Selectboard Meeting Notes – Day Work Program Coming, Landlords Facing Inspections

Brattleboro Selectboard June 2019

The Brattleboro Selectboard took up a full agenda, though with only three members present, they themselves were not quite full.

The big discussion of the evening centered on landlords and a new rental housing inspection system soon to take effect, but the exciting news came during public participation when it was announced that a day work program, legal and with dignity, will soon be getting started.

Comments | 13

  • Preliminaries

    It’s becoming a bit of a habit to start late.

    Chair Brandie Starr said they were very short of members. Just three. Liz and Tim will make all motions.

    She defers remarks to Elwell…

    Peter Elwell – 3 things to announce. Excited first to introduce Sally Nicks (Nix?). First day was yesterday as new HR director.

    Thursday this week (the 20th) a public forum organized by BMH and Fire Station from 6-8 at Central Fire Station- opioid forum, lots of experts.

    Reminder that there is one Selectboard meeting in July on July 9th.

    Tim Wessel asks if they need to warn the public forum since more than three may be there. Jan Anderson confirms.

    Public Participation

    Emily Kornheiser – here as Youth Services workforce director. For more than a year we’ve had conversations about a day labor program. For people whose lives don’t allow a regular schedule – an opportunity for folks to access paid work. We’ve been working on how to set up a program like this. No one has done this like this – other options are more exploitive. We wanted a program for folks to access work when they needed it, and within the law and protecting people’s labor rights. Youth Services and Groundworks have researched this. We’ve examined worker’s comp, ID and paperwork, a cash economy and tax liability, and support services to make it work. Many employment services are designed to get you to paid full time work.. we didn’t want that. We wanted to be more flexible , meet needs with dignity. We’re ready to move forward. There is a new organization, (of Youth Services), to simplify books and complications and risk. We figured out worker’s comp and payroll. We’re ready to start in a couple months.

    Elizabeth McLoughlin – Thanks for your work.

    Emily – thanks for your interest.

    Tim – it should be on the agenda

    Brandie – thanks for sticking with the complexity of the work.

    Emily – we’d have people going to a set location ready to work, a case manager would transfer people to locations, provide lunch and access social services, and then return to work. We’d pay them cash at the end of the day.

    Josh Davis – director of Groundworks. – I support this effort. It started two years ago, born of a look at panhandling. It’s a very complex program to do both the legal and dignity parts together. Very supportive of this.

    Kipton Tewksbury – Brattleboro Time Trade and WSWMD and Post Oil have something less ambitious. We want to organize a repair cafe in October – a trademark name and comes with a whole set of procedures for how to run it. We’d like to ask the town to give it their blessing and maybe town employees with skills might help in the Repair Cafe. Part of the work is getting qualified technicians to help people that day. The community is full of skilled and talented people. Extending the time trade notion… we’re just planning this one event, and we’ll fundraise. Any questions?

    Elizabeth McLoughlin – I commend you. My daughter participates in fixit workshops in Boston. It’s in the morning.

    Kipton – I did one near Onion River last year. They had it from noon to 4 pm on a Saturday or Sunday. 10 tables, 17 technicians, and volunteers doing any number of things. People brought things they needed fixed.

    Elizabeth – the library might help…

    Brandie – we can have this on an agenda later on.

  • Water & Sewer Commissioners

    Steve Barrett – DPW got bids for Chestnut Hill reservoir fencing.

    $20,946.30, from Wayside Fencing of Brattleboro. The project is well underway. Once we fix the path and cosmetic work, it’ll be done later this summer. Final step will be paving.

    Tim – the piping being done – is that just for overflow?

    Steve – yes – it never had an overflow pipe before. It will overflow into the drainage system.

    Tim – how long will it take to fill it up, and should we have a contest who can guess how long it take to fill.

    Steve – yes – it will take some time to fill up. Among ourselves we are guessing. It’s a 3 million gallon capacity.

    Elizabeth – with any luck we’ll get some hurricanes.


  • Financial Report wit John O'Connor for May

    O’Connor reads his memo.

    General Fund: “We’re in good shape for the end of the fiscal year and should end with a positive balance from where we thought we’d be.”

    Utility – “Doing well as well.”

    Parking – “Over budget” but in good shape

    46 active grants and six in application process.

    Any questions?


  • Transfer from General Fund to Solid Waste Fund

    Peter Elwell – while reviewing the budget, we talked of doing this transfer one more time. We think this will be the last time, but we need to transfer $40k to solid waste fund.

    Tim – some discussion of recycling changes recently, and the Reformer did an article about recycling that was helpful.

    Elizabeth – that Peter and we discussed at our last meeting.

    Frick Spruyt – been paying attention to recycling volatility. I commend you for subsiding recycling. As long as resource is maintained, people will take advantage of it.

    So transferred.

  • Rental Housing Registration and Inspection first reading

    Peter -we’ve had many discussion of this prior to this. Last fall we discussed it as both a possible revenue and expense, and spoke this spring about it, and staff recommends first reading then schedule final adoption at July 9.

    … under current staffing resources, we can only get out to inspect once every 10 years. To provide better incentive – most properties are in good condition – some landlords haven’t taken care of their facilities and have major violations. To make sure those do a better job, we’ve created a schedule to come to apartments once every four years, and on a complaint basis. More frequent inspections will improve community standards and make for better, safer living spaces for tenants and neighbors. Cost was a concern, and we want to make it affordable for the landlords. The fee is $75 per unit when inspections happen every 4 years. This is modeled on programs in other communities. Some charge the fee every year. We’ll just require the registration form every year.

    Hearing opened.

    Tim – I have questions. One new thing is we have details on yearly registration. It seems simple to me. Should be a fluid process.

    Fireperson Len Howard – it’s be available, and people can mark “nothing has changed” if that’s the case.

    Wessel – I’m a landlord – the fire department came and checked, and I found it to be reassuring to know that you have a professional checking out tenants abodes. It’s a great thing, firefighter were polite and accommodated my schedule. My question – how will this impact AirBnB rentals?

    Bob Fisher – not a part of this, but will be addressed at state level, maybe. This won’t apply to inspecting AirBnB. Hotels get inspected, but AirBnB falls through the cracks currently. Also, an error about number of minor and major violations in the FAQs of the documents.

    Brandie – thanks!

    Liz – At Town Meeting this was approved and this is following up on RTM’s action. I think it is a health and safety matter.

    Jason Cooper – a property manager in town. Anything that improves quality of housing here I support. I have some questions. How will we know if it accomplishes anything? A way to quantify what we have now? One concern is that it takes a lot of time, and lots of money being diverted from repairs to the Town. If this improves things, I’m fine, but I want to know that and it benefits the town, and a way to end this program if it isn’t effective. In this you talk of violations major and minor, such as smoke alarms, hoarding, sitch covers, fire extinguishers – generally things a landlord doesn’t do – it’s things a tenant does. It has a big stick against landlords, but no consequences to the people causing the issues. How can you give a program without recourse – help the landlord when someone is making unsafe for a bad tenant ruing a neighborhood. Why just punish landlords? How can you help us with that? One last thing – the registration form – having lot of units – this is a lot of paperwork and will take time. The Sec of State has a simple form – once it is filled out once, I agree that it is accurate. Filling it in every year is making it a hassle.

    Elwell – that’s what we plan – if no changes, then no changes…

    Cooper – by building?

    Elwell – not yet but we’ll try. Regarding tenants, landlords have protections for people damaging their property

    Cooper – no there isn’t.

    Elwell – by inspecting more frequently, we’ll see damage more quickly. Landlords call us to do inspections – we can’t judge who did what, but it is between landlord and tenant. There are fines for landlords – the law is really clear and our intent is really clear, that the goal is safe housing. There will be rare occasions for fines. Landlords will be given much notice. 95-99% of repairs happen without fines.

    Cooper – we’ve called len Howard for professional help. My concern – we’re any easy target. The tenant can come and go, but we stay here. There should be a fine for removing smoke detectors- make tenants pay attention. I’m told it’s my responsibility. Will this happen even more? The hammer comes down on us. Could we get assistance. We don’t hoard, we don’t have bedbugs… they’ll move on and we deal with expensive problems. I’m hoping this regulation will help us.

    Brandie – is there a metrics to see if there is an improvement….

    Tim – if we go from 10 to 4 years in inspection, it is a success.

    Cooper – you could inspect daily but that doesn’t make anything safer. That’s all I’m asking. Is weekly safer than monthly?

    Tim – this is a modest increase in safety.

    Cooper – how do you measure it? If you can show it make improvements.. fewer injuries? Does the number go down? If you are taking the money that could be used to make things safer, safety could go down. Money that can’t go into the buildings.

    Tim – I’m a landlord and I sup[port it.

    Cooper – only asking for documenting that it really helps.

    Elwell – might not hit your standard. We have some substandard dwellings in our community, and is an important issue for us. We probably won’t show that we have fewer violations . This isn’t new, just more intense. In some locations, when we go to inspect, that’s when issues get addressed. More frequent inspections will make more incentive for all landlords to keep properties in good shape. Frequency is part of making this effective.

    Cooper – why not inspect the problem properties more often, and lay off those who are in better shape – it might be a more effective way to do this.

    Elwell – we do that now. We can’t pick and choose and remain fair. Cost of program is $56,000 per year. We think that’s an appropriate price for the community to pay. We welcome feedback, but moving forward is important.

    Cooper – aim some assistance at landlords with challenging tenants. You have an opportunity to address that here.

    Will – a rental property owner on Elliot Street – how many landlords have subsidized housing vouchers? ( a few hands) That kind of housing is not provided at market value – often substantially below market value. These costs can’t be passed on toe Section 8 fo state of VT. That $1.56 per unit is not paid that way by someone with subsidized housing. For my three units, that’s one third of one month’s rent. For subsidized housing, the fees should be waived, prorated, or made less of a burden to property owners.

    Elwell – that’s a policy question. The only exception right now is for Brattleboro Housing Authority – they do inspections every year.

    Tim – how many section 8 units?

    Will – 2/3’s of his units.. meeting HUD inspections with every turnover.

    Tim – you can still make a profit from renting properties that way, right?

    Will – very slim – it is below market.

    Tim – I still think it is ok.

    Will – if you billed me monthly, okay. Will these all be at the same time? That $75 is a major portion of a rental. Also, assistance getting problem tenants out. I’ve called a couple of times about someone with an unsafe living condition. The only way I can get one person out is to evict her and put her on the street. She’s now facing an eviction – a 71 year old who can’t take care of herself. No assistance getting her into managed care. It’s unsafe for her and my building.

    Brandie – an extreme failure of the system – to get someone into managed care against their will is very hard – but it is frustrating when some needs to be taken care of and won’t consent. I wish I had a good answer for you. It’s a very broken place to be in… it is so broken. I wish someone could fix it.

    Will – I’ve had to do this a couple of times, and lose rent while doing evictions. That expense of losing 3 months rent… my ability to pay $75 for inspection puts me in the red for that apartment.

    Frick Spruyt – I have a number of properties in the same neighborhood. I’ve dealt with inspections for 40 years now. I’ve been ahead of code sometimes, and feel like inspections have been reasonable and flexible. They train us to do our jobs better, so they don’t need to come often. One thing, not properly appreciated, is what a resource local landlords are, for helping people stay in housing when things get challenging. I’m part social worker, marriage counselor, and so on. I understand that my tenants and my welfare are intrinsically linked. When system treat me differently than tenants, it’s almost like treating tenants like children. It’s disrespectful. Jason and Will describe common problems, and tenants are never held responsible for what they do. It gives tenants the idea that they don’t have to be responsible about paying rent, neighbors… it’s inevitable. I have subsidized tenants. Units get inspected each year by Brattleboro Housing Authority and state agency, and shouldn’t need to be inspected again. They hold tenants responsible. It is doable. Death by a thousand fees and demands… I’m exhausted. I’ve just about had it. Others are ready to just bag it. People who care about tenants don’t feel supported by the system. To add insult to injury – our competitors get subsidized, we don’t get trash pickup. I pay for dumpsters. Yet another thing to make life more expensive and frustrating. I hope that if this goes through, at least do something about voucher units being exempted. And trash. And, I’d like to know how may units are problematic?

    Len Howard guesses 40%.

    Tim – I’ve had minor violations, but was glad to know and that someone noticed things needing updates. I din’t catch it myself without the inspection.

    Frick – I’ve had retaliatory calls made by tenants to force inspections.

    Hugh Barber – 27 years of experience with previous inspections. Can’t say enough about them helping. What’s so broken? You want to upgrade housing… why not concentrate on problem properties. Why should I be treated like someone who doesn’t upkeep their properties. Good guys like me get treated like bad guys. The $1.56 per month – I’ll get invoice for $1900 due payable in 30 days. MY building is downtown. We already pay DID taxes and get questionable results. They do nice flowers, does it bring business, I don’t know. Can you walk before you run with this? Maybe you can’t. That’s my two cents.

    Brandie – we’ll have a second reading…

    Tim – Why does proposed program make you feel like a bad guy>

    Hugh – due process. We’re up to code with wiring, sprinklers, and so on… why be treated the same as someone who hasn’t done it. It’s $200 every 4 years, but who pays that fee? Tenants. We’ll raise rents, and they are already challenged to pay their rent. Landlords won’t swallow all of that. I do understand the desire to improve quality of housing.

    Jackie Reiss – I own and manage a couple of buildings in town. Landlords can be adversely affected by neighboring properties. More frequent inspection means more tenant inspection which means… I’d clean if there was an inspection coming. The benefit to all houses. Some tenants are reluctant to let me inside. I think that’s because they are afraid something bad will be found. Across the street from my house, and uninspected building almost brought down the whole neighborhood. I’m willing to put up with raising my month rents by $5 a month and make a profit on it. The $1.57 a month isn’t worth forgoing the opportunity to have police and fire and landlords in a more regular contact.

    2nd reading and adoption July 9th.

  • Assistant Deputy heath officers.

    Elwell – health inspectors to do the inspections of rental properties. They’ll write reports.


    The State will make the appointment of these recommendations.

    Tim – if we didn’t do this, what happens?

    Elwell – even if you didn’t do the ordinance, it would still be fine to have more members of the team to do inspection work.

    Frick – I didn’t realize they could only do fire and not health. Of course, go for it. The ordinance has nothing to do with police or drug activity – why can’t police be more proactive. I know who the neighborhood drug dealers are and are free to do business.

    Tim – we’re off topic.

    Frick – for future consideration

    So Recommended.

  • Groundworks $100,000

    Elwell – the item here for a request for $100k, because grant was funded for $400k rather than $500k, so we want to plug the gap… it was going to be here tonight, but because we are missing two board members, and Chair is employee and can’t vote on this, so we’ll do it July 9th.

    Josh Davis – Groundworks Collaborative – appreciative to give update to board – this is critical funding we need to keep moving forward. We’ll be back.

  • Tax Stabilization at Brooks House

    Elwell – we’re in year 5 or 8 year agreement. Original agreement had specified vales, and then was discounted. Full value taxes are owed to state, but Town discounted tax owed. In year 4 and 7 the values could be revisited. We did an appraisal through Assessors, Brooks House owners appealed. $7.1 million value was upheld (last year). The market value is then discounted for taxes imposed. Town got taxes on about $5.5 million. As we set final vales for this year, owners said they still didn’t like $7.1 million. They said $6 million. Town said next time value could be adjusted would be in year 7. Owners proposed suggested they skip tax stabilization if property can be $6 million. WE don’t think that is a fair way to do it, but additional sales since last year, and have better idea of cost and operation of brooks House. The additional info is that the current value could be $6.2 and $6.6 million depending on the process used. Brooks House owners agreed to modify tax stabilization agreement to have actual value at $6.2 million, and no more discounting. Town will get more taxes each year, even with lower building value. Owners made a fair point that $7.1m is too high, and this is a good plan. Win-win for both parties.

    Liz – I agree this is good for Brattleboro.

    Tim – over $100k into the tax coffers (over life of project).

    Fric – How big do I have to be to negotiate my taxes like this?

    Brandie – Bigger!

    Tax Stabilization Agreement Agreed.

  • Charter Review Commission

    Elwell – Spoon?

    Spoon Agave – you have the request. It’s history. It began two years ago by talking with town moderator about RTM and how well it worked, and democracy in general. As we talked, more and more charter changes we’re thought of. What it comes down to is the feeling that the most important asset we have – to be able to function as a community and to face difficult times ahead, is having a string democratic town meeting process and a string charter where it is all laid out. The relevant part is democracy implies participation and our concern, and your concern, about small numbers that come out to elections, and who have any interest in our schools. Not unique to Brattleboro. Most Americans feel like they have no connection or impact, no sense of being part of a democracy in any useful way. It is stronger here, as we work with the Town meeting process. We have a leg up. Several different categories of things came up – housekeeping issues of organization (of committees), how to appoint committee members, the school board no longer being in the Charter. Some things should be stricken from the Charter, or new questions about school board members still having standing? Small housekeeping questions. This is where things get talked about beyond selectboard meetings. It’s just thinking, understanding, learning about history and town government. The last Charter Commission interviewed all sort of people for history of town and asking everyone’s ideas. A lot of new ideas were introduced. Not sure what would happen this time. You can expect people to show up with interests. There may be changes regarding self governance at the state level. There may be charter changes if that happens. And more regional affairs might need charter changes. I don’t know. The Charter Commission could last two years. Proposals could come at the end. We had public hearings last time. How large should RTM body be? It’s always been the same amount. Could another number be more effective? Could we have an RTM website for RTM members talk together in a public forum that everybody has access to and is archiving their conversations. (Ahem, says your transcriber. We built Brattleboro that website in 2003 and it is still here.) It’s happening all over in in different places in different groups. How does this interface with open meeting law? Complex stuff. It goes on and on..

    Brandie – no it doesn’t.

    Spoon – the whole purpose is to strengthen democracy through participation.

    Brandie – we’re going to take a short break. It has to happen.

    (the pee break)

    Brandie – and we are back. An unplanned interruption.

    Elwell – we don’t have a recommendation about appointing one, but the Charter is important and there is an orderliness to moving forward – you aren’t compelled to do it now. It has to be at least every 15 years – we’re currently 6-11 years in on the last one. If you want to do it, we can provide help to establish the committee.

    Spoon – the last one started November 0f 2008. If you go forward with this, you put up lots of notices. I’d recommend that if you do this and call for applications, that be accompanied with a question to attract people and to make it easier to decide how to choose. A fundamental question like Why os Town Charter important.

    Liz – I commend Spoon for interest in town government and liking to think about town government. I question the best way to excite interest is with another committee. I feel this isn’t the right time. The Town is committed to selectboard goals and other RTM initiatives. There are major elements part of RTM and Selectboard business and existing committees that could be strengthened without a charter committee. There are other issue san goes to attend to at this time. Sustainability and opioid issue.

    Tim – I generally concur with Liz. !6 year old voting isn’t here yet, and school stuff still seems up in the air. I try not to get involved in school side, but we’d want to look at those issues if we look at the Charter. I’m happy you brought this up and for your service to the town. That’s the way I’m leaning, but maybe other members should weigh in. Ask missing board members?

    Brandie – I’m not ready to consider this with big topics we have on the table. So maybe we do check with others.

    Liz – if we are in agreement it doesn’t matter what they think.

    Tim – but is it nice not to let them chime in. It’s important that Spoon brought this up. There is a placeholder now and we do need to do this before the 15 year window. It’s good timing to bring up, but maybe not to kick off.

    Brandie – we’ll wait for Daniel and David.

    Spoon – you declined to hear this before because you didn’t have a full board…

  • Western Ave Bike Study

    Elwell – Traffic Safety Committee has discussed bike lanes on Western Ave. It’s more complicated than just re-striping. If we do it, it needs to be safe for motorists and pedestrians. It needs to be engineered. The way different forms of transportation at driveways and intersections changes with bike lanes. So we want to get proper engineering advice. State Agency of Transportation likes the idea, but also wants a study. They recommended this $40k grant for a scoping study.

    Brandie – it’s a busy road, so anything like this is good for me.

    Liz – I’m very much in favor of this.

    Tim – It’s exciting that we are expanding the study to go all the way downtown, not just Speno Court. Also, the other side of the issue is concerns about safety of pedestrians… there are a lot of issues. taking away parking, mobility issues. Why we are being methodical.

    Elwell – state liked doing more than just to Speno Court. We’re optimistic we’ll get the funds.

    Application approved!

  • Road Paving and Grants! And Loader Repair! And a pickup truck.

    Municipal Roads Grant-in-Aid

    Steve Barrett – a grant. “$26,600 Municipal Roads Grants-in-Aid Grant from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to help pay for implementation of best management practices on hydrologically connected roads in compliance with the DEC Municipal Roads General Permit” Through Windham Regional Commission. This would need a 20% match. This would be for roads with drainage directly into waterways. Funding is determined by number of roads. We are working on stormwater permits now. This will allow us to make some improvements.

    Tim – match comes from us? (yes, DPW budget, but better than paying full..)

    Brandie – no community comments due to no community in the room


    Steve – Class 2 Paving Grant in the amount of $41,600 from the Vermont Agency of Transportation to pave approximately 3/10-of-a-mile of Old Guilford Road. This would also be a %20 match, out of our budget.

    Brandie – still we have no community.

    Tim – in the room.

    Accepted and appropriated !

    Steve – 2019 Capital Paving contract to Vermont Roadworks LLC, of Brattleboro in the amount of $279,315.20. We got four bids, this is the low one. Will do Oak, Green, Chestnut Hill, Estey, Old Guilford, (and something else I missed.)

    Brandie – Tim can’t live without questions and comments. (But doesn’t have one here).

    Bid accepted!

    Steve – One loader of our two had a breakdown – CRW Woods Corporation of Williston, Vermont, in the amount of $33,114.35 to repair the Town’s 2006 Volvo L70E loader. We thought about upgrading – a new one would be over $150k. If we repair it we have a value of $80k plus. The transmission failed, and the oil cooler.

    Liz – commendation to DPW for choosing to repair after analysis.

    Tim – I’m speechless at how much it costs to repair this, but it seems reasonable.

    Steve – we get a credit for the old transmission of $14k.

    Approved for repair!

    Steve – through the state of VT bid process – $41,326.31 for purchase of a one-ton truck with plow from Central Chrysler Jeep Dodge, of Raynham, Massachusetts.

    Liz – this was in our 20 year long range plan and was presented to RTM? (yes) Nice to see.

    Tim – what happens to highway truck number 2?

    Steve – $15k for a trade-in. Total will be $27k or so.


  • Rec & Parks Pickup Truck

    Elwell – a heavy duty puickup – a large vehicle to plow and do heavy tasks. $41,962 for purchase of a 2019 Ford F350 Super Cab with 6.2L gas engine, with a Fisher plow, 1.5 yard Fisher Steel Cast Sander and 96 month/6,000 mile extended warranty from Formula Ford of Montpelier, Vermont. Through state of VT general service contract. $7k trade in on existing truck, and under budget.

    Brandie – heavy duty vehicles are generally not electric models at this time.

    Tim – and requires a really long extension cord, which we don’t have.

    Purchase approved!

  • Committees and Boards

    Elwell – you have info about applicants. One nuance is weigher of coal position – we had allowed two, but charter calls for one. You already appointed someone, but also have a current weigher of coal reapplying. You can follow town charter or state statute. Better to follow town charter, but this is mostly ceremonial/

    Liz – and they really want to be weigher of coal.

    Brandie – arts, design review, fence viewer, honor roll, tree advisory committee, and weigher of coal

    Everyone who applied was appointed! Brattleboro has two Weighers of Coal, in direct violation of the Town Charter. : )

    In house staff positions…

    Elwell as collector of taxes, Barrett as road commissioner, Chief Bucossi as Town Forest Fire Warden.

    So appointed.

Leave a Reply