The Brattleboro Selectboard heard about planning for one or more possible communications districts at their regular Tuesday meeting. Fiber might be coming to southern Vermont, depending on the results of a new survey everyone is encouraged to fill out and how applicable those results are to a business plan.
The Hazard Mitigation Plan was reviewed, liquor violators questioned, and reports given on a recent town governing day at the state level.
They start a few minutes late.
Chair Brandie Starr said Wednesday night at 6:30 in the selectboard meeting room will be the candidate forum. BCTV will broadcast.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said that early voting has begun, for the primary and local elections. Check with the Town Clerk. There will be early voting on a Saturday, and election day is March 3 at American Legion next to the Municipal Center. We’re anticipating a better than average turnout, due to the presidential element. Also, the Hinsdale Bridge project… a timeline is now available. They anticipate construction will start a bit late but finish on time. Out to bid this summer, award in fall, and construction beginning in April 2021. Work til 2023, then once done, the old bridges will be converted to bike and pedestrian paths.
Brandie – plenty of time to plan new routes.
Elwell – the old bridges will stay open while work is going on.
Daniel Quipp – in addition to on BCTV, the candidate forum will be on the radio on WVEW 107.7 fm.
Tim Wessel – we went to local government day last week. My third time. We spoke about a lot of subjects with legislators. The three top ones were marijuana and taxing, self governance, and wastewater regulation details. I’ll speak to cannabis. The House sent it out with a recommended 2% local option tax, then something went sideways. The House Ways and Means went for a 14% tax plus regular sales tax leaves towns with 1% local option tax, but only if you pass the local option tax, like we did. They want us to charge fees for regulating, which is a much less amount. Very little money going to towns. We don’t know what the impact will be so we want to stake out some money for the community. A lot going back and forth, and had good conversations. It is having trouble going anywhere.
Liz – self governance. I got to see interesting relationships at this conference. I got some insights about how they view our priorities. It’s such a big deal to us, self governance, but it was small potatoes to the legislators. I told house leadership how important it was to us. They seemed surprised it was something we want. Contact your legislators! Jeanette White did a great job last year. Local decision making is so important to us, and other towns chimed in, too… tiny matters get decided by the state. They could be freed up for bugger issues than stop signs. If our town residents told legislature it was important, it would be good. It isn’t registering with them that towns can take on this responsibility.
Elwell – stormwater management that the state has passed is necessary to protect the waters of the state, especially Lake Champlain’s phosphate problem. On this side, we have a nitrogen issue with the river, not as bad. The legislature passed requirements without funding assistance, and we have to make major investments to comply. Looking ahead, in Brattleboro, the best approach to fund and a fair way to collect money is a stormwater utility, specific to stormwater. There is an equity issue that will address, and the state’s impact will be seen. I-91 is a big contributor. The pay no taxes, but would pay fees to manage stormwater.
Brandie – a renewal for One Stop.
John Cushman – I’m one of the owners, here to address the underage sale. One employee did it. We trained everyone. He was busy one night and thought he knew this person, but… he won’t do it again, and we’ve had two successful liquor commission visits since then.
David – this is your second?
John – we had a couple of new people after we took over. We thought they were trained well. The other violation was previous employees.
approved 2nd class license…
Brandie – Next up is McNeill’s
Ray, McNeills – I’m at a loss for words. One 8 year employee failed a compliance test. She works more than any of my servers. She made a mistake. I don’t know what else to say. She was preoccupied cleaning the place and not paying attention. She and I both took the server training course again. It’s the first time anything like this has happened in 35 years.
Tim – why is it known as 3 Dollar Dewey’s?
Ray – The original corporate name. That switch happened in 1992 or 1993.
1st and 3rd class licenses renewals approved!
Brandie – PassMart, a new 2nd class license…
Elwell – the weather means they might not make it tonight. I can speak to the status of this matter. This is the same type as the previous Sunny’s Sunoco, and has been fully reviewed and ready for approval. The others tonight had violations, but this is a new license to new operators.
Tim – a new license, but not a new location.
Elwell – VT doesn’t allow transfers. The old owner’s permission evaporates and the new owner needs a new license .
David – since we may not meet at our regular time, we should approve this.
Tim – I have no problem… same point of sale and continuing the same location.
Daniel – I’ll trust everyone did their due diligence.
Communications Union District (CUD) Planning Process
Sue Westa and Patrick Moreland…
Patrick – we have a special guest this evening. I thought I’d remind everyone of the nature of the conversation. For frequent watchers of selectboard meetings, a member of the library staff asked us to look into municipal broadband. The board sent staff on a mission to investigate. I came in September with a lengthy report. It detailed a number of municipal internet projects, and explored state statutes on financing options. What we discovered, the only way is to do revenue bonds. The board took it up again in October and staff wanted direction. The board concluded to let state know of desire to use general obligation bonds, and we’ve worked with a committee of state folks working on exploring that option. We provided our input to them in a letter, and that went in a report to legislature, but they said to not permit general obligation bonds. The second path was to investigate a regional communications district. WRC got grant to get professional technical assistance to the region. It got underway in January, and Sue Westa is in charge.
Sue – I’ll give an overview then answer questions. We got a grant from the public service commission, and kicked off in January with over 60 attendees. Lots of interest. I’m getting calls all the time. This effort is about developing feasibility study and a business plan, to see if we should form one or more communication districts to get fiber throughout the region. First priority is those underserved or not served, but all can participate. It’s based on the Valley Net model north of here. EC Fiber person is an advisor, and we have other experts. WRC helps bring the communities together and get the word out and hear concerns. After the kickoff, we asked for towns to appoint a contact person, and then we held a survey training meeting. The survey just went up today. WRC/broadband… there is a paper version available. Many ideas for getting the survey out to many people. That survey is due March 17, then service providers will finalize feasibility studies, then the business plan will be developed, done by July or August. Only two towns must have a vote at RTM to form the district, then others can join. WE have 3 or 4 bringing it to town meeting this March. It will depend on feasibility study and business plan, but if approved then districts will work on financing. Municipalities won’t be responsible for financing. The district will be. Questions?
Brandie – so much good information. If you want to do the survey is to go to http://www.windhamregional.org/broadband, or paper copies around town (at library, town hall, etc.)
Patrick – we’ll send a mailing to everyone in town.
Tim – thanks for coming and telling us. You mentioned the underserved communities. When we talked about this before, we learned, depending on definition of broadband, how would you define underserved. We found out we were well covered in a minimal sense.
Sue – some communities only have DSL, which is very low. Not everyone in Brattleboro is served, and you might want higher rates. IT’s most effective for small places to band together to get this done. The costs are too high to do it alone. Connecting rural communities does help.
Tim – so we should jump into the fray
Sue – you wouldn’t have the fiber first, but eventually…
Tim – second question – Windham Region Broadband project could be more than fiber. Can these monies be used for wireless cellular connections?
Sue – this money is for fiber.
Daniel – if this moves forward, there is a big buildout… is there a danger it becomes out of date quickly?
Sue – our advisors suggest that in more rural areas, this is the next step for quite a while. In larger areas like Boston and NY they will have other options. It will be limited up here. Speeds you can get with fiber are much more than what people get now.
Daniel – when we talked about this, we heard about general obligation bonds, which are not an option. You reminded me that the district seeking the revenue bond, so a town participating… taxpayers… are insulated from this? Can you say more?
Sue – the communication district functions like a town – it will have a board, and those folks will make decisions about finances and apply for grants and loans.
Daniel – if the CUD loses money, what happens to the taxpayer.
Sue – nothing should happen to them
Patrick – it is explicitly clear that property tax and sales tax are utterly unwelcome in the context of a communications district. The assets would be all they could get. But before staff says we should do this, our lawyer will take a close look and let you know of any risks. There is a firewall between the CUD and municipality.
Liz – I have my broken record question about towns working together. WE pay per capita to WRC and pay more. Is the representation in the CUD going to be based on a per capita amount?
Sue – I don’t believe so. Towns won’t participate at that level. Individual subscribers will participate.
David – It’s hard to understand the financing…
Sue – generally, (?) financed up front with investments from the community. No recommendation to do ti that way here. Once they had some funding in place, they got some loans to help construction going, and now they have customers and finance that way.
David – I thought they got small investments along the road. As for underserved areas, for Brattleboro, it would be easy to tap in coming from the rural side rather than the urban center. There are some misconceptions. I understand municipalities could take general obligation bonds to connect municipal buildings, then people could take off from those routes.
Patrick – if the network is internal for our own buildings, we could use general obligation bonds. Some additional research would be useful before we assume that could provide service to the public.
David – another question that came up was towns want to keep development in a compact area and not scattered around the region. Do you recall why it is important for downtown’s to get fiber.
Sue – I think the value is getting a higher quality connection. If people don’t feel like connections are good enough for what they need to do – business, health care, students, teachers…
David – or Netflix. But kids could stay connected on snow days with a better network. There is a lot fo significant value.
Brandie – thanks for the update. We have to officially designate a representative to the CUD.
Elwell – based on the actions you’ve taken, and your desire for us to stay engaged. Patrick has been doing that for the town, and we think it makes sense he is the contact person.
Patrick is appointed as Brattleboro’s representative to a CUD.
January Financial Report
Elwell – the basic report is not particularly noteworthy. The written report shows after our prorations, the general fund is in good shape, and parking fund and utilities are in good shape. Solid shape in all fronts. $4.2 m in outstanding loans. One is in default and one has a late payment. Still money available for additional grants and loans. We have 41 active grants and 5 in application process. Revenues are on target, but have really good news that our second installment of the LOST was 227k. We’re above where our projections showed we’d be. This may be from state collecting more internet sales taxes. The state has made a lot of effort to correct that and that is what is causing the excess revenue.
David – could we ask the Chamber of DBA to see if businesses are experiencing – any impacts that they were concerned about. We often do things and don’t look at all the consequences.
Daniel – I hear what you are saying. The number is the story. More from the internet, but people are still shopping. It’s hard to argue with that number. I don’t know I’d trust one over the other. I’d trust the number.
David – the merchants can better account for their sales. More internet sales could mask fewer retail sales.
Tim – too soon.
David – then at the end of the year.
Daniel – the winter roads budget its running higher than expected and we have more winter. How do we feel about that?
Elwell — we use 5 year rolling averages. I can’t tell you what caused additional materials this year. We had some ice, but I can get that info from DPW. It isn’t unusual. Some winners are harsher than others. Also, patching potholes will exceed what we had in the budget, but much of this has to do with salt and sand. It’s more complicated than I can do off the top of my head.
Daniel – DPW yard expenses – building repairs – ??
Elwell – symptoms of a very old facility we nurse along until we’re able to replace it.
Local Hazard Mitigation Report
Brian Bannon – every year we have to report on our plan. We adopt them for 5 years, and will readopt in 2021. We’ve made good progress as a town in reducing risk. Removing 80 homes from highest flood risk. That’s a lot of Brattleboro not in danger next time. WE work with Tri Park to remove an additional 40 homes and find a new place for them. Also BHP relocating Melrose Terrace, and demolition has started to reduce flood levels in future floods. Flood plain work at 250 Birge Street. Working to upgrade flood mapping of Whetstone. Working with Army Corps of Engineer to identify other potential sites.
Brandie – a pretty detailed list. Thanks.
Liz – Thanks. When you remap the Whetstone, will it take into account Irene flooding.
Brian – yes, new LIDAR data comes from post flood period. We’ve had some hydrology studies… it was more like a 75 year flood, not 500 year flood, though downtown it got to the 500 year floodplain.
David – Melrose – water really backs up…
Brian – it isn’t a high priority for the state. We encourage them to put it on priority lists. It’s on the list.
David – what is class 8?
Brian – a more active flood management than is required gets us a 10% discount.
Tim – any comments on Flat Street mitigation. It’s top of my mind. The design built in some safeguards, and others have done some mitigation… any comments on Flat Street?
Brian – we’ll get rid of some debris and will help with smaller floods. New zoning requires better flood standards, so that will help. There are sites downtown that could use mitigation, but we’d need to reconfigure parking or have private landowners help.
Liz – that open space at Birge?
Brian – that space will help, too.
Brandie – public outreach begins in early 2020? Is this part of it?
Brian – yup.
Brandie – it will be on the town website soon for people to review.
Elwell – we had to apply before deadline passed, so I bring this to you after for approval. We want to buy to multipurpose devices to help connect ropes in swift water rescues. It’s $1600 of grant funds.
Brandie – seems important.
Brandie -we’ve reached the end and no one is left, and everyone watching, so let’s adjourn. 7:35.
Thank you, Chris!
I know I sound like a broken record, but thanks for covering the Brattleboro SB meetings, Chris!
I like that record!
I love every time it plays, even if it skips.
Anecdote for the files – sorry to say that my shopping in Brattleboro HAS been influenced by the 1% tax, as was my “going out to restaurants” spending after that local option tax. It chips away, and adds up, so if I can avoid it, I do.
Stories v facts
Anecdotes are fun, but nothing satisfies like the facts. Merchants keep track of their sales, and we should examine whether our decisions produce the results we expect, or do damage.
Looking forward to the reports from merchants at the end of the year. Splitting out the accounting for internet sales would help, too.