.

    Kate – all lights are same around town?

    Elwell – other communities have other designs, but we conform to a standard. Not just ours. Height needs to be within 13-15 feet tall, and this is 13…

    Engstrom – not the light! The pole!

    Elwell – these are consistent around town. We meet the standards.

    Starr – is it attached with a clamp? (yes)

    Wessel – I feel this light is absolutely essential. I know blinking lights – I live near High and Oak. The one at Western Ave only flashes when crossing the street. The LED is very directional. Something I noticed. The height… we all know there have been fatalities at this intersection. I’m on Traffic Safety Committee. This makes a dangerous spot safer. I see people stop now. Higher seems safer.

    Engstrom – I disagree.

    Wessel – it’s better from a distance. Better warning. Someone speeding in a 25 mph zone needs to see it. Maybe we could add a baffle to block the light.

    Engstrom – other signs aren’t that high. Against manufacturing standards.

    O’Connor – we weren’t involved in height issue, and DPW isn’t here tonight. We could ask Steve about the baffle.

    Keep – we’re a unique situation. The residential quality of the Town is going away with more lights and signs. We live there. We want it to be safe, but this is residential, and we live there.

    Starr – are you willing to come back when Steve Barrett is here? (yes)

    Schoales – what is the actual standard?

    Elwell – if you want us to do a baffle, then we’ll do it if we can. If you want more info on standards and height, then we should meet with Steve.

    The issue will be revisited in two weeks, and baffling is likely. Elwell apologizes again for improper communication.

  • Harmony Lot Mural

    Harmony Lot Mural is taken off agenda and will be resolved in another way.

  • Transportation Center Solar

    Ralph Meima has a plan.

    Green Light Solar wants to investigate putting solar panels on top of the parking garage, and would like to do a feasibility study. The solar array would contribute some money to the town, and energy, but could also be an experimental microgram with battery storage. Relatively simple idea.

    Meima says GLS is in Waterbury, and have added 40 megawatts in over 50 towns. All over the state. Net meter projects to provide net meter credits. We know net metering and we know a system could go on the roof, and could pay for itself.

    We’re it gets murkier, he explains, it is the battery storage. “A lot of engineering has to happen.” Batteries are in use around the state, but are often owned by the utility.

    Peter Elwell – the letter of intent is an expression of good faith but not binding. It says town will not lease or sell the space while research is going on. If feasible, it can come back for a decision. No commitment, but agree not to mess with things while research is going on.

    Schoales – one thing caught my attention. Rights and due diligence? Signing rights can be an issue, in my experience. I’d like a better sense and more details.

    Meima – that part comes from lease option agreements. Town approving a signing is relatively new. Bob Fisher suggested that language in other towns where he works. Town must do due diligence.

    Elwell – it’s a valid concern, and this language is better than in previous contracts.

    Daniel Quipp – thinking beyond metering credits and moving towards resilience will benefit us. It would be wonderful if those benefitting from energy would be most in need of the benefit – low income folks rather than corporate investors. Think about who benefits, and our vulnerable populations getting a piece of the action.

    Wessel – this would be 1st experiment with battery? Examples to look at?

    Meima – we have not built a solar array with storage integrated into it. We’re working on one, not net-metered, we’re building for Green Mountain Power, so we’re learning. That will be 100x the size of Brattleboro’s. Lots of big questions remain, but one lesson that could come from this is how much energy is used by devices getting the solar energy. We have no idea who the customers will be. Might cost $200k to build. There may be different ways to finance this and bring down the investment through grants. It will generate revenue and taxes for town.

    Letter of intent will be signed!

  • Police Cruiser Upfit

    Elwell – 3 police to get uplifts – lights, sirens, back seat cage, and so on. You bought the cars already, and low bid came in $47k to a Keene up-fitter. (SWNH) Under budget!


  • Private Drive Naming

    Elwell – recall you named Colonial Motel road as Colonial Drive to comply with 911 state board, but they want more! A different name for the spur off the loop.

    Spur will be Tavern Way, and longer part will be Colonial Drive. Buildings will all have street addresses now.


  • Employee health Insurance program

    Elwell – not good news.

    He tells the board this year’s renewal of health insurance program will be a big challenge. Had good experience over last few years. Our claims record has been good. We reduced costs. The first year costs were reduced, then it went up the next year so the Town took on additional risk in the HRA layer.

    Employees have way to save for medical expenses and the Town matches contributions to the program.

    This year we want to take on a bit more risk, but not too much. We thought there would be a 4% increase, but we didn’t have good claims experience this year – increase overall, and serious, too. More claims, and more major claims. If we stayed with last year’s program, we’d have an increase this year of 17.15% with Blue Cross.

    Richards Group looked at alternatives for us. Quotes from other insurers. Competitors wouldn’t bid. They didn’t think they could beat it. We’re viewed as high risk for an insurer. So, we looked at taking on more risk – a limited positive effect. An HRA of $2500/$5000 ($500 extra for singles and $100 for couples). Still expensive. We can and need to pay for this, so staff recommends.

    When we buy insurance we see worker’s comp and liability going up, too. There are cycles, and the market is “hardening” and premiums go up. Now, market is hardening, we had high level of claims, and fewer options to make changes now. Should be glad we made the changes when we did. Reality has come home. We have to incur a substantial cost increase.

    Franz Reichsman asks about more detail number and severity of claims – which indicates future trends?

    Elwell – major claims are greater concern than number of claims. Major claims need to continue to play out. A joint replacement may cost this year but recover next year. Compare to a chronic illness, or something might affect us for coming years.

    Wessel – do employees pay premiums?

    Elwell – no – town switched to high deductible plan. Employees wouldn’t pay toward premium, but would have deductibles. We have HRA layer to pay claims above deductibles. Financial impact to employees in this renewal is unchanged.


  • Budget Preview

    Elwell give a budget season preview!

    There is a comparison summary from last budget to this. The bottom line, at this juncture, is 3.69 cents. Higher than we intended. Hoped to be under 3 cents. But, health insurance…. ugh.

    O’Connor – this is proposed!

    Elwell – staff proposed! Our best estimate. Subject to changes. At end of January, it is still proposed. Representative Town Meeting decides ultimately. We’re at 3.69, so we’re not going to ask for extras this year. If health insurance had been less, this would be under 3 cents. But… it is 3.69.

    Rooms & Meals has been going up in recent years. State is now collecting from AirBnB. Very opaque state accounting, but we have had substantial increases. $421k collected this year. Other tax income is slightly up in our budget.

    Miscellaneous is going up – $58k in investment income!

    Use fund balance – 295k above 10% marker be available to transfer to capital.

    Expenses – salaries up just over 1%. Some departments expenses going down. Reduced some full time to part time contracts. Municipal Center and facility maintenance has changed, too. A consolidation of building maintenance.

    Health insurance is an issue, as mentioned before…

    Contractors line item is now up, to save on full-time positions.
    Fire dept has higher utility fees this year.
    Payroll is coming in-house to save costs on contracted payroll. Fewer mistakes, we hope. Will cost less.

    General – debt service up by $31k+ due to fire truck purchase.
    Also, an increase in risk. Worker’s comp is getting better, but still higher than where we want to be.

    Transfer to capital – $1.295m First year to commit a million each year to capital needs. Can now look 25 years ahead.

    Transfer to solid waste increased again. To over increased cost of recycling and bag subsidy. $40k increase. Uncertainty in international recycling markets.

    Documents not yet included will be 25 yr equipment plan. A code enforcement plan, and sustainability officer discussion.

    (They review the list of upcoming budget meetings. They agree that it will be the schedule.)

    Elwell – next week we discuss revenues and Police & Fire budgets.

    O’Connor – get docs online at Town Web site.

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