Selectboard Meeting Notes – Town Finances Holding Steady, But Will Be Watched

selectboard april 21 2020

The Brattleboro Selectboard discussed COVID-19, manholes, electricians, monthly finances, emergency management plans, roads & bridges, and the library’s Board of Trustees.

The virtual selectboard meeting is becoming more routine. Read on to see just how smooth everyone is now.

Comments | 8

  • Preliminaries

    Chair Tim Wessel welcomed everyone. (They approved the minutes from “April whenever…”).

    He said he was still feeling a bit disoriented. To kick things off as Chair, I wanted to say some things in general. We come together to do the business of the Town of Brattleboro and to serve taxpayers and residents. Keep public comments to under 2 minutes. Responses to unwarned subjects will be limited. Our guiding principle should be that the needs of many outweigh of the few, and must consider all residents in our deliberations. We got an email from Jan Anderson that was very helpful, and in it she said had one line that I want to share… “as these unusual times persist, so do we.” I loved that phrase that Jan gave us. I want to thank her and all the staff. I feel honored to work with everyone her in Brattleboro.

    Town Manager Elwell – 4 non COVID19 remarks! The first is the good news we’ve been waiting for… an application for funding for Groundworks, a final piece needed to make it go. VCDP is making an enhancement grant – and additional $50k. Over a million dollars in total donated toward the project. Groundworks is now able to begin as soon as restrictions allow it. We’ve also been advised our Tree Warden has been honored with the Hamilton Award – a high honor. Dan Adams graduated from the University of Maine, helped start the Tree Advisory Board, and we thank him for his work.

    Elwell – Also – semi annual flushing of water mains begins this week. It’s essential work. And, because collection of curbside collection of solid waste is continuing, Triple T is doing the spring leaf pickup. May 1 is the remaining day for Spring pickup.

    Brandie Starr – I want to remind about the governor’s executive order, reminding employers and employees, face masks must be worn. It’s no longer a recommendation. I wanted to clear that up. If you operate a retail business, you must wear something over your face and mouth.

    Tim – we are asking that members of the public turn of cameras and mics in the meeting room, so if you want to ask question, type your name into the chat box. Don’t ask the question. Hold off. It puts me in a weird position when private messages come in to me. In open meetings, we want you on camera or audio to ask your question. The chat box is not recorded like the video is. Many board are struggling with it. Raise your hand in the chat box and I’ll contact you. If you are on the phone, at the end, we’ll open the phone lines in case you want to say something. Use the chat box if you can.

    Elwell – Patrick texted me and says we have no callers…. at the moment.

    Tim – we want as man to participate as we can. I don’t see anyone raising their hand for public participation….

  • COVID-19 Update

    Elwell – one more on public participation. We encourage people to be online, if you have that option. It is easier for all of us if you are online, but if you can’t… please call if that is your only way to reach us.

    Elwell – I have a few important reminders about health and safety, then a briefer update on recent developments. First, a reminder that police and fire services are being provided 24-7 but procedures have been altered. Police and fire are available 24-7. Water and Sewer utilities are functioning as usual. Let us know if you see anything unusual. Precautions are being taken to protect employees and the system. It is important to flush water in unoccupied buildings to clear things out – run water for a few minutes to flush. The Town implies with rigorous standards for the water at the plant to the homes. Where it goes through private piping, those are private and the Town doesn’t maintain them. Concerns about water in the building need to be tested independently. There is so much communication, digital and online. Not everyone has the ability to connect at home. You can access the public wifi at the Library in the front of the building, even if you sit in a car.

    Elwell… other updates over the last two weeks. We opened Morningside Cemetery – people use it for exercise and fresh air. We encourage that, but adhere to social distancing and wear masks. We furloughed the parking enforcement unit. We’re staying in touch and helping them with unemployment. The fourth employee in the parking fund moved to parks maintenance for now. We did look at certain other positions, particularly part-time, to see if we could furlough others. The employees that might have fit, each one works few enough hours for the Two that the cost is less than the Town’s share of what unemployment costs would have been. All other employees are as before – some busier than ever, some at home, some at the office, and others are not able to be fully doing normal work but working on other projects. We’re being very careful, going employee by employee. Fair to employees and the best we could do to contain town costs. We’ll talk about that later. It’s different in this emergency. many normal town expenditures we are not making, but some costs we are incurring, but we aren’t adding significant COVID expenses, and less than normal operating expenses. No reasons for concern for town finances. Brooks Library is helping people fill out census forms. We want a complete count. The Rec and Parks Dept cancelled spring youth sports season, but have new online ways to get active. Police aren’t charging for alarm fees for now.And that’s it for town operations.

    Elwell – Outside of town operations…four other points. The board knows these, but the public needs to know that the Town and other communities that operate program income funds to create a small business recovery fund… and a simple, consistent way for it to work. Make it easier to get state and national funds. WE operate at such a human scale here that our program income fund has only $300k. Federal employees can’t really understand those kinds of funds. They deal with tens of millions. Sometimes it is better for us to be pooled to demonstrate effectiveness – more people served and more money given out when pooled. It’s a scale the federal government can relate to. Details aren’t clear yet. It will take a few weeks. May 5, meeting. FEMA has give us guidance, but Town is not likely to be eligible for any because of this type of emergency. In this case, our expenses are basic town operations. Extra hours aren’t been racked up now. Out costs have been basic town operating costs.

    Elwell – We continue to communicate with others around the state. We communicate plans and experiences typically, but no one had plans for this scale of public health emergency. We want to learn from each other to be better prepared if there’s a next time.

    Elwell – the VT legislature is taking action and considering other actions, and we continue to communicate with them about actions they are considering.

    Tim – Two things. There are two major things going on, both f which are in an ongoing info gathering mode. The ACCD is a moving target. A possible way to pool resources and help local businesses greatly, however we need to know what it is and whether it is the right thing for Brattleboro. Also, in the legislature, we need them to decide on issues like tax relief before we can consider it. We have a solid and useful abatement appeal process for taxes, so there will be opportunities for people to present their case, regardless of what the legislature decides to do, or this board does.

    Liz – what were the initials?

    Tim – ACCD – the agency of commerce and community development. It’s where the new face mask regulations come from. They are proposing the pooling of program income funds. A Vermont agency stepping to the forefront in this situation.

    Elwell – yes – in addition to business recovery needs they’ve become the agency do define what businesses are essential, and what activities are okay in business and organizations.

    Daniel – Unemployment insurance – if you are seeking it you may have sought out this information, but there is angst over the rollout of the self-employed insurance. The way it has been rolled out has been haphazard with several false starts. I can’t find a FAQ on their website, but they have one on there social media page. It’s a good resource. I think tomorrow will be the first day the pandemic unemployment will be rolling out and claims will be able to be made this week for self-employed and contractors.

    Tim – yes. A lot of people waiting.

  • Water and Sewer - Old Guilford Road Manhole Rehabilitation Project

    Tim – I’ll invite Dan Tyler or Steve Barrett.

    Steve – Dan has taken on this project. WE got it rebid, so Dan…

    Dan – we have a series of manholes on Old Guilford Rd that collect waste that flows to the pump station, then up and over the hill. Manhole concrete is deteriorating. From 1988. Old brick ones last longer than concrete ones. When you have a pump station, you get surges of flow, and that adds odor issues. With that, the flow sits in a tank and the potency builds up.Commonwealth pretreats their waste, but it is stronger than household waste and contributes to sewer gases, and that deteriorates the concrete. We want to work with Green Mountain Pipeline to do the work.. new manhoods, a new epoxy lining, should help with odors. We put out two bids, each for 5 manholes. We’ll do ten now and another none next year. The base bid is in the amount of $22,500 and the alternative bid in the amount of $25,000.

    Tim – what is BOD?

    Dan – that’s the strength of the waste – biological oxygen demand. Amount of oxygen needed to break it down. And TSS.

    Ian – How are you determining which manholes are being repaired first? Location or how bad they’ve gotten?

    Dan – they are all similar. No reason to jump around, just work down the line.

    Daniel – so it seemed that the reason for this is increased load from Commonwealth, could they partner with this in this project?

    Dan – they pretreat their waste and take the worst out that they haul to us, and pay us a premium for that. We know what it is. They pay a lot for their sewer. It’s the nature of the system to need repairs. Not all their fault.

    Elwell – we’ve had some communication with Commonwealth. They have made a voluntary contribution to the pump station. One thing we’ll discuss at a future meeting is thoughts about our rate ordinance and ways we could modify it for different users.

    manholes approved!

  • Ordinance Amendment – Second Reading and Public Hearing Chapter 8, Article 3, Section 8-32, Add Requirement for Vermont Licensed Electricians

    Tim – Len Howard can speak…

    Elwell – he wrote a good, clear, complete memo in response to your questions of last time. You reviewed it two weeks ago. Tonight is a public hearing and second reading. If you are satisfied, you can adopt it tonight.

    pubic hearing opened

    Len Howard – I’ll answer the questions. How many units in Brattleboro – 432 double + 52 single units. Burlington and others have similar rules. VT licensed journeymen can wire 1 and 2 family residential. I supplied a photo of a recent electrical fire from 2018. That’s all I have.

    Elwell – the subject of the ordinance is Chapter 8, article 3… requires electrical maintenance work at rental properties. What we propose is required for 3 or more units, and we want it to apply to all size rentals.

    Tim – I asked about the scope of work. As I read the code, a small repair like a light switch or fixture would not require an electrician. Fuses, minor maintenance, tightening connections, etc. That would cover changing lightbulbs.. right?

    Len – yes.

    Tim – though it wold be good to clarify. I don’t think it is an overreach to do this.

    Brandie – this is like the rental inspection program. It gives some renters some additional protection. It falls in line with what we’ve already been doing.

    Ian – thanks – I asked for the number of units and I found that helpful. It will cover over 500 buildings. I’m in favor of it.

    Liz – I think our most important duty is health, safety and welfare. The picture says it all.

    Tim – after seeing the picture and you go downstairs and your panel looks like that, call and electrician immediately. Renters don’t have the ability to let things go like that – they rely on landlords to be good stewards of their safety.

    Elwell – Close the public hearing and make a motion when comment is done.

    public hearing closed…

    ordinance amendment approved!

  • Monthly Finance Report

    Elwell – expenditure numbers are good. 75% of year is complete, but we’re at 71% for general fund. Altered operations is reducing costs of operations. Same with Utility Fund – 70.8% there. Parking Fund is entirely different. Revenue is at zero. Good solid utilities position. Payments due have already begun to arrive. We’ll see how it goes. General Fund revenues other than property tax… we’re looking at revenue streams and expenditures. Probably at the next meeting we’ll have additional information about budget impacts and cash flow for the Town. Expeditures are stable. Revenue streams may be low enough to call some things out.

    Tim – I’m still getting used to sideways PDF views…

    Daniel – thanks for what you just said about the analysis of the current situation. Looking at the report this time, I had many what-if questions. Some expenditures where way down – facilities that weren’t operating meant electric costs down. Where are we seeing significant drops and what that saves us, and so on. This is a financial report that gives me pause right now.

    Elwell – it should. Questions are good. You find things, or need to know. We’ve been fortunate that town finances have been well-managed for a long time. A nice stable run. This brings all of that out of kilter. We’re still solid, but greatest difference for us is the uncertainty – how long will it last? How will things change? It is right to pause and give it more attention.

  • Local Emergency Management Plan – Adoption of Annual Update

    Elwell – this is an annual requirement that we update the local emergency plan, you approve it, and we send it to the state. We usually do little updates. This year doesn’t have any, as odd as that sounds. We’re learning a tremendous amount, and a year from now it will show up. We need to comply with current deadline to meet federal deadlines. The plan before you is a big, thick plan. Available for public review. It is unchanged from last year. Too much going on in emergency management right now to make reasonable changes. We know it will be substantially updated for next year.

    Tim – philosophical question – those are punctuate emergency events, like fires, active shooters, and so on that we prepare for, but now we are in an emergency, and we could have additional emergencies on top of it. Public health concerns could be added with another act of nature. A new norm going forward.


  • Annual Certification of Compliance with VTrans’ Town Road and Bridge Standards

    Tim – Peter…

    Elwell – another annual requirement that keep us eligible to receive state funds. We need to meet certain state standards to get funding assistance. Like the last one, we can give you more detail. Our assurance is we continue to comply and they are unchanged from last year.


  • Appointments to Fill Vacancies on the Brooks Memorial Library Board of Trustees

    Tim – our last item is appointments for the library board of trustees.

    Elwell – you have the memo. There are two seats vacant on the trustee board and the selectboard can appoint until RTM can confirm. They ask that the board appoint to fill the vacancies. The request is appoint Karen Tyler for a three-year term and Gabriel Sistare to fill the final year of an unexpired term. I might have butchered that pronunciation.

    Tim – I was going to ask Starr for the pronunciation… I like talking to Starr.

    Starr – thanks. Happy National Library Week, and today is national library workers’ day. Great way to honor trustees. It is Sistare, “sis starr ay”.


    Tim – Starr is just one name.. (on the chat window)

    Daniel – Like Prince…

    Tim – I think we’re getting this down. Thanks for watching and a motion to adjourn?


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