The Brattleboro Selectboard held their regular meeting, but it was anything but “regular” Tuesday. Board members were absent. Those attending sat apart from one another (not quite 6 feet…). COVID-19 was influencing almost every article on the agenda. And Brattleboro’s Skatepark was approved to begin construction.
The COVID-19 update and discussion was the main item. Groundworks got an additional grant to begin construction on their new building, the town finance report looks good up until last week but may show deficits before the fiscal year is over, and Representative Town Meeting is postponed.
The meeting gets started a bit late.
Tim Wessel is chairing. Brandie Starr is absent, as is David Schoales.
“Turbulent times” he says, to begin.
Tim – I just found out I was chairing so I don’t have fully formed remarks, but we are all going through a lot of emotional distress right now. There is a lot to think about and a lot coming at us. This is a long rolling snowstorm that we can’t see. We need to live the edict of Vermont Strong, and check in with one another, but also remain calm to be there for one another. We need to be informed but not panic. We’ve all learned a lot about COVID-19. It isn’t airborne like measles. The distancing is because there are surfaces that are shared. I see a lot on social media and being out, of people being afraid of one another. There are ways to safely interact. We’re spaced differently tonight. There are vulnerable people that need our help. We are weighing risks. You can’t eliminate risks, so what we are trying to do is reduce risk and keep essential services going. Keep first responders and medical folks in mind – they have a high risk. We’ll come out stronger at the other end. I killed some time for Peter….
Elwell – I needed to grab some papers. No comments for now.
Elizabeth Howes – I’ve been thinking that it would be good to liberate the neighborhood of the drop in center and to relocate them to another part of town, maybe the CF Church building. Or opposite Hannaford. To allow for an expanded housing unit. The current plan is too big. I’ve been on South Main for 23-24 years and we need to liberate the neighborhood to become a residential neighborhood. I picked up 85 cigarette butts between South Main and the Co-op. It’s tedious and constant, for decades. I feel the neighborhood needs to think of itself as residential while the town still applies to the needs of the persons in need of winter housing. I think we need to keep the Austine campus in mind. The future address may be Home Depot or across the street near China Garden – it is flat and wide open. Housing could fit nicely. The second issue is that the with the public virus we consider the needs of the pets, and that pets are treated for any wandering viruses they may be carrying. It could be administered via biscuits. Our pets need as much attention as total strangers.
Tim – a slight change in the agenda… the COVID-19 update first, then the rest…
Elwell – there is so much info all over, I want to urge you to rely on the Town’s website. The site is out of date and clunky and it needs a total overhaul. It can be hard to find info. We have clear info on COVID-19. This is a reliable local source to check for what is changing. The homepage has access to links and information. On the health side of this, there are three direct links to state, national and world updates. There is also Town information updates, and resources for businesses. Also for individuals and families. Those two areas will be built up as time goes on. Well-vetted info will be added. We’re now producing a daily update. We’ve been gearing down normal operations and gearing up emergency operations. Welcome to have input on all this. We want one site for the Town that has reliable information.
Today’s update – the main information is to suspend parking enforcement until further notice. There is no way to know if this is weeks or months. We’re suspending things until further notice. Parking is free. Effective tomorrow morning, we won’t sell PAYT bags at Town offices. All town facilities will be closed to the public. They will be closed until further notice. Town government will continue by phone, email, mail… we will still be providing services, but want to flatten the curve. People will need to go to retail establishments and buy them in packets of five.
Reminders – dispatch is screening every call for COVID-19 aspects. First responders attending will do doorway assessments – to see what help is needed, depending on the household. Read the daily report!
The water treatment plant and wastewater plant are operating under special operations. Our small teams are rotating shifts and communicating with the state for back-up resources if necessary. Communities will be working together and collaborating. Special actions have been taken to protect water and wastewater.
Library and Rec & Parks are closed for now. You can still register for Rec and Parks programs, and the library is allowing some sharing, but the buildings are closed until further notice.
Staff are communicating in various ways with people around the community, and organizations. Some new networks have been created, and reliable institutions that provide a social safety net. Town is supporting those efforts.
We’ve cancelled all town board and commissions except for Selectboard. RTM will be cancelled. Selectboard meetings will be the only ongoing meetings. As we come up with ways for electronic functioning of the public, we can ramp up other operations
Fire Chief Mike Buccossi – he’s leads us in emergencies….
Mike – This hasn’t come without a lot of help from outside agencies and my staff, and BMH. I hope to give you the broad perspective. Things are changing very rapidly. I sent a situational report at 2 pm, and the 3pm things have changed. One the local side, I’m glad to say we have NO KNOWN CASES of COVID-19 in Brattleboro, but we may not know if it happens. No sign that it is in town, in terms of patients. WE’ve responded to several cases that sounded close to the symptoms, but they proved negative. A plan is being developed to get to elderly and medically compromised – the high risk groups. WE want to see what we can do to help them. They may be afraid to go out, and we want to help them get what they need – medicine, grocers… we’ll make it happen. There is a group starting as a homeless response team, via Groundworks. It’s a grass-roots group. That’s been our speed bump – some issues pulling the plan together, but starting to get some leads. Should know more tomorrow.
Some municipal actions to highlight – there has been no interruption in emergency responses in town. We are taking steps to minimize risks. Using both fire stations as distribution points for SCHOOL LUNCHES. Both fire stations will have food to hand out. Being organized with school district. BCTV has given us remote access to their software and we put informational messages on their channels scrolling at the bottom. We’re operating normally. Some support services are down – car unlocks, VIN checks – are suspended. And dispatch screens each call for COVID. All essential services are getting staffing plans. We have backup plans if staff goes down.
BMH is taking steps, doing drive-up outpatient testing when ordered by primary care physicians. They’ve done about 75 tests so far. Access is limited to main entry and ER. All people going to ER are getting screened. They now have an agreement with Grace Cottage to handle overflow… BMH will keep COVID cases, and inpatient will go to Grace, since BMH has more emergency equipment.
Rescue Inc is taking similar steps – closed to public, onsite classes cancelled. Infection control measures implemented. Limiting number of people who come in contact with a patient that screens positive.
In Vermont there are 10 cases that have tested positive, and 7 non-residents. Som non-residents are isolated in VT homes and some when back to their main home.
In the US 75 is the total death count, up from 68.
We keep hitting a speed bump with the homeless population – if they get sick or exposed, we are working on having sites to isolate them.
Rihanna from Groundworks – we restrict outside visitors, identified as a high risk homeless shelter. We’ve been moving the per vulnerable to hotel rooms. No one is sick or showing signs of symptoms. But we reduced the number of people and taking precautions. Trying to give individual bedrooms wherever possible. Today the drop in center is closed. The seasonal overflow shelter is fully open. Trying to reduce movements. We have homeless response team and work with a state organization – working on food. FOOD SHELF is delivery only now. Working on back-up staffing. Lots of precautionary measures while continuing to operate.
Tim – thank you both. Liz and I attended your first meeting. I meant to bring a note – there was info passed along. Anyone who doesn’t have a primary care provider – a shockingly large number – you might not get a test easily?
Rihanna – we have place to contact and people who are trying to support…
Peter Elwell – there is a link on the Town website… for people who need services.
Liz – so many Meals on Wheels volunteers are over 60 now, so you are looking for younger folks?
Rihanna – yes. We’re asking people over 60 to stay home and younger people to step up.
Liz – 251-8777
Rihanna – call it to set up a primary care provider – which takes a while – but you can get advice and information. If people need insurance or primary care, contact Groundworks and we can help.
Tim – Happy Birthday
Rihanna – strangest birthday of all time!
Mike – that’s the short story of info that is constantly changing. I feel good about where we are right now, with planning and town government. The only fear I have is protective equipment for responders. The state has requested surplus, but it will go to hospitals first. We’ll do our best and figure it out as we go along.
Tim – the board has been getting lots of info – it is hard to figure out what is important.
Elwell – a few other specifics. One of the services that has changed but is provided is Senior Meals. The facility is closed, but there is take out and some delivery. 125 meals today!
Two other things – the devastating effects on business, and electronic communications and public meetings. The business piece is staggering – many in the community and the country are at risk… there is some degree that the threat to the economy is really there. We can’t mitigate this easily. Efforts are underway. The federal and state emergency declarations – some help is on the way in the form of loans, not grants, so that will be an additional burden. It’s still early and there may be other help. BDCC is leading an effort to plug into services to assist businesses, and to get info to businesses. The big question is about local resources. Can the town do anything? We’re early in an unpredictable situation. We have limited resources. It’s difficult for the town to make concrete decisions given our limited resources. We can do some things – but we want to help businesses access the information they need from the state and fed. Then later, we can look at what we can do locally.
On electronic communications – there is frustration in the community. There are tools to plug into remote meetings, but Town meetings have an obligation to abide by Open Meetings Law. Not because it is the right thing to do, but also because the intent is that public decision making is open and fair and all are equally able to participate. Our concern is that we need to honor the letter of the law, and the tool we use can allow for a manageable meeting, to call on people in an orderly manner, so decision makers can participate and have votes count. Vermont Law require public meetings be held in a physical location, and people can connect in remotely. We’re looking at what tools to use. Tonight, it is the old-fashioned way. Three weeks from tonight we may have a tool to use for remote communication into meetings, so it is easier and safer for people to participate.
We have three actions for tonight, and fourth that is an option.
Staff recommends cancelling Representative Town Meeting, for commons sense and the Governoro’s order to limit meetings. We might not be able to hold one by May 9th, so if things improve and we can hold it on May 9th, we think you should. Beyond May 9th, timeframes start to apply, and we need to allow enough time. May 9th is the last time we could do it in time of the new fiscal year in July. For now, RTM should be cancelled. We are hopeful we can bring a meeting for May 9th meeting.
Tim – I’d love to hit the pause button in case of questions…
Elwell – the second action is that small business loans from the Town – let them coast on payments until further notice. It will help the possibility that they ultimately get repaid. Third, we also want you to suspend water shutoffs until further notice. Hygiene is essential to our well being, and people will be struggling economically.
The last action that we propose – in these times as things change fast – under the declaration of emergency, we can exercise some power to make decisions outside of normal operations. If the board wants to give us any other directions, we appreciate hearing from you.
Tim – that was a lot, but in the spirit of how things are these days.
Daniel – I have a list . A lot has happened in the last several days. It’s a different world. I’m really appreciative of town staff and the work they are doing. In the community, there are mutual aid efforts going on. Links on the Town website to help volunteer if you can. You can communicate needs, as well. The fire department is collecting needs. I delivered som food yesterday and they appreciate it. Let people know what your needs are. People are ready to help. The Library is an important resource, and closing it is not about losing access to reading material. people gather for meetings, shelter… I’m concerned how that will impact people’s ability to stay warm and safe. The Library has online resources to access from home if you have a library card. You can access the NYTImes, and Reformer. Homeschooling. Know they have this stuff. Then I have questions…
I’m really concerned about the economic impact of people being laid off. Paid employees have access to unemployment insurance, and the state is making quick changes to help. I’m pretty concerned about people who aren’t eligible for unemployment – people who own their own business. I’m wondering what our community will look like this after it passes. I hope town funds can help people without unemployment. I want BDCC to go beyond words and support businesses, and the state and feds.
I have concerns about our vulnerable populations. Good to hear about meals, and the Fire Dept tracks people with limited mobility. The AIDS project folks still provide services, but also had many coming in that would be safer stay at home. Need to help immunocompromised. And also those people who need medical treatment programs – some are required to go daily for help. I hope services will be available for take home. Foodworks delivery service… people should plug into it if they can.
Finally, Town Services – are there other ways we can make it as easy for people. Could we lift fines for late payments, or other fees that we are charging due to a delinquency? Be reasonable about free parking – don’t just take up spaces. It’s a crazy time right now and I hope we get through it.
Also evictions – the town doesn’t have a role – but NH just paused all evictions. I hope VT can follow NH’s lead.
Bob Fisher – that would have to come from the legislature.
Liz – I’m appreciative of all the work being down. We’re here to care for one another. I’m in favor of these actions.
Kate O’Connor – Chamber of Commerce – thanks to the town for giving out good info. If we can help push info we will. Let us know. I appreciate the comments about the business community. There is a lot of anxiety. Bars and restaurants are closed and those employees are out of work. Same with movies and entertainment. The majority of town businesses are small businesses. We’ve heard from many that they aren’t closed right now, but people are coming out. They will face temporary or permanent closure. BDCC is stepping up. They are regional. So much info. Hopefully the money from Congress will pass. From our perspective, we need to start the conversation now about business needs. This is a need that is now, and months from now. I’ can call Peter tomorrow to start planning now. It will only get worse. We need to know an endgame or midpoint game to alleviate stress. If the Chamber can do anything, let us know.
Tim – it feels like nothing we have control over (we have limited control and abilities) is off the table. We are all just trying to survive this. That’s the thing. I spoke with restaurants today. They are sending out info to still support them through take-out. It will be their lifeline. Some won’t be able to hold out too long. We hear this.
The vote on Representative Town Meeting….
Tim – a big thing, but something we have to do.
RTM is cancelled.
The vote on SBA loan program – defer loan payments until further notice.
Loan payments deferred!
Water & Sewer Commisioners
Elwell – suspend water shutoffs, then we can do the other.
Water shutoffs suspended until further notice.
Elwell – the agenda item is a routine piece of equipment – a sewer rodder. It clears clogged sewer lines and is industrial sized to deal with roots growing in and other blockages. A new sewer rodder from J.F. McDermott Corporation in the amount of $61,824.16. $60k was budgeted.
(suggestions the old rodder be used in The Stroll or 4th of July parades…)
Rec and Park Carol Lolatte – the skatepark. We can put the shovel in the ground after you approve this…
The project will also require trucking in fill, drainage stone, stone base, and stone for the swales and outfalls at an additional cost of $6,185, bringing the cost of the project to $281,935. The BASIC Committee (Brattleboro Area Skatepark Is Coming) has raised $279,765 for the construction, which currently leaves a deficit of approximately $2,170. The Board is asked to authorize funds from the Capital Fund in an amount not to exceed $10,000 to cover the deficit and provide a small contingency fund for any issues that may arise during construction.
We recalibrated to fit things into the money we have raised. In the last few weeks, we raised almost everything but $200. Could the board add $10k for contingency? This has taken all the money that has been raised. So, I request to enter into the construction contract, and $10k from capital fund balance if necessary.
Jeff – happy to be here. It’s been a long road.
Liz – glad everyone stuck with this as boys become young men.
Daniel – maybe we can all get shovels. Josh Steele – ye of little faith – it is happening!
Tim – amazing that we’re finally here. Many of us have played roles. Two steps forward, one step backward. You’ve been with it from the beginning. My two year old is excited about it. Thank you! Something positive coming in warmer months.
Construction and $10k approved!
Cemetery Bid –
Tim – the circle of life…
Carol Lolatte – We got three bids. This is the low one, a new company, and I checked them out. Cemetery maintenance is split over two fiscal years.
Daniel – the type of work and expectations?
Carol – 19 mowings, spring and fall cleanup, trimming of hedges. We have close to 40 acres to maintain. My job is to make sure they have the staff and equipment to do 40 acres. prospect Hill is challenging. Equipment is getting bigger, but headstones are close. By the time you finish one side it is time to start over.
Daniel – a large number of needles in Morningside Cemetery?
Carol – it is true. We have some encampments and work with Groundworks to manage it. We do see them and try to pick them up, since people use the area for exercise. I was up front with the maintenance folks about it, and they need to be safe about it.
Daniel – people use drugs and some require needles. If we had safe places for them, we might handle it better. I’m reading about the history of the drug war. Good history.
Seasonal maintenance of Prospect Hill Cemetery and Morningside Cemetery to Independent Landscape & Property Management, of Newfane, Vermont, in the amount of $17,000 approved!
Route 142 Sidewalk + Royal Road Intersection Project
Elwell – this is for the sidewalk, the crosswalk, the signals… we’ve been through this before, and it has been hard to define. But the town can afford its share of this – $70k out of $535k. State and federal funds make up the difference. Fed money makes the project more complicated. We knew that. Now we know more details about sharing responsibilities with VTrans. Still $70k or so, plus in-kind labor. Dan Tyler will be project manager. We think it is worth the investment.
Liz – Tyler’s work is in addition to the $70k?
Elwell – yes, and other will donate some time to the project.
Liz – I’d see his input as a benefit to the community so it gets built as the community wants it.
Tim – it was authorized through RTM, right, to come from sidewalks?
Elwell – money for sidewalk construction was put aside for RTM – accumulated over years. We’ll use that for this. No additional funds required.
Elwell – we have been increasing our sidewalk repair budgets, too. This is a different fund
Liz – new bridge and sidewalk for that part of the community!
Elwell – the sidewalk will make it safer for those walking there, and up on the bridge.
Tim – more excitement for the future of Brattleboro!
Project agreement authorization approved!
Procurement of Engineering Services Related to Stormwater Management
Elwell – we spoke during the budget process about Act 64 and increased things we need to do regarding stormwater. Now, we need to implement planning to comply with new regulations. We’ll also need to start a stormwater utility to deal with this, but this is not that part of that now.
Daniel – oh yeah, remember the budget…..? (it seems so long ago…)
Stevens & Associates, of Brattleboro, for services that will enable the Town to maintain compliance with State of Vermont Stormwater regulations for a fee not to exceed $30,900… approved!
Monthly Finance Report
Elwell – it is good for now (reads the numbers from the memo). For the first 8 months, we are in solid shape and expenditures are below most thresholds. General, Utility, and Parking funds are all okay.
This was chugging along until this past week as a pretty normal year. Spending was in line with reasonable expectations.
That has completely changed. Parking avenues will be significantly lower. Our expenses will go own, too, but not as much. The big cost is salaries we’ll continue to pay without revenues coming in. We’ll spend more than we collect this year.
Utility Fund – suspending shutoffs tonight. The May payment…one more thing… there are glimmers of bright sides. The timing of this comes after a payment due date in February. We had normal collections. The next one is May 15th, and we don’t expect that to be normal. We expect more non-payment. We may end up upside down in the fund by the end of the year. Not a long term concern.
In general fund, the same thing might happen. We will carefully document emergency service expenses, for future FEMA or govt reimbursements. There will be a general fund burden. There is a lot we don’t know.
It’s a word of warning. On March 4 everything was solid. Now, it is likely that we end in deficit this year, but long term we are in a solid position.
Liz – do we know what sort of aid might be coming? VLCT?
Elwell – the interim finance director has audited municipal books and is familiar with how to account for these emergencies. There are arcane accounting details to know about.
Tim – a question – employees of parking… what will they be doing?
Elwell – some repurposing of staff will happen. Parking is a small staff. Other departments have more folks. They will either do special projects we don’t usually have time to get done, or help with community work we are doing. There will be some days that employees will be sent home if we have nothing to do, and they will get paid because we are sending them home.
(a short break…)
Groundworks Collaborative Project – Additional Town Grant from Program Income
Rihanna and Josh from Groundworks… (sitting right next to one another…)
Patrick Moreland – explains the history. The project is the South Main street seasonal overflow shelter improvement effort. No good locations around town, so decision to build a new place at the existing location. In 2019, the board approved a grant application and the town contributed $50k. Not fully funded by the state, though, so the board added another $100k. Consultants and engineering permits are set, and only remaining to-do is more fundraising for the project. Need to start now on construction to be ready for November. More money needs to be raised. Going back to original sources, looking at tax credits, and borrowing. This combination of funding will get the remaining $506k of the $3 million plus budget.
Josh – we’ve raised another $28k – need $478k now. It =is urgent we start now. The schedule is extremely tight.
Tim – describe the new facility.
Josh – we’ll have all services under one roof. A day shelter, a kitchen, a pantry, bathrooms, office space, meeting space. Second floor will have admin offices. It will convert at night to a shelter space. Bed storage. A mezzanine with 4 bunkbeds for anytime. The current building will be updated for Healthworks team.
Liz – you are continuing t fundraise, and have a matching grant?
Josh – the Vermont Country Store – we’ve almost captured all that match, but looking at others. The town has been very generous, as has the state. Grateful for this additional ask. People in town have give $1.5 million to this project. Almost 50% is from local support.
Tim – this comes from community program income, which starts as federal state pass through grants. We loan it out, and they pay it back. We get a portion to reinvest in housing and economic development. This project qualifies. People need a home to go to, and sometime to isolate in. It’s not the general fund and not from taxpayers. Do you expect to expand services?
Josh – with the new project? It will be much more efficient to be under one roof. It will help the people we serve and the organization. We’re getting to spring, and starting to close down the seasonal overflow shelter. tenting is part of our emergency housing situation. With this building we can go year round, location wise. It will be a question of resources to operate this year round. I think we will be able to do it soon.
Tim – great news. year round services are necessary.
Liz – the state sends warming funds and they are about to end, will that be extended due to COVID-19?
Rihanna – yes, the state is working on it, and trying to help shelters stay open longer.
Liz – one positive thing from the virus may be the community’s understanding of your work.
To approve a grant in the amount of $100,000 from the Town’s Revolving Loan Fund (Program Income) to Groundworks Collaborative in support of the project located at 54/60 South Main Street to establish a permanent seasonal overflow shelter – approved!
Reallocate 2017 Homeland Security Grant Funds from Department of Public Safety
Elwell – we applied for a specific amount to get to multipurpose devices for swift water rescue… we applied a month ago, and they approved it quickly.
Daniel – they seem useful. Let’s get them.
To accept and appropriate a $1,600 Reallocation of 2017 Funds as a State Homeland Security Grant from the Vermont Department of Public Safety to pay for two multipurpose devices (MPDs) used in rope applications during rescue work by the Fire Department. Accepted!
Tim – we had appointments earlier today, but none could make it.
Elwell – because we’ve suspended town committees, and the committee has enough members, perhaps you postpone these applications until things settle down.
Tim – we have 4 applicants for one position. There are other vacancies… (reads list)
Assignment of Motions on Articles – For Representative Town Meeting on March 21
No reason to do this now….
Schedule Annual Organizational Meeting – Monday, March 23, 2020
(CG asks – is the new board not forming?)
Thanks again, Chris.
I love your Selectboard reporting, and right now it’s even more helpful. Also, good work, Selectboard and Town staff with making decisions to help ensure our needs are met. The decisions about suspending water shut-offs, halting collection of SBA payments, etc are a good start.
happy to help
You’re welcome! I found it reassuring to hear everything that is taking place. Or not taking place, as the case may be.
(Isn’t it ironic that the skatepark is being built just as people are not allowed to get together in groups? The skatepark never gets a break, but darn if it isn’t determined to exist!)