Selectboard Meeting Notes – Thanksgiving Edition

brattleboro selectboard nov20

A full meeting for the Brattleboro Selectboard just prior to Thanksgiving. Discussions of the FY20 Budget, the Downtown Alliance, affordable housing, downstairs tenants driving someone nuts, and more took place, plus there was the introduction of a new 25 year plan for replacing town equipment, as well as a new suggestion to put some money aside, like a layaway plan, to buy future fire trucks.

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  • They Begin

    Kate O’Connorsays Shanta is recovering from surgery. Four members tonight.

    12-5 at St Michaels is hosting the community Thanksgiving this year. Free meal!

    Peter Elwell says winter parking ban is in effect. 11-7 am is the time to be off the street. Look for flashing lights for clues to parking lot and downtown plowing.

    Tim says he attended a statewide housing event. An eye opening experience.

    Christopher Tanner told the board he knows about drug activity, told the town about it, and they took him seriously. He got a good response and thanks the Town Manager and Police. But his car was stolen (later recovered). He feels Groundworks and his landlord are responsible. The people downstairs are the problem. The drug addicts from “the wall” came in to use his house as a drug den. It’s quite a tale. “It’s been a nightmare.” They got evicted today. “Imagine the hate these people have for me.” He wants answers from Groundworks. “They’ve spent thousands of dollars for junkies to live downstairs.” He wants answers. He has police reports and neighbor eyewitnesses. 197 Elliot Street, across from the park. “If anything happens to me, I want my family in Conn. to know I love them.” Thank you.

    A neighbor says she doesn’t see a lot, but there are lots of cars, people don’t feel safe, and she’s concerned about safety. “I have felt unsafe.” His statements sound hyperbolic but are pretty accurate.

    Another neighbor says the he used to decorate the house for kids. “I did it for the kids.” They’d ask me in October when I’d be putting them out. We left after 13 years. I loved it there. My home became destroyed. Door knocking all night long, trying to get in for drugs. I’d send them to the people next door. Unless you’ve been through it you have no idea. Smashed windows. A cognac bottle thru our bedroom window. We had to leave. We were forced to leave. I was a kid when the fire department was built. We didn’t have the drug problem, kids being molested. It was safe.

    Another neighbor, at 195 Elliot. I’m renovating the house and am there all day. Lots of activity, I see exchanges in the park. Goes on continually. It’s scary. I have a dog that likes to bark a bit. Are they going to do something stupid to my dog or wife? It’s nerve-wracking living there.

    Dick Degray say the stories are heartbreaking. “That’s the reality of small town USA”. He says he’s retired from putting up the lights. The noontime Rotary has taken over. But I redid everything they did. Just kidding. Half of it. Pliny Park is set. It will be the coldest tree lighting in a long time. Starts at 5:30 with the lighting at 6 pm this Friday.

  • Financial Report

    For October, 33.3% of the fiscal year complete:

    General Fund is at 37.5%. (Includes some big one-time payments…)

    Utilities Fund at 33.3% and Parking Fund at 27.5% of their annual budgets. Solid Waste revenues are at 30.9% and expenses are at 28.7%.

    Brattleboro has loaned out just over $4.3 million, and $511,513 available for additional loans or grants.

    There are 37 active grants and 6 in the pipeline.

    Wessel wonders about misc police revenue… $10k over budget? (They will investigate and find out.)

    O’Connor wonders if they’ve stopped selling the current smart cards for parking. Moreland says they are strongly discouraged.

    Degray asks if Rooms & Meals came in, and how much. O’Connor says highest amount ever.

    Franz Reischman asks about “default but fully reserved”. John O’Connor says it’s a loan that the payments have stopped, but there is a reserve fund to offset it. No impact if never paid back.

  • Downtown Brattleboro Alliance

    Stephanie Bonin and Peter May do the presenting.

    Bonin says the group is in the best position ever. Increased community involvement. New board members. New fundraising.

    She reviews the current state of the organization. There’s new bike parking in warm months. New rack cards for welcome centers. Good Halloween. 650 people downtown. 47 stops for trick or treating and more. We need to put families out on the street. In a good way.

    Now, holiday lights are out. I’m excited about a secret thing Friday night. The tree is great. Singers, hot chocolate, intentions… 5:30 pm.

    Trying to magnify what’s already happening for holidays, and connect downtown with Cotton Mill. There will be a holiday shuttle there and back. Busy planning Valentine’s Day.

    New budget based the board and membership. Unlike past budgets. This is as close to special assessment level. Needed to reflect scope of work. No particular highlights.

    Kate O’Connor – you are asking for $80,000 this year.

    Steph – yes – it went down and now we want to go back to where it started.

    David Schoales – what is play date? Kids get dropped off? And short term summit?

    Steph – monthly childcare by donation. Had almost 50 kids at 4 locations. An asset to living in Brattleboro. The short term rental summit… short term rental folks meeting to see how we can interact with them, and it brings visitors, so we’re hosting a state conference on short term rentals. Vermont investors/ambassadors, what policies need to be in place, and regulation s and best practices. We have national sponsors for the summit.

    Schoales – much spent on organization committee… oh wrong budget.

    Wessel – Brattleboro Alive?

    Steph – every day something live going on. Shows off what we already have. We should be like Northampton as a destination. Putting dollars behind it. An ad campaign. “Go to Brattleboro!”

    Wessel – First year of you being in charge. How did it go? The changes look positive…

    Peter May – lots going on. New energy at the board, plus old timers contributing history. Momentum! Biggest challenge is salary and benefits for executive director. We have new fundraising goals. Need grants. Board needs to give. Our work is cut out for us.

    Brandie Starr – I have full faith in you. You’ve done a good job and I trust you. Glad we’re working with you.

    Kate – no article for town mtg tonight, but we’ll do it in January.

    (No berating or tears this year!)

  • FY 20 Budget

    Capital Equipment

    Elwell – working for years to spend more on replacing vehicles and infrastructure. Wanted to spend $1 million, and we are now doing it. An important step toward taking better care of our needs. If we can maintain this spending, then we can use the fund balance to take care of more than that.

    Unlike infrastructure projects, replacement of vehicles and equipment is more predictable. They have expected useful life. We can reasonably expect to make replacements. If we do a schedule of all equipment, and when it needs to be replaced, we can look ahead 25 years and see roughly when we need to buy replacements. You can see at a glance the expected costs. So, this is the real long term needs of Town and a way to keep up with funding, and we’d create a fire engine replacement fund to save up for the next one. They are the most expensive items in out fleet.

    This keeps replacement costs more stable and steady over time, and we can accrue interest to help pay for fire engines. Maybe $500k if we get 3% interest.

    $8k a year is a sustainable way to fund capital equipment needs, we believe. We’d like this “steady effort” plan presented to RTM.

    Brandie Starr – fire truck replacement plan – in 2041. Are these projections before they break, or run-them-into-the-ground projections.

    Elwell – got annual town report from 1932 – 86 years ago, the old horses at the station had outlived their usefulness and a new pair has been purchased. We want to get things before they fail, if we can. Before they fully wear out, to reduce maintenance costs. That’s why saving for fire truck is so important.

    Schoales – this is a continuation of work started years ago. This is a modest increase.

    Wessel – at first it seemed like a hard sell to have a line item for something we don’t “have” – not tangible for many years. But, it is the definition of frugality. A layaway plan? It accrues interest, too. It’s great. Up to us to communicate why it is good.

    O’Connor – we’re not asking RTM to approve a 25 year plan.. just concept and first year funding?

    Elwell – yes. On 2020 list are: thermal imaging camera, two police vehicles, replacement of guns and holsters, tactical vests, fingerprint scanner, pickup trucks, dump truck, and a zero turn mower.

    O’Connor – these figures are estimates.

    Elwell – we’ll update this plan each year, in case equipment needs change. The order may change a bit, based on what equipment is lasting longer than others. We assumed 2% rate of inflation, btw.

    Kate – what about use of fund balance?

    Elwell – in combo of equipment and projects, we’ll need some use-of-fund balance. The “use of fund balance” piece will be variable more in the projects than in the equipment list. projects – a lot less predictable and consistent.

    Wessel – a quarter million dollar jump for 2020 to 2021?

    Elwell – yes. This is the final year of old way of doing things, and 2021 is the 1st year of new plan. In 2021 and moving on, we’ll go up by $8k a year, to collectively and prudently replace the equipment. Same plan as before but we’ll better anticipate our needs than before.

    Wessel – I want to believe. Are we kicking the can down the road to make that jump under a different board? Should we change $8k to $10k and start early.

    Elwell – if I said this differently… we’ve had a methodology that was roughly a five year plan, and it was unrealistic to just have a list of needs. Our real needs cost more. Need to be more businesslike in planning. Need to look at 2020 as last year of old way. $495 equipment, plus capital projects.

    Degray – where is the $5k a year increase? Can’t room and meals pay for it?

    Elwell – a line item in budget. Boards can decide where revenue comes from to cover this. There are lots of ways to fund this. This allows us to better forecast our needs.

    Degray – at any time there is a potential for a large ticket item to fail. Why just $5k?

    Elwell – its part of the overall program of an increase of $8k.

    Franz Reichsman – how is the new old ladder truck doing? (Chief say it’s holding up.) I think you can download a smaller font for this report. Many ways to handle turnover of vehicles – depends on age, mileage, engine hours. Did we use any of these metrics?

    Elwell – no single standard way, but used those factors depending on dept. Fire truck engine run time is important. For other vehicles, miles and maintenance might be more important. Long term perspective helps us plan.

    Franz – thoughts on vehicles and longevity?

    Elwell – police cars have two batteries to help with electronics.

    Chief Fitzgerald – vehicles use changes replacement needs. Function of vehicle plays a huge part. Heavy vehicles with lots of extra electronics. Wear and tear on police cruiser means maintenance costs go up after 4 years. Ford is coming out with a hybrid police cruiser in 2020 – it’s on the horizon. We’ll see how it does. There will be bugs, but we’ll see…

    Elwell – already bought an electric vehicle for DPW. Small, but a start.

    Franz – fire truck replacement fund – needs to know replacement schedule without the replacement fund to compare? (

    Elwell – it’s on second page – shows accumulation of funds in fire truck replacement program, including interest.

    Franz – why not do this with dump trucks and graders for DPW?

    Elwell – we can accommodate them in existing plan. If we funded some the same way, I’m concerned the dynamic tension would be harder. It would be fabulous, but this better reflects the balancing act of putting money aside for something you may not live to see at end of program. It’s necessary for us to do this for the fire engines, but not the other big needs.

    Franz – how would you put this to RTM? It may take time.

    Kate – we can focus on 2020 and endorse a 20 year plan, but we can’t enforce a binding 25 year plan.

    Elwell – this is always subject to revision. If we just talk of 2020, it isn’t enough. Need to get a sense of whether we should follow this plan and get feedback and guidance from community.

    Schoales – if we didn’t have this conversation, people will ask us why we aren’t planning better for the future. Someday in the future this will just be what we do, without debt service payments.

    Franz – layaway plan sound good.

    Capital projects

    Elwell – news isn’t as great. We have $800k of current work, and next four years each call for millions, which isn’t realistic. No good plan yet.

    This year – FY20 – ADA improvements at art center train station, cement library trim under roofline replacement, windows have worn out in children’s room, street paving, sidewalk repairs, parks and rec improvements…

    …but in the broader scheme of things, staff alone can’t create the sustainable plan for projects, but we can do better. We can conduct a needs assessment – an inventory of everything we know need to be replaced at some point. Then, we’d hire a consultant to look over, check our work, who can make sure it’s a good list. That can’t just turn into a plan, though, because it is more complex and certainty of funding from year to year – we might know a window system lasts 30 years, but we know we have some 60 years old that are fine, so projection showing replacing every window every 30 years would be wrong. So we’ll always be doing list updating and prioritizing, and do a better job of forecasting long term plans.

    So, after we gather the big list, then we can organize into emergency, and short, medium and long term needs. Then we can do planning. Hope to do this by this time next year.

    Kate – no reference to Municipal Center in this…

    Elwell – we need to finish life safety improvements and those are funded. What’s missing in addition to the MC is other major facilities and systems.

    Wessel – project are harder. Chaos theory at play. Admirable goal, though.

    1% Local Option Sales Tax

    Kate – we decided to find out what info we need to make a decision on this. Now we have it. A detailed desc of tax, a schedule to implement, a history of previous attempts, an estimate of revenue to be raise, except items, and… list of items that are taxed.

    Schoales – long list. maybe do it by category.

    Wessel – reports from other towns that have implemented it already?

    Elwell – we can list the towns and get info for a future meeting.

    Kate – depends who you ask in each community.

    Wessel – I’m an advocate for doing it and doing it now. Not talking about it much tonight? More next week after we get information?

    Kate – we can have any discussion tonight.

    Wessel – Fine to wait.

    Schoales – Goals is to put this on RTM ballot?

    Kate – That’s what we need to decide. It will inform what our budget looks like. If you raise a tax, what will you spend it on? Next week might be our only discussion, or not.

    Degray – one thing to look at is to collect the tax locally, and not have the state take a cut as they do now. It would require a charter change. If there isn’t support from board, it won’t happen. Many people have to move because they can’t afford to live here. All we have to help is local option taxes. Need to raise taxes to help the poor in town. Amazon is the enemy. People need to go downtown and shop. You have to support the community. If you want closed storefronts, no one will be here if we don’t raise taxes.

    Franz – i propose another hoop. Anecdotal info isn’t good enough. We need know effects from economists as to what happens when a sales tax increases 1% in a town like ours. Also, this could be an offset to property tax, but Dick suggest it funds capital. It should be made clear what it is for. People may have different reactions as to what we’re doing it.

    Wessel – we’re collecting data and will share it next week. I have data showing it to be a great thing. But burden on property tax payers is main reason. It’s a real danger to the liveability to the long term of Brattleboro. I want people to live in Brattleboro because our taxes compare to surrounding towns. We have great services. Need to allow this revenue source and timing is good right now.

    Brandie – I agree about the burden on property tax payers. Once taxes go up, they don’t come flying back down. Rent doesn’t come down if taxes come down. Impact on low income folks is significant. I see more and more struggles for housing vouchers, rising rents… the disparity between haves and have nots will grow, and more visible, unless we do other revenue sources. Doesn’t raise fees on biz owners, doesn’t jack up property taxes.

    Schoales – Tim – good documentation last time we tried this. A study from UVM showing effects. Look for it.

    Kate – at next mtg we’ll have an in-depth discussion of this.

  • Naming a private drive

    To comply with E-911 system statewide. A driveway serves multiple properties off Bonnyvale Rd… new name will be Bard Owl Lane.


  • Review of goals - suggestion

    Schoales – I have questions about housing, and a list of organizations.

    We don’t have places for people moving to town. Housing is holding back our growth, ability of seniors to stay in homes, hard for kids to stay as no place to live. Let’s really find out the need.

    What needs exist? Who can help gather info? What process for broad community support?

    Sue Fillion – biennial Housing Conf is usually right after elections. Great keynote speaker. Urban designer/planner. Housing redevelopment in the Bay Area. Spoke about getting the stories of people living there, so you meet their needs in redevelopment. Another woman spoke fo getting the messaging right, and building the case for community. We see housing as a commodity rather than a basic right. Time to change that message. Also, individual sessions on variety of topics. NOAH – naturally occurring affordable housing . How do we preserve these from redevelopers? The ones not opened by housing trust – how to preserve those.

    Wessel – NOAH – part of gentrification is large companies can come and buy housing blocks and make them unaffordable by raising rents precipitously.

    Starr – it’s about classism, too, and making sure people are less visible.

    Wessel – A few quotes come to mind: people think of housing as consumer good rather than something we owe each other. Housing is a right. We’re okay helping people to live in poverty, and we trap them there. Middle ground is really important in Brattleboro. When I was young I lived in less nice places, and now can live in a better place. Need everyone to be able to do that. Heard about brooks House improvements. “Downtown buildings are best investment in communities. Better than investing in outlying areas and new bldgs.

    Schoales – from poverty to independence, to move on and not be dependent. Any workshops on how to do it, or those who succeeded? Brattleboro rent is restricting. Need $45k a year to afford living here.

    Fillion – best examples of new housing were in south burlington, put together a committee, did needs analysis, got investors, did a senior housing project, set up a housing trust fund. Also, in Barre, lots of foreclosures were bought up by housing trust and made them affordable housing. A housing needs assessment is a common way to look at what’s needed. Haven’t done one in Brattleboro recently.

    Schoales – let’s try to keep this going. Many dif concepts of what needs exist. Need some clarity.

    Fillion – important to hear the stories of people, in addition to data.

    Wessel – like panhandling, it’s bigger than us. But we should be part of community conversation. Maybe some forums?

    Starr – some groups are already doing this work, so reaching out to those who are working already would be smart.

    Wessel – Add Housing Vermont to the list.

    Schoales – I’ll reach out and gather more info. Happy to keep doing this.

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