Selectboard Meeting Notes – FY21, Swimming Pools, and Diapers

selectboard January 14 2020

The Brattleboro Selectboard held a special meeting to discuss final proposed FY21 budget items, accessible parking on Main Street, and erosion in the Connecticut River.

The board dove in to talk about upgrades at Living Memorial Park’s pool. There was also a big stink about diapers.

Comments | 8

  • Preliminaries

    Chair Brandie Starr started with public participation.

    “Carol Lolatte is the only public.”

  • FY21 Proposed Budget – (i) Living Memorial Park Pool House Renovation or Replacement

    Elwell – there is a weekly update to the status of the budget showing your changes based on meetings you’ve had to review the budget. Right now it shows an increase, first for Project CARE. Community marketing went up as well. And Human Services needed a bit more.

    Unfinished business is tonight’s agenda. The first is the poolhouse renovation or replacement. It was part of capital projects discussion earlier this year. David asked for an estimate of what it would cost to fix or replace the poolhouse. Estimates range from $475k to renovate the existing, $570k to replace with something similar. Or $760k to replace with a better wood frame structure.

    David – I was trying to track back to when the process began and the three major things at the pool – the leak, the deck and the poolhouse. It’s been about 5 years or more. An unfulfilled promise. It’s not in the plan and not on our charts. Let’s get it in the budget and get it done. We can do the cement block building. It can’t be worse to renovate.

    Liz – this is not in long term planning?

    Elwell – the year I arrived there was a conversation before I was hired about the pool projects. I have brought recommendations to break it into smaller pieces and more phases. And some pieces dropped off the plan. This particular element disappeared this year because other things that have emerged as needs at LMP. Priorities. We have done the leak fixing. It’s not fully solved, but significantly improved. We also did a safety issue replacing the deck. The two urgent needs have been addressed. The delays have allowed us to get to other things. This year we came with some info about needs at LMP facilities that are more substantial and expensive to address. The rink roof and refrigeration – $1 million. We can’t fit that into the annual plans, so we looked at the opportunity to accomplish things that really need to be done – the 40 year old rink and the other old facilities at DPW – very old facilities. And so, since we were now talking about borrowing, we brought you a list of things that are absolutely necessary. The pool house is an old facility, but it wasn’t on the list. Other things, too. The refrigeration system is now obsolete and needs replacing in the next few years and the roof is old at the rink. It is a policy decision as to whether this or other improvements are done – we can look at those things. We brought you a list that was trimmed to the essentials, to help with borrowing.

    Liz – so if we want to do something then we put it in the budget and then get plans?

    Elwell – if you want to do this, then direct us to include it with the planning for the LMP facilities. We could come back by end of summer or next fall that we could have a plan and know how much to borrow. If you want this on the list, you wouldn’t be funding it now until you had more info.

    Liz – I see on long term plan 2023 has no parks and rec ?

    Elwell – you are looking at equipment. This year we are getting on top of equipment and will use the equipment plan. The place we have variation will be on the projects side. If we try to make it work by combining it with equipment, we will regret it.

    Daniel – the project plan has 5 million of borrowing, for DPW and Rec and Parks.

    Elwell – yes in a few years from now.

    Tim – I’m in favor of looking at the whole pool area. It’s crazy. It sounds like if we replace the pool house soon, everything else might need replacing soon after…

    Elwell – yes, during its useful life a pool replacement will be needed.

    Carol Lolatte – it wouldn’t be the best interest to back ourselves into a corner about making the pool house remain in that location. The pool was built in 1957, and renovated in the late 80’s. It has had its challenges. We’ve slowed the leak. The bath house needs replacing, but we need to look at the whole picture and what is best for Brattleboro. Put a committee together to look at it. It is a 1957 model. We’re not even to 1990 level improvements. Like replacing a kitchen – do the sink , then in two years do to rest, ‘but now I want to move the sink.’ Need to look at the whole picture, not for today, but also tomorrow.

    Tim – We should do a site visit to understand all these issues. It would be good for everyone’s education to look at everything and have community input.

    Carol – we’re not unsafe, we’re in a tired scenario – time for a generational upgrade. The pool is tired. It doesn’t scream come and jump in. The bathrooms don’t say come take a shower in here. The feedback I get get is that the bathrooms are scary. The kitchen needs upgrading.

    Liz – talk about the pool program?

    Carol – It is where a lot of kids’ families create memories. Some people’s summer vacation is the summer pool pass. Every day they can go to the pool with their buddies. Over 10,000 users attended last year. Many camps. It is one thing – anyone can go to the pool. Some can’t afford our fees but we don’t shut the door on anyone. It is where summer memories happen. The police chief remembers being at the pool, taking swimming lessons, and worked there… it really is a summer asset.

    Brandie – I take my kids there. A nice place to be.

    Daniel – I think it wise to include it in the study. It could be part of the larger package. Carol has enlightened me. I don’t feel any urgency. It may be tired, but let’s be smart.

    Frederick Noyes – Glad to talk about this. We live near the park and go to the pool there. I’ve been wondering, as a town mtg rep – it is open 7 weeks. I feel like it is something we should think about as a year-round facility. I’d be happy to join a committee. Spread out the costs so we could use the pool all year – a big improvement.

    Daniel – if the refrigerant fails at the rink… a shallow pool.

    Elwell – I think there are two ways to go forward. The simplest would be to add a bit of money to include the pool house with the rink upgrade planning. The bigger dream would require it to be outside of the rink project, to take a slower path. The third choice would be to do nothing.

    David – when you talk about the future of the pool. Is one option to not have a pool? (NO!) Indoor pool?

    Carol – it is what the community is looking for, not what I want. It needs to be what Brattleboro wants.

    Elwell – we figured we do this after the rink project, but we could incorporate this or run parallel with this. I think it is unrealistic to do a big broad community survey for an indoor pool on a possibly different property – if we want to go big – it will take more time than the other things we need to get going on. If you want the pool house to go along with the big plan, we should slow down and think big, or move more quickly and start on an upgrade project now.

    Liz – I like replacement…

    Elwell – if it is an indoor pool.. if it stays there and we redo the pool house the next new pool could be constrained by it.

    Liz – an indoor facility would be complexity different

    David – conditions haven’t really changed – I love the idea of an indoor pool, and know we borrowed for a new sewer plant, and are about to do a water plant, and if we are going to need a new skating rink and a new pool, it… I don’t have room in my mind for a vision that says it is all realistic. I just think the smart thing to do, even if we do a long term plan, we should fix the pool house – if not now, it won’t happen and nothing will improve. The pool is going to be used, and the select board promised it would get upgraded. And indoor pool won’t come ahead of a water plant and skating rink. If we don’t do this and put it in this budget… fix it this year and be done with it.

    Tim – I feel like possibly there is a mixing of B and C. . I would support it now – not enough data from the community. I love the vision, two, like White River Junction – maybe not that big. There are levels of involvement. Large bonding is Option B, which could be a full overhaul at the current location. I’m in support of keeping to the timeline and adding it in, but my question is do we need to commit to expanded planning before we learn more?

    Elwell – because of the scale of the planning – if you did a site visit and decided to do a project, we couldn’t afford to lose a year in planning, but the best most business-like way to approach this is – two weeks from now there will be a final budget. Because of that, the better way to do this would be to put something in with the $15k for planning of rink needs and park needs so that the option B could be done in its fullness including something with the pool. The risk appetite – its some small amount – maybe $15k for planning the pool project. That’s the kind of thing we can absorb if you visit after the budget is approved, but budget planning – to consider doing something off budget like that bothers me. You should put a number in there. You could put it before RTM – a warning item to consider adding it to the scope – we gain some time – one other thing for you. The best would be to put some money in now for planning/engineering.

    Tim – I support that as long as it doesn’t leapfrog… it shouldn’t include an indoor pool – it should be what we could do in 2023.

    Elwell – freshen up what we have or replace relatively in kind. Anything grander would be at another time.

    Carol – I agree – there are many components going into the pool. The the wading pool, the filter plant, the deck, the pool, the bathrooms… that’s everything that needs to be considered.

    Elwell – the deck is new, the pool is significantly repaired but still leaks.

    Daniel – in 2023 we have LMP maintenance bldg work…

    Elwell – a necessary thing – an old building left over from the farm.

    Daniel – two phases of paving?

    Carol – in LMP from top to bottom.

    Elwell – the scale is such that we would have made it annual work, but we want to put it into the upgrade plan.

    Daniel – utility sewer upgrade?

    Carol – yes original piping is being replaced on a regular basis

    Daniel – nothing in 2023 plan addressed the pool.

    Brandie – Plan B? Money in the budget?

    Tim, David, Liz – yes.

    Brandie – we’ll put money in for planning and engineering for 2023 improvements.

    Elwell – I want you to have reasonable expectations – I think it will be north of $15k… the work around this project is more complicated. Unlikely it will be lower than $15k.

  • FY21 - Selectboard Salaries

    Elwell – there is a fact – while none of you are getting rich doing this, Brattleboro pays better than anyone in the state except 3 others – really little places. They don’t have a staff, so they do most of the work of the town.

    Brandie – Burlington City Council makes about what we do?

    Elwell – we worked with VLCT info.

    Daniel – I don’t intend to get rich, but I see the line item hasn’t changed since 2012. Those were big jumps – maybe it would be wise to have board salaries linked to cost of living increases so that over the years, the salaries would keep track with inflation, roughly. It’s a small amount of money. The amount we get for sitting here is not why we do it. Making it $1000 higher won’t result in more candidates – it takes a lot of hours at inconvenient times – we made our choices – I’m glad to do the work, but want to have the conversation.

    Branide – I think the Chair should make the same – others cover for me sometimes. If we’re throwing things out there – is this position worth $2k more?

    Tim – I’m not in favor of a raise, but it has never been the case that the selectboard suggests a raise, it is listed as ‘what shall the Town pay…” – RTM stands up and argues the issues. They are final deciders of what we get paid. We shouldn’t take a position. It comes up every year. Someone always advocates. What is the pay vs volunteering effect on politics? I say let it be as always.

    David _ I agree – RTM has a discussion and many more points come up. We don’t need to decide.

    Liz – agreed.

    Franz – I remind board members that this did come up a few years ago, the finance committee looked at salaries around the state and did a report. Take a look at it. Several towns in it. Jan can steer you in the right direction.

  • FY21 - Solid Waste Service Alternative for Households with Diapers

    Elwell – This is an equity issue that is a pure policy issue for you. What should we do in service for people with particular challenges? Families with children in diapers say it is a hardship to collect diapers for two weeks, especially for renters, since collection is every other week. It is a real issue. A real thing for households in the community. Not just for people with kids, but also for people with elderly residents. Not sure how many would take advantage of this, but we guess that $5k-10k a year would be reasonable – based on babies born in Brattleboro times 2 years, then a rounding factor to include some elderly. The program we are talking about took a while to come up with – what is acceptable to the district is that the Town would buy a permit at the solid waste facility to come all year to drop of bags for $3 a bag. The Town could buy the annual pass and households would pay when they take a bag to the solid waste district. To take it to the district is $3 to drop it off. (ed – plus the daily $1 access fee!).

    David – people would be on a list?

    Elwell – town would pay and families would get the sticker.

    David – it is about as good as we can do. It will make the front page – support for families! The waste district means we get reduced electric rates due to solar, property taxes from the solar array, and a bit of the lease fee applied to our assessment. No reason not to do this.

    Brandie – I would never have voted for pay as you throw as it is punitive – if you don’t have a vehicle, where do you put a sticker? Poor people have small places and no storage. I applaud the efforts, but the system doesn’t help. Make me feel better, Daniel.

    Daniel – that won’t happen. As a non-parent, I asked people I know, and I learned that families using diapers manage it differently. It is a class issue. There are equity issues in our Pay As You Throw system. People say this would somewhat help, but how do we get to the dump, pay the fee each time to dispose of it. Curbside pickup is a convenience. I don’t have to go to the dump and spend that time. No clear advice from people with diapers, but a good reminder that people in this town have strong feelings about PAYT. The system create inequity. I’d ‘d love for the board next year to take another look at this to make it more equitable. Take another look at it. We need to learn more.

    Liz – people could carry their sticker with them, and not be on the car.

    Brandie – bring trash on the bus?

    Liz – there must be an alternative for the every other week… the people with diapers could somehow buddy up an A week with a B week if you have diapers.

    Brandie – pretty sure you can’t bring trash on the bus…

    Liz – find some way for people in the odd weeks join the people who has a garbage day…

    Tim – that happens now by people calling others… I was against PAYT, but now I’m a fan. It makes you think about your trash. There are class issues with everything in our lives, and kids cost money. It is inconvenient to wait two weeks, but it everything is inconvenient. I looked at your social media outreach and the results were fascinating. 13 people said they didn’t like PAYT. NO’s outweighed Yes’s… I answered it, for full disclosure.

    Daniel – Robin Morgan was on there…

    Tim – the problem is transportation, and stinky diapers for two weeks. There is so much… I draw a line here at becoming a nanny state providing everything everyone needs…

    Daniel – we could!

    Tim – not without a revolution.

    Daniel – we don’t need to solve this for everyone – but the current system creates problem for low income households. Paying for a bag doesn’t mean you change your eating habits. If you you add a tax to gas, I can still have my 60 mile commute.

    Brandie – I was told PAYT is meant to be a punitive system – but some people’s lives suck already without extra punitive measures.

    Elwell – it is, and it is an essential service. It used to be paid through property taxes, then switched so every user paid the same per bag of garbage. The problem with punitiveness – it wasn’t our decision. There are other ways to do variable rate pricing, but we chose this way. The state said everyone pays the same per pound of garbage. We can revisit it, but can’t defeat the punitive nature of it.

    Brandie – fair does not mean equal.

    Daniel – if we were going to put $8k at something, let’s subsidize bags for qualifying families.

    Elwell – we’d have to check with the state. Not sure they will allow it.

    Brandie – Home rule vs Dylan’s law state!

    David – yes, we should reconsider it. This would make things better for some people. It isn’t perfect. If we can do this and it will help some people…

    Brandie – it will help people who can already help themselves – people who can already drive there.

    Liz – we could do this and research the other…

    Daniel – maybe we need a site visit….

    Liz – I’m not doing it!

    Daniel – not sure we have enough knowledge as to whether this is a problem. We don’t know enough. I know from working with low income families that they aren’t going to be the first to provide feedback about a problem you don’t care about. Families that struggle each day – I don’t feel as if I know enough. Solutions should come from people experience problems.

    Franz – in terms of the philosophical fairness of garbage – …. how many dirty diapers do I produce before I get a free dump sticker? A practical problem? If all I need is a dirty diaper to get a free dump pass…

    Elwell – it isn’t a fully-formed idea. We aren’t sure how verification would occur. There would need to be some evidence of diaper disposal. If it is approved, we’d work out the best way to have a verification that a household needs this service. It might be financial need, but maybe not. More about diapers in the household.

    Liz – this isn’t ripe yet, and like diapers when it is ripe we’ll know it.

    Brandie – if this means we have less opportunity to be more equitable, I’d decline this.

    Elwell – it could be a selectboard goal to look at what is working and what isn’t with PAYT, this could be included.

    David – curious about what happens when we discuss PAYT again.

    Rikki – I have a cold. Maybe a survey to collect info on costs of low income families who don’t have cars – if they had access to a dumpster – a municipal dumpster that could be picked up?

    Elwell – that would need to be explored. One aspect of the system that helps – for folks in apartments with 5 or more units, there are dumpsters on the property.

    Patrick – I believe that is correct but would like to check.

    Elwell – the point is some apartment houses and large converted homes has pickup or dumpsters.

    Tim – no…

    • " I looked at your social media outreach and the results were fascinating"

      Wondering how people who don’t use social media, or do yet don’t follow Daniel specifically, could have participated in this public survey of opinion on the diaper issue?

  • FY21 - SeVEDS

    Elwell – what say ye? $2 per person? $3 per resident? or straight $25k? Decide before next week so we can properly warn it.

    Tim – where does the money come from?

    Elwell – program income – it came as federal funds to grantees and loans, which get repaid. The repaid money gets paid 50% to the town. The use of these funds is toward economic growth and housing, and because SeVEDS is about economic development it fits. The question is how much you want to recommend – amount and source.

    Tim – I support some funding, from program income. I’ll support fully funding their request this year. I’m still critical of how they do some things, we should be a partner in many of their operations. They helped at the paper mill, they help with diversity, small business loans, workforce development training, recruitment.. they do good things. $3 is fine this year, from program income. This is the group doing this work. The town does direct loans, and that is a part of this. We do have the funds and it isn’t a huge investment for us this year.

    Liz – if we fund them it should come from program income, but I don’t like per capita funding. Brattleboro always pays the lion’s share but doesn’t always get the lion’s share in return. This serves windham county and beyond. I think $25k is a nice amount. They have a myriad of resources coming from all over and the Chamber and DBA doesn’t get that money. SeVEDS has a direct line for state resources. They do good work, and can do it with $25k.

    David – They serve Windham and Bennington counties – I can’t think of anything valuable there. We do get the lion’s share because the workforce is here. Our contribution helps them with the other towns, and with other fundraising. This is symbolic, but important. RTM will decide…

    Daniel – I’m on Team Liz with this one. $25k is plenty. I don’t like the per capita allocation. I’m agnostic about the whole thing and will let RTM have their say.

    Tim – I move we fund it at $3 per capita or $36k out of program income.

    Brandie – I’m torn in half – scrambling through the menu

    David – this vote is extremely insignificant

    Tim – it is a bit different – last year we said $24 or 25k, this would be slightly higher going in.

    Daniel – why do they deserve the extra $12k this year? What did they add?

    Tim – they do good work. I don’t see losing too much by giving them what they requested. RTM can reduce it.

    Liz – many RTM members have problems with lack of service for individuals, and were bitter about small business assistance.

    David – an unusual year for small business loans. SeVEDS works closely with these businesses needed refinancing and loans. Plus, ongoing work with workforce development committee – they do all the work. They are the staff, and it is getting some traction now to get colleges come visit and consider living here.

    Tim – and this money is there for this purpose. Those funds are there.

    Rikki – I was on a webinar with SeVEDS this afternoon about the upcoming VT Climate Catalyst leaders – whatever is invested into them – really good people who want an innovative future. The more we invest the more we benefit from them.

    Brandie – that was helpful to me. We have a motion…

    $3 a resident from program income 3-2 (daniel and liz against)

    goes to RTM.

  • FY21 - Graphic Representations of Summary Budget Information

    Elwell – we were asked to have better visualizations of data (they show some slides). . It’s a first stab and unsophisticated. Basic line graphs and pie charts, representing what we talked about. Looking forward to your feedback to make this better for next year.

    Brandie -looks good and should be simple.

    Patrick – Back to curbside collection – 4 and fewer is considered residential, and 5 or more is commercial.

    Elwell – we’ll go through these and let you take a look. 10 minutes on the slides. The first one is a pie chart of revenue by type – all of this is based on staff’s proposed budget. This shows at a glance that property tax pays most of the revenue – over 80%

    Liz – less than last year?

    Elwell – yes –

    Liz – that seems to be the significant thing to highlight.

    Elwell -over multiple years, visually, a line graph does very little going from 85 to 83%. Subtle stories.

    Elwell – 3.4% comes from the sales tax. Next is expenditures by type – another pie chart – big expense here is staffing and benefits makes up almost 62% of the budget.

    Brandie – what’s in “extra”?

    Elwell – the explanation won’t be helpful. It went down from last year due to the $100k for the sustainability position. It got zeroed out.

    Tim – I suggest we focus on the style…

    Liz – colors are pretty.

    Daniel – this allows us to think about the budget a bit differently.

    Elwell – these will be printed in the town report, but a challenge would be to fit it in. They are more useful in color, and they’ll be bxw. In future years, particularly on the website in full color, people could get a lot in a hurry. This is a first step. We should start with the largest pieces down to the smallest, shopping a visual relationship not only in amount but in order, to show relationships.

    Tim – one color suggestion – staffing and employee benefits could be similar colors, since they are similar.

    Elwell – we’ll give some thought to color families….

    Liz – if they won’t be color, greytones could be used…

    Elwell – we think 11 pie slices with 11 different patterns is harder to view than shades of greyscale. Using colors is what we would like to use going forward.

    Daniel – a pie chart could be clicked to dig deeper to see sub budgets….

    Elwell – we need to look at interactive tools and what they’d cost.

    Daniel – maybe the library could have these up on boards to look at see at a glance.

    Elwell – a display at the library could be in color.

    Tim – somewhere it needs to be color

    Elwell – it pops better in color.

    Liz – health care – the percentage of health care costs is so important in our budget – maybe the percentages could be shown on these years, so we can see the rising costs.

    Elwell – we could work up a chart like that. This one shows impact within health care of creating our HRA layer a few years ago. This shows us bringing down costs. We think tells a pretty good story given the health care system in the US.

    Elwell – these are simplified general impressions of the budget. You can look at the numbers and written summaries in the budget for more detail.

    Dananiel – the interesting thing about displaying info in this way is you can be selective. We can tell a story of rising costs, or controlling costs. Which story we put forward puts the spin on it.

    Tim – we do have to be cautious about spin. I feel there is a program out there that can do user responsiveness. We should think about that in the future for our reps, and our citizens.

    Elwell – our website need to be more welcoming, too.

    David – do we need this may charts printed? Departments are pretty similar. People ask about energy use and costs and salaries and benefits, and debt service… but how many do we need? If they weren’t so similar…

    Elwell – I’d suggest employee retirement costs, too. We’ve saved a lot there…

    Tim – I don’t need departmental info..

    Elwell – for this year, is it okay that we pick 8 – which would be four to a page for the town report. Small, but pretty good.

    Tim – as long as it is readable.

    Elwell – there is a chance that if it is it is too small at quarter page we’ll need to use full pages.

    Rikki – curious about saving paper – does the town get recycled paper?

    Elwell – not sure.

    Rikki – could a goal be to aspire to that?

    Elwell – yes.

    Elwell – one final budget item – we’ve completed non-union salary issues, and have new info for you for next week. That will be an adjustment of about $36k, which we’ll cover next week.

    Brandie – a break for 10 minutes! Then new business.

  • The final bits...

    When they come back they’ll take up:

    A. Proposed Handicapped Parking Space for the West Side of Main Street

    B. Interim Finance Director – Contract with Melanson Heath Accountants/Auditors

    C. VT Outdoor Recreation Collaborative Community Grant – Approval to Submit Application

    D. Representative Town Meeting Warning Article – Connecticut River Conservancy

    They’ll almost certainly be adopted. I’m going to watch the Democratic debate, though. Fiill me in if something odd occurs.

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