An election night meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard was held to discuss democracy and a summary overview of the FY22 budget. They finished after Vermont had been called for Biden, but before 8pm, and members prepared to watch results as they adjourned.
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Some pre-meeting talk about voting, weather, haircuts, and unwarranted controversies.
Chair Tim Wessel welcomes everyone. A couple of remarks. In the past few weeks there has been a nasty labor dispute at a well loved coffee house. It has elements of hatred and tension on a national level. It’s impossible to live here and not have an opinion, but the kind of language I’ve seen does nothing to preserve the dignity. It tears apart community. Why am I commenting – part of what set it into motion is that if you don’t like someone you don’t have a right to serve them, and if that is a town employee, I must be involved. No employee deserves to be mocked, and hateful language against police. If this happened to another employee would we stay silent. Some of the hatred toward Capt. Mark Carignan is out of bounds. The charges have been investigated and he was cleared. The current dialogue around community safety is a good one to have, but until we make changes to their job descriptions, they do the job. The police are employees, just like town clerks and park employees. The cops are out there every day. If you have a problem with an officer, there are multiple ways to report it. We’ll investigate it. If you have a problem with policies, bring them to the discussion. Don’t engage in a character assassination of someone wh serves the town. Treat our officers as you’d treat anyone else in the community. We can all use a little more kindness.
Elwell – no comments.
Daniel Quipp – I had the pleasure of finding myself in print today – I got an alert that I was in the Reformer. It was that someone had sent me an email and didn’t get a reply. I found it in my spam folder and got in touch today. The most effective way to contact me is call. My phone number is one the town website. Just wanted to clear that up.
Tim – I had some go to spam as well.
Brandie Starr – I was also going to speak about the local business and conflict that ensured around it and . I was horrified to see some of the comments of community members. On social media – to see people I know and respect treating others that way is really painful. People love Mocha Joes, and the baristas. To sit on our high horses… I took screenshots – about the business and baristas. WE need to cool our jets folks. We have enough nationally. I hope we can pull it together. There’s no nuance. Stop it.
Ian Goodnow – I also support civil discourse to work together on difficult issues. I do want to report on the election. It’s 6:26 and the polls are still open so you can run down and vote until 7 pm. I was there all day. Our town clerk and board of civil authority and volunteers working all month. It went really well. It makes me proud to be in Brattleboro and happy to see people doing their civic duty. Thanks.
Gary Stroud – thanks tonight for doing this during this historical time. Kudos to Ian and the younger generation. Thanks to Patrick Moreland for helping me with tech issues. We have to come together as a town and set an example and show we can work together. Civil, respective, in harmony. With love and peace and we’re all in this together. What impacts you impacts me. I don’t get into social media. We can make it happen.
Statement in Support of American Democracy (and agenda adjustment)
Tim – should we adjust the agenda…
Elwell – yes, and Bosworth has his hand up. And now it is gone. Yes, happy to announce that the mask request, for an exemption, has been now withdrawn, and they ask that we read an email into the record… from Sandy Shriver and Planet Fitness – a month ago we started this process because members asked about this, but since cases are spiking, it doesn’t;t seem like a time to ask for lifting a mask mandate. When Brattleboro eases the mask requirement, we’d like to revisit this. There is a benefit to non-mask exercise.
Tim – we do have a stricter ordinance than the state’s language.
Elwell – yes, we strengthened them beyond the state’s orders.
Liz – winter is coming and we should all remain vigilant about hand washing.
Elwell – every Friday we have new COVID updates posted to the town’s website. Any new updated information will go there, plus restating all the previous information. Make a weekly visit and see what’s updated.
Tim – citizens have been asking us to make a statement about today’s events.
Elwell – I’ll read the statement. Reads statement (Supports democracy, that all ballots be counted, that counting might take longer, that results will be implemented peacefully, peaceful freedom to assemble and speak must be preserved, and physical safety must be ensured for everyone.)
Ian – I think it is great and feel strongly about the election. It’s how I feel and the board feels. Vote for it.
Brandie – I agree. These are the rules we’ll abide by, and won’t tolerate low brow violence.
Liz – I thank Peter for mind reading and writing such a nice statement we can get behind.
(zoom handclaps confuse the chair)
(Liz calls the town manager Patrick Elwell)
(One of those nights…)
FY22 Budget Overview
Tim – really the reason we are here.. we have a proposed budget. In the past few years, when we come to this meeting, all the materials are placed before us. We had a bit of advance notice. Peter?
Elwell – this is the evening we provide just the summary – the big picture look and budget highlights. Not intended to be a deep dice. We’ll do that night by night if you approve the schedule. It goes week by week for three months to review every line item and hearing from the public. Tonight, I’ll hit the highlights and let you know where to find them There are six different documents for the selectboard. They are on the town website. The budget message – an 8 page summary narrative. 2 page summary at a glance with FY21 budget and FY22 budget in major categories. Detailed Line Item Budget – a 19 page document with all the details. The transfer to capital and funds requested – the FY22 Capital Request. Then additional details related to capital, both a five year forecast and a 25 year equipment replacement plan. The distribution doesn’t include one thing that we intend to address which is visuals that make this more accessible. I apologize for that. There are things that have gotten to due to other things win the community. We’ll get them for the annual report. For tonight, I’ll try to be brief. Obviously there are important events, and everything is in my budget message.
Elwell – I want to begin by stating that a week ago we presented the LTFP. The LTFP is usually presented in August. We did know some important things. We’ll propose a property tax rate that is less than what we expected – a fully penny below – 2.8% increase was forecasted. 2.7 cent increase or 2% increase is what we now propose. It is essentially a flat budget.
Elwell – the bottom line for the overall impact requires a more complicated explanation than usual. Usually it goes up by X % and then we discuss why. Not like that this year, for good reasons. It’s a six percent increase is the overall impact – not in recurring costs of town government. What we have is a 6% increase due to outside factors. One, we have funded solid waste in the general fund – there is always a deficit – with a one line transfer. That’s not fully transparent, and it is not the best way to address the solid waste program. It isn’t an enterprise fund. We’re changing that. WE all got advice from RTM’s finance committee to make this change. There is $307k that is the impact of bringing the details into the town’s budget. What that is is additional expenditure above and beyond the amount of the transfer. We have $890k of costs. We used to show a $550k transfer. The costs are the same, but now shown in the budget and increasing it by $300k. There is also an opportunity for the fund balance to be used for no-recurring expenses. Last year $230k, this year $605k… the difference is to be used for $75k to upgrade the website, a one-time investment. The remainder will be spent on capital projects. Finally, there is a $45k transfer that will be to the parking fund to offset a one time deficit. Parking activity is still down and could go down further. We think we should plan to cover a deficit, and we don’t know what it will be, so we propose letting the fund take a year off from paying into the general fund for the services they get. When you factor the above out, the increase is a 2% increase. Understand that 6% isn’t a realistic thumbnail, for those reasons. 2% is the right number to be looking at.
Elwell – how does it impact property taxes? $26.90 per 1000 of value. The average home is $190k for our estimates. For that home, the increase on their tax bill will be $51.11 for the year, or $12.78 per quarter.
Elwell – Rooms & Meals used to increase steadily. Not true this last year. Don’t expect this year to be better. We do think it will return after COVID, but can’t expect it for the FY22 budget. This revenue for rooms, meals and alcohol is forecast at $385k. Sales tax is the opposite. The first two years of it in the budget we budget at $630k. It was conservative. Not much of a covid drop-off due to online sales. There was more aid to households. Depends a bit on additional stimulus aid coming. We now estimate $825k. One thing to remember, the fiscal year won’t begin until next July 1 and go until the following June 30. None of us control what happens with COVID. Hopefully efforts pay off and most of this budget will be post-COVID. That is in our assumptions.
Elwell – Solid Waste – we have what used to be a transfer that will now show revenue sources and 8-10 expenditure items. All that detail will be in this budget so it will be easy to see.
Elwell – Transfers from other funds – it is formula based, with a slight increase this year.
Elwell – the Use of Fund balance – to be used for non-recurring expenses. Like a savings account. Sometime you have to use it under extreme circumstances, but you try not to. That’s the same principle here. Any time we use it, it should be for a cost that repeats. The fund balance, 10% set aside, is for emergency purposes. We may rely on it for stimulus of state or federal funds don’t come. the $75k for the website project and $530k of capital improvements are proposed – sidewalks and streets, LMP, intersection improvements. The $75k is not a hard nd fast number – up to $75k… if you hire a professional to build a site from scratch you should expect to spend $100k or more. There are recreated packages to build sites, and a few competitive ones for governments that have government templates with predesigned features for municipal governments. That can be done for $50k or less. We suggest, since we don’t have a webmaster, we’ll build something better and more efficient but it will be maintained decentrally across town government. Well need some professional assistance, but get some help for building up the content from an expert. We estimate $75k as a reasonable, not shorting this but not putting in too much – prudent amount.
Elwell – the final category of revenue is other. This is going down by $36k. The main reason is a decrease on the return on our invested funds. We’ve done well. Interest rates have taken a dive, so we estimate earnings will be done. This could be better than we expect. We’ll go through revenues in more details.
Elwell – staffing is the big expenditure. We provide human service. There are no new positions. We do want a few extra hours for assistant assessor position to prepare for town wide reappraisal. It’s been a decade. Te state tells us when to do one. That is coming in the next few years. There needs to be lots of oversight by town staff. We’re asking to increase the position by 7.5 hours. All the rest is the same as before. A 2.9% increase in staffing costs. Employee benefits are almost flat. Small increases for retirement and social security but everything else is level funded. A .7% increase overall. Risk management is level funded. Department expenses is a catch-all and will increase this year 5% for the stormwater management utility creation – well get money from the state of Vermont as a ratepayer for their roads through our town. A significant motivator to establish the stormwater utility. We also moved some money over here for the human resources budget. It’ll now be shown properly. Legal services up by 1.9% to pay Bob Fisher. Human Services funding is a placeholder using the same as last year – $210k. It’s 1.1% of the FY22 budget. It could go up based on their recommendations. Solid Waste expenditures are new, plus the transfer to waste will go away. The transfer to capital equipment is an important advancement that we’ve made an important to longer term planning and stabilizing taxes and expenses year to year. The 25 year plan is as level as we can make it. There will be slight increases. We don’t want wild variations year to year. We propose an increase of $32k – about 4% a year increase for a few years, then down to just under 2% a year. Equipment stay in better shape, we get better trade in value, and we show it better to the public. By isolating it, we can focus on the infrastructure needs. Capital equipment replacement will just be regular ongoing expense of government. Transfer to Capital projects will increase this year by $275k. We won’t be able to have as much stability with capital projects as capital equipment. They cost more. More peaks and valleys over the years in costs. We want the tax impact to stay steady, though, so we propose the same as last year, aiming to get to $1.5 million soon. $735k of total investment in projects. Transfer to parking is a one off unusual thing this year. Debt service only increases when we borrow more, then decreases. We aren’t very debt reliant, but some things require debt. This is where we pau off what we borrowed. No new debt this year. It decreases this year by $26k. Other expenses – $73k increase for the website upgrade, so it is accounted for.
Elwell – that’s the summary. Two final notes. The police department is a major focus. Because the community safety review is ongoing and we don’t know their recommendations, nor how the community will react. We can’t know or predict. So, we have just put blinders on and proposed a budget that is one more year of status quo. We know we’ll discuss it in January. The human resources department would be the other thing. The Human Resources have been effective but it didn’t feel transparent to have the expenses in the Town manager budget, and general services. It didn’t;t tell the story of our investment in human resources. So we separated it out. There is a $12k cost increase for software expenses. We’ve implemented some digital processes in HR that used to be done manually. It’s more efficient and reliable, but it has a cost. It’s also a time keeping service. The chronos system.(?) The Fund Balance – we needed FY20 with an unaudited $2,511,000 (or so) unassigned fund balance. Take away the 10% then you have $605k to use for the special projects. That’s my presentation of the overview.
Tim – a question about debt service – is there any – is it standard to have any wiggle room?
Elwell – none. It’s the obligation to the banks or bond owners. It is a know obligation. We can predict it well.
Tim – there are programs to delay debt for homeowners, so I wondered…
Elwell – that hasn’t happened and there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about it. If there was relief like that during COVID, it would come as payments to honor obligations rather than wiggle room to avoid making payments, because of the ripple effects. If there is a way for the state or fed govt to address that, we’d get aid to avoid defaulting on debts.
Ian – this is the beginnings of the budget, and I have lots of questions, but tonight… with solid waste and human resources, the changes are just to be more transparent. Does anything need to be changed with the parking fund?
Elwell – if it is a one year transfer to prop up that fund, you would see it in the budget history. You’ll see the rat move through the snake. That’s the way you want to show it. The structural change with departments are permanent changes, not temporary impacts.
Daniel – a request – when we get to public works and capital projects, I’d like to explore more about sidewalks and paving, and doing more.
Elwell – happy to do that. I should post out there are substantial increases in sidewalks and paving – arriving at goal of $100k a year for sidewalks and paving is increasing. We’ll explore how we can do better.
Daniel – how many miles can we do for X amount, and how many miles do we need to do?
Elwell – Steve knows that. We also look at sidewalks with Traffic Safety from time to time.
Tim – alright – thanks agin Peter. No audience participant questions. What’s next?
Elwell – turning on your TV. No, approve the schedule of meetings. Sorry I spaced out on that. Yes, the memo with the schedule of meetings. It is a little different due to our late start and a special meeting for Hinsdale Bridge land, then budget on the 17th and so on. e won’t get to departmental budgets until December. We can get the first pass done by December 22nd, take the 29th off, then meet all four Tuesdays in January to finish up.
Ian – is the website the 17th?
Elwell – whenever you want
Ian – I’d like to get my teeth into it duding the meeting.
Elwell – I’d suggest a longer look on December 8th. The 17th of Nov and 15th of Dec are regular meeting nights. If we need some time, we should do it on a night with just budget business.
schedule is basically agreed to, without a vote
Tim – Vermont has been called for Biden.
adjourned, and off to election coverage