The Brattleboro Selectboard had an extended discussion of the appropriateness of giving the new sustainability coordinator $10,000 for community programs and outreach. Was this what Representative Town Meeting intended? Will the line item grow out of control?
Brattleboro is joining with other Vermont municipalities and VLCT to request some time, some authority, and some money when and if commercial cannabis operations are legalized. It is expected in the coming legislative session. The board continued discussions of FY21 and signed on for some training.
The meeting starts a few minutes late.
Daniel Quipp absent.
Chair Brandie Starr uses her phone for her remarks. This is regarding community event this Saturday from noon to 3 pm at Stone Church, this is the community equity committee, kid-friendly, music, panel discussion, food. Lived Experience will lead the discussion at 2 pm. Bring food or clothes to donate.
Peter Elwell – An update about the storm, and an update on the health order…
Starr – reads from paper. An update on the health order from last week. WE gave will Hunter a deadline of tomorrow to comply with all violations. Inspectors will reinspect first thing Thursday at 9 am. Town can give him more time or not, depending on how inspectors feel about any violations.
Elwell – the most urgent announcement is that we’re doing snow clearing going on tonight and tomorrow night in downtown, side streets, and parking lots. Vehicles must get out of the way, and can park in the Transportation Center. Free overnight until 9 am. If it is full, the Preston Lot is allowed. A summary of the storm – 2.5 days. DPW began on Sunday and went 24 hours, rested 12 hours, then started up at 3 am this morning. 18 – 22 inches total accumulation. DPW will be back on duty tonight to do clearing. The volume of snow will require two nights to clear. Sidewalk tractors out and about clearing sidewalks already. 2 tractors really helps. 5 feet in some places! Downtown crosswalk snow removal is done at intersections. Contractors came out several times to keep walks clear. No overnight parking on streets. I also have sad news. Anthony B, 36 years old working in the DPW died this week. He had been fighting cancer bravely, but passed away. An enormous loss for his folks at DPW and in town, and he was a dedicated public servant. A moment of silence.
Starr – thank you. It is tragic reading the story online. My heart goes out to his family as all of ours do. We’re close knit and everyone knows everyone.
David Schoales – I, too, will read. This regards announcement that Lyle Holliday will be retiring at end of school year – a new superintendent will be chosen. Public meeting about search coming up. First meeting Dec 5 at 3: 30 pm at BUHS multipurpose room. Exploratory committee will not choose new superintendent, but recommend a way to find and hire one. Input at this time is greatly appreciated, as this impacts students, staff and community.
Kurt Daims – considering stresses of holidays and political climate and climate emergency, I request a motion to declare Snow Day, which could be random snowball fights, snowman making contests.
Brandie – I like. One of your best ideas in a while.
Eshana Archer – here to talk about the cell tower in the steeple of the First Congregational Church in west brattleboro. This is a heated topic and it is set amidst national uprising around rapid growth of cell tower locations, and I was thinking today about your position as board. You are in a hot seat. A sandwich being squeezed. The setting is contentious. The feds are being called to take for not updating safety regulations since the 70’s. Congress has been writing to the FCC. Supreme Court of Appeals ruled the FCC was acting capriciously in review process. And parents, teachers and doctors have been saying “enough” exposure to radiation. Your role as board of health and as board is to comment on the permit applications that come through the public utility commission, in a way that stands for health, quality of life, environmental health. What are the questions this raises for you? Title 18, CH3 126-128 of select board’s role as board of health, you have an obligation to thoroughly consider health impacts and hazards and risks. Speaking up feels appropriate, for you to do. I’d like you to advocate for a safe plan for towers, starting with West B church steeple project. The international firefighters resolution exempts firefighters from having cell towers places near them. Resolution 15, because of migraines, vertigo, focus-deficit, mood changes that would take over firefighters. The results of a study were used to argue for the exemption in California.
Brandie – two minutes…
Archer – I’ve heard the argument that the board of health is deferring to the FCC to determine of cell towers are safe, so tonight, there are cases being brought against the FCC about safety regulations, and environmental and historic review is reinstated, and pleas make comment to the public utility commission, and alert the public when a cell tower is being proposed. If you can make that notice it would be valuable to the public. Look up the precautionary principle.
Brandie – I will.
Mary Stowe – I’ve been involved since the last meeting. It is clear we live in a time of fake news, and we can’t rely on everything, so it falls on you to find out about the safety of cell towers. Industry writing isn’t accurate. I’ve sent you all an email.
Cassandra – building a positive community is our new name, it was BAPC. Same acronym. We’ll do the same, plus work to build new assets in the community. Working with schools and kids. Just wanted to share.
Brandie – I like the name change.
Liz – I don’t know what you do.
Cassandra – a substance abuse prevention coalition for 25-30 years. Trying to broaden the work we do. The more assets we have for kids, that’s what we do. How do we support all those areas. The more we do, the less risks they’ll have.
Resolution Supporting Municipal Authority in a Commercial Cannabis System
Elwell – the details are in a memo to you. The essence is the legislature is working on deregulation and legalization, and is expected to fully allow commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and sales. VLCT has been engaged, supporting the position that if there is a commercial market, it should be rolled out with enough time for towns to address the impacts. In that effort, because it is likely things pass this session, VLCT is asking for a slower pace and more authority and funding for municipalities. So, attached is a resolution proposed for you to add your voice to this. If it gets legalized, municipalities will need to regulate and collect revenue to support that regulation.
He reads the resolution – regulated and taxed marketplace will impact communities, and legalization needs to address impacts on communities, and states currently legal have revenue sharing and oversight, and voters must have right to opt in to hosting commercial cannabis facilities in the community
Brandie – it is common to opt-in in Vermont, like banking… a protection for consumers…
Elwell – continues reading… laws must be upheld and local authority must be like liquor authority, therefore, if Vermont legalizes and taxes commercial cannabis, we want – oversight, 5% local option tax, and adequate time for local officials to establish local policies as needed.
Brandie – we’re looking to have our community to opt-in and maximize taxes, to control the market.
David – plenty happens at state level that we have to pay for. This will cover our costs.
Tim – 5% – most state numbers say 15-20%..
Elwell – for the state. One document assumes 2% is the local share. We want 5% without an admistration cut.
Tim – just some balance and fairness . The other issue is the idea of being cannabis commissioners is intriguing. WE may talk of wrapping them together.
Elwell -state says no.
David – do we get T-shirts?
Lis – shows need for control.
Elwell – taxation is needed for revenue, based on other states, we think there will be a work load added in police, but also Planning Dept and land use regulations. A significant degree of commercial regulation can be burden to communities.
Schoales – we might want to do some local lobbying with our legislators.
Elwell – we’ll be participating actively in VLCT’s lobbying, but can do more… part is spreading the word locally. There will come a time for additional testimony in Montpelier.
Tim – I spoke with Becca B and she might come talk to us.
Cassandra – we’re only funded until June on this issue, so maybe some of that 5%…. take advantage of us now. The state won’t protect the children. The more the Town has control the better and we’re here to support you.
Tim – I’d love to put it in a tab for later and check in with our reps.
Rikki Risatti – my first question is does the public have an option of voting against a tax on cannibas?
Elwell – no law yet – being written now.
Brandie – Write to Jeanette White…
Rikki – she never writes back. The idea of taxing medicine is really not the future I would hope for.
Tim – an interesting point about medicinal versus recreational laws. We just don’t know…
They sign it.
Acceptance of Proposal for Unconscious Bias and Cultural Humility Training
Elwell – as you are well aware, it has been a goal and effort of town and board to promote racial and social equity. The work began in 2017, and the board approved a set of goals of ways town govt could commit and demonstrate efforts. Add a HR professional, provide baseline training on implicit bias, change recruitment, consider social equity in all maters, work with schools, and support others, and make actions visible. We’ve made progress on all goals except training until we had the HR professionalisms so we could do it right and promote equity. Sally joined out team and we asked for RFP’s, got six proposals, one didn’t meet our specs, one was $40k, others were around $14-15k. Narrowed to four, Curtis Reed assisted and Sally in HR and I reviewed proposals. We agreed that one of the four proposals stood out as it included follow along services to keep work moving forward. Dottie Morris and Mary Gannon will do it for $14,342.88.
Liz – happy to be present at NACCP dinner and look forward to working with them.
Brandie – me too.
David – glad we got to this point.
Tim – satisfying to me to get to the end of the process. It started in candidates when we were candidates
Brandie – 15-35 years ago…
Tim – we’ve made good progress and its a real outcome of a democratic push from the community.
David – it is the end and the beginning….
Elwell – the progress we’ve made in community needs to come internally now for entire Town government.
FY21 Proposed Budget (i) Assessor’s Office
Liz – the gender diversity of our staff is being presented tonight.
Elwell – Jennifer the Assessor is coming to the table. Follow along at home by looking at our budget documents on the town website. We’ll do assessors, planning, and library tonight. Assessors is on page 6.
Jen – the operations of the office first, then the budget. We will interview for a new staff member next week. Focus this year will be to be an efficient office, cleaning up, improving business license program, tax mapping updates streamlining, working with other departments, and we put out an RFP for update Grand List software. State supplies it, and Brattleboro will be a pilot program for rollout of new software. That’s the coming year or so. The budget is not unlike last year. A few changes – professional services was decreased due to return to full staffing, new staff training is up this year (and the state offers grants for this and free classes or transportation…), tax map updating is the same as last year, software fees remain unchanged, and equipment was lowered a bit. Don’t force need for new equipment. Cameras have been replaced with cell phones, tablets may be introduced someday during reappraisals but not now.
Elwell – the work of the Assessor’s Office is to set real state values for the town and it is very important to fairness. Property tax must be fair for all, established by values Jennifer and her staff plus Listers handle. Also, they do that very efficiently. Small staff.
Brandie – you are calm and have good critical thinking. Glad to have yo at the helm.
Tim – looking at changes for Business …
Jen – Brattleboro taxes business personal property, and we have a business license program. Biz licenses mean an exemption in first $5k of personal property taxes. Deadline is Dec 31, then you get fines on January 2nd. It works… how the process goes, but it feels clunky to me and I’d like to see how we can improve it. It works for some businesses and the online form, but informing and mailing and billing costs money, and the time we take to record all this.
Tim – I run a business in town..it is a bit clunky but it does work. I choose to register online and bring a check. My old time nature.
Jen – many do. We should reach out to businesses and have a discussion about this.
Liz – how much revenue…
Jen – $50k
Liz – cool! A lot of businesses. There is a state and town license at different times. It would be good to coordinate them in March.
Jen – we send out a notice for biz personal property in February due April 20.
Tim – your notice is one of my favorites – you send reminders when I forget. It feels friendly to have a long time to prepare.
David S. – don’t send me one this year. I retired from my business this year.
FY21 Proposed Budget (ii) Planning Services Department
Elwell -page 7 and 8 of the budget. The sustainability coordinator will be on Sue’s team, so the $100k from the community for the position is now in Planning Services, – salary, benefits and plus we propose $10k for programs in the community.
Sue Fillion – First the overview. We’re growing! Three full-time now. We provide a variety of services – permits for additions, signs and construction, we consult on large development projects and regulations, we do long term planning and master plans for downtown and Tri-Park, plus public outreach, and work with neighboring state projects. We help with grants and loans and often apply for them ourselves. We do health and zoning code enforcement. We do E911 addressing and coordination between state and town, GIS mapping, the flood program for the town, projects and permitting for town projects and non-profits, the brownfield program and hazard mitigation. Support several town boards and commissions, like DRB and Planning Commission, Conservation Commission and Design Review Committee. We get involved with community planning efforts. Help with DBA, Army Corp flood restoration projects, Winston Prouty planning, and support for people forms on our website. Permitting – about 190 permits a year, and 30 applications to DRB. We work with state agencies, too. Upcoming, we do need to update hazard mitigation plan in 2020 and bike and pedestrian scoping study for Western Ave, and cannabis regulation and zoning.
Brandie – Planning has their hand in every pot! A really good team. I don’t have budget questions.
Elwell – the proposal is so efficient that the costs for the department are increasing less than what it will cost to add the sustainability position.
Sue – we can reduce outside contracting.
Lise – excellent work. Tremendous outreach this summer to involve community in land use planning. Permits – Brian helped get the warming hut permit. Andrew is a great addition to the team.
Tim – softball or challenging. (Challenging…) I’ve learned this from toddlers to give a choice. Sustainability program budget line item, can you explain the recommendation?
Sue – I liked it being a separate line item because of the community call for this position. I didn’t;t want it commingled with other projects. A set aside fund specifically for sustainability.
Tim – I kinda recall we went from $10k up to a position at RTM, but don’t recall also keeping the $10k.
Liz – it is within the $10k
Elwell – it is an awkward coincidence they are both $10k. But the position cost about $90k and thought about the intent and thought it would be good to supply some programming money for events…
David – there will be programs offered. It’s a different function.
Brandie – nice to see what a fully=paid staff member can do with $10k.
Tim – one counterargument to the position is that so many actions are already being done by town staff, and using the money for a salary would leave us with not as much money for programs.
Brandie – what do you want to do with t he $10k
Tim – I thought the community wanted the job, not the amount. If you recall the discussion of RTM, we must get this person andn will $50 be enough, and he said $100k would be enough. I don’t see the need to spend the extra $10k. Hopefully you don’t spend everything you have budgeted.
Liz – having someone come on board to do the work, it is best to start on a good footing to get the job done as envisioned. I think one goal of the position will be to seek grant money, but don’t see the need to hamstring them with no money for programs. I think it is appropriate.
Tim – my concern, not to debate, but it is a little odd to attach a new position to a spending line item. You wouldn”t do that for DPW.
David S. – It’s not extra money and DPW is not the same – the purpose of all of this is to make it work, and that’s what’s here. I was born and saw Niagara Falls as a kid, and a lot of water gores over the falls there…
Tim – but it is a line item. The budget hawk in me sees this as a way to allow backdoor spending for this staff member.
David – that’s very insulting to staff.
Elwell – you didn’t mean it that way, I think. But, the coordinator won’t decide what the time item is next year. Sue will oversee the planning budget , then we watch Sue’s work, and what comes to you is my recommendation to you. A lot of winnowing goes on. I don’t make many friends during budget season. We balance long term planning and we go through this process. The $10k is not random, and not thrown in as spending money, but it is unknowable to us right now what it will cost for this employee to get things done. We thought $10-k was reasonable. As we learn and reflect on this, we can make changes.
Tim – backdoor was a poor choice of words. Just like it is hard to un-staff a position, it is hard to get rid of line items and they tend to increase. The problem is the unknown nature of it.
Liz – I see this position is split between staff assistance and public outreach. The funding is earmarked for the outreach, and of the two, the community wants the outreach. Is this the hardball question or softball?
Tim – The softball now… in the revenue side, which we love. We love revenue. In the actuals, permits seemed to be nosediving, and you adjusted the budget. Can you comment?
Sue – not seeing a lot of large development. A lot of small projects. It’s hard to guesstimate.
Elwell – it is highly variable. It is declining, but if you look at more prior years, this is not a trend down, it would show bouncing around, and so we reduced the expected revenue. It’s responsible to move it to $40k, but it will go back up.
FY21 Proposed Budget (iii) Brooks Memorial Library
Elwell – page 10!
Starr Latronica -The mission is to connect people with resources to informalities dn empower. Resources can be a lot of things. People think of books, however, people at home, we also have snowshoes. We have a meter to measure electrical presence of cell phones and around your house. What we do… libraries are about sharing. We purchase resources we don’t all need all the time, and we share them as a community. It took me 30 years to discover that. Sharing! Libraries are built on principles of sustainability and re-use, and equity as we are open to all. I feel very luck to support those values everyday. 140k items per year, 565 programs… addressing life long learning. Toddler programs for kids and parents. Human contact many times a day is important…and that is a library. People go for conversations. First Wednesday events. Compassionate Brattleboro conversations. The other value is partnership and collaboration, and our community is vibrant. Teen services are growing. Trying too expand outreach with big ideas and big plans. Library as place changes to library as presence. The renovation helped, and now we are a big meeting space for groups. People read plays together, or do oral histories. We do story time, but also tech help. Ourt funding comes from the Town and also an endowment. Trustees are excellent stewards of it. Very prudent stewards. The endowment is just around $2 million, held in reserve. 4% is drawn down each year, most for materials. Allows us to keep open more hours. They pursue grants, and have Friends of Brooks memorial Library, helping with enhancements. Programming, First Wednesdays, Summer Learning program, downloadable books, Mango language app, streaming videos, and the foundation center. The only Vermont location for non-profit grant info at foundation center.
Brandie – I’ve always liked that marginalized population feels comfortable coming to the Library. You’ve been compassionate and proactive serving diverse clientele .
Starr – and the staff, too.
Liz – what’s tomorrow’s First Wednesday?
Starr – US Immigration.
Tim – Didn’t you start to eliminate fines?
Starr – yes, trustees and selectboard helped us pass a policy to eliminate fines. Not the first to do it, but many since. Started in 2017 around issues of equity. It was great to say you have a commitment, but you have to assign resources to equity. Trustees helped us purchase what we needed.
Tim – we do board books, I had four out, and I was late to renew them, and it shows up as “fines”
Starr – they are eliminated when you return the book. Needed to prevent keeping of books.
Tim – his (my child’s) new thing is for you to read one book and he reads his… we assume he gets this good behavior from his daycare.
Starr – we had support for eliminating fines. People are coming back…
Tim – just discovered your streaming movies on Canopy. Watch Charade!
Starr – it is amazing and super expensive.
Liz – if Frineds and Trustees pay for materials, why do you have books in your budget?
Starr – they pay for most of it. We sometimes have to buy multiple copies of some titles to satisfy readership. We buy new books!
Brandie – members of the Sue or Rikki want to ask questions? (no)
That’s it. More next week, and the next week
Liz – to infinity and beyond…
Elwell – next week is budget and all little items and small offices and human services . On the 17th, a regular meeting with other business and a review of the budget thus far. We’ll get your direction, then get anything you need. The 17th is the catch-all moment.