Selectboard Meeting Notes – Unhappy Citizens

Brattleboro Selectboard

The Brattleboro Selectboard faced multiple groups of unhappy citizens at Tuesday evening’s meeting. Unhappy about inspection fees, unhappy about local option sales tax, unhappy about, well… lots of things.

It was around nine o’clock when the board got to their first item of regular business. Yes, one of those meetings.

Comments | 5

  • Preliminaries

    Thanks to the DPW for snow removal, and more snow removal is on the way, say Chair O’Connor and Town Manager Elwell.

    Elwell says new meters and kiosks are being installed.

    Dick Degray, for public participation, says petitions need to be turned in next Monday. He says he spoke with the Town Clerk and no petitions have been taken out for Lister, 2nd Constable, representative town meeting seats. Three petitions out for Selectboard. “I’m hopeful others take out petitions and we have races.” He says people wait until caucus to run. He wants an agendaitem to review the Charter to look at issues facing us in terms of reps, the school district, etc. It’s been 10 years since last Charter review and it is a good time to start it.

    Sally Fagely – Windham Property Management – regarding town inspections – I’m a manager of properties and in favor of inspections to enforce code and be safe, but there is a difference between good and bad landlords. Good landlords make repairs, repaint, replace faulty appliances, standards of safety, pay taxes, pay insurance, etc. They provide housing for those who can’t afford to buy. Not wealthy, but friends and neighbors who rely on rental income. Hard to understand why town will punish good landlords by charging for inspections. Punishes the wrong people. The General Fund should cover cost of inspections. Punishing good landlords will make rentals less affordable.

    Tom Fagely – (reads similar statements from two other landlords who couldn’t be there) (Chris says – hey – write some of these and post them here for all of us to read!)

    Ricki – ignorant about landlord fines and what they go toward, and want to know what select board’s thoughts on intervention council for hoarding addiction, and would like more funding toward water quality regulation. We should also have composting for larger apartments, and more crosswalks near Canal street. Needs a sign for pedestrians.

    HughBarber – a landlord and former board member – board needs to take a good look at the inspection program. Where will that money go? Fair to charge landlords? What if town misses something and there’s an issue. There’s potential liability. Town stopped inspecting after a lawsuit. Walk before you run with this proposal. Safe housing is one thing, but take a look at all ramifications.

    Kate – this will require an ordinance change, so there will be more discussion and public hearings.

    Degray – your proposed budget has a $58k line item for something that hasn’t been approved. Why put it in if there is all this pushback.

    Elwell – there is also an offsetting line item in the budget. The funding and expenses are in there (paying salaries of inspectors), so if it changes the number may change but income will equal expense.

    Fric Spruyt – concerned about fees on landlords. We’re already funding our competition. We’re paying taxes to get trash and recycling picked up, and now you want us to pay for inspections… what’s next? Death by a thousand cuts, and landlords are the middleman. The current inspection program works fine. I’m paying my business license fee (and that makes no sense) so let’s start treating all residential properties the same.

    Jacki Reis, and Ishana? – landlords – we’ve started an organization to start toward cleanliness and orderliness. Yes, it cost more money, but $2 a month is low compared to crime and drugs in our neighborhoods. We stand to benefit. Town can document what’s happening in units. When landlords address bad tenants, good tenants will benefit. Those who can’t afford to move will take better care of where they live. $2 a unit a month is fine. Landlords will have better relationships with police and fire officials. We ask for help with difficult tenants who damage our buildings. Help us evict when they are bad actors. We need a new approach. We all wish a tent causing damage can be evicted but it’s not easy. This will change the way it works. Townwide standards, and language for evictions. Fineable offenses will convert infractions into leverage. Tenants would be given a public record other landlords could check. Town has to inspect all units equally. Either allow inspections or we should stop complaining. We pay for security cameras, insurance… this is like those expenses. This is like a tax that helps the payers’ business expense, and it is fair to pass it along to the renter. Need to enforce rules against tenants and other property owners.

    Tenant – I’m a tenant and I’d be happy to pay extra to give landlords the help they need to make buildings safer. I can’t afford to move. I support this. My daughter sees drug addicts – she can’t go outside.

    Donna Simmons – I own Candle in the Night – I’d like to talk about the 1% sales tax proposal. There is a proposal to use Rooms & Meals tax for promoting Brattleboro. I’m having trouble with always bringing up the 1% sales tax. This might the 3rd or 4th time. It’s a merry go ’round we can’t get off. Like having a physical problem you think you solved and it comes back to bite you again. Every few years we go after this pot of gold. Tim, how do other towns use the money? (yes) None are along the Connecticut that shares a border with NH that has this. (board objects) In 2009 we did a study showing that 3% is the breaking point – a 3% difference… where people move out to there communities. Art Wolf showed us that if VT had remained the same as NH, there would be 3k more retail jobs in VT. There are impacts. NH has a rooms and meals tax – no one goes for that. I really wish that when this was brought up, there had been an outreach to the merchants in town. You might have talked to Stephanie, but no one talked to me. I’ve been here 45 years. There’s another side…11 of us own buildings downtown so we pay. The commercial districts already bring taxes. We don’t get trash pickup. But piling on and wanting to take it from merchants is unfair. People cross the border to avoid taxes. 10% off coupon storewide does nothing, but a tax holiday draws people for save 6%. Proposing this late without much discussion… will we do this again next year? Extremely unfair.

    David Schoales – yes, in the future other boards will come back for this and the inspection money. It’s the only way we can raise money to offset property taxes. People constantly complain of their property taxes. It’s bad to buy property in Brattleboro right now. The only way to reduce property taxes is to get limited self governance for the town and look at other ways to find revenues. It’s happening in West Virginia . We don’t do this to make you pay, we do this because we have no choice. There’s only one solution. Contact reps to pass limited self governance at state level.

    Gershan Moore, running for town rep D3. I hear about tenants having a hard times, but things not seen by local officers that plenty of people see. The amount of people threatened by guns. I’m not having’ it. I’m not having a stray bullet hit my child. What are we going to do about it? Why standby and let things happen? Then taxes go up because people come to town that are dangerous. People paying taxes are getting upset. In the past few days there have been three guns to the head. What are we going to do.

    Ishana – property owner open Frost Street – I no longer walk at night. We find needles on the street. Not OK. I pay taxes and want to be able to use my town after dark. Half the year that’s after 4:30. I feel shut out of community, especially as a female. It doesn’t feel safe. I considered AirBnB because renting out was too dangerous. There are drug deals in front of my house. When you want to change customers another 1% to promote our wonderful town, there’
    s some superficial understanding of Brattleboro and it’s not fair. It’s denial. Tired of not knowing if I can grow old here. I had my heart in in staying here but I don’t know.

    Mac Ander ? – I agree with Gershan – when I first came here there was a crack house. The town has problems. The 1% tax. I support it. Is this simply an offset of property taxes? We’re an under-resourced town. Our problems are greater than our resources. People work really hard to stay together, but what we are facing is real. Let’s think of real problems. It’s not PR. Let’s look at heroin addiction, and homelessness, and panhandling. I don’t see anyone from the trailer park her tonight.

    Brenda Siegal – I talk about addiction. There is stigma against it. These are not bad actors. Families are doing everything t keep them alive. Burlington picks up needles on the street. Need to change our language about substance abuse disorder. My nephew grew up in Putney. he was sober for a year. The criminal justice system took him down, shaming him into relapse. It needs to be a different conversation. I’ll have a leadership council on it and hope you attend. It’s not us vs them.

    7:07 pm

  • Liquor!

    They approve permits for February 7 from 5 to 10 pm a downtown event featuring liquor, and stores!

    It’s the Luv Crawl.

  • Culture Made Vermont

    Steve Barrett explains.

    BDCC and Culture Made Vermont want more water and sewer capacity at Exit 1 Industrial Park. CMV would like to discharge 412 pounds per day of organic loadings and use about almost 45,000 gallons per day.

    (A later discussion: $880,000 is needed for utility improvements, coming from a combination of Utility Fund and government grants.)

    It will cost CMV $190,000 to connect and about $47,000 per quarter for water & sewer bills.

    Schoales says work in exec session showed lots of details that make us confident.

    Barrett – It was good to have the pushback and it was a thorough job.

    Kate – didn’t want to allocate too much water/sewer to CMV so other future businesses will have capacity.

    CMV is approved for the water and sewer.

    Barrett next brings an engineering agreement for final design of water and sewer upgrades. Engineering by Dufresne Group for $50,800.

    Shanta Lee gander – what’s the timeline? (design completed by June)

    Elwell – did you mean the work or engineering? This is engineering. Selectboard will decide later about to proceed with construction.


  • Unfinished Business - More Culture Made Vermont

    Elwell – two additional actions to take tonight for CMV. A sale of a property and discharge of mortgage, and a tax stabilization agreement for the property.

    Elwell – first is that we sell Lot 6 and discharge the mortgage. It has a long history… Town and BDCC worked together to develop the property. Original plan was to sell lots rapidly. Didn’t happen. As others were sold, the net proceeds of the sale would be calculated and Town would receive a portion. Here, no net proceeds of the sale. There is financial benefit to the sale, so we’ll recommend the tax stabilization.

    Elwell – tax stabilization… this project will bring us utilities income and property taxes and will be substantial for Brattleboro. We follow a system to evaluate, look at jobs, pay, and so on. It qualifies for maximum amount of tax stabilization in our program. They continue to pay current tax rate, then when it is built, we’ll revalue the property. The difference, the new value, will get a 65% discount for 10 years on property taxes. It reduces impact for the investors and helps them build up the business, from 25 to 100 employees. It helps them have cash flow to get going. This is a big project and qualifies for the most tax stabilization.

    Degray – there are two types of agreements – any biz personal property exemption? (no). They’ll pay 100% after 10 years? (yes) Usually they incrementally jump each year. So taxpayers don’t subsidize a potential business that leaves before 10 years. To protect taxpayers, it should go up incrementally until you reach 100%.

    Elwell – if the project didn’t score so well, yes. Each agreement is scaled to the project. The last two have been just like this (GS Precision project (and commonwealth))

    Ishana – if company falls back on criteria, does the tax stabilization change?

    Elwell – taxes on increased value of property … if taxpayer sells property, terms may be transferred to the new taxpayer if they use it the same way.

    Ishana – is company evaluate each year?

    Elwell – yes, town and state.

    Both approved.

  • Chamber and DBA Promotion Proposal

    (kate leaves)

    Elwell – we have a team form the Chamber and Downtown Brattleboro Alliance. They presented two weeks ago, asking for 10% (about $40k in year one) for Rooms & Meals for promotions. Board asked for specifics written out.

    DBA and Chamber introduce themselves again.

    Stephanie Bonin explains the proposal. She says they want to provide more for the town. Wants to increase income form Rooms & Meals. She promises this project will have a budget each year.

    When it comes to specifics, there aren’t really any. The document has ideas “we’d like to consider” – to do social media, promote their calendar over others, print ads, and mass transit ads. To reach 50 mile radius and tourists.

    Steph – We don’t want to do anything new. We want to take what’s already going on and promote it.

    Degray – a two pronged attack. No other town markets itself like this. Our assets aren’t widely known. Publicity is hard – there’s a scarcity of money. If successful, the revenue should grow.

    Shanta Lee Gander – I used to write grants. I was expecting to see more details in this plan. It isn’t really clear what you’d do. Who will you market to? If you are doing more of the same, you’ll get more of what you’ve got. Some see all white faces in promotional advertising and avoid places…what will we say we’re doing to get people to stay for more than a day. Business owners are concerned about dollar signs and getting customers in the door. It’s a huge pot of money. Who are your other partners? Unclear of other potential opportunities for partnership, and the plan didn’t seem flushed out.

    Tim Wessel – I like this plan because the idea overall is good one. When merchants do well with Rooms & Meals tax, so more property tax is saved. The better that this income comes to the Town, property taxes are reduced by an opposite amount. If we have an incentive for merchants to collect more by getting a bit back, so I look at this as seed money. In return we do well with Meals & Rooms. It may not work forever and we’ll reconsider, but a nice experiment to show we appreciate merchants collecting Rooms & Meals. Kind of elegant. In an ideal situation it will result in a good relationship, but I’m not too concerned with us as a bad getting onto details. These two orgs can oversee it and we’ll check every year, but shouldn’t be telling them what to spend it on now.

    Ricki – Tim, your comments are coming from a point of racism.

    Tim – I don’t want to say they are going in wrong direction

    Gander – I’m just doing my job asking questions.

    Brandie – like Shanta, there’s not much information here, but I’m also cautious of too much information boxing you in. I would anticipate there be heavy collaboration with diversity experts, arts, recreation and so on. I don’t want to micromanage, but we’ll be watching and wanting details.

    Schoales – I like the cooperative promotion. I have specific questions. You talk about promoting events in 50 mile radius, but didn’t mention the method, unless it is social media.

    Steph – a frame of reference. We aren’t just merchants.

    Chamber DBA person – we’d employ expertise of people who do this for a living. They help us craft what the message is. We’ll manage the money responsibly and pay for the best marketing we can.

    Schoales – print ads for outdoor recreation – why not food or clean energy?

    – everyone has their favorite item. We haven’t determined it yet. Maybe craft beers or art.

    Steph – I asked a social media guru about targeting a specific audience for 8 months. But nothing is decided.

    Schoales – you will get diverse opinions. How will you prioritize the diverse suggestions.

    Steph – it’s what we do every day. This is what we already do on a daily basis. This should have a laser focus on increasing people.

    Degray – it’s just what you do on the select board.

    Schaoles – we have a charter and town plan and guidelines and a structure around our decision making. I ask these questions because in the past we’ve done grants where structures weren’t in place and they really got messy. We had to send money back. The work couldn’t get done. You’re going to hear from people. The track record is not good.

    (We still haven’t gotten to regular business yet…)(sorry)

    Daniel Kasnitz – Promotion is an opportunity to capitalize on. Without it, game over. Lots planned for the Latchis. Working with Jon there – our goals include promoting downtown Brattleboro. We hope to lease former Moles Eye space and put in and audio and video production center. We’ll be there to set up You Tube videos for businesses. We can do it tremendously economically. I enthusiastically support this plan. Happy to put a business in place of the Moles Eye space. It’s a great space for production, and Step convinced me to do it downtown. Degray wants it opened back up, too. My other strength is cooperative marketing. We’ll collaborate. I’m excited.

    Mac – I was offended by what was said about Tim earlier. But I agree with the main idea of investing in promotion. I understand it. When the 1% first came up, it was to be an offset, and now we have a pool of money and ideas of how to tap it like surplus. Many people have ideas of how it can be spent. I’d expect a lot of details for $40k, I don’t see that here. I would expect a higher degree of scrutiny. What’s it going to look like. It should have been there in the proposal. That’s a lot fo money in Brattleboro.

    Ishana Artra – I love the idea of promoting the strengths of our town, a fan of cooperation, and would love to see the proposal more fleshed out before I could say “this is ready to launch.” Our town is at such a precipice – we don’t have the luxury to experiment. We have no surplus. One question – have you explored other funding options like grants? $40k in this direction doesn’t go in another direction.

    Elwell – if board agrees, it is a use of fund balance – the accumulated surplus fund in general fund, which rooms & meals has contributed to…

    Ishana – I’d suggest a competition to have people put forth proposals that support the community. That would be my suggestion for using my money. Our property taxes are impacted by this?

    Elwell- for this year, no, it’s a request from fund balance. Going forward, if rooms & meals continues to exceed the budgeted amount, then it would contribute the surplus, but if not, it would be general revenue to the town. The intent is for this to grow the rooms & meals taxes to not burden property taxes.

    Tim – we’ve gotten to about half a million that rooms, meals and alcohol each year from these, and that means property taxes are reduced by that amount. It gives a bit back so we get some more. It’s the hope. We don’t know. It is taxpayer money, but we wouldn’t have it without the local option taxes.

    Ishana – our taxes support roads and sidewalks for getting to businesses. Who else beside merchants does this promote…

    Steph – (explains a community calendar project they did. Explains daily social media of broad community. The community needs a bigger megaphone.

    Ishana – I’m hearing two things – building rooms and meals, and events…

    Steph – it brings people to Brattleboro.

    Ishana- as the plan gets approved, built in should be safeguards built in to reach full community. Tim talks of merchants and it sounds like merchants to me. The criteria for what you will promote with this money? What’s the criteria? What’s in the best interest in town to promote. The Luv Crawl is highly controversial. Have lots of people at the table.

    Chamber – we are a broad organization to help people who come here to come back here. We want to welcome them and show them around. Our goals is to bring people, relocate here… everyone can sit at the table. I’m glad we have something on paper in two weeks. It’s a big project. We want this to be a better place to bring people.

    Donna Simmons – this is a protection plan. It is a pot that is growing, so it supports all taxpayers. We want to keep the pot growing. Shouldn’t micromanage. Should preserve the money coming in by local option taxes. If it works, we have more income. If you don’t advertise… if your business id down you advertise.

    Tim – this 1% is good for the town, right….

    Donna – there is no doubt. Be very careful… you might get more asks in future. If you give them 10% you might be asked… it might be pandora’s box. But yes. My complaint on the sales tax is proven competition in NH. I was here when we had vacant storefronts. We want to preserve and protect.

    Lissa Weinmann – we pay into DBA with our place 117 Elliot,but my concern is who is at the table making decisions. That what bother me. I’m not always at that table. It’s important that a diverse group of people make the decision. The Lit Fest brings in a lot fo people, The Latchis didn’t know this was being discussed. Needs to be a way to bring all in on this. It can’t be micromanaged, but to put it all in the hands of DBA and Chamber isn’t wise either. Take that money and put it to promotion, but mix it up more. The Arts Committee could use it to promote events. Give more specifics – buying an ad in the New Yorker? What are the sectors? The Brattleboro Word project will have stories and maps and promotes town. I’d like some of that money, and others would too. There needs to be an equitable way. If you give them 10%, break it down. I’d review it every year, and wouldn’t spend it on salaries. Media buys, and I want to see the numbers, and to support 2% for the Arts Committee. Lit Fest could take out an ad to get more people here. We’re all in this to promote the town.

    Steph – anyone can be a member of DBA for $25, or you can volunteer. Big clarification.

    Jacki Reiss – I work at latches Hotel, and know how many come because too Brattleboro. The word is out. I see many who can’t come to town because of the….

    BCTV’s stream just ended for some reason. And the meeting still hasn’t gotten to the first item of regular business.

    So, I’ve been typing here steadily since 6:15 and think I’ll use this as an opportunity to take a break.

    Board members, do let us know what else happened tonight…

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