Selectboard Meeting Notes – The Last Meeting Of The Decade

selectboard brattleboro dec 17

The Brattleboro Selectboard had their final meeting before Santa’s visit next week, discussing municipal broadband, finances, the Grand List, a housing grant, and FY21 loose ends. Was it enough for them to stay on the “nice” list? Read on to find out.

It’s the last meeting of the decade, too, for those counting…

Comments | 6

  • Preliminaries

    Chair Brandie Starr was absent. Tim Wessel acted as Chair.

    Tim had personal remarks – we lost young man. Little Michael. I got to know this little boy over the summer and our hearts go out to his family. Many were pulling for him and he just didn’t make it. This is the last meeting before the holidays. Count your blessings and hug your kids close.

    Town manager Peter Elwell Steven Dotson(?) will be the town’s first sustainability coordinator. There were 75 applicants, and a difficult process due to so many good people. Liz and David helped, and town staff. Sue Fillion and I did a final review. Energy Committee had a review, and WWHT helped us with the selection process. Many know Steven. He’s been a local employee and provided leadership and assistance. He has lots of experience (reads resume) and has worked with many local businesses and organizations, deep into sustainability work for many years, and now will be leading the town.

    David S. – it is a really beautiful night. People are being remarkably considerate and careful driving in these conditions.

    Tim – I saw a note from the fire dept to help clear out fire hydrants around town.

    Public Participation –

    Franz R – I have two comments – budget and municipal broadband – speaking for myself I’d like to see a budget item for municipal broadband go into the FY21 budget.

  • Continued Consideration of Municipal Broadband

    Tim – is this the third time?

    Elwell – this was considered previously in the fall. The board decided to have the town monitor the regional effort to create a communications union district for SE VT, and to write a letter to the state regarding general obligations bonds, in favor of it being allowed. We did those two things. We got a response, but committee didn’t recommend the general obligation bond authority to us. David S. responded to that and here we are.

    David S. – The letter came, but we didn’t talk about it, so we should talk about it. Their conclusion was to wait and see. That’s terrible, I thought. There would be more options with a Bernal obligation bonds, but then I talked to someone from Norwich about EC Fiber District and he pointed out that it would mean that only towns with lots of money could do it. Other towns couldn’t. He talked a lot about the union district and the advantage of it. The primary one is they took a diverse approach – some short bonds, they created their own model. It made the idea of a district more appealing to me. I still want this to move a lot faster. Some articles – Bristol, NH did their own, spent $98k and did a 3 mile stretch of Main Street and are rolling it out. Chesterfield did the bonds. And then in KY, they wried a rural county and created 300 jobs in 3 years. So, the conclusion is there are a bunch of ways we can proceed. My questions is do we want to proceed? Liz is shaking her head no.

    Tim – you had a question…

    Elwell – there has been preparation to launch the CUD process. It will launch after the holidays at a meeting in January. The group will assemble and decide what steps to take forward. Experts (EC Fiber) will speak, the state is providing some money and maybe technical assistance. Patrick will represent the town in that effort and be at that meeting, and will give us updates.

    Tim – some clarifications on what you are looking for? When you talk about broadband, and we spoke of this twice before, there is confusion around the term. When people say broadband they sometimes mean fiber (yes), so you want something to be at RTM? What would that look like?

    David – to put in money for a study, in case the CUD goes slow. I’d like to talk to Patrick and find out more about the prospects for the district. Money has to be raised. I don’t know exactly what to ask for, but will find out more if possible.

    Tim – we generally, last time, … why if there are so many steps to take to gauge public interest, and you volunteered to get the ball rolling. Franz said he didn’t support the study until there were numbers attached to it. I think you are feeling your way bit, which is fine, but we’d need something more concrete to put on an agenda.

    David – a petition at RTM would indicate interest. I’d like to get a feeling from the meeting as to how we proceed.

    Liz – three weeks ago or so, we voted on a measure…

    Tim – we had a menu of option.

    Liz – we had a concensus, to go with the CUD in lieu of spending money. I am content to stick with the decision we made just a short while ago, and gain what knowledge we can from that. There are two steps – the CUD and the letter. We got an answer to the letter. I know you are eager johnny on the spot ready to discuss it, but it is premature and I am content with the decision we made.

    David – the decision involved me bringing people to talk. And, the response is that the downtown needs it. We are rural and urban. It’s been 3 months and the CUD is just launching means it will be slow and tedious. I want as many options going as possible. I heard nothing about the CUD. I don’t have an action to take until I know more, and the model is a good one, but we still may pay on out own.

    Daniel – I remain agnostic about this. I’d like to point out that we are comparing ourselves to some places that are really small. The amount of money… I don’t want to envision a project of tens of millions of dollars, and in our town where competitors exist – we don’t want the town to be caught holding the bag if pieces are undercut. I’d like to see how this is financially viable for a town our size. The biggest vision would be cable to every house in town – how much cable is that? It could be a heck of a lot of money – we’d have to raise money through revenue bonds – it would have to make money. Subscribers , – the state says a study shows 11 of 20 projects were cash flow negative, etc. I’m not usually the fiscally conservative and I worry this wouldn’t be a good deal for the taxpayers. I understand why we’d study it. There is something to be said for a study, but if the project would end up be $20 million. $80k could be better spent right now than on a study.

    David – Brattleboro might not be large enough to sustain this sort of thing. The district might be a better option. The thing about competitors competing – they resist us using their poles and such, but the deals they offered were the typical offers. People paid more than they needed to. Korea and Singapore have the entire nation wired. The effect is amazing and has great potential for economic growth.

    Daniel – would the benefit match our outlay – that’s the big question.

    David – yes. If the CUD process works, great. But I don’t want it to take forever, and the state doesn’t always help.

    Tim – I think Patrick cautioned us against all the hopes in the CUD due to the donut hole – the larger areas don’t see the benefit.

    David – I mention that to the guy from Norwich, and he said it isn’t as bad as described.

    Elwell – it is more nuanced.We have land use diversity in Brattleboro. We’ll know more later, but one thing Patrick learned is that the CUD could have a benefit to Brattleboro because communities adjacent to us. There would be a donut hole… but downtown area and residential area around it is well served, and it would be hard to be a public alternative there, but that’s within developed Brattleboro. The outer areas adjacent to surrounding towns, a SEVT CUD could benefit those areas.

    Liz – then we’d have a reverse HUD and take advantage of surrounding towns.

    David – not sure that’s how it works.

    Liz – Daniel made a different point – the benefit was to small communities. We may be too big.

    Tim – it still feels like a solution in search of a problem to me. We have a report that says 95% broadband already in Brattleboro. We have areas to work on. We have fiber to this building, and it is fast fiber already available. I don’t know the coverage. I’d like to see w=the real problem that is slowing us down. We just don’t know where we are. Chesterfield’s partnership with Consolidated is brand new and is a model we can’t replicate here. General Obligation bonds are off the table. Revenue bands aren’t great. So I just don’t quite get the urgency at the moment. I’d like to see evidence that the slowness is negatively impacting us…

    David – we have fiber going through town but it is point to point, and not designed to have branches coming off of it.

  • Financial Report – Monthly Report, November

    Elwell – (reads the 5 month report.) Good shape across the board, particularly in the parking fund. Just over $2 million in loans, – Cultural Intrigue’s debt has been written off. Just shy of half a million available for loans and grants.

    Tim – you mentioned a loan late… when loans become late, what is the process?

    Elwell – there is ongoing communication if someone is late. It could be cash flow issues, or some other circumstance where people need some time then they get back current. Some times it gets more urgent – we might do some restructuring. It’s rare that someone walks away and we have to write something off.

    Daniel – parking meter revenue is up and fines are down, which might suggest the new system is working well. Or not!

    David – we do have some repair work to do to one that got hit.

    Elwell – if we find out who, we can collect.

    Liz – that’s why Cool Hand Luke was in prison.

  • Errors and Omissions to Grand List – Assessor’s Office

    Jenepher Burnell – if an error or omission is found, the board is to make a corrections nd we have until Dec 31 to make corrections. We have identified some changes as Assessors. A spreadsheet explains the errors and omissions: 5 changes to the value of properties. 4 changes of business personal property value. 3 changes in tax stabilization. Commonwealth Dairy property value has been reduced, but tax value has increased due to a correction in tax calculations. Overall change is a slight increase.

    Elwell – board members and close observers recognize that this is an unusual moment tin a standard boring but necessary procedure of small corrections tot he grand list. The adjustment is more complicated due to the Commonwealth Dairy situation – the overall Grand List is increasing, and normally we see a decrease. Usually the adjustments are from grievances and the number goes down. Instead, this year we have an increase an a more complicated report.

    Liz – I’m confused – old value 16 million and new value is 5 million?

    Elwell – that’s the assessed personal business property tax… they are in tax stabilization agreement for two more years. The portion that is now taxable has gone up.

    Liz – went from 4million to over 5.5million? (Yes)

    Daniel – what is business personal property?

    Jen – we require businesses to send lists of equipment, not inventory, but we tax depreciated value of your equipment. We assess at 10% of original cost.

    Daniel – Commonwealth’s went down, but their reals estate increased.

    Elwell – they grieved their value and they won the grievance, so the assessed value was reduced, but Jen discovered that the tax had been miscalculated and should be far greater. We had a dialog with Commonwealth – the value of property has changed, but our new formula requires greater taxation. It will apply again next year, then the tax stabilization is over. It is convoluted – appeal of value and adjustment of methodology – we end up in good place with more taxable property on the books.

    Tim – why do we call it business personal property tax?

    Elwell – the state does that…

    Tim – we call this errors and omissions – isn’t it also adjustments?

    Jen – not so much – they are adjustments, but there can be an error. An example – there was a sale of two parcel and each sold separate. The state had a single tax bill before sale. Each parcel had a house. There was an error, or an omission.

    Elwell – it’s required by the state to be called the errors and omissions certificate.

    Tim – we can’t clarify it to our liking.


  • Windham-Windsor Housing Trust 2016 Scattered Site Grant Close-Out – Public Hearing

    Tim – this is also confusing – but less strange.

    Elwell – open the public hearing and I’ll explain, along with Bruce.

    Hearing opened.

    Elwell – each time we finish a community block grant project we are required to hold a public hearing where you hear the results and the public can weigh in. This was a regional project, and one of a series of grants with WWHT.

    Bruce Whitney, WWHT – I’ve given you an updated report, with numbers for this grant period. Oct 17 though yesterday. We thank Brattleboro for sponsoring this particular grant. We’ve been running this program for many years, in 5 counties. We partner with Downstreet. Home repair loans to income eligible people, housing counseling advocacy, free counseling and 8 hour education course in person and online. Through that, we help people buy homes and they leverage our assistance to get mortgages. On the backside you’ll see results for the last two years. We are closing out his grant. The next one will start January 1st

    Tim -if people want more info?

    Bruce – go to

    Liz – congrats. 33 first time home buyers in Brattleboro. That’s great.

    David S – Lamoille County is looking at a new low income housing project that you are helping with? They raised the income level up to 75k to qualify?

    Bruce – Downstreet does their thing up there. That might be state bond money.

    Daniel – home repair program – how do you do outreach for that program. I work at SEVCA wartime – are you actively looking for projects?

    Bruce – yes – our outreach includes working with partners, but we do media advertising – facebook, google ad words, some radio ads. Radio is insetting these days. Big companies own many stations so we got a good bang for the buch around the state.

    Daniel – Elizabeth made cookies.. want one?

    Bruce – no thanks…

    Public Hearing closed.

  • FY21 Proposed Budget

    Tim – we’ve had many discussions and meetings.

    Jan – you’ve had seven meetings including this.

    Tim – and one reason we didn’t want to postpone this meeting. I’m stalling for the town manager.


    (i) Review Current Status
    (ii) What Decisions Still Need to be Made?
    (iii) What Information is Needed for Decisions that Still Need to be Made?

    (iv) Schedule of Meetings for January 2020

    Elwell – I’ll tell you what’s pending. You had no changes to proposed revenues. Minor expenditure changes such as Human Services Committee wanting an extra $4k. You also heard a request from DBA and Chamber for an increase to their community marketing initiative funded from 10% of the Rooms and Meals tax. You conceded to that. Uh, agreed. You reserved judgement about future years. Beyond that, there are matters that could have a greater impact to the budget, such as poorhouse renovation at Living Memorial Park, a look at the fund balance 10% guideline, $10k for portapotties and some additional review of permanent installations that are expensive…

    Liz – are there grants for that?

    Elwell – hopefully but haven’t found one yet. Least expensive are $150k plus. You also mean more than just portapotties. More visual budget information to make it easier to read graphically is a request. happy to do a simple version of that – Excel spreadsheet graphics. But for something fancier, we’ll be eager to talk with others to see what we might do next year and beyond. SEVEDS has their request – $3 per person (not $3k…) and the town usually pays $2 per resident. You wanted to wait to decide in January. We still suggest it come from program income as it is economic development and is appropriate. You asked about Recovery Coach pay for Project Care – and transportation costs, and can add 416k to increase pay and help with more transportation. 14/100th of a cent on the property tax rate. You also looked at salaries for Selectboard members. It hasn’t gone up since 2012, and before that 1996. Let us know if you need more info.

    Liz – what other board members get.

    Daniel – and what it was before

    Tim – it was 2k and 3k in 2012 before the jump to $3k and $5k. We are well paid for a selectboard in the state.

    Liz – the discussion is that if the stipend is higher more might consider running.

    Elwell – you also asked about reviewing annual goals and how well they are aligned with the budget. We’ll do that Jan 7th. We’ll be meeting each of the 4 Tuesdays in January. We’ll do the quarterly update, and can think about the budget then. The savings that the HRA has provided – in the early years we did cautious budgeting and estimates. Now we have some experience, and there will someday be a bad year, we’re seeing a pattern and we can free up some money from that HRA. You asked us to confirm the portion of funding/exposure is there. The actuaries forecast we should spend 50% of our total exposure – $207k. FY21 budget has $215k in it. There are three organizations you asked to some in and talk to you in January – we’ll be done by Jan 21 and a final budget ready on Jan 28. The three orgs – WRC, RTM Human Services, and SEVT Transportation bus service. You also wanted to hear from Rescue Inc later in the spring. Cost of additional storage for body cams. We’ve confirmed the hard drive costs of Axon storage services (and editing services) $3k for 2 terabytes of storage. The answer is yes. Finally, you identified topics to place separately on the RTM warning – SEVEDS, and Human Services, and Community marketing funding.

    Tim – I think it is complete. Does anyone have anything Peter forgot?

    David – I’m not sure we can become HRA experts.

    Elwell – you just wanted to satisfy yourselves that it was a prudent, not reckless, number.

    Tim – we can put a check mark by that unless Brandie has a question. I’m not sure we need all the organizational appearances… do we need to see the transportation folks for the budget?

    Liz – it is important for our goals.

    Elwell – $50k is a standard amount we’ve given them over past few years. That can be adjusted in your budget.

    Liz – my concerns are operational. One of my goals is to have those operational changes to make bus usage more feasible

    David – the presentation they do is full of good information.

    Elwell – how about February when you are still the board, and Rescue after that?

    David – why is the WRC coming?

    Daniel – you could say the same about the bus company.

    Liz – they have a budget allocation.

    Elwell – it’s a regionally applied formula

    Liz – do we have any flexibility or is it mandated?

    Elwell – not sure.

    David – I recall asking that but don’t remember. I don’t know.

    Daniel – are we getting value for this money?

    Liz – the per capita asks may not give Brattleboro the service that outlying towns get and pay less for…

    Daniel – we already have a good planning dept and don’t need them?

    Liz – kinda…

    Tim – I like the WRC services provide.

    Liz – I want to know if the formula is statutory.

    Elwell – how about we answer the question then you decide if you want to talk to WRC next.

    Liz – they usually send us a letter saying what they did for us in the year. It would be good to compare that.

    Daniel – this is an overview, and welcome back in January and get into this more, or now is the time to get into this.

    Elwell – we’ll try to be efficient in January. By the end of the 14th you should be nearly done, so that on the 21st you can make final decisions. On the 28th you’ll approve the warning and budget. It gets chaotic if we don’t meet the 28th, so we need final final decisions by then. This is what I understand your list to be, and now is the time to say if something is missing.

    Tim – we have the meetings in January and maybe we can get it to three meetings, perhaps?

    Daniel – eh?

    Elwell – I’d love to say yes, and I know you’ve met every week, and I get this is onerous. This particular list is longer than we often have at this time. This year you have pending items, and a really fun plate for even two meetings. Trying to do it all on the 7th is ambitious.

    Tim – we did push off one in-person meeting.

    Elwell – we could do it all on the 7th and see if we can through all of it. It’s not a heavy agenda yet, and it is the holiday, maybe we can get it all done on the 7th if that’s what the board wants to do.

    David – maybe we put off the SEVEDS discussion (no, say fellow board members…)

    Daniel – we need every single one of these meetings.

    Tim – you’ll want more money for extra meetings

    Jan – it would be very heavy to have a Jan 7 meeting with it all on there.

    Liz – it might snow.

    Elwell – so we’ll divide them up each week. Human Services visit should be on the 14th. If you discuss fund balance guidelines, it could take a while. I’d suggest you wait to change guidelines to after budgets are done. Becareful about changing it during the budget process to free up cash.

    David – I understand your point – people should be ready for that to develop if history is any indication. We need to know what we are talking about. It is due diligence.

    Tim – ok then

    Elwell – you’ve done some modifications to the list. Anything else? Anything missing?

    David – any news on poll house numbers

    Elwell – we’ll have that for you…

    Tim – we get monthly reports in our folders – good information there.

    Happy Holidays!

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