Selectboard Meeting Notes – FY21 Budget Finalized, Taxes To Rise, And Spotted MOOvers

brattleboro selectboard jan 21 2020

The Brattleboro Selectboard discussed some final issues related to the FY21 proposed budget, approving raises for non-union employees but delaying pool improvements for up to a decade, and settled on a final number that… increases property taxes.

The Current is going away, to be replaced entirely by spotted Moovers. All this and more…

Comments | 12

  • Preliminaries

    The meeting starts a few minutes late.

    Chair Brandie Starr said David Schoales was absent. She reminded everyone that deadlines for petitions for candidates is Monday Jan 27 by 5 pm. Next Monday. If you want to submit a petition to be on the ballot, do it by then.

    Town Manager Elwell said they were adding an item, a letter from the selectboard to the governor regarding the Retreat situation, as a last minute addition. l’ll read it now.

    – (roughly) Dear Gov. Thanks for announcing The Retreat is too important to fail. We agree. We write in favor of a more robust state relationship with the Retreat. It is essential… to everyone. It’s been important for almost 200 years. Partnering with others, the Retreat leverages its expertise, and provides special treatments. Come up with a plan to keep it going…

    This will be at the end of the meeting.

    Brandie – come and join us for the discussion about this at the end of the meeting.

    Tim – we had a productive Traffic Safety Meeting, but I’ll hold off…

    Daniel – I drove home in the snowstorm on Saturday from Amherst. When I came back and DPW was mustering and working. Snow removal was really well managed. I want to appreciate the work people don’t see so much.

    Brandie – my sidewalks were clear quickly on Green Street.


    Nick Nickerson – from last 6 years in Brattleboro. Along with two other republicans, I’d ‘d like to make a “what’s better” note. Incomes are now rising faster for low income workers than their bosses. An increase for the bottom. The capitalists are benefiting the proletariat.

  • Liquor Commissioners

    Special Event Permits – Brattleboro Luv Crawl (i) Caledonia Spirits at Altiplano, 42 Elliot St. (ii) Saxtons River Distillery at B’s Nest, 19 Elliot St. (iii) American Crafted Spirits, d/b/a Silo Distillery, at Beadniks, 115 Main St. (iv) Vermont Distillers, Inc., at Brattleboro Bicycle Shop, 165 Main St. (v) Wild Hart Distillery at Cara Wolff Jewelry Shop, 4 Elliot St. (vi) Smugglers’ Notch Distillery at In the Moment Records, 143 Main St. (vii) White Mountain Distillery, d/b/a Stowe Cider, at Malisun, 44 Harmony Place (viii) Charles Dodge, d/b/a Putney Winery, at Michelle Freshee Photography, 26 High St. (ix) Vermont Vermouth at Renaissance Jewelry, 151 Main St. (x) St. Johnsbury Distillery at Taylor for Flowers, 15 Elliot St. (xi) Aqua Vitea After Glow at Vermont Hempicurean, 8 Flat St.

    Brandie – the Luv Crawl – a fun and cool event.

    Elwell – staff reviewed this and it happens each year. Okay for approval.

    Stephanie Bonin -this is Elijah working with me for 6 weeks and working on this event. Two props with me tonight. I handed you the new graphic and this is an addition (a big red light) that will be in front of stores. The background is that we all realized that the time after the holidays needed an event to bring people back out and have some fun for the night. We wanted people to go into shops, so that’s how it was born. This is our 5th year. 18 shops and tastemakers, with two starting points. Purchase tickets now or the night of. They get tickets, ID’d, and a passport that shows them all pairings and incentivizes going to an ample amount. Altiplano and Bar Hill… I play cupid. Other new pairings. 18 pairings. Tickets gets a taste at each pairing.

    Daniel – Thinking about this in an inclusive way, there was an event of mocktail pairings. Could there be non-alcoholic options in future years.

    Steph – they didn’t have liquor and this does, and we have food. We’re being specific to this event, not ‘not inclusive’. There are two private licenses – Peter Havens and the Lounge, and the rest are food.

    Tim – it is a great event. Whats the aqua vitae afterglow?

    Steph – I don’t know.

    Elijah – it is a vodka.

    Steph – they do kombucha, and have to sell their alcohol off. It is a by-product of kombucha.

    Liz – do you have to be 21 to plan an event like this?

    Steph – not even to serve. But to attend, yes…

    Daniel – I’m in a household where one drinks and one doesn’t. I wouldn’t feel like I would get as much out of it. I think for future years, think of the message that sends. It is something I’d like to think about. Many have a partner who drinks and the other doesn’t.

    Steph – I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie…

    Daniel – I’d like more than a glass of water.

    Liz – I agree.

    Tim – there is always the food options. We approve the liquor, but there is food.

    Daniel – I’m sure it is good. Maybe there could be a food-only ticket. (pours glass of water.)

    Liz – interesting.


  • FY21 Proposed Budget – (i) Pay Adjustments for Non-Union Employees

    Elwell – in the update, page one of the memo has a status of what has occurred to date. Two decisions remain tonight before we’ll have the overall impact. The first decision is pay equity for non-union employees. This is a cycle with the four employee unions, and we worked on pay equity within those units. In regard to the low end, $15 per hour min, plus middle and upper levels to make sure there is fairness. Earlier this year you approved three collective bargaining agreements. We need to give a same level of attention to the non-union employees. In june we began looking at that question. Some non-union employees came to express concern about their pay. One came and addressed the board. Wee had some consultant assistance. The impact is attached to the materials tonight. A two page attachment. It t lists each position on non-union salaries and four numbers next to each one. We’re establishing pay ranges for positions. Rather than with single salary, you can create equity. A new employee won’t be paid the same as a longer-serving employee. It provides a relationship to allow changes over time. Every nonunion employee will be in a pay range. At the bottom of page two, there is proposed hourly rates for part-time employees. Two more pay ranges for hourly rates. Part time employees work a variety of schedules. It ensures fairness by reporting hourly ranges. The overall cost impact for all of this, starting in Feb, is $24k for the remainder of fy20. $82k for FY21. The $82K needs to be adjusted two ways. Some positions are through the Utility budget, so $15k will come from there. The rest comes from the General Fund. This sort of expense can be absorbed this year. We’ll manage this year. But the budget for FY21 will have it in. $15k from the Utility Budget, and rest. It was estimated to be $30k. We need $66,875. We add it to the budget.

    Brandie – thanks for the smart ranges of rates. Lots of work.

    Tim – in addition to paying people fairly, I like the clarity and structure of it being more formalized.

    Liz – I appreciate this work and note that in each case the goal has been fairness and I think that has been achieved.

    Daniel – Happy that we’ve done this work and staff felt comfortable brining this to management. There was work that went into this, and the HR director helped, and I’m glad we can retain experienced staff who are a value to the Town.

    Starr – thanks to the town staff and everyone who has worked on this and it means the world to our employees to know they are valued. It is wonderful to see this support.

  • (ii) Funding of Conceptual Design for Living Memorial Park Pool Project

    (compensation above was approved!)

    Elwell – the second decision is the follow along to last week’s talk about the pool. We were asked of the cost to replace the pool house. There are a few options. You had some discussion, then the broader discussion of the overall pool facility. The board wanted to know a cost estimate for what it would take to do a conceptual plan and budget estimate for replacement of entire pool facility. We expect to bond for this in FY21 to do some of the work, and we have plans for some other planning and work. That work will get done and you will get ready for a potential bond issue in FY23. If the full swimming pool replacement or major component replacement is to be included in that bond, then we estimate $30k to do the conceptual planning for it to come along on the same schedule. Do you want to add $30k to transfer to capital projects from general fund to fund engineering work in preparation for full replacement?

    Brandie – it can seem overwhelming to have these repairs but we live in an aging town with heavily-used buildings, different from an old house.

    Liz – I like the way that this budget item is framed.

    Elwell – what Liz is describing is “final decision” about the overall budget. Because staff couldn’t predict where you would land, we came up with options… number one and three are not relevant, but two and four remain. If you don’t do the pool planning you will have 3.77 cents increase. If you did add the $30k, the option 4 shows a 3.1% 4.03 cents increase in property tax rate.

    Liz – last year’s budget – the goal of the board and town meeting was to advance the 1% to keep the tax rate low for the middle class and vitality of the town. This year, we are looking at employee negotiations over many years. That’s been the organized thrust of all our work. It boils down to item 2 or 4. When you look. Last year we did not have a tax increase, but now with these we’re looking at a pretty large tax increase with the pool. This is tipping us over the scale of reasonableness. I support the pool design next year.

    Brandie – would that work?

    Elwell – It would not be in the same timeframe as the bond projects. I’d say, carefully, …. ….. …. the pool is a very worthy project. We all recognize the importance. Preserving the pool as part of our programs is essential. Staff didn’t recommend this. We see the ultimate replacement of the pool will come in the years to come, but isn’t urgently needed right now. Staff feels this kind of long term planning is okay and should be undertaken, but sometime in the future. Why? the magnitude of the gottados. We have to fix the DPW and the rink now. They are necessary for the FY23 bond. The pool needs to be planned for, but not on this same timeframe.

    Brandie – the pool isn’t closing.

    Elwell – next summer would be much like last year.

    Daniel – the potential bond issue in 2023 is substantial and addresses things that need to be addressed. If that bond is passed, how much longer would be looking out before we could renovate the pool?

    Elwell – the reason for FY23 – it is when some other bond debt falls away, so a good time. We can raise money for a pool project in other ways. Not a year or two. Maybe a decade out from now, but planning could go on over the next few years, then get ready to do it, then do it.

    Daniel – a decade from now we could hav a facility for everyone , perhaps indoor and year round. But now isn’t the time to plan for something on that scale.

    Carol Lolatte – we have to invest in it along the way. There are no safety issues right now. You might need some more patching. It’s a 1957 pool. We slowed the leak, didn’t stop it. May need to continue the bandaid if you know what I’m saying. May have to do some of those things, but not this summer. We can buy the time we do need.

    Tim – I don’t think 10 years should be a goal. I think sooner than 10 years. It is an important resource to the community. I am concerned about the needed bond items becoming and “everything bond”. The $30k sounds reasonable, but I don’t know what the community wants. No need for plans before we all know what we want and are ready to take that leap, with partners and donations in addition to taxes. Ten years seems too far away. We need to go for a site visit and start a community conversation.

    Liz – fundraising. Carol is very good at that. We shall plan that as well.

    Tim – I’m still focused on the skateboard park.

    Brandie – that topic is back.

    Carol – we’ll get a new RFP out soon.

    Elwell – if you don’t say anything we just won’t add it.

  • (iii) Finalize Selectboard’s Recommended FY21 Budget for Consideration at Representative Town Meeting on March 21, 2020

    (iii) Finalize Selectboard’s Recommended FY21 Budget for Consideration at Representative Town Meeting on March 21, 2020

    Elwlwell – you have ended up with option #2 – the net impact of everything is $59,014 increase over the proposed budget. Human services increase, community marketing increase, funding for Project CARE, and non-union pay increases.

    That impact is 2.9% increase over last year in property taxes, a 3.77 cent increase which is $37.70 per $100k of property value.

    Tim – I want to point out that in the past the board has dipped into fund balance to reduce taxes. I’m not in favor of doing that. I have concerns about towns maintaining fund balances. We seem under the recommended reserve funds to be wise. I’m not advocating that this year. I am hoping that everyone does realize that there is some good news with the 1% local option sales tax – we expect $630k in income. Our first quarter report could be low. Maybe $200k in revenue to offset taxpayer burden. I’m not proposing anything. The mission of the 1% tax should be held close to our hearts. Hang on to that and not feel super rich. Use it to keep increases down. It’s a positive thing, as much as I’d like to see our operations flat line or go down. We’ve invested a lot. It plays into my thoughts on pool houses and studies.

    Franz – based on Liz’s remarks last week, I will refrain from a story. A point – the additional separate articles being warned have budget implications. Are they included?

    Elwell – yes, all but SeVEDS funding. Each of the others is a general fund expense and in the budget.

    Elwell – if no further changes, we’ll bring the budget next week with he changes for approval, plus the meeting warning.

  • (iii) Finalize Selectboard’s Recommended FY21 Budget for Consideration at Representative Town Meeting on March 21, 2020

    Elwell – things are in solid shape, halfway through the fiscal year. (shares memo details) Everything is just below 50% of expected budget. Loan report shows $4 million in outstanding loans. One in default. $499k available for additional loans and grants. Above average. More is good for flexibility!

    Tim – Daniel might want to ask a question. Public works traffic light expenses seems high?

    Elwell – the lamps on flash at High and Main was caused by someone hitting the pole and knocking out the controller. We are waiting for a part. Hopefully before the weekend.

    Tim – anyway to buy two of everything? It impacts quality of life.. a good exercise in cooperation and community spirit but not everyone is on the same page.

    Elwell – it is a good question to see about storing extra parts. We’ll see what we can do.

  • Southeast Vermont Transit (SEVT) – Presentation and Discussion

    Randy Schoomaker of SEVT – the MOOver and the Current. We merged the two companies and the Current serves Brattleboro. We don’t play the SEVT card a lot, but that’s the merged company. I come each year to brief you on what’s going on. I prepared a handout and will highlight some things about transit in town. We have the red, white and blue lines plus demand response for seniors. We have volunteer drivers in addition to busses. We’ve been renting a small office in transportation center – a place for our drivers to maintain supplies. Not really an office. We store busses at Tarmey’s. We need a bus wash and fueling station in town. We met with DPW about shared facilities if that project moves forward. Need to be done. The past 18 months – we have new schedules. Hours, miles, and rides. 57k rides in Brattleboro for $670k. The town has given us money for many years. Hinsdale gives us money. We collect a dollar per ride. Try to keep fares low. The exciting part is we changed the schedule, then revised the schedule and reduced stops so fewer transfers. Ridership increased 13% from October to October, Most transit breaks even. Pleased with our numbers. Plus, with fewer transfers we count fewer “rides”, so it is really higher. We’ve tested a phone app and Brattleboro was implemented late summer. Still working out some kinks, but you can get alerts about busses, trip planning, where the bus is… it is helpful in Brattleboro. Questions?

    Liz – Two things. I s support busses and I think ridership could be increased if you promote the sustainability aspects of taking the bus. Many people could take the bus if it was about climate change. We have a new sustainability coordinator and it would be great if you worked with the new person to promote bus riding as a sustainability action. And bus signs. I don’t know where the bus comes. There is no sign. If signs talked about the app, then people could take the bus and people would know where to take it.

    Randy – we put up signs at every stop but a previous board removed them. We put them back up on shelters. We had them up, but over time many were removed.

    Daniel – that’s a bit of a bombshell.

    Liz – let’s try again. You have support from town and selectboard. Thanks for the bus and a necessary service

    Randy – we’ll get signs again, with schedules for each stop and app info. Don’t want to throw anyone under the bus. Something newsworthy in the next few weeks – the Current will become the Moover… everything will be the Moover. Everything else stays the same. You’ll see spotted busses in town. Near the door will be route info and colors. Time for us to finish the consolidation and finding out now that 54 busses requires us to move busses around, and it helps if they all have spots. It will be a two phase approach, and Brattleboro will go first. Just bought two new 25 seat busses for Brattleboro. They will be spotted, and Brattleboro will be were they start. Drivers will get new uniforms. More spots and less waves.

    Brandie – my vision is to have it just say “bus”

    Tim – this is about cows.

    Daniel – what is the plan to transition away from fossil fuels?

    Randy – good question – you’ll see electric busses. They cost a 1.3 million and have limited ranges. Still being developed. The first bus VT tried went 30 mph and got a ticket for going to0 slow. They can’t climb hills with a full load. The bus we just got for Brattleboro was $175k. Battery tech is getting better but it needs to be better developed.

    Daniel – so when cheaper and tech is available (yes)..

    Randy – we are looking at other fuels, such as propane. They are pricey as well. Hoping electricity makes a turnaround soon.

    Brandie – I had another cow joke…but can’t remember it. Thanks for speaking to riders. Improvements have been noticed.

    Randy – Brattleboro didn’t hold back on opinions. See you next year.

  • Collective Bargaining Agreement with the New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA) for the Period from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022

    Collective Bargaining Agreement with the New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA) for the Period from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2022

    Elwell – we talked about how we have 4 employee unions and settled three of the contracts. This is the fourth and this one lagged a bit because we got started later. The tone of negotiations was equally positive. Took a couple of months. The financial impact of this contract is already reflected in the budget we brought to you at the start of the process. I check with he board after each meeting of negotiation. We got to good terms, but it took a while to get the document right. More complicated changes, and the holidays… about ten days ago we had it ready to go. Put it out to public a week ago. Ready for your approval.

    Brandie – we know a lot about this. Anything to mention?

    Tim – no. It was constructive and teamwork on both sides. Super happy with how it went.

    Brandie – we appreciate our police department, and all departments.


  • Annual Appointments for Ratification at Representative Town Meeting (i) Town Clerk (ii) Town Attorney

    Annual Appointments for Ratification at Representative Town Meeting (i) Town Clerk (ii) Town Attorney

    Elwell – we recommend both incumbents be reappointed. Hilary Francis as town clerk and Fisher and Fisher as town attorney.

    Daniel – thanks.

    Liz – seem to be doing an excellent job.

    so appointed!

  • Annual Contract – Town Attorney

    Elwell – we recommend the same contract as before with a change in retainer – a 2% increase to $110,364. We like the retainer relationship, rather than hourly. Good to have stable legal expenses. He’s doing extra work for health code order the board issued, in court multiple times. All of that is included.

    Tim – rare when we can’t reach him. Valuable relationship.

    Contract with Fisher & Fisher Law Office, PC approved!

  • Review of Draft Warnings for Town Meeting Election on March 3, 2020, and Representative Town Meeting on March 21, 2020

    Elwell – last item, plus one more which is the letter to the governor. You don’t need any action tonight, but here is the draft warnings for the annual town meeting election and representative town meeting. There is the petition to change the form of government to a mayoral form, plus electing officers. American Legion will have the polls on March 3. There are 20 articles on RTM warning for March 21 at 8:30 in the morning. Like previous years, with new dollar figures. If any of you have any questions or concerns, bring them up now so next week we’ll be done and can vote on it without changes.

    Brandie – thanks.

    Daniel – I have no factual questions. I have some questions about town meeting….

    Tim – article 3 – will we be standing and speaking about that?

    Daniel – that is casting your vote – no discussion.

    Elwell – they get voted on March 3. The remaining 20 are for RTM.

    Daniel – to get on a warning, you choose how you want to get it on a warning. Australian ballot or RTM. A town meeting rep got in touch this week and was concerned about long meetings. Could some of the things on the warning be dealt with elsewhere?

    Elwell – warnings have had much review by moderator and town attorney. we check on details. It is the result of a team effort. It is accurate and proper. Each article needs to address a single topic. The amount of time the body debates is up to the body. Some take moments. Each one needs to be its own item, and must be on here. The the majority of issues are dealt with by RTM.

    Daniel – does it have to be on one day?

    Elwell – it down’s have to. Not always as long as last year. Pretty common to go to late afternoon. One time it went so late the body reconvened the next day. That happened once. There is a fair amount of disagreement of whether to do it this or that way.

    Brandie – it is the New England way to plow through the pain.

    Franz – there has been a trend toward longer meetings. That is how it feels to me. On a more hopeful note, with the school district out of the picture this year…. but I have concerns. Town Meeting reps should prepare themselves well by reading some reports by town committees.

    Tim – it occurs to me that – do we have dates for informational meetings?

    Elwell – we do. The info meeting is on the Wednesday 20 days prior to RTM – on March 11 this year. At Academy School. This year we will be at BAMS multipurpose room for the town meeting. BUHS gym isn’t available. We’ll look at how we can set it up.

    Daniel – article three about fundamentally changing the form of governance – how do people know? Should we be involved?

    Liz – we don’t know about it.

    Tim – I think the intent is unclear, and it is advisory.

    Elwell – it won’t direct any action, but could provide guidance for the board.

    Tim – I’m not sure you have guidance with a yes or a no.

    Daniel – I agree.

    Tim – I don’t want to be dismissive but I think the wording isn’t great.

    Jan – we think article 2 will be removed – no school officers. Their meeting is on March 17.

    Elwell – we’ll have that set by next week.

  • Letter to Governor

    Elwell – I’ll read the letter again (reads letter about the Retreat). Thanks Governor Scott for saying Retreat being critical to region. We agree. We want a more robust state partnership with the Retreat. It’s been important here for 200 years. many many partnerships, leveraging expertise, providing essential services for mental health issues. We count on you and the legislature to agree on a financial plan to make these essential services available and the Retreat continue in the region.

    Letter approved!

    Brandie – get your petitions in by next Monday if you want to be a candidate!

    Tim – this chair could be yours!

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