The Brattleboro Selectboard heard the sad tale of the Parking Fund and its many losses over the previous, current, and probably future year at Tuesday’s meeting. Estimates for the coming year are just guesses. One of the hardest financial discussions ever, the Town Manager told the board.
Everything else, however, went smoothly. The Utilities Fund is pretty much as it was before. New paving projects have been approved. Winston-Prouty got a liquor license (for a single event for grown ups, ahem…), and more. No public participation, either. “A return to normal,” your reporter snarks snarkily.
members are sporting virtual backgrounds to pretend they are at the municipal center.
Pre zoom meeting banter about the library, the children’s room, unreliable internet, the physical notebook, looking at screens too much, late adopters, virtual backgrounds, Star Wars, 420, ….
Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin – COVID still exists in Windham County, about 5-6 people a day, or 30 people a week, and it is a race to get vaccinated, so I hope people will. We got a notice from Sue Graff from VCIL – there is a RISE fund to help people with disabilities during COVID. The RISE money is available to help pay bills, get computers… a variety of things. No income requirements or co-pays. firstname.lastname@example.org
Town Manager Elwell – no comments
Jessica Gelter – Gallery Walk is happening on Friday and I’m super excited about it to see it back – art, music, and businesses participating and a shout out… (hard to hear)
Daniel Quipp – Gallery Walk 2.0. the VCIL program… there was a program for housing last fall for people who are behind on mortgages or property taxes. The mortgage assistance program. MAP. Just re-launched yesterday. Windham and Windsor Housing Trust can help you apply.
Tim Wessel – I have thought to share and I wrote them down. I wanted to say – it isn’t arguing against Liz’s message, but I want to say some words about our local reaction. It’s been excellent locally. VT did well, and now we’re in a phase with a continuing threat but also gains. Cases are dropping today thanks to science and vaccines. We must embrace our return to normalcy as quickly as we locked down. The isolation is difficult to many, and it contributes to mental health problems. Kids need to get back into the community. I think a reluctancy to embrace a return to normalcy will lead to vaccine hesitancy. Many people I know who are hesitant or cautious – to see no change in behavior of those who have been vaccinated they think what’s the point. Sungal a return to normal while following guidance. It’s our way out of this pandemic. Vaccinated folks take off that mask when walking downtown. Have it ready if you go into a store or an extended conversation, but seeing the joy outside will encourage vaccines. If our cases rise again I’ll advocate for stricter measures. I’ll gently nudge the board into having a further conversation in coming weeks.
Ian Goodnow – Board of Abatement and Board of Civil Authority met. Upcoming school election on May 11.
Liz – alright, let’s let the public participate. I don’t see any hands, sooo…
Liz – The Winston Prouty Center for Child and Family Development – “Par for the Cause” Festival …
Elwell – This is an annual event they hold as a fundraiser. They have an evening for adults and the next day for families. They get festival permits for the evening part. It has been reviewed and meets requirements. I did expect someone her to speak to it. You can approve it.
Willie Gussin – Chloe’s name is…
Whitney Lisa – Apologies. Thanks for letting me talk. Thanks for introduction. We’ve done it for a while. Most of you are aware that a big bill passed the legislature. It’s exciting and heartening. Unanimous. The big investment in early childhood matches the federal response. It’s really heartening to be able to invest in early child and families and programs. Municipalities are getting money too. It’s not just chilcare – it’s other services – prenatal thru age 5. Housing, and more broadly. The administration has a bill to dismantle all of this and didn’t go anywhere but I worry about it. We have more work to do. We’re just a small piece of it all. Hope you can come play mini golf. Happy to take questions.
Tim – I’ve been to this event and it is a good one. The golf will be outside?
Chloe – yes, and it is disc golf. Mini-disc golf. 9 holes. We made an outdoor course. We’re doing it again and the theme is children’s storybooks. You get to throw discs at books. Really fun.
Ian – do you need to register for the event?
Chloe – you can or just show up.
Daniel – last week I referred someone to Winston Prouty. When I learned more about the work you do I was really impressed. If families need support they should contact WP.
Chloe – we support over 600 families. If we can’t help, we’ll figure out who can. A warm handoff.
Liz – as a childcare mom for 8 years I couldn’t be more supportive.
Water & Sewer Commissioners
Liz – The “Proposed FY22 Utilities Fund Budget – Presentation and Initial Discussion”
Elwell – We have 2 enterprise fund budgets tonight. In contrast to that conversation, what we have tonight is a pretty normal year for Utilities. We have the recent approval of the Water Treatment facilities project. That’s the big news. It’ll last for generations.
Dan Tyler – not a lot of excitement in the budget. The revenue section – you notice everything is pretty level. Some changes in water and sewer rent, reflecting the changes in rates. The other standout in revenue is the sewage disposal revenue – the septic hauled in. There has been an increase from regional haulers and Commonwealth Dairy. In Expenses – Pleasant Valley water treatment has increases in fuel expenses, and electric. In anticipation of the upgrade project. We’ll be on the backup generator for a while, and some times when heating costs might go up to open walls… last time we’ll see the sludge removal cost. Once we have the plant upgrade it will be run to the collection system. maintenance and supplies are pretty much level-funded. The Retreat Well expenses – increase due to the bigger project coming and reliance on Retreat Wells more than usual during the upgrade. istribution and Storage – at DPW, doing service work on underground pipes is pretty much ordinary. An increase in pipe replacement and repairs outside the capital plan. Our capital plan is focused on projects now and this is a bit of a catch-all. Wastewater Treatment Plant – pretty standard – slight increase in fuel costs. Electric is increased. Pump station electric decrease – they were separated from this plant and our estimates may have been off and this gets us back on line. Odor control has been lower- the odor seems to be under control. Sludge removal has increased – prices have gone up. Small increase in safety equipment and maintenance – muffin monster grinders – everything is expensive down there. Pump Stations – the big difference here is electric, which we lowered. The next category is pretty standard – small increase in contract maintenance for TV inspection of sewer mains to find problems, and check before paving. Administration – this gets salaries and trainings and office equipment. Not a lot of changes there. Equipment maintenance is level funded. That’s about it for the budget. Questions?
Ian – thanks. The sludge removal… is there anything in here that has prices going up due to the pandemic?
Dan – no – it’s getting harder for them to find places to get rid of it.
Ian – I heard some stories about supply chain impacts unanticipated, due to COVID…
Dan – this increase is in line with what we’ve been seeing.
Tim – water rents are up, would you tag that as people being home more?
Dan – that’s the rate you set during the ordinance.
Tim – where would we see usage in revenue?
Dan – the amount isn’t shown
Steve Barrett – we’re pretty stable – we haven’t seen a large increase.
Liz – maybe people were washing hands regularly before…
Elwell – home use may be up but other place usage might be down
Liz – so you’d say it is a wash?
Daniel Q – thanks for the explanation of fuel and electric….
Elwell – these are for preliminary consideration. If we receive direction, we’ll make changes or get you info, then bring this back on May 18th. In this case, if you like what you’ve seen, we’ll prepare it for adoption on May 18.
Liz – we’ll see you at the next meeting….
Whetstone Pathway – Emergency Retaining Wall Project Authorizations
Liz – Steve Barrett…
Steve – I’ll go with the report I sent to the selectboard, so the public will understand as you do. On March 15 the DPW learned a retaining wall collapsed near Co-op – a 30 ft piece. The bridge and path safety were impacted. We contacted Renaud Bros and VT State to develop a plan. Waysville Engineer and Read came up with a plan and it was approved by the state to place barricades. The bridge was removed. Barricades were placed in the brook to stabilize – just to do this cost $10565 to Renaud and $3,420 to Waysville. They then came up with a plan to re-do it. They did soil boring tests to see if steel H beams with prefab concrete panels could be used. The retaining walls were built over time and have different types of walls. To install the H beans it would cost $95k. A conventional repair would cost $180k. We suggest going with the emergency repairs at $95k, able to have it done in a few weeks and protect us from further damage. H beams could fail… then we’d go to the conventional route. For now, go with the $95k emergency stabilization, and approve the plan to do it.
Ian – thanks for that presentation. Could you speak to the lifespan of the H beam vs conventional methods?
Steve – they are panels that slide into the beans. I don’t have the lifespan or the comparison. I can get it for you. This method is used in many places – there is a GMP power station at Cotton Mill Hill with this approach. A relatively long lifespan, I think.
Ian – would the conventional method have a longer lifespan?
Steve – don’t know
Jess – you don’t need revised stream permits?
Steve – our local planning dept says our design shows the I beams going into the bridge, and that’s not desirable. The stream engineer is good with our method, but local FEMA regs and our regs come into play. We’ll go flush to the wall and not into the brook. The state said they’d approve it.
Jess – is this new design having an impact on.. (can’t hear)
Steve – we have to do a complete evaluation of that stream if we go the conventional route. If we move the meat in a bit it will be in the condition it was… we would have been narrowing it, so now we will do it in line with the existing wall.
Jess – environmental impact – can you speak to that? Any different between methods?
Steve – the conventional method would get us into the stream more. With this method – the beams are driven in and the panels are slid between them. It seems a bit more environmentally family. It would probably be more risk to work in the stream more, too.
Liz – repair and replacement is usually an action that the Army Corp of Engineers says has less impact. The soil boring readings… those soil boring identified the depth to bedrock, and you are drilling into it?
Dan – the lack of bedrock! It means we can drive it further. The boring were behind the bridge. The soil is deep enough to do it. We’re also looking for large boulders. You never know if there’ll be a big boulder 5 feet over. The borings are pretty reliable.
Steve – the steel will drive through some of the boulders. But some may have to be moved.
Liz – nothing like a geotechnical engineering discussion at the SB.
Tim – the first two motions ratify what’s already been done, and the third is for the repair… that doesn’t include anything cosmetic, right. It’s basic repair and not repair to the overall brickwork?
Elwell – other than the bridge… the purpose is to do the repair and reset the bridge.
Steve – we might be able to afford to do asphalt to the brickwork.
Tim – I saw the picture and went down to take a look… the gaping hole is a concern. Is the timing OK?
Steve – we’re concerned. It’ll be a couple of weeks.
Dan – they want to see the water comes down a bit so the water will be lower to work on it.
Steve – we’re more concerned but we have to do things correctly. Fingers crossed.
Elwell – the date aligns with the acquisition of the steel. This is a durable repair and the faster and cheaper way to go.
Liz – you aren’t going to leave a hole in the walkway?
Steve – it will be backfilled. We’re talking about the surface asphalt – we’ll try. We may need additional funds for the 1 inch of asphalt.
Ian – one other quick question. It’s unclear. The Vermont stream engineer approved the emergency work so far but they’ve also approved the plan going forth?
Steve – dan talked to him today.
Dan – he reviewed the plan, if we keep it in line with the wall we won’t need hydraulic testing. We do have to show him final plans, and have to meet FEMA rules and permits.
Steve – Brian Bannon was helpful today. Good timing.
Liz – glad contractor hopped right on it, too.
Steve – yes. They worked hourly and we kicked in DPW resources.
Tim – text me when the bridge is dangling again. Gold for kids…
2021 Summer Paving Program – Bid Awards
Liz – 2021 Summer Paving Program, some of us like that very much.
Dan Tyler – we advertised two paving projects – very different steets. One mile of Hinesburg Rd – picking up where we left off last year. We want to finish it up. It’s an overlay. We recommend you award the bid to Bazin Brothers Trucking, Inc., of Westminster, Vermont, for resurfacing approximately one mile of Hinesburg Road at a cost of $122,579.20. About $70 ton
Dan – the second project is the neighborhood of for cold planing and paving of Pearl Street, Thomas Street, Pellet Street, Highland Street, Blakeslee Street, Central Street, and White Birch Avenue. The road conditions are terrible. The surface has degraded and is falling apart. D.M.I. Paving, of Brattleboro, at a cost of $129,127.52, was the low bid.
About $100 a ton.
Dan – if we bid them together we’d probably pay $100 a ton for both, so this saves us money.
Daniel Quipp – Central Street – really glad it will get done. Thomas, too. Can you tell us how you choose the roads? Two seasons of paving?
Dan – we like to do a summer project and leave some money for unexpected winters, then if we have any left we can do more in spring. That’s what you see here. Hinesburg. Selecting the roads? We don’t have a list per se, no shortage of roads that need it. We look at road conditions and traffic volume and ultiity project play into it and geography. These streets all come together If one street really needs it we might do other in the area. Also, grants. Class 2 grants have to be used on Class 2 roads. We’re developing a list and trying to preserve pavement more. Hopefully we’ll have a future program.
Daniel – so these roads at this point are the only roads we plan to repair this year?
Dan – not necessarily. We’ll advertise another project and are awaiting a Class 2 grant. That’ll still leave us with a fund for next spring. We wanted to get these out early to take advantage of contractors schedules.
Daniel – we put in extra for paving last year and I hope we’ll be generous in the future. Everyone can name a street to do work on.
Ian – Hinesburg is a mile… how much is the other project?
Dan – not sure but significantly less.
Ian – the prices are similar due to the additional work?
Dan the total price is similar, but project 2 uses less material.
Elwell – when working in town, there’s more cutaways, driveways, manholes to work around… it’s more work per finished foot of finish product.
Liz – paving is a benefit to that neighborhood. It’s a community building thing and shows the town cares about their roads.
Tim – when do you decide to do a nice granite curb vs the horrible concrete ones ….
Steve – the neighborhood was all done with HUD money in the 70’s – they redid everything. It gave the area life. Chestnut St, Esteyville, too. Long term, grant is the real deal. We don’t install too many concrete curbs. They don’t do well with the salt. Granite is done, and can be re-used.
Tim – I annoy my wife while admiring curbs….
Daniel – send me pictures of the curbs.. I’m excited. One final question. Potholes! The scourge of motorists and others. Lots of filling going on. South Main has a hole that I could fall in and not get out of. How do we decide which to fill?
Dan – how bad they are and how busy the road is… hopefully we’ll catch up on them now after late winter rains. The focus is one the worst holes, the busiest roads, then we get out into neighborhoods, and it depends on weather. Not effective to do it in the rain. It looks like we”ll get a Class 2 grant to re-do South Main St to Cotton Mill Hill. Hopefully we can resurface the whole thing.
Elwell – resurfacing Western Ave will be on the next agenda, with state funds.
FY22 Parking Budget
Elwell – the Utility fund was a normal year… as you know the parking fund has been affected very materially. A little bit of context before we do the budget. We have information that speaks to a 3 year period.. the 3 year period is the aberration. Last year was affected by COVID by shutting down for 3 months, then the entire last year got hit. One other things that has become evident is that June 30 turning to July 1 doesn’t save everything. We expect more COVID impact as things ramp up, and continued low rent for spaces we expect in coming year. We’re presenting the budget in the normal format, but the numbers are not for a normal year. Patrick will talk about how we adjusted our expectations. There is a different in the 3 years. One is finished, one we’re in, and estimates of the coming year. We’ll talk about the overall COVID impact when we talk about ARPA funds. We’ll talk about that soon.
Patrick Moreland – there is allot going on that is highly unusual. Reality is the parking budget is a simple document. Page 1 propose revenues of $741k – down 15% from last year. This is lowest it has had since 2007. It’s a considerable reduction in revenue for a variety of reasons. Interest income is down because our funds are down. Bond interest is now retired and done for the Parking Garage. Meters and citations income expects the parking system performance to roughly mimic FY 20 – a few months of disturbance – we hope the spread of vaccine and case counts will get a bit of a return to normal. We expect rental income at Transportation center to go down. The expenses are about even – $880k – some expenses are unavoidable – collective bargaining agreements from years ago. We tried to nickel and dime operating expenses a bit, so we could keep the expenses as low as possible. Where we could set aside $1k for marketing before – now is not the time. We think this is reasonable and we have an expense side budget one half a percent increase.
Patrick – the cash reconciliation page has three columns. A cash reconciliation is for an enterprise fun like this and Utilities. It should pay for itself but it currently isn’t. The method of accounting for enterprise funds is full accrual – what we like to do is to take it and reconcile it back to show the impact on the budget and the available fund balance. There are complicated maneuvers – depreciation is taken out to show the direction of the fund itself. The column on the left is the closed, audited FY20 – a loss of $55.5k. When we do the reconciliation – FY20 had a low balance. ordinarily, the middle column would be the FY21 budget, but we recognize that it is no longer a decent way to judge the performance, so staff has gone line by line and we got into the details of payroll and bills… and we think the parking fund will have a loss of $250k this year – the parking fund, like other downtown businesses, has suffered tremendously during COVID – the beginning balance of $69k gets depleted fast. The extra you approved to do the ceiling at the Transportation Center last year is ongoing and accounted here. End of May or early June. What we can see is that the anticipated loss shows we go red by $122k. The column on the right shows the proposed FY22 budget – shows a deficit of $139k. Expenses and overhead will remain but income will be down. Luckily the bond is gone and we don’t have to pay that $200k each year. That gets us to inch back into the black by the very end of the year. That’s the broader context and the challenge the fund is experiencing. We hope to see it climb out of this situation. With vaccinations and reduced cases of COVID we hope for more downtown activity. This is a 3 year snapshot of COVID losses. Questions?
Liz – First, thanks. It’s a complex matter. You warned us this loss was coming. One more question and a suggestion – why no payments made to the utility fund projected?
Patrick – when the loan was mad, we pushed it out a couple of years to be able to get to point where the bond was retired… that would free up money to repay the utility fund.
Elwell – also – that was the thinking at the time, pre-COVID. We’re actually living off that now – we know we owe it and have to pay it, but currently it is cash and we have $268k to have available cash of $122k. We’re borrowing from ourselves until we recover or we pump funds back in to the parking fund.
Liz – last comment is a suggestion – this presentation will lead to a discussion of COVID recovery funds to make us whole. To me, I’m thinking we in our frugal natures identified the ceiling fixing project… we might want a larger project to get the transportation center in good order – it would serve us better in the long run.
Elwell – some initial info on work needed at the transportation Center – we’ll try to get better cost estimates for later meetings. We want to rehabilitate the steel that is rusting and fix more ceiling.
Liz – can the people doing the ceiling be held until we decide to do more?
Patrick – we first reached out to them in February about getting started in the spring, and they met with us and told us to wait until the concrete warms a bit – beginning of June. We can certainly ask them about doing the whole project, if fund become available.
Liz – subject to fellow board members agreeing and so on… it’s just a suggestion that we might want to wait to do the whole shebang.
Patrick – your inclination is correct to do the whole shebang. We’d recommend it. We’ll talk with the contractor and see if they could do it, and timing.
Elwell – we’ll bring that info in 2 weeks. They’ve already held their price through the winter, so they’ll likely want to do it but maybe at a different price. You’ll get that info so you can decide.
Liz – just think we should revisit this issue.
Tim – helpful, thankful…I think if we should get the info as a “what if” and not so much “we’re leaning that way” … it’s just something to explore.
Elwell – a request for additional info, not change direction…
Jess – coming from the Planning Board – the parking garage is a great asset. It’s an asset that needs improvement. Patrick – I’m curious – cash reconciliation page – curious about a couple of the numbers and how to get there with COVID and a small marketing budget – parking meter revenue seems higher, permit stickers revenues seem to be higher… first those. Also, the reasons for the decrease in income in parking fines.
Patrick – cash reconciliation page? That is comparing actuals to projected actuals. If you are asking about revenue lines in the budget – parking meter revenue is $365k which is close the previous actual $362k.
Jess – how do seasons play into the numbers you came up with regarding COVID – summer and fall is our active time….
Patrick – yeah, we really didn’t look at it by month. There isn’t a great degree of month to month change. There is some. Fall, as it arrives. The system was shut down midway through march to July – a 4 month poor performance. We say, ok, what if we have something almost as bad as that for 4 months, but then beginnings of return to normal – we may exceed it. COVID throws us curveballs. A year ago we thought it might be a few weeks, and now we’re in year 2.
Elwell – the permit fees…
Liz – we need to take a 10 minute break…. til 8:16pm
Liz – all you questions answered?
Jess – what are hood rentals?
Patrick – hood rentals represents a situation when a building owner needs to do some work – you might need some construction trucks… a hood rental allows us to pull the public parking space and reserve it for that purpose – and we charge $15 a day. Building owners can get work done and crews close to their buildings?
Jess – for parklets, too?
Patrick – no, we haven’t charge for those. We are losing some revenue form them probably. No charge for them, though.
Ian – so, for the parking meter revenue for actual FY20, we budgeted $470k optimistically. But now we’re budgeting $65k – why were we more optimistic last year and less this year?
Patrick – in the early months of the pandemic we had no idea, and we all thought it wouldn’t go more than a year. We were more optimistic. We thought we’d open back up on July 1 and we’ll start doing better… that isn’t what happened. At this point, to be fair and reasonable, we may have performance similar to FY20, with rough months and a return to normal.
Elwell – if you look budget to budget it begs that question – in the summaries, outside the budgets, we used the projected year end because some of those figures were off. The $470k was way off.
Ian – I get it now.
Liz – we’re all surrogates for the public here.
Elwell – this is hard- the hardest piece of financial work we’ve done in a long time – un-tie-able to anything. It’s a complex conversation to find the proper budget for FY22.
Tim – I told Peter yesterday that I was grumpy about the $450k figure because it includes the loss of the previous deficit. Enterprise funds can shift taxes away from residents. Listening to the numbers and the presentation – I realize this is the right way to do it. ARPA funds, I hope, are one time funds and we have to balance it. I feel like we need to look at the bigger picture of ARPA funds before deciding on parking funds. We’re not just saying we’ll spend it all on parking.
Liz – OK, grumpy – any other dwarves…
Tim – Sneezy – allergies…
Daniel – I had the same squirreliness looking at the $450k – there was the loss, then the projected loss, then the year we don’t know about it. We should fill the hole for the losses this year, but we don’t know what will happen with the fiscal year to come. I don’t want to commit a substantial amount of money to parking – we have needs all over town. Look forward to conversations about spending ARPA funds for long term benefits to the town.
Liz – more questions?
Ian – on cash reconciliation – cash outlays on… do I understand that FY21 the $218k is the bond plus the ceiling? Is this number never much of a surprise? Is it things we predicted? And now we won’t have them?
Patrick – you lost me there.
Elwell – yes. We won’t make a bond payment, and no additional capital work at this time is planned.
Ian – so, was there an allocation of $151k for something last year, plus the bond?
Elwell – yes – the elevator and some paving….
Patrick – you are both correct – actual expenses. Elevator and lights.
Liz – no action is required…
Elwell – there’s nothing to change but you want additional info on capital projects, right? No other hanging questions?
Liz – this budget vs future federal funding…
Elwell – don’t feel pressure to make an ARPA decision while making this budget decision. Budget needs to be done by June. For ARPA – you haven’t begun to discuss the ARPA process yet. We’ll begin that discussion, or how to involve the public, on May 18. This should a top priority due to the losses, and there are competing interests. A big and complicated conversation… we’ll recommend spending months discussing it and having a process to look at alternatives. We have the luxury of that time and we should take that time.
Liz – ready to adjourn?