Another Brattleboro Selectboard meeting? Yes, indeed!
The board discussed final tidbits relating to the FY21 proposed budget, and consider other items as well, such as giving themselves a raise, giving election workers a raise, demanding an overhaul of the health care system, and then some wondering about who is getting raises and why they are getting them.
Chair Brandie Starr had no remarks.
Town Manager Peter Elwell had an update on the compliance work about the health order. There was a re-inspection last week and not much progress had been made – most violations have not been cured. The owner was on site with inspectors and was reminded. A reinspection is scheduled for Dec 12. Based on the lack of progress, and no steady progress being made, daily fines have been put in place, and it is $800 per day per address. Those are accumulating. The next step will be for us to get a court order to have corrective actions by a certain date.
Starr – what about the tenants?
Elwell – they are still on premises because the most urgent threats to public safety have been addressed. The questionable electrical systems and materials in hall are a risk of fire, but there are smoke detectors now. The folks living there aren’t at fault. Rather than displace them, they can stay there while corrective actions are being taken.
Daniel Quipp – the fine sounds pretty hefty. Has the landlord indicated they can pay that fine? If cash flow is a reason the work isn’t getting done….
Elwell – it may be a contributing factor but not a sufficient explanation. This landlord has had months to fix this, and things have progressed to an unusual stage. Normally the landlord makes the fixes. Sometimes they are slow and they get a written violation. In very rare instances tickets and fines still doesn’t get a landlord’s attention. Form there, there are larger daily fines and court orders left.
Starr – looking forward to updates.
Robin Flatley – I share a cautionary tale of Madame Curie – they were pioneers in radioactivity. They were exposed to extensive doses of radiation during experiences, and it caused her death. She never acknowledged the role of radiation. I saw how passionate Tim Wessel was when he said 5G won’t hurt our children. What if what he is saying is misinformation put up by corporations. What is we expose children to 5G and harm them. We can’t take that back. Be inspired by NH, and establishing a commission looking into health concerns about 5G health risks. As an added incentive – Mill Valley CA, the city council blocked new 5G cell towers. I’d love to believe Tim, but what if we are wrong. I implore the board to speak up and say prove to me 5G is safe. Madame Curie never acknowledged the health risks of radiation exposure.
Franz Reichsman – I sent an email to the board about municipal broadband and what’s being done in Kentucky. I’d like to urge that money be included in the budget to take steps forward with municipal broadband. It should be in the budget and ready to go.
Rikki Risatti – although I don’t always speak – I’d like ongoing weekly meetings here for people to express themselves in person, and also have the selectboard respect the public participation – when there are motions being passed, like taxing marijuana, I voted against it and I think public members should be counted equally in voting sessions.
FY 21 Budget
Elwell – at the Town’s website the budget is available. It has all the documents related to the budget and you want the third down – 18 pages of line items. We’ll begin with the Town manager’s Office.
– It’s a small budget, almost all personnel costs for four employees. HR is in this office budget. Salary increase of 2% there, and training is eliminated. It gets charged elsewhere. Reduced postage by half, and transportation line item has increased to accommodate Sally (HR). Total is up about 2% over last year.
Brandie – any questions?
Elwell – this is smaller stuff tonight and things aren’t changing much.
Elwell – the Finance budget – about the same as the TM budget, but increases only about 1%. Retirement pay is newly zeroed out. It almost offsets the increases of the salaries.
Brandie – questioons? (No)
Elwell – Attorney – this is a contract with Bob Fisher and we’d like to increase that by 2% for his firm. 1.9% increase over last year total.
Liz – litigation – VLCT pays for a lot of it?
Elwell – yes. If we do this litigation, defending ourselves against a claim, those expenses are paid by our insurer.
Tim Wessel – is that 2% increase per year?
Elwell – not in contract but it is a fair practice that we do each year. We get a lot of value, and it protects the Town against upside risks. We might go to court on this health order matter – it is included within our retainer with Bob. The litigation line item is for paying small court costs. It’s a good deal. It’s not insignificant, but legal isn’t cheap.
Tim – but it isn’t in his contract. I’ve done retainers and I sometimes have to report hours. Has that ever been done?
Elwell – not in the past five years.
Tim – is it a feeling of a good value?
Elwell – we did look at estimates of hours in 2015 and I became satisfied – there are months where he gets paid and doesn’t do as much as other months where he does much more…
Liz – I never heard of a lawyer that doesn’t mark down hours. That would be weird. Do we pay for him to go to conferences?
Elwell – yes – sometimes we send him on our behalf. He has other municipal and private clients.
Town Clerk FY21
Hilary – we’re a small department and we do a variety of tasks. We are keepers of land and vital records, and restore old records. We issue licenses – marriage, liquor, entertainment, dog, and so on. We sell cemetery plots, staff the board of civil authorities, plan for elections, do abatements, issue oaths, and do elections – dealing with election logistics and voter registration and representative town meeting. FY21 is a big year for us. For the most part it is steady year to year, but in odd years, we also have state primaries and elections in November. Records retention goes up in even years, then down in odd years and we add it to our election budget. Postage went up. Election expenses have gone up. We now have food and child care at RTM, and pay for facilities and maintenance at BUHS. We have accessible voting machines with touchscreen, or use headphones, or a navigation pad. Visually impaired can vote without someone doing it for them. State funds it for state and national elections, so we’d like to fund the local elections.
Quipp – what’s the salary for election workers?
Hilary – $10.96 starting in January, or they can volunteer.
Brandie – you do much. Thanks.
Schoales – when are petitions for town offices available?
Hilary – already! Stop by and get one…
Rikki – does the budget offer any minimum wage salaries? Any motion for it to occur?
Hilary – it hasn’t come up by SB or RTM. No.
Elwell – general services are usually internal. Small increase for IT salaries – Matt at the library – plus computers and software licenses. We hadn’t been keeping up with software, and that was a concern, so we are now up to date, but to stay up to date we need the increase
Liz- how do we protect from ransomware?
Elwell – we’ve reduced number of servers, and keep them up-to-date, and have proper firewalls. We have a backup server. That secured the framework of the program. The basic design is protected and easier for us to keep protected. The other way is by keeping each machine up to date. We do patching remotely by our vendor automatically now. Everything is updated at the same time. It doesn’t guarantee that we won’t suffer a hit.. we see a lot of potential email threats, and talk to employees about how to see what’s going on… emails look like our daily operations.
Daniel – GIS mapping? This isn’t planning…
Elwell – Planning does some, assessors do some, and so on.. the costs are shared and showed here.
Daniel – one thing was making the town report more visible and accessible.
Elwell – a week from tonight we’ll bring the budget back, revised, and one thing will be visual representations of this budget. We’ll show you as we go along, pie charts and graphs, to see if it is what you want.
Daniel – board salaries – the amount has remained at this level for a long time…
Elwell – it has bee a while.
Jan Anderson – upped 4-5 years ago by RTM.
Daniel – a genuine question about equity – we gave the Town Attny a 2% increase… 2% for us would be a small amount but a nod in the right direction.
Tim – we talk at RTM about volunteering and not being able to serve on the board. You can argue either way, but I like arguing here.
Elwell – if you want to do this, and think about it, we can address it later in January. (OK!)
Tim – a good headline tomorrow – Daniel advocates for a raise.
Daniel – I advocate for transparency and our salaries are part of this. I’d like to advocate for a cost of living bump.
Rikki – I’d recommend a minimum wage of $25 an hour for the board an anyone else.
Tim – let me get my calculator…
Schoales – it comes up at RTM – is it a volunteer job or a paid position?
Liz – I’d like to look at our goals for the year and to see if there is a budget need for any of our goals.
Elwell – we set goals in spring, budget in fall. Intentionally, so there is a flow form setting goals to being worked into the budget. A lot of times the goals relate to relative efforts rather than something new. When there are, we fund them. You’ll have a January review of goals.
Quipp – can that agenda have a review of goals at the top?
Elwell – the budget will show up as old business. Next week it will be new business of things to address in January. But in January, it will be old business, and do goals right away as unfinished business.
If BCTV is getting $5k and the board wants raises, I want some compensation for the gazillion hours of unpaid work I’ve done over the last 15 years. Heck, $50 would be nice.
I have a better attendance record than most board members, too. : )
Send payments to Chris Wants His Fair Share, PO Box 6005, Brattleboro , VT….
Elwell – here’s the great news – we improved worker’s comp policies and actual experiences to bring down rates. After years of big increases, it is flat this year. “We” did that with years of hard work. We identified that costs were going through the roof. We had no HR director. We created a better policy for safety and prevention, and we get employees back to work faster. It’s better for employee health and personal lives to not be idle, and it is better for the taxpayers to have everyone at work. We’ve been making progress on how this improves our performance on worker’s comp claims. The premiums are set on multiyear averages, and this year it pays off. It has the potential to go down. Our own experience may see a decline, or flat performance, depending on the market rate. It depends on how we do with our claims, and what happens in the insurance markets. A possibility of a decline. Average is over 6 years.
Employee Benefits,and Bonds and Notes
Elwell – salary increases – we propose $30k as a placeholder to go for non-union employee wages, and hope to have changes in January to enact immediately for them. It will impact FY20 and FY21. It’s a thumbnail figure we put in back in October. I’ll make sure this comes back with more details.
Tim – that’s a reference to a partial year?
Elwell – no – it is for the full FY21. FY20 is partial and we’ll just need to absorb. Elsewhere in benefits, 10% increase in health premiums. But also HSA and HRA expenses have some savings. We’ve made some changes after having some experience, and can bring them down. Net is a $100k increase – 4% of the prior year.
Liz – what made you think the HRA expenses were so large last year.
Elwell – the town takes on risk. Households hold some of the deductible, then there is a layer – the HRA – where the Town pays the claims in that space – then insurance kicks in. In the HRA space, you won’t expend 100% of the potential risk. Some won’t use any, some will exhaust some, and there will always be some amount of … actual expenses will always be lower than 100%. We’ve worked to identify an expected amount of claims, and now we have some actuals to compare. We increased risk as this was implemented. This is closer to the actual statistical expected claims. Some year there will be a bad year. If we had a bad year our HRA expenses might exceed our HRA budget. It will happen. This is enough protection, but less of a cushion than before.
Liz – the whole concept is that it offsets health care costs but costs go up…
Elwell -but this is less than if we didn’t do it this way. The more risk we took on, the better the deals got. This year we aren’t taking on more risk. Last year we had a few catastrophic claims.
Franz R. – what is the out of bound exposure for the HRA? Is there a percentage function? Some idea of what…
Elwell – we know it exactly but don’t have it on hand.
Franz – I need to know now! (: ))
Elwell – I’ll bring it to you.
Tim – we’ll wait for a slow news night. This stuff is the most difficult for me. Te HSA and HRA, because it is a morally reprehensible system. The system drives me crazy. I almost don’t ant to understand it.
Daniel – everyone gets sick. The actual number was … regular people’s premiums in 2017… we look at year on year and it is still pretty bad. Between 2017 and today it is up 31% for regular folks to get the premium. When we look at our budget, we say this is ok and this is not ok, but we have little control over health care. We’ve done what we can. Employees taking on more can impact desire to go to the doctor. Blue Cross rakes in their $2 million from Brattleboro… how many are in Vermont total… and the Green Mountain care board? I feel like as a collection of municipalities, we have to acknowledge that this line item is unsustainable, and need to make a statement that this system is not working for us, or the taxpayers, or the employees. One of the things that’s messed up is that it pits people against one another… it just stinks. It really stinks. WE can’t change the entire system , but we can speak through the VLCT
Liz – and though our legislators.
David S – we’ve had resolutions year after year. There was a huge effort . Medicare for all… it would make a big difference.
Elwell – I have a league board meeting soon. I’ll take this message, and everyone should contact legislators. It is unsustainable. It isn’t new to the radar of VLCT, but we need to share that this is so expensive and so far beyond our control.
David – it is sustainable – by raising taxes. It keeps doubling. Our central government won’t deal with it.
Tim – individually it isn’t sustainable.
Daniel – my taxes are going up, say people, and this is one of the reason why. Over $2 million.
Elwell – plus Utility and Parking fund employees. But, while premium is increasing – 10% – our overall program is only increase about 2%. Because of employee contributions and some tweaks, the actual cost this year is only going up 2-3%.
David S – that’s all we can do. It is better than before, but a portion is being shifted to employees… same in school budget.
Liz – it is important to bring up at Town Meeting. Think of how we deliberated about the police department canopy…
David – it’s gorgeous. Have you seen it?
Elwell – some good news? Bonds and Notes. The note principle and note interest means we aren’t buying equipment with borrowed money (except for half of the ladder truck, with its long life…). This is the year we see the divided. Note principle is down $158k, and note interest is going down slightly. $169k reduction is the divided for not borrowing to buy equipment. If we embrace the 25 year equipment replacement plan, we’ll set aside money and earn interest to pay for equipment.
Tim – don’t we get a presentation from them?
Elwell – not normally. They get to make a recommendation to RTM – $191,005 this year. Do you want to match this in your budget? I recommend you do. If so, we’ll add more and make it…
Liz – I’d like to know more about all of this.
Schoales – typically they come when something is wrong.
Liz – I’d like to know what’s behind it.
Tim – they can show what a great job they do… I have some questions about how it appears. Are there older things that remain.. such as the drop-in center..
Elwell – the standard we apply to line items – if it is zero all across we’ll drop it, but if it has some history we continue to show it until it drops off.
Tim – the museum and art center is also under auxiliary services?
Elwell – the town pays $7k for maintenance each year.
Liz – I see a duplicate of Woman’s Freedom Center…
Elwell – yes, like the Museum and Art Center we used to pay for maintenance but now they apply for programming. Town used to own their facility.
Tim – do we have how this lines up with our 1% rule…
Elwell – it wasn’t adopted, just discussed. This will be slightly higher than 1%.
Tim – still like to talk about attempting to cap that. I’d like to advocate for keeping it to 1%. Numbers have gone up a lot over years.
David S – and look at the need increasing…
Tim – we can’t give that much of our budget
David – if RTM says they want it we can.
Elwell – I’ll bring Human Resources to come in January…
Daniel – then we’ll get Blue Cross Blue Shield to come…
Rikki – we’re seeing a budget trying to be balanced. I don’t expect legislators to grant us additional money. What might be more successful is getting block chain legislation and our own municipal currency to pay for all our health care needs.
Elwell – saving in streetlights by $10k. It’s offset by $10k for health and sanitation seasonal portapotties. Looking at more permanent solutions. They are very expensive. We’ll need grant funds. $15k increase to Rescue In ambulance service. Next year will be the final year of phasing out our discount…. we’re 5 out of the 6 years.
Liz – local bus service. This relates to our goals.
Elwell – same $50k as before…
Liz – Work Today isn’t funded..?
Elwell – when we created the budget… no, uh.. in any event, it was not budgeted last year. We gave money but the program didn’t start and we got the money back. We’ll give it again when ready. It’s seed money to get something started.
Franz R. – on the ambulance service, it is a significant amount. What does the town get for it, and what does Rescue Inc get? More context?
Liz – I agree.
Elwell – a colette of ambulances and personnel is a lot – what we are paying here is a drop in the bucket. They fund their work with dues. Rescue has info they can share. We should address this question after the budget is done. This is just our town dues. But after the budget, we could look more closely at Rescue.
Tim – Franz’s point is well taken. It is a bit confusing.
Daniel Quipp – arts promotion – is that the Town Arts Fund? Can we call it that?
Elwell – sure, if you’d like…
Moreland – the folks working on business promotion would prefer it be called community promotion
Elwell – community marketing initiative, and Town Arts Fund.
Quipp – the Town Arts Fund is accepting applications… it’s a great fund for local artists. Folks should apply.
Elwell – BCTV wants $5k (it’s included…). Climate Protection – this is where the $100k went away from, and West River Watershed is now the SE VT watershed and the same $1k as in years past. They do water quality testing. A volunteer organization. Lastly, the Chamber and DBA have requested level funding of the community marketing initiative. They’ve request that 10% of prior receipts be made available for this. We collected $437k so funding this year would be $43,700. Do you want this to be adjusted each year? Or a static number…
Schoales – a percent is a better incentive…
Liz – I recall that I made an amendment that the money was contingent of selectboard review…
Tim – the timing is confusing for me..
Schoales – if it is 10% then there’s no real review…
Elwell – so we’ll do 10% each year going forward (of the 1% of rooms and meals tax receipts)
Quipp – the process at RTM whereby people mess with the budget and they are told they can’t adjust individual line items. If people disagree with us, they can’t change it?
Elwell – you can make anything a separate article.
Liz – okay – so we can make the community marketing initiative something to review…
Elwell – tell us to make it its own separate item. You have authority over what you send to RTM. If you want to modify the numbers – you can make it anything. WE have a few obligations, but most everything has discretion for the board.
Brandie – we can pull out any number to allow it to be addressed on the floor.
Liz – I’m concerned about our own review
Tim – we’d want to have them present before this meeting.
Elwell – you don’t want ti this year, but annually you want that presentation
Franz R – Still unclear how the review will work. If it just goes in the budget – they still get the money regardless of what they say? Can you withhold the budget even if RTM approved it? How does that give you a right to review it…
Elwell – if there is another amendment. The reasons they needed this board’s blessing was because of the amendment.
Franz – if you want the ability to review again, the only way to do it is to have it as a separate agenda item. If you fail to take that step you won’t have that opportunity.
Liz – in fairness to last year we should do it that way.
Brandie – I agree with Franz that we should have the review, granted by RTM reps.
Liz – if the money is in the budget and next year they come and we don’t like it, we can still not fund it?
Elwell – for the following year. If you want to approve it year by year, you need to make it a separate article. You can word it to attach that condition.
Tim – the plan hasn’t even gone into effect. I’d like to give them a year… rather than give everyone a second chance to vote on the same issue.
Brandie – we’ll go over it in January.
Facilities maintenance, Municipal Center, Regional
Elwell – We just created this to consolidate custodians at different facilities into one team. We neglected to put in a line item for clothing. It’s appropriate to add that in now.
– Municipal Center – slight changes here. Overall about 2% decrease overall.
Daniel Quipp – wait, what just happened?
Elwell – costs are down now that Police are gone.
Tim – we don’t want to spoil anything happening at the municipal center.
Elwell – Windham Regional, plus Sheriff contribution, plus court costs – the amount per person has gone up.
Liz – at the risk of making january longer than it is, can the Windham Regional explain what their services are?
Tim – windham regional you are picking on? Not county tax?
Quipp – county tax is really a fee, charged to municipality, for sheriff and court?
Elwell – yes.
Elwell – the very last. Here, an unsatisfying thing… the transfer to solid waste. A 9% increase, based on our best estimate about improved revenues coming to solid waste district reducing our assessement fee is offset by decreasing bag revenue. Eventually we’ll do solid waste budgets at this time of year, but then you make a commitment to a budget that is unknowable, so we’d rather estimate what we think we need to transfer, then report back in the spring. At that time, we make a supplemental transfer if necessary.
Quipp – so, the numbers aren’t insubstantial. It might be hard to make comparisons. maybe we could do a top 10 items by dollar value, or show the most expensive items for the entire budget.
Tim – the entire budget?
Liz – yeah…
Tim – it invites some editorialization.
Elwell – we already do it and it is useful, but not visually dynamic. The budget overview is an attempt to do just this.
Tim – right – a judgement call to decide what items to cluster…
Elwell- we’ll focus on pieces of programs. There is a lot of judgment to decide what to highlight. Even in my overview to you.
David S – there is also payment to Richards for the services they provide, and admin staff…
Franz – It strikes me that you are passing from NY Times to USA Today
Brandie – we need things to be accessible.
Franz – is sale of trash bags supposed to cover costs of trash. We’re just not counting composting or recycling.
Elwell – a state law said all municipalities must reflect the cost of collecting and dispose of trash so people will pay more if they throw more away. Big success here. Volume of garbage has gone down, recycling and compost has gone up. Bag revenue is down. When we transfer money in, the part of the budget in non-garbage is larger, so our cash expenses in the system have become larger.
Liz – our garbage had been much higher and it has gone down.
Elwell – yes, when we started this we were much higher. Around $500k for bags, now down to $300k, and it keeps declining.
Tim – in reality people pay for 40% of the pay as you throw?
Elwell – no – 100% of bag revenue covers garbage. That portion of the waste stream has gone way down. It is something to celebrate, but at budget time it is hard. For reducing grange and increasing reuse, it has been a success.
Tim – I thought bag revenue paid about 40%
Elwell – of solid waste expenses?
Franz – yes – 550k total and 330k in bags is about 40%
Tim – people aren’t financing the whole operation.
Franz – is it true the district has its meeting on Thursday?
Moreland – a public comment meeting – I think the finance committee’s budget was acted and it goes to the public.
Franz – you don’t know what the budget looks like but it was just approved.
Moreland – our budget and their budget are very different. Our solid waste budget won’t go down the same as the district’s.
Elwell- the part of the town’s expenses controlled by the district is mostly about the assessment. We also pay to Triple T, plus tipping charges… many factor in our budget.
Franz – looking through budget, I didn’t understand the salary increases that were more than 2% in some places. An explanation of the high side increases, what were the contributing factors. In particular the executive sessions with unions – how did we come to the number we came to? Some idea of how that went and why it is a good outcome would be helpful. It happens in a non-transparent way.
Quipp – a proposal! -is there a wage conversation to be had?
Franz – I and others would like to know more.
Elwell – I can give a general response. We have been addressing salaries department by department, and in collective bargaining agreements. They are long and complicated. Each time, we’ve gone through explicitly to explain what’s happening to wages.
Franz – where?
Elwell – I’ll give them to you. We’ve done three so far for the three collective bargaining agreements we’ve done, and the fourth in January. One quick thing – in the budget, the way it is transparent in the budget, is you go through department by department – where you see employees increasing more that 2% – that’s the impact of the collective bargaining. Where you see the changes in employee costs beyond the 2% increase is the impact.
Franz – OK. I’m concerned in more detail than that, but I’ll catch up later.
Franz – a coupe of police items – how much per bike for the electric bikes?
Elwell – the line item is for two bikes.
Franz – under equip maintenance – a $3k increase to need for storage for body worn cameras? 2 terabytes of storage is about $90. So how does that correspond?
Moreland – server storage is more expensive than PC storage.
Tim – it might include backups and redundancy and maintenance.
Franz – staff went up 5.2% – the overtime budget also went up.
Elwell – what you see. Year to year we propose the right amount for being fully staffed. But most years we aren’t. Sometimes way under. (some board member is zipping things up…) When that happens, it is a savings to the budget when we save on salaries and spend a bit on overtime.
Franz – the overtime budget is level for the year – a correction. No increase in finance committee budget… (no)
Elwell – but our appreciation increase.
Franz – I’m speaking to my lawyer Rikki Risatti about this.