Comments | 8

  • Preliminaries

    Pre-meeting banter about long meetings, the new month, college students, time zones, microphones…

    Chair Tim Wessel – it is Giving Tuesday, and I can’t think of any other GT that has local organizations so deserving of support. That goes for shops as well. There are still a few hours left.

    Town Manager Peter Elwell – some good financial news. We have the first quarterly receipts from the local option taxes. Despite COVID – $99k rooms and meals and $234k of sales tax. Better than expected. And property taxes are ahead of receipts from last year.

    Daniel Quipp – a vague statement – to the public. I appreciate working with all of you and I believe in your professionalism and conduct. We might not always agree, but dedication and hard work is without doubt in my mind.

    Tim – I feel the same way.

    Brandie Starr – I reached out to the community, and they wrapped around me. It can be hard to do that. Awkwardness, embarrassment… this community is awesome at responding to needs. If you need food, clothes – reach out. People will rush to help.

    Ian Goodnow – Daniel – I echo that and appreciate that. I want to jump off on Tim’s remarks. I’m reflecting on the holiday season. I have shopping to do. It was my partners bday last month and she saw something she liked downtown and I got it later. Only possible because our local shops are open. Look to local shops… it is a unique experience. I encourage people to try it.

    Liz McLoughlin – I like to shop locally…

    Public Participation:

    Gary Stroud – thanks for you guys. Without zoom this would be harder for people who are home. It has been a humbling and trying time. If we didn’t have this it would be worse. We’d be sending letters back and forth. Thanks for you and all the committees. I do the committees to stay connected. We need that connection. I appreciate this safe environment. Very grateful. Without zoom, what would we do? Daniel – I found out more about COVID relief. It pays for cable.

    Daniel – not exactly that… the public service utilities in arrears can help with bills for electric, water and sewer, phone, and there is another one for rural broadband. It expires on Dec 15. Call 211 or look online.

    Gary – thank you guys. Stay safe and string. We will survive.

    Jacoub – I will start my video… I am from Alabama. I have my hobbies. I don’t live in Brattleboro. I have a proclamation , what is better… porn or…

    (cut off)

    Tim – we’ll move on.

    David Winely – my phone has some camera working. I’m from the state of Washington… I like to bowl and swim a lot… I hate n*gers…

    Tim – I’m closing down public participation.

    Barbara Nichols – I live in Brattleboro and have for quite a while. I stated a new non-profit – Nationwide Educators Relief Fund- it reimburses teachers for out of pocket expenses. We created an online silent auction Dec 5, so if you around and available look for it on 32auction to support the local teachers. In Mass. they have a virtual school for free. It is an option you have. But they haven’t handled it well during COVID. Student not speaking with teachers. I’m proud of Vermont. My grandkids go to Green Street and I can’t brag enough.

    Galaxy Note 10+ – I can’t start my video….

    Tim – Nevermind. I’m sure there other meetings more interesting.

  • Ordinance Regulating Housing Lease Deposits and Creating a Housing Board of Review

    Elwell – the ordinance regulating lease deposits and creating a board of review. It is unusual to have a 1st reading of unfinished business, but those following along know that there was some consideration with lots of public input. The board decided to move ahead with an ordinance, there were two hearings, some issues raised along the ay. The board didn’t adopt it in October, but asked for other information. WE did that in November, and then the board decided to move ahead with the ordinance as planned. It is back as unfinished business, but mostly as a legal requirement. You don’t need to take action tonight. We’ll then do a 2nd reading and adoption in two weeks. This would regulate the amount required by a landlord prior to occupancy. Rent plus a security deposit only, plus pet deposits, and the creation of a Brattleboro housing board of review. Bob is here for legal advice. Sue Fillion is also here. We’re also continuing other work you asked us to do.

    Tim – My personal feeling is that we’ve discussed this at length at least twice and we might consider having people chime in next time. We’ll have additional information then, too. My pitch is, we have a thick meeting tonight. If we refrain from discussion tonight among the 5 of us… do people want to chime in on that?

    Brandie – I agree. Unless someone has a substantive change or change of heart. We should take public comment, but our minds are pretty much made up. Might not be necessary tonight.

    Ian – I agree. I do have one change that I would like to bring up, so maybe we can discuss that a little bit, but beyond that… there will be time at the next meeting. In reflecting, I think that while the housing board of review was something I pushed for, because of what Bob said, it doesn’t really achieve the purpose I thought it did… a place for landlords and tenants to address issues of last month’s rent. It’s only about security deposits and tenants coming to it about security deposits. I like a mixed board of tenants and landlords, but that could be done later in the housing study that Sue will be doing. Because the study is coming soon, let’s remove the housing board of review from this ordinance. That’s how I feel.

    Brandie – no, agree. I wish there was a way it could be equitable and useful, but what is a new model. We could revisit this ordinance in a year. It’s almost a committee for the sake of having a committee. People want to do something fulfilling. I like the concept, but isn’t what we’ve seen yet.

    Liz – I agree. The housing board doesn’t do what it should, and its limitations are shown by landlords not being able to use this board as a remedy. It’s a very bad situation for landlords. This ordinance results in more risk.

    Elwell – just to clarify – the limitations on the board are imposed by th state of Vermont. You want to create a more robust housing board of review, but statutes don’t allow. Dylan’s Rule state.

    Brandie – Good point.

    Tim – I agree with the limitation of the board of review. But, to me, we can make that tweak at the next meeting?

    Liz – I also agree about revisiting this in a year.

    Elwell – we can bring Bob on to confirm, given what we’ve heard about the board of review and yearly check-in. We can bring it back reflecting those changes…

    Tim – why not make it 6 months to line up with housing study?

    Ian – rents are one year. It would be good to look at this after one year.

    Brandie – we want to see a full cycle of moving in and out of an apartment….

    Tim – I’m fine with that…for now.

    Bob Fisher – If you want us to take out the board of review we can do that, or you can vote and eliminate it at the next meeting. It is a small change, not needing notice to the public. With regard to a review provision, when statutes provide the procedure to undo ordinances, whether you can write in a sunset provision. I’ll research that more. A program like this, or any ordinance, should be reviewed.

    Bradie – I want a review, not a sunset.

    Bob – the board can always review matters at its own pace, and put things on the calendar. A review isn’t a major change.

    Tim – Feels to me it would be nice to have the next version without the housing board.

    Ian – can you clarify? The next one won’t have it in it?

    Daniel – if we change our minds and want to add it back at the next meeting?

    Tim – you’d need three people…

    Bob – I don’t think it would be a substantive addition given the history here, but you’d need three people to put it back in.

    Tim – I had 7pm as our limit on this, but the board wants to take comments.

    Ian – I took the additional time. maybe I should have waited.

    Tim – I’ll invite people. We have much more to talk about, and budgets at 10pm are more difficult.

    Brandie – I had to take an aspirin that night.

    Tim – comments. Keep it to 3 minutes, and 3 board members are in favor.

    Jackson Stein – stop doing dishes for one second. Yeah, when the proposal was given to you the housing board of review wasn’t on it. We want to make housing more accessible. We expect evictions. The easier to move into new homes, the better. We just want the limit on security deposits.

    Ian – I appreciate that, and one reason I thought I should bring it up. I pushed for the board to be in there, and we understand better what it can and can’t do. Thanks for clarifying.

    Doran – (mic not working)…

    Daniel – mime it.

    Tim – okay, we’ll come back. Jason?

    Jason Cooper – question for Bob – does VT have the possibility of having a housing court to enforce Vermont law. Landlords and tenants would appreciate a place to get a quick resolution. Landlords can’t get justice when things are going wrong.

    Bob – need to look into that. If you have info, send it along. Legislatures have supported different courts for different reasons. The legislature could create a court for housing.

    Jason – not sure about how to put it together. If it has to go through the legislature…. states that have them have fewer problems. Justice delayed is not just. The sooner they can get in front a judge, the better for everyone. Landlords have no way to resolve issues.. we have a tenants running drug house. We can’t remove them. if we could get in front of a judge, that benefits everyone. Even after COVID, the inability to collect enough money to make some sort of protection makes it harder to not lose money. Landlords with more properties might do better, but most landlords in town are mom and po and they can’t lose 4 months rent. How to protect them?

    Tim – that was off the warned topic but it was topical, so I thought i was ok to hear what Jason was saying. Should Bob look into that? It’s not really germane.

    Bob – the ability of the selectboard to create such a court doesn’t exist. You need to go to the legislature, or get an amendment to give authority to increase their jurisdiction. Not as big as creating a housing court. Not to say it isn’t a good thing, but we’re off topic…

    Trevor – thanks Ian for taking the board out of this. They are two different things. Some numbers: housing prices have gone up 23% since start of pandemic. 25% pay more than 50% of their income for rent. Risk mitigation funds for the riskiest tenants and protect landlords… they were used an average of one time in a year. It’s a simple thing and isn’t undue risk on landlords.

    Tim – could you send me those numbers?

    Trevor – yes.

    Tim – It’s great to have the data.

    Abrutvan – Ananda – I support the proposal and am thankful it came back around. Thanks for people in the community speaking up for the proposal. I hope you can see how this will be positive change for at least 50% of the town. Jason Cooper is one of the larger landlords in town, speaking about mom and pops… a bit duplicitous.

    Tim – we have more people now on…

    Ralph – happy thanksgiving’. I hope you had a good one. How will this be enforceable and what is the penalty?

    Peter Elwell – I’ll ask Bob.

    Bob – this would be ticketed, so if we’re going to have limitations, so the Town would give a civil ticket for this for violations. There are several penalties and the possibility of going to court.

    Ibrahim Dahlstram-Hakki – Thanks again. I’ll be brief. I want to thank you for removing the board. It’s a good move for landlords and tenants. Glad you’ll look at this in a year. I won’t argue one way or another. The only thing I want to put out there is that this had made us aware of the housing crisis in Brattleboro, and the landlord and tenant perspectives. We have a vacuum for dealing with issues. This lacks incentives for new housing. I’d like to see a lot of the issues of the housing crisis addressed. Bring together landlords and tenants to have real solutions.

    Tenant – cynthia – a tenant in Bratt – I’ve been following tis and am happy to hear it move forward. I talk with friends about it and we’re excited to see it come through. The board of review isn’t necessary. Not contentious to me. Let’s make change where we can, even if it isn’t housing stock. A lot of people will be happy to see this.

    Josh Wyman – as a renter in Bratt I’m gal you took this up again and have this space for discussion. Housing is something everyone needs. making sure everyone can access it is very important. Thanks for the work you are doing.

    James Weatherly – a resident and tenant – this is an important ordinance, limiting the high bar of entry. I came here from the midwest, and knew Brattleboro was special. When I relocated here I wanted to be in Brattleboro. I looked at the numbers. Couldn’t make it work. Had to go to another community. It was high bar and a challenge. It was difficult to secure housing. Three months might not seem like much but it is. If you want to counter a declining population, I’m glad to see this move forward.

    Tim – Ian you haven’t given me your secret word.

    Mark Guillaume – there isn’t enough supply of housing. I am a landlord and manage two buildings in town… (cut off)

    Tim – I thought I was going to like your point…

    Mark – this ordinance works on the demand side, not the supply side. From the tenants side… if I could afford the three months, I’d oppose this because more people will apply for housing. As a landlord I’ll get more applicants, but I don’t have more housing. This creates more competition for rentals. It’s expensive to build new housing. I think this is going to hurt the people it is supposed to help. The solution needs to be on the supply side.

    Gary Stroud – what was the committee? does it exist?

    Liz – are you trying to join it?

    Gary – the common grounds committee for housing is my name for it.

    Tim – we got rid of it because we knew you couldn’t serve on it.

    Gary – courts are backed up, and COVID,a nd evictions… if we had a go between to help on agreeable terms is something we can do.

    Tim – we did give Bob the instruction to look at more judicial options, but as it is now, the board of review isn’t on the table.

    Gary, oh, so it would be next year?

    Tim – we can’t really talk about it because it hasn’t been warned.

    Dick Degray – Jason Cooper’s comment was very on. I told Ian this has the potential to hurt mom and pop homeowners. Can’t evict people.. just because Jason said it. He’s hitting the mark. One thing people don’t realize is that rent costs are driven by trash pick up ordinances. If you have a bigger building, you have to pay for a dumpster. These things add up. The board tried to control costs this year to reduce sewer rates. That has a financial impact. Your decisions have a huge, huge impact on tax rates, and that gets passed on to tenants. If you are a town meeting member wanting to spend all this money on things that are great and wonderful, it has an impact on the whole community. Tenants are taxpayers. Is there any way to use surplus money to set up a fund to safeguard landlords?

    Tim – we asked for a clarification on the funds and we’ll hear about that later.

    Elwell – unassigned fund balance can be allocated by RTM. We usually use it for one time expenses. It could be used to establish the risk pool.

    Dory Hamm – can you hear me? I’m a tenant. Thanks for moving forward in this direction. I have faith in this selectboard, and appreciate you want data. As a member of the town, in the talk of supply and demand, no one mentioned the pandemic. If you are being evicted, it is very scary… this is a drop in the bucket toward making the town equitable. This can be scary to blaze new paths. You can tell when landlords need to survive vs are of privilege. Thanks!

    Brandie – the VT rental housing stabilization program ends on the 11th of December. It’s an easy application. Mostly your name and address. If you are in a pickle right now… it ends on the 11th.

    Tim – Liz was going to interrogate Daniel about assistance programs..but not now.

    • Mark Guillaume's remarks were an accurate analysis.

      Mark Guillaume’s remarks were an accurate analysis. Simply put: The housing scarcity creates a game of musical chairs. Regulating upfront move-in costs will not create extra “chairs,” or lessen the number of people who are desperate for affordable housing.

      Regardless of what we might wish, imposing rules to make it easier for tenants who find it hard to come up with first, last, and security, cannot help but to close out other tenants who can. (Either that, or create the need for “landlords” to raise a higher bar for vetting rental history and references.)

      I am a small-time property manager. At times I have been able to get the door open for someone whom I felt good about, but who lacked references or rental history; because their writing a check for first, last, and security made the difference. That gesture gave me flexibility to overlook erstwhile weaknesses in their application.

      What Mark Guillaume said, is the type of thing which might cause him some unpopularity, not because it was inaccurate, but because it accurately portrays certain facts that many of us might wish were not so. Here is his contribution to this discussion:

      Mark Guillaume – there isn’t enough supply of housing. I am a landlord and manage two buildings in town… (cut off)

      Tim – I thought I was going to like your point…

      Mark – this ordinance works on the demand side, not the supply side. From the tenants side… if I could afford the three months, I’d oppose this because more people will apply for housing. As a landlord I’ll get more applicants, but I don’t have more housing. This creates more competition for rentals. It’s expensive to build new housing. I think this is going to hurt the people it is supposed to help. The solution needs to be on the supply side.

  • Chalet Permanent Supportive Housing Project – Update from Windham + Windsor Housing Trust and Groundworks Collaborative

    Elizabeth Bridgewater and Josh Davis

    Elizabeth – Pete is with us , too. This is a really important presentation for us. This came along in response to the pandemic. It was a fast process. Usually we do a fair amount of community outreach, but we had to focus on funding and getting it done. It’s bee a wild ride. Catching up on outreach now. Pete’s been managing the construction, and Josh handles supportive services. When the pandemic started, Vermonter dug in and got people into temporary housing, and in a flash homelessness was solved. No one was on the street and everyone had a place to stay safe and stay home. It was very expensive and not sustainable. Legislators and housing advocates got together for long term solutions. How to allocate CARES act funding. Money went to housing to help organization buy and rehab structures for housing, and for shelter improvements. We were able to capture $2.3 million for Brattleboro. We though about variables and what might work. It has to work for both organizations, something sizable to have an impact, and the quality of the actual building not needing too much improvement, and long term possibilities and locations suitable for housing. Some places are more commercial. We focused on Dalem’s Chalet… it’s the Chalet Project now cuz we didn’t buy the name. We approached Mrs. Dalem in June, and talked for months and agreed in September. A sort window to pull it together, and working with Groudworks to have the right staffing, and working with estate on rental subsidies. On track to finish in mid December. There are 36 “homes” (tiny homes) on the property. 7 apartments in the min Chalet and 28 in the Chalet proper. Some are already occupied and those people can stay. 19 rooms are unoccupied.

    Pete Paggi – WWHT – as people who have seen the property, it isn’t changing much on the outside. Much of the construction is life safety and code.. a new sprinkler, a fire system, fixing electrical issues, and fixing worn finishes. It is 60 years old. Some upgrades needed to floors and carpeting. WE’ve had 2.5 months to do this. On schedule with GPI construction. It should look pretty similar, and we’ve been working with the historic preservation folks since it is over 50 years old.

    Josh – this is for chronically homeless individuals. We did well, but now where do folks go. There are not a lot of vacancies. We have 180 people in hotels in Brattleboro. It is challenging to move people bak into housing. Bringing new units online quickly – bullet train speed – this isn’t a process built for speed, but we’re doing it. We have experience working together. Permanent supportive housing… people coming in sign leases. There is a subsidy to support people making rent based on income, and services on site. Groundworks will provide primary services. 9am to 11 pm. We’re getting people lined up and applying. Transportation – it is right there on the bus line. Not great places to buy food out there, so we’ll have a van and a satellite food shelf. Loaves and Fishes will supply some meals. We are actively hiring so check our website.

    Tim – very exciting and lightening speed.

    Brandie – a plug for Groundworks being a fantastic employer. The clients are some of the most interesting and beautiful people you’ll meet. A friend lives in Northampton. They didn’t open their hotels like we did. The unhoused population is still sleeping on the sidewalk. This is very progressive to do this here. Clients are excited about the Chalet project. There is joy there. Thanks for all of that work. It’s a lovely property, quiet and nestled in on the hill. Good quality space for people to live. Go work at Groundworks!

    Elizabeth – it will have a big impact on people living there. This process has been incredible. To align all the variables – strategy, fundings, people.. it’s breathtaking. It’s rather important in a stressful time. It’s a shining beacon for VT.

    Ian – I appreciate the presentation. It is part of the answer to what happens to those who were in hotels. It is a bit of an answer. Are the 180 people in town all chronic homeless or depends on situation? How is it chosen who will be in the 19 units at the chalet? Are the services offered different here? And that is it.

    Josh – the 180 – chronic is a descriptive for length of time. Not everyone would be considered chronic. We do have a prioritization plan. Coordinated entry – we match housing needs to the most appropriate solutions. This is meant for chronically homeless who need significant support. That will help decide. Physical health issues, mental health issues… which ties into services. We have different programs with different services. The core is relationships. It will drive things throughout the entire organization.

    Elizabeth – one reason we like the property is the possibilities – a lot of room post COVID to use the property that can engage the broader community. People have been reaching out about community meals, programs with kids… cool conversations have started.

    Liz – thanks. Couple questions. It’s primarily single individuals? What is the outreach to the neighborhood?

    Josh – mostly individuals. There is the one farmhouse for a family. Outreach has been modest – we sent out letters and press releases. We want to create community with South Street area.

    Elizabeth – we did some personal outreach and sending letters. We’ll host a community forum, and are working on a video for a virtual tour.

    Tim – thanks…no hand sup… oh wait.. Gary. Gary, you aren’t doing this to me. This is a great group and thanks to all three of you. gary, send us into the break.

    Gary – Josh, I love what you did to the place. It is fabulous. If you have a committee, give me a call. I’m more than happy to help. Foodworks were out there even when things were shut down. They did a fabulous job getting food to people. Thank you Josh. It’s fabulous.

    Tim – thanks all around. A break.. until 8:15

  • Community Marketing Initiative – Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce Update and Request for FY22 Funding

    (break discussion of sleeping babies and sign language….)

    (waiting for Brandie)

    Tim – Kate and Stephanie will join us.

    Kate O’Connor – I don’t go out any more. The Chamber is a bizarre place to be. We want them to come but tell them not to. I’ll start. Thanks for letting us talk. One quick comment about Love Brattleboro – it was wonderful to hear that sales tax revenues are up, but that is also online sales and isn’t reflective of a good local economy. RTM allocated $43k for the second year of our marketing initiative. You have to give us the OK to go ahead. The plan for the next year… to continue what we are doing with Love Brattleboro hashtag, to get people to come to Brattleboro and spend money here. We’ll highlight what is special here. That will not change. We’ll hire a marketing professional and put an RFP out in January. We want to know who to target and how to target them to come here. We want to be strategic about when we do it. Safety is a number one concern. The timing of the campaign will depend on who can come here and when they can come here. Last year we had a steering committee of 7 people. We meet regularly, and drafting the RFP. And we came up with this plan. We want to keep doing what we are doing. Questions? Hope you will support it.

    Brandie – you want to bring folks to Bratt, and I understand that. While COVID is rearing its head, how are you talking to local folks? What are you messaging toward local folks.

    Kate – if you read the paper, in that story, we need to remind people to shop local, eat local, take out local. We push that message, and the safety messages.

    Stephanie Bonin – that’s what we are doing specifically – outreach to people outside to be introduced… that is on hold. We welcomed Vermonters in the last phase, but don’t want to do that now because of gatherings.

    Kate – the love brattleboro logo will be seen around town. Remember to love ourselves.

    Brandie – as we go into holidays, maybe really highlight that businesses turn on a dime to offer curbside and such. It didn’t use to happen.

    Daniel – it is my least favorite thing – a statement. The funding for this comes from our local option taxes of the rooms and meals. It’s 10% of 1%. That went down. This is something funded through local option tax revenue then decided upon by Town Meeting. This is a pitch to the whole community, and they can reach out to you.

    Elwell – I discovered that we only put half of the info in the report. We have you approving in as 10% of last year’s receipts. Because RTM conditions the action upon the board to find the plan acceptable, the board needs to release the funding for this year’s plan.

    Liz – let’s review our history. We agreed two years ago that marketing was a specialized skill and you needed that, and the board wanted to review the consultant. I want to reiterate that goal. You haven’t written the RFP and don’t have a concrete plan. I’d like to wait, and remember you said you needed a sustained commitment, but you no longer want to keep the website, or have targeted curated social media, so you want to dilute last year’s plan for a more modest plan and the DBA’s own website. We wanted metrics for success, and when you presented them it was hits on the website, so I don’t see it all coming together in the successful manner it did last year and I wouldn’t feel comfortable releasing the funds unless the program continues.

    Stephanie – the marketing professional we hired chose to not continue with the program, and we wanted to continue the website, but we didn’t want to create an entity of itself. It needs to straddle town funding and tow different entities. We didn’t want to create another entity. We wanted it as light as possible. The website will remain because we need to drive people there to report the data. We don’t want to create a site that takes 2 hours a week to make sure it is live. We want it as minimal as possible. In terms of social media, one thing we settled on is a hashtag campaign. Our concern was building followers takes time and energy. DBA and the Chamber already have them, so we wanted to build on what we already had, and get our reach even further. We need a professional to continue to do an effective campaign.

    Liz – there are points we disagree on. The consultant told us the only reason they declined was the website and social media plan was so altered it won’t function as successfully as in the past. And the time and effort to do it? That’s the job. That’s what you pay them to do.

    Steph – this isn’t the forum to justify whether their feelings were.. that is how they felt. I don’t agree with that. Their job was focused on getting people to the website, not creating an entity website.

    Kate – I agree with Stephanie. It came down to a disagreement of what we thought we should spend money on. We wanted biggest bang for the buck. Having staff people maintain a website wasn’t the best bang for the buck. We want to get the message out. Different marketing professionals tell you different things. We think pushing the message is important.

    Brandie – to have a website when you want to build a conversation is superfluous. It’s a thing you have to carry. I work on social media. I’m on it 12 hours a day. I always see you. You made the right choice. And they did, too. A website can be redundant. You can use one site to update social media and cut out the website.

    Liz – look at all three websites.

    Stephanie – the website is staying. It’s just we’re making it so it stays longer without updates. The content will be more stagnant. We’ll drive people to other places that have more going on (editor note… like iBrattleboro?)

    Ian – so if I understand. If your team says that people who like certain facebook pages are great targeting, so you hit that marketing spot and Love Brattleboro comes up… they link to the landing page and it goes to the i heart Brattleboro page, and from that there will be links that send them to all sorts of pages that are more dynamic (editor note: like iBrattleboro?). Like a one stop shop?

    Kate – yes.

    Daniel – I’ve administered websites. If we send them to one site, and then to another, why not send it to the one place that has all the stuff?

    Stephanie – that’s what’s so challenging. Everyone has a different though and answer and we tried one way. The job is to not lose all those people. The page is out of date right now. (editor note: unlike iBrattleboro) I show a point of the complexities of having another entity to create content for. This RFP will ask how we solve this and use the money to get people to land in Brattleboro.

    Liz – that’s also our quandary. I’d fell better releasing funds when you can answer that question when you put out the RFP. Put it out without the funds, like last time.

    Tim – I think they did amazing work with the formation of this campaign as consultants… the branding and feeling was excellent. I can see both perspectives. I’m not sure you made the right decision, but am uncomfortable getting into micromanaging your jobs. I’m torn about it. I don’t think Liz’s request is unreasonable, but how would it affect the timeline.

    Liz – they put out the RFP last time, then we released the funds. I ask for the same thing this year.

    Daniel – funds go out quick when approved.

    Emily Megas-Russell – Another part of this, from RTM earlier this year, part of the campaign was to target LGBTQ folks and to use a graphic. You have lots of graphics, and one is a rainbow flag with different skin tones – the QTBIPOC flag. WE’re allocating some funding to support this initiative to bring tourists – do we want people to come to town – to bring them as tourists. We have many QTBIPOC folks who live and work here, so that we are exploitive of people to market to get people to come here for tourism, or AirBnB that complicates our housing market. We need to talk about this, and need to represent that safety and relationships create a vibrant community. We risk being exploitative by using the flag. The call is for us to make the link and what it means to live and work here. It’s all connected.

    Tim – sounds as if Liz would like and RFP

    Liz – the consultants that they want to hire to respond to the RFP, like last year.

    Ian – is there a reason why you want to do it differently this year? Providing a particular benefit? Did doing it the way we did last year make it more difficult?

    Kate – doing?

    Ian – last year you did the RFP and came to the board, and now you are coming before… any reason?

    Kate – no, what we… we aren’t changing the fundamentals of the campaign. The RFP is who to target and how to target them. Last time we started from scratch. We picked the Love Brattleboro proposal last time. Not a new campaign, just helping us target. We want more money to spend more on advertising.

    Stephanie – one thing is the respecting people’s time. The consultant wasn’t certain they’d get the money when applying.

    Brandie – last time you created an entirely new program, and now it is an administrative position?

    Kate – not really, just who to target and how to do it. No design of graphics needed.

    Stephanie – adding that they will build off a foundation. There will be updated graphics and such.

    Brandie – even though I wanted to do it that way last year, and no need to micromanage this year. We know what will happen, and we got some feedback.

    Liz – we’ll be busy, but I feel people respond to RFPs all the time, and with municipal and non profit work release of funds is common. Let’s keep with the process.

    Ian – Peter, we are enacting what RTM has already done. They already gave the board instruction…

    Elwell – there was an item on the warning whereby RTM appropriated money to fund the initiative on the condition the release of funds would be approved by selectboard. Human Services funding checks are cut after the meeting. RTM conditioned this appropriation of the board releasing the funds.

    Ian – and they did not specify when or anything?

    Elwell – it was clear the first year, check the minutes.

    Liz – it was the McLoughlin amendment. It was quite an ask to be bold and ask for 10% of Rooms & Meals, and we wanted to know what we were getting as a municipal marketing initiative. I ask for the same thing this year.

    Tim – yes, it was pivitol in getting it passed. That’s how I remember that Town Meeting. We didn’t hear it was a showstopper to not get funds right away, so maybe we defer to Liz.

    Elwell – you will have to vote if you release funds, if you wait you need consensus. I called up the minutes and the motions says that the town give the money for promotion of Brattleboro to be disbursed upon receipt of a satisfactory plan,

    Tim – so it is up to us what is satisfactory.

    Liz – I want to wait.

    Steph – Kate and I just talked and we’re fine with waiting.

    Ian – ok that’s fine. I think it is important to reflect. The board has power here and we need to enact what RTM wanted. I’m confortable waiting, but it is not clear and we could vote to allocate those funds now and it would enact the will of RTM, but I see the points of Liz.

    Brandie – is not that clear…

    Elwell – you’d need to decide if this goes on the warning. The motion is vague enough, without an exact amount of money. You can wait for this to be more precise. Either way you’ll see this again in a draft form, and you want tighter language.

    Daniel – it is going to go on the warning.

    Gary – after listening, I want to see that McLoughlin report. As a Town Mtg Rep… you went through several candidates… creative differences? I was a marketing director in NY. Were they not sticking to the script? The interviews with other consultants…

    Stephanie – when we did interviews, we did multiple rounds. We didn’t go through people, we had many to choose from.

    Gary – any creative differences? You have a platform set up, did they have some new idea?

    Tim – this might be micromanaging

    Kate – not sure what you are referring to.

    Steph – the people we hired, I don’t want to talk about that portion of it. Maybe we could talk online about our process?

    Gary – so you weren’t comfortable?

    Dick DeGray – Listening, I was a part of this at the beginning. a part of the local option taxes could be used to market the town to help businesses impacted by the new local option taxes. As this has progressed, if we can’t trust the leader of these organizations, then we need to push away from the table, or have the town take over the responsibility. It is money well spent to market the town. Rents are too high, but of we bring in tax revenue that helps with spending. This is overreach by the board. You want them to do the RFP – is it your final say after they initiate the process?

    Liz – we decided to wait.

    Tim – we do put our faith in these two organizations, and have to strike a balance. We have to make sure funds are spent responsibility. I fought for this originally. We need to strike a balance.

    Dick – my question wasn’t answered..

    Tim – well, I avoided it.

    Dick – if they hire someone, does the board approve who they hire?

    Tim – not how it happened last time.

    Brandie – I’d never do that.

    Daniel -I’m ambivalent about micromanaging this as well. I want to do what RTM told us to do. We’ll put it on the warning dn there will be a discussion, but we have to deal with he second year of funding. Last year’s campaign got good feedback.

    Ian – how did it happen last year? A rubber-stamping?

    Liz – this was their first year. There is a slight wrinkle.. they will pick a consultant and we’ll release funds, then they will hire them. It was similar last year.

    Tim – very unlikely we’d tell them to go find someone else.

    Ian – what’s the difference about giving them the funds now?

    Liz – selectboard privilege of reviewing the bid, given to us by RTM.

    Dick – three were in favor of giving the money but one wants to hold things up. It’s a microcosm of what’s going on in DC. It looks like there is real micromanaging of what’s going on here.

    Ian – Kate and Steph said they didn’t mind.

    Steph – you could review the consultant…

    Liz – last time you used your own judgement

    Ian – I’ll ask for a vote. Sorry Liz. Going back to the language of RTM, this is in the language of the RTM. Then we move forward. Otherwise we can decline the people, and I don’t think RTM is giving us that power.

    Elwell – since this is hinging ion that language from RTM. It really is for y’all to decide what level of review is necessary for you to approve the release of funds based on an acceptable plan. You’ve heard a plan. It might be acceptable to you. Be careful about saying waiting wouldn’t follow RTM’s language. It’s general enough that you could wait or decide tonight. Your judgment.

    Ian – you won’t decline to give money if they hire someone?

    Liz – I trust them. Last time it was new and they didn’t know how it would come about. We’ll all be better judges and they seem to know what they want.

    Tim – isn’t waiting more satisfying of the RTM language?

    Daniel – what is good for the people of Brattleboro? Wait, or trust them and go ahead?

    Liz – we aren’t putting the brakes on anything.

    Daniel – funds could be released this week.

    Liz – the plan is vague.

    Brandie – our job is oversight, not procedures and policies. It’s 9:30 let’s vote. I’ll call the vote if you don’t.

    Elwell – your are talking about whether you are ready to act or not. You could do either and they’d be right. You need three people to settle the conversation.

    Tim – if someone votes against the motion, it’s not a vote against the organization or mission.

    Brandie: Motion to disperse the funds, $43k, for promotion of Brattleboro.

    3-2. Liz and Tim against.

    Board places the request for future funds on agenda for RTM.

  • Downtown Brattleboro Alliance (DBA) – Update and Request for FY22 Funding

    (It’s 9:33. We’re starting item C on the agenda.)

    Tim – thanks and bye…

    Elwell – how about a change in this agenda and next week’s? I’d like to give the warning that we don’t do the budget this week. We can do it next week when we look at other budgets and the website proposal project.

    Tim – are you having side conversations?

    Elwell – just with staff. It will be 6 budget items. Relatively short.

    Tim – we were going to do the budget at 9 pm… okay we’ll move items to next week.

    Stephanie – I’m here to give a 6 month update and to ask to look at the budget that was passed by my board and my membership. DBA is a downtown organization in charge of the vitality of downtown, paid for by special assessment tax and other funding sources. July-June fiscal year. This year has been quite amazing. Number one project was to be in contact with the community. Repetitively on many platforms – phones, in person, private facebook pages, email… our goal was to ensure there was no release that missed our community. Five projects: email newsletters increased to once a month, Everyone Eats, the downtown flower program of Dick Degray, and we adopted Gallery Walk which now streams, the Brattleship program I hope you’ve all played, and the Great Art Elevator in the parking garage. Those are the highlights. Next year’s budget?

    Brandie – no question, but Everyone Eats – the thanksgiving meals volunteers were super great.

    Liz – commend you all on Brattleboro Eats. It shows the innovation.

    Daniel – it isn’t just Brattleboro – surrounding towns, too.

    Peter May – the DBA, I’m president. It’s a remarkable time. We had to watch revenue. Steph has kept us informed. The appropriation from the town is essential and helps us innovate, it means we have to raise funds and write grants. COVID showed us some new partners. Is it our mission to feed Brattleboro? This is extraordinary times and we need to step up. Thanks for the support you’ve given us. The board is very active and supportive of Stephanie.

    Tim – the $80k is DID assessment. An extra fee paid by downtown property owners. It’s such a weird year. In other years I might be more inclined to look at line items and ask about direction and how you are spending things. It’s all hands on deck, and fairly comfortable position that we’re doing pretty well on our revenues.

    Liz – I get the sense that your budget is a best guess because the times are so uncertain and we’ll all be back in short order, but the whole DBA requires you to be so flexible.

    Stephanie – the current year is completely different. The new budget… we start with a foundation of the special assessment tax, then philanthropy for other programs. It is so important that we have this assessment to give us the stability and strength. FY22 budget was passed many months ago. The Love Crawl won’t happen. But this was passed so this is the trajectory I’m going on.

    Tim – I’m bullish but the Love Crawl is pushing it.

    Steph – Everyone eats is at zero, but that might change.

    Tim – the flowers lifted everyone’s spirits, and they are largely donations.

    Steph – this year… we asked the community for support and got donations. We kept flowers going this summer.

    Daniel – flowers are largely handled by Dick… is there succession planning? An assistant?

    Steph – it is a very constant conversation and he does everything with the flowers. I pay bills. He was successful with the Work Today program and with different people he employs. We’re giving him more labor in the budget. He’ll resist any talk of succession, but we try to figure it out.

    Daniel – careful with that ladder…

    Tim – one last question – gif you have trouble with volunteers, could Work Today help?

    Steph – we hired one full time person, and the rest is volunteers.

    Tim – great, board we have a hand up…. Gary.

    Gary – thanks Stephanie about Everyone eats. Food was fabulous. I volunteered. I’ll be down to volunteer again.

    Tim – thanks again.

    Board approves putting request on RTM.

    Break until… 10:10

  • Potential Representative Town Meeting Articles

    D. Potential Representative Town Meeting Articles – Requests for Property Tax Exemptions (i) Brattleboro Post #5, American Legion, Inc. (Little League Field) (ii) Camp Waubanong, Inc. (iii) Garden Path Elder Living (for Holton Home) (iv) Garden Path Elder Living (for Bradley House) (v) The Family Garden, Inc.

    (waiting for Brandie)

    Elwell – there are a lot of tax exempt properties in Brattleboro. We have regional institutions eligible for tax exempt status. Many qualify. 20% of grand list is tax exempt property. Pretty significant compared to non-hub towns. Tonight is special consideration through RTM process for certain properties requested tax exemption from RTM. They’ve gotten it in the past, in 5 year intervals. There are five. Rescue Inc was the 6th, but not applying this year or goin forward. One other thing that has changed is that some of them were granted full relief from school and property taxes. Taxpayers pay the difference on the school side. Five years ago we suggested tax exemption but only for municipal portion. Going forward, property tax relief. We are asking you to put this question on the warning for RTM. You won’t decide, just to place it before RTM.

    Liz – is the distinction between school and municipal taxes unique to these, or is that a trend.

    Elwell – within the 20%, I’m not sure. It is determined by state statute. These are the only five properties that get breaks by local action. The farm tax stabilization also does some relief depending on use of property, too. These properties aren’t due relief but do good work and RTM gives it to them.

    Tim – let’s pass this along.

    Thayer Tomlinson – thanks for letting me speak. I represent the Family Garden board. I’ve come before and appreciate your support. We used to get both portion of taxes. We’ve done more fundraising to cover the school taxes, but would appreciate the municipal tax break.

    Thomas Costello – as one acquainted with public service, we are grateful for what each of you are doing tonight and so often, so thoughtfully and carefully. each of you are elected officials serving us so well. Very very grateful.

    Tim – coming from you it is an honor to hear. Love your camera view.

    Thomas – as I listened for many hours tonight – the sincerity, kindness, to each other and the listeners. I recall Tim O’Connor and I serving. We had the finest public servants in the state. Same true today.

    Brandie – I’m going to cry.

    Tim – know that guy Ian?

    Ian – yes.

    Sean Ashcroft – I’m here for Camp Waubanong – It makes a huge difference for us. It helps us keep things accessible to the local families.

    Tim – we’re getting a little disruption, when I don’t recognize the name…

    Lee Madden – formerly of Holton Home board. My letter summarizes our problems and issues. We are much a part of the town and appreciate what the town has done for us. We’ll present our case to RTM.

    Tim – thanks for your efforts.

    Brandie – a lovely home it is.

    Tim – great to connect to faces that aren’t you people.

    Elwell – I’ll frame the five motions and you say so moved. Add the following articles to the warning for RTM for March 2021, to approve municipal tax exemption for the five organizations (listed above)

    Liz – So moved.

    Approved, all of them.

  • Amtrak Station Project

    Tim – we get to end on a fun hopeful exciting project.

    Elwell- Patrick will give you the details. You’ve seen the recent announcement of Amtrak’s intentions to build a new, fully accessible passenger rail station for us. It’s been a long time in the making.

    Patrick Moreland – I’ll outline a number of things. Let me know if I should wrap it up. What staff is seeking authorization to move forward with parking replacement in the Depot St lot in support of the station to be built in 2022. I’ll set that aside for a moment. How did we get here? Amtrak sent out a press release about the new station feasibility study. What they mean is they are fully along with planning and they’ve submitted things to the planning department. We’re well beyond feasibility. How do we move forward? W began discussing this years ago. They were under an order to make all station ADA accessible, and Brattleboro was not. The current station is the basement of the museum, and Brattleboro owned it and we had obligations to make it accessible. How do we make it compliant? The Town started with revision of the existing station, and got funds form RTM to make those changes along with Amtrak. $250k was set aside but nothing happened right away. The western side of the tracks, where people board, is a development nightmare. There are 16 overlapping easements between the rails and the building. It is immensely challenging. In the space where people board, some can drive cars through there. Ownership challenges for that space. Because some can drive there, you couldn’t have a raised level boarding platform. There are interstate electric transmission lines, and a giant pole in front of the station, making it impossible to be ADA accessible. We thought we could bury that power. Amtrak tried to work it out with GMP, but it would cost over a million dollars, and nothing to show for it… : ) So, because of all these things, they looked on the other side. There are two parallel tracks, running side by side, as they do. It’s getting late. To make use of a station on the eastern side, they’d need the legal permission of the railroad owner to allow them access, and make switching improvements to move the train over. Railoroads own what they own and don’t want to give it up, but they worked cooperatively from the get go. Everything was going well until the host RR was sold. Thankfully everything got going again quickly and the new ownership was just as eager to work with Amtrak. We got back on track.

    Elwell – so to speak.

    Moreland – this is appropriate for puns. Here’s a top down view. The station will go in the middle of the depot st parking lot. It will be Vermonts first 350 foot level ADA platform, allowing multiple cars to board simultaneously. Pretty exciting. I have renderings. (The station is about 5 cars spaces down from the bus shelter. The station takes 5-6 spaces away. Long modern platform by the tracks. ) Nice signage, a security fence.

    Elwell – this makes it fully accessible. The other side of tracks couldn’t do this.

    Tim – 4 feet above track level.

    Patrick – it is a beautiful dream come true of a new station. The inside is modest, but practical. Waiting area, restroom, conductor space. One nice development is that we have been advocating for a snow melt system, rather than shoveling. Amtrak and the FRA and some other elected official, we’ll have a heated platform with automatic snow melting, and good for ADA again. It’s a great station. Any questions?

    Liz – this is fabulous. I worked for Amtrak. This is such an event for them and so good they are doing this for Brattleboro.

    Daniel – question – they usually open one door. Will all doors open?

    Patrick – standard operating procedure…

    Daniel – why have a long platform if they only will use a part of it.

    Patrick – I expect the doors to open over the distance of the platform.

    Liz – I would imagine that it depends on how crowded it is and where people are going and what staff they have.

    Daniel – it will be robots soon.

    Liz – you can go all the way to Richmond VA.

    Ian – question: the accessibility hits me close to home. My grandmother would take Amtrak up and would have to be lifted down. It’s cool this will be the first accessible platform. You have to cross the tracks to get into Brattleboro. Anything about that in the plan?

    Patrick – the project limits are within the depot st parking lot. There are a lot of opportunities for additional development along RT 119 to Hinsdale, with the new and existing bridges. Maybe wider sidewalks when the roads close? When the new bridge is in place, it won’t have the same traffic down there and can better support pedestrians.

    Ian – the platform is great things, so something to think about.

    Patrick – some details remain unresolved…

    Tim – one bathroom in the station? Would they consider 2?

    Patrick – the nice thing about one is it can be gender neutral…

    Tim – you could have 2.

    Daniel – maybe more than one person could use it at a time?

    Elwell – same as what currently exists. They probably realize it will only be occupied for a short period of time each day, and it will be empty most of the time. Amtrak does this on a large scale, so they have a good feel for where they need more facilities.

    Tim – the parking spots one. I thought we’d net 25 spaces…

    Patrick – I draw your attention to the suggestion of some parking alternatives. One suggestion was over the brownfield, and we don’t like that. It’s the most contaminated area. Some mundane issues – one nice thing about this is that the cost is born by Amtrak, funded by Amtrak. $4.5 million. The Town will take ownership for the long haul. There will need to be an agreement between parties, currently being drafted. They’ll build it, we’ll own and maintain it, and the Town will finally have an organized lease for the station. We’ve had a station in the museum for years without a lease. In 2017, we agreed we’d have a lease agreement. It won’t be a cash cow, mostly set to cover operations and maintenance. The other nice thing from Amtrak;s point of view is they past the costs to Vtrans. We’ll have a great station and legal agreements. This will be the first level boarding platform. No money wasted min utility moving. We do lose parking – 10 spaces, and we need parking down there. The alternative most desirable, option D, is to replace the 10 spaces and add 25 more. We’ve done engineering to see if fire trucks can turn around. It can be permitted. It would be an expansion of Depot St parking lot.

    Elwell – in the lower left, that’s the new station, to feel the scale of the expanded parking area.

    Patrick – some things to consider. This would eliminate the roundabout, to be used more efficiently, ….you’ll also notice what were effectively proposing is to remove the archery building. This is a firmly good size proposal, and important timing requirements. We think there is a real problem if the station will be built in 2022, and if we didn’t do the parking yet… the staging will occupy the entire parking lot for 2022. So we need to get parking done first in 2021, then this can be the depot street while the rest is consumed by the construction project.

    Liz – brilliant

    Tim – we’ll just ask them to not fill it up with their stuff…

    Patrick – estimated cost is about $365k which is a lot for a parking lot but there are some development challenges here. Building right adjacent to a river, while keeping the roads open, and we need to be careful with the engineering to avoid the brownfield’s worst areas. Bob Fisher says the previous set aside funds can and should be used for this. It still addresses the sea project concept of an ADA accessible station. Just a little differently. I’d argue it is higher quality, too. That leaves us $115k – use the capital fund as a backstop, to rely on them so we can move forward and there is a grant program for downtown transportation, designed for this – new development that facilitates transportation in designated downtowns. We think we can get $100k from this, the vast majority. We’re seeking the boards support for this concept. This project will probably be coming back again and again as we apply for and get grant funds. This will go through the DRB and will be received by state office of historic preservation. There is some concern of the lost of the archery building, but it is old and dilapidated. We seek your blessing to proceed aggressively, to build this in Sept or Oct of 2021. Maybe a six week project. We can get grant funds ahead of this.

    Daniel – Curious how this improves bicycle parking for Amtrak.

    Patrick – it is included in the plan.

    Elwell – there is a basic amount of parking that comes with a standard station. They provide bike parking, too. There is some interest from BCAT to work on nice bike parking with covering and charging stations. We think they are great ideas. They’ll have to be funded by the town. We want to make mental space and have planning for these things to be added later when we get funds.

    Ian – on that note, any discussion of adding EV stations for cars?

    Elwell – yes.

    Patrick – I’d like to capitalize on what Peter just said. Amtrak said we can install whatever extras we want. They’ll run the conduit and so on.

    Tim – so, this is fun. We should have done it earlier and it is past 11 and it isn’t fair to the ASL folks. I have on slightly granular thing. Demolishing the building for $4k… I have a friend with backhoe.

    Patrick – they are cost estimates, not bids. We’ll try to bring this in under budget but want to be prepared.

    Elwell – the site means it will need to be done carefully.

    Liz – it is a brownfield

    ian – one other question. thanks for the presentation. On the DRB, I wasn’t on it when the town came before it. Is it different when the town is the petitioner?

    Elwell – we own the property owners and we go before the board. The independence of the DRB means we have standing there but not special standing. This project will go through a normal DRB review.

    Ian – wow. That will be a good meeting.

    Tim – we have a motion?

    Station move ahead and building demotion-parking lot approved!

    Meeting adjourned at 11: 14pm.

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