Selectboard Meeting Notes – Steve Barrett Night

selectboard march 5

The Brattleboro Selectboard met on Town Meeting Day 2019 and spent most of the time discussing issues of water and sewer.

This included a rather substantial presentation by an apartment owner requesting a reduction in an abnormally high water bill, some discussion of the Hinsdale Bridge, some notes on odors and energy, and a hint that water and sewer ates may hold steady for a year.

Comments | 6

  • Preliminaries

    Kate O’Connor said that polls close at 7 pm – at the American Legion. Also, a police raid on Oak Street on Thursday. I’m a neighbor. I want to thank Brattleboro Police, FBI, State, US Attorneys. It wasn’t just an Oak Street issue. The people engaged in this were doing other bad things throughout town. It’s a good thing it was shut down.


    Terry Carter – D3 Rep. I cannot believe an O’Connor will not be in local government. I want to thank you and your family for years of serving the community. I’m going to put the tire removal project on the agenda in a few weeks. Last year we removed about 130, and I’m guessing there are around 800 tires left. It was a learning curve. Weather and seasons. Before nesting season would be best, or in fall, or both. I request it be on the next agenda.

    Chris Tanner of 197 Elliot Street. Not comfy speaking like this. I spoke on Nov 20 about the drug hub near my house. These scumbags were removed on Dec 21. I got them out of my house. No help from my landlord. After I was here, people told me they had similar experiences of junkies in the house. It’s like Oak Street, but I’m not Kate O’Connor. I have to really work to get myself heard. The junkies are still out there. I’ll call them anything I want. My house is peaceful and quiet again. It had been a year of constant noise. I told my landlord to use a new agency to find tenants. He said he was using Groundworks, He has not been honorable. Brandie, can you help me? I don’t want anymore junkies put in my house. They better screen who moves in. I’m cool with felons, if they are decent human beings. Race had nothing to do with my neighbors. What do I do as a citizen? New tenants are coming, and I’m going to make sure they are decent people….

    Rikki Risatti – I’d motion for there to be an open comment time at the end of meetings, in case there are additional last comments. The 2019 budget proposal has details to not overlook – a 20% reduction to KidsPlayce and Hospice, and over $100k for road salt that is a toxic pollutant, and can be a hazard for dogs… it should be environmentally safer. RTM is on the 23rd. I’m encouraging a promotion for a open democracy. Brattleboro’s RTM takes away the direct vote of the public. We need to be able to vote for ourselves. Reps aren’t speaking from the pot of people who are marginalized in society. When I heard Ms. O’Connor talking about the raid, rather than calling them “bad” just share the charge allegations. To give a biased view isn’t helpful.

  • Liquor Commissioners

    Kate – Two issues tonight

    Kimberly Ann Ashcroft – Coopers Coop – Avenue grocery will become a carry out deli, plus store. 7am to 7 pm. 6 days a week. Plan is to sell beer and wine.

    Elwell – this will get them through the next few months, then a renewal til next year.

    Schoales – beer and wine (yes). What’s the plan for the deck?

    (Mr Ashcroft?) – no tables or chairs on the deck. It’s an exit point.

    Kimberly – we’ll put in a ramp there eventually.

    Tim Wessel – will you have the creamy machine?

    Kimberly – it is on the back burner for right now. You aren’t the only one to ask. Hoping to open within next 6 weeks.

    Shanta Lee Gander – getting the word out can be a challenge. How will you do it?

    Kimberly – mail, and a soft opening with neighbors. Come and test the food. A big sign. Social media. Newspaper and radio.

    Wessel – great spot.

    2nd class license approved


    Kate – next up is Summit Store.

    Owner – the Mobil station at Exit 3. We’re taking it over. We’ll have the store and sell gas. Just like it runs now. We can make it look nicer. No deli or food. Just prepackaged. And alcohol and cigarettes.

    Brandie Starr – and important location.

    2nd class license approved.

  • Water & Sewer Appeal

    (The Summit Store guys really liked Town Clerk Hilary Francis)

    Kate – we have a lot of business. The first is an appeal of a water & sewer bill. James and Jessica Matthews. 118 High Street.

    James – we own three multifamilies in town. It is important our tenants are happy. WE’ve never had issues with any utility bill. On the 29th of Dec I got a warning that water use was high – I asked for an explanation. More water use? Failed water tank? Heating system change? No idea. They offered inspection to find leakage issues. They came. A bit of shower dripping in a unit. A slight leak in a toilet. A slight drip in a sink. Another toilet not working right. The Town upheld my bill, and I have problems with the report. We had contentious discussions with Barrett and Penson . Unprofessional. Over the decade, if you add them up, it’s 32 units a quarter. I disagree with their estimate of our water use. We did have issues. I’m looking at facts, not opinions. We’ve had great tenants. We fix things right away when reported. No changes from previous quarters. Town said others had some water issues. 70 different properties. My bill went from $250 to $1700. If it were my fault, I’d pay. Gallons per day – 8 residents is 80-100 gallons per person, or 50? It’s not clear. 32 units equal 28,000 gallons. Seems reasonable. Their report is my toilets are leaking, but my water meter is old. New meters are 99% accurate. One was installed, plus we replaced the toilet. Now says 0015. 15 units of water. This is 42 days. Half a quarter. Close to 30 a quarter. Other bills get adjusted by town. I made a good faith payment of over $400. In conclusion – the Town hasn’t fairly addressed our concern about our water bill. Every conversation with town was recorded. and we were treated poorly. I want to keep buying properties in this town. I could go elsewhere. I’d ask… they threaten to shut off my water. I’m now delinquent, and have additional fines and fees. I’d like that waived.

    Peter Elwell – the level playing field we like to maintain. It was a comprehensive presentation. You showed a lack of evidence of what you’ve done wrong – I have no explanation for the high water meter reading. We see some readings higher than normal each quarter, and we send letters to warn property owners, and we do inspections. If we can be helpful, we offer that advice. What we DON’T do, and there’s no judging… if there is a broken meter or Town error, then we make an adjustment. Sometimes, we have an adjustment – water filled abasement. The water was there. It had to be pumped out. So we know it didn’t go into the sewer system. So then the sewer part is adjusted. many situation – we don’t know why the meter was high, but the meter was accurate and water was consumed – going in and out of system. The old meter taken out was tested, and tested accurately. Staff is not to judge the conclusions you reached, but in administration of the system, there was no error with the meter. So we recommend the appeal be denied. For the fair operation of the system. Only fair to the rest of the ratepayers.

    Kate – Do we know.. the bill says 196 units of water and sewer usage. Does it much I pour down the sink.

    Elwell – sewer doesn’t have a meter.

    Steve Barrett – we try to help. We aren’t plumbers. This is done to alert people before they get their bills. A small leak can cause a big bill. It isn’t pleasant. We feel bad for you. We really do. We run into this with single, elderly people. I did the math myself. A leak of .7 gal per min could cause this.

    Schoales – you told him his meter could read flows in and out? You though he had a dif meter?

    Barrett – Yers, new meters can. The old meter is unable to do that.

    Schoales – some old meters as are as high as 20% off?

    Barrett – yes, some. This old meter was 99% accurate, just like new meters.

    Schoales – Mr. Matthews – we got memos here. You had toilets fixed?

    Jessica – one toilet fixed.

    Schoales – were did the water go?

    James – it didn’t go through. I think the meter was inaccurate this time.

    Brandie Starr – looking at the bill… when I read it, I see sewer uses 12150. A dollar amount, assuming that water hit the sewer. So I’m left with $500+…

    Elwell – it is not an assumption. It’s not a metered flow. There can be other reasons. Water is metered, sewer is not. You measure, then charge same amount for sewer. Virtually all the water in a home goes down the drain into the sewer system, unless there is a known reason sewer should be adjusted. Sewer rates are high because our rates are currently 3.5x as high.

    Gander – I can see why this is confusing, and should be a better system.

    Wessel – I own a building and I got one of those notices. Normal bill was doubled. I was shocked. I paid it, and talked to my tenants. Couldn’t find anything wrong. Meter looked fine. Then later, I was talking with tenant and asked if they left a garden hose on. He said he might have left it on for two or three days. There you go. That was the explanation. There are instances where people are at fault and you can’t figure it out. It becomes a cost of doing business. Glad that you are responsible landlords, but if we do this, we can’t just go by good-faith payments. It’s difficult for me to make exceptions. It’s unfortunate. I had a water heater bust and had to pay 30% more once.

    James – I appreciate what you are saying. There is water not being accounted for, according to Town. There is an infrastructure issue. If I thought my tenants did anything, I wouldn’t be here. Anecdotal stories aren’t helpful.

    Kate – we’ve had some come before you. It’s hard. You are compelling. There was a leaky toilet and two leaky faucets that could have contributed – we can work on a better process. I understand how you feel, but there were leaks that could have contributed.

    James – it doesn’t seem like Town is being reasonable. $250 bill vs. $1800 bill is big difference.

    Gander – could we drop the penalty and late fees? Given they made a payment?

    Attny Fisher – it is in your discretion. But was there a manifest error in the billing? If a meter is out of order and fails, we use daily averages. Next section says all water passing through a meter will be charged, whether used or wasted.

    Starr – so if meter fails we can go by averages. (yes)

    Schoales – the meter was read, you were notified, inspection was in January… so providing some leeway to pay the bill is reasonable. I’d forgive penalty and interest here. The meter worked, and you had leaks, and your tenants might not be fully honest with you. I can’t see bending the rules.

    James – I’m going to get another bill that will be high. I need to know what’s coming.

    Kate – can’t deal with a bill that we can’t see.

    Elwell – we’ll do it in the morning.

    Gander – how do we help businesses like this?

    Schoales – there are a number of ways. Some has to be made up as we go along. We have clear guidelines for how we have to go.

    James – I wasn’t allowed to test the meter. I’m a retired state trooper.

    Elwell – valid concern to improve our notices and make note of appeal process. This ordinance is quite old. We plan to update it in new year. We’ll spell out appeal process more clearly.

    Starr – I’m going to vote in their favor, because I fail to see why we have a process if we’re never going to approve it. If they make a grievance process and they convince us… we can see the grey area

    Gander – I agree

    Rikki – any examination of town lines to see if they were leaking? If not, there should be a pause.

    James – it’s not leaking outside the house, everything is normal now, so either the meter is off or the toilet leaked 150,000 gal of water.

    Motion to uphold full payment, and appeals process will be included with notices. Passes 3-2.

    Another motion, to waive the late fee and penalty. Passes 4-1.

  • Water & Sewer - Hinsdale Bridge, Chestnut Hill, Odors, Energy, Main Street, Rates

    Steve Barrett – final design of water and sewer improvements for Vernon Rd for new Hinsdale bridge, downstream about 100 ft from current bridge. State will reimburse us.

    Kate – what’s the timing of this, since we don’t know about bridge.

    Barrett – when they start they’ll start on their side, then come over, then work on elevations. We’re doing design and specs now.

    Elwell – the engineering work then gets folded into planning for project. Construction won’t happen for a couple of years.

    Rikki – curious if any articles for today will include state or municipal water certification to tenants and facilities. (no) When?

    Kate – for the future.. a new selectboard coming in.

    Rikki – this is a crisis. I did an independent test and my water levels were high for mercury and phosphate.

    Board is confident water coming into system is tested and good.

    Rikki – not in facilities that aren’t well maintained.

    Gander – i have a similar story to pass along.

    Rikki – your passing it along to others rather than dealing with it.

    Engineering contract approved.

    Barrett we have construction phase engineering for Chestnut Hill. This goes back to 2009. After many delays, we got state permits to do the work. We’ll regulate the water levels.

    Elwell – It’s unusual for a construction phase engineering bid, but we’re going to do the work in town.

    Barrett – We’ll subcontract some small parts, like fencing. We have to have state review, then we can order the parts, and hope to start by later summer. Should be done in 2019.

    Wessel – what’s happening up there? Looks like a polar bear should be in there.

    Barrett – reservoir is disconnected. We’ll add a drain line toward Cedar Street, and a drainage overflow pipe. It will take time for water to fill up, but needs an overflow pipe. It will be a full reservoir when done.

    O’Connor – my mom was on the board for this. The people on Chestnut Hill wanted to keep the water.

    Wessel – do current owners still want this?

    Barrett – went thru process in 2009.

    Wessel – will be filled with water and have fence? I’m a little dismayed that … wondering if the decision should be revisited.

    Gander – this is near the Retreat Tower?

    Brandie – we’re going to grow mosquitos.

    Gander – the people from the past didn’t want a green space? Should we just fill it?

    Elwell – its a fair question, but we are doing what RTM said to do. It’s taken a while, but the only way to do this would postpone this, and go back to town meeting for direction. We won’t be filling it with water. It will fill by nature. We’ll make it safe to store that water.

    Wessel – I question using these funds – it could be nice for people up there. It will be nicer to look at.

    Despite confusion and concerns, they decide to go ahead with the project. 3-2 (Starr and Gander against).

    Odor Control

    Barrett – we had some complaints, so we did a study – an odor inventory and dispersement model. It’s done and a strategy for addressing odors has been created. Computer model showed worse case scenarios, and how many odor hours offsite. Target is 1% a year. The open storage tank was the main culprit. Almost half of plant odors from there. A cover could reduce it. Exhaust form dewatering accounts for some odor. Cost of improvements $177k for cover, and some other measures, and will come up in next Utility budget.

    Kate – why didn’t it come with a lid?

    Barrett – Because of the process. We used to heat it, but we don’t. In a perfect world we could create class A sludge. If it had worked, we wouldn’t have needed a cover. This is a special order cover. We have class B sludge. We thought we’d have more energy coming out of this, but high rates are reducing demand.

    Rikki – what area was being studied? Outside the retreat?

    Barrett – the plant on Vernon St.

    Rikki – concern about aluminum leeching into the system? (no) Materials we use are important.

    Barrett – it doesn’t touch the sewage.

    Kate – thank you!


    Barrett – Energy Efficiency Audit of WWTP – we did study of energy use. Report shows benchmarks, goals for future use. Energy savings prioritized. WWTP is very efficient compared to similar facilities. Using equipment a bit less could save energy. Using LED lamps , investing in solar power. So we changed our schedule and have reduced our run time, saving energy already. We’ve added solar credits, and lights are being changed. Watching lights and heat. It’s very efficient and we’ll tighten it up more.

    Schoales – did the comparison happen with other similar aged facilities (don’t know).


    Downtown Water Main

    Schoales – it is steve Barrett night.

    Barrett – water break on Main St in February – lost 160k gallons. GMP cut power. Cellar was pumped out. Found the leak. A valve at 165 Main St – a 1991 valve bonnet with rusty bolts. Once contained and repaired, the area was stabilized. We looked at other valves in system. Crews matched a bolt from 1880s to stabilize. We are looking at Water Main on Main Street – it would have huge impact. We could o it in small bites. We’ve upgraded part of downtown, in 80’s, in 90’s, and 2002. We propose upgrading from Zephrys to Candle in the Night, on Main Street. This is a rush project to be done by May or June. Less impact than if it breaks again. Like, during a parade. Roads will be repaired not too far in the future, so it is a good time to do it.

    Gander – lifespan of new water mains?

    Barrett – 50 if you ask someone. Old ones were 100 years. Ours probably has barnacles.

    Franz Reichsman – cost of project?

    Barrett – the design will come with a cost. Rough number is $300 a foot. Road work included.

    Rikki – any town policy requiring that main plumbing be checked or inspected for cracks to prevent breaks?

    Barrett – we have a capital plan to upgrade and we do work each year. We do leak testing and monitor flows.

    Rikki – nothing to prevent over 100 year old piping? New pipes will have cement?

    Barrett – all materials are approved for drinking water supply.

    Schoales – it is all the same water to bathe and drink.

    Rikki – when sidewalks are repaved, don’t strangle the trees around their base. Water should flow next to sidewalks and mound around the base. An arborists need to look at the trees. I want to see trees to grow. Right now they are being strangled. They need to help with smog downtown, and protect trees there.

    – water main repairs approved!



    Kate – we’re not deciding this until April, but getting a preview.

    Elwell – early last spring, we discussed rates, and there was a suggestion to take a year off from rate increases. We were in final year of a five year model, we asked to stick with it one more year, so that now we could set rates for next 3-5 years. You agreed. 2%/6% water/sewer increases. Some work needs to be done at Pleasant Valley, and if we stand pat for a year, the revenue stream will increase the capital funds without a rate increase. We’ll bring an ordinance to the new selectboard – a one year ordinance to readopt existing rates with no increase.

    Schoales – a break in increases would be good.

  • Ordinance Amendment

    Plastic Bag Ban change

    Rikki – any plastics should be biodegradable!

    change to allow art supplies to be wrapped in plastic passes!

  • Law Enforcement Grants & Vacancies

    Education grants for Fire Dept.

    Elwell – we got the grant so let’s appropriate it. Ballistic vests and helmets for firefighters, and training. two parts Ballistic Helmet Grant for 10 helmets. Next is for two days of Tactical Combat Casualty Care Training. Lifesaving techniques and trauma care. $19k of funds.

    Starr – really important training.

    Schoales – this is prudent, is an example of our choice to ignore the cause of the source of this need and ignoring it. People with access to weapons, mental health care inadequate. Are Rescue employees included in this training?

    Elwell – I think so, usually they are in local training.

    Fisher – make sure your motion says helmets.

    Rikki – feeling restless since I saw in town budget 35k request to replace current guns that police have with 35k worth of more guns. Over a million spent on police and further militarizing them – I’m scared. there are communities that don’t arm their police with lethal weapons. I’d prefer that, and prioritize bias training and unarmed human social workers with them to help interactions with people with disabilities. I request changes to these and I”m not seeing any response from selectboard. These are valid concerns.

    Bradie – we have a social worker

    Rikki – but not with officers. More investment and more employees, if we have police at all. Where do decommissioned guns go?

    Kate – we can ask the police chief and have answer at RTM.

    grants a-ok!

    There are committee vacancies! Volunteer! March 14 applications due to Town Manager’s Office. We may shrink the Energy Committee. We’ve been asked to.

    (vacancies read – there are many – you can volunteer for just about anything, including the obsolete positions they never get rid of!)

    Rikki – why shrink the energy committee

    Kate – they want fewer so they can have a quorum more easily. We’ll talk about this more that the next mtg.

    Rikki – why only three public trustees?

    Fisher – many set out in the Charter.

    Rikki – how is the Charter changed?

    Starr – by petition.


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