The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a plan to let Brattleboro Police switch from an understaffed three shift system to a two shift system that will reduce hours and stress. Brattleboro will go without patrol staff for certain hours of the week.
The water treatment plant is going ahead with approval of a firm to build the new plant, despite a bad reference and previous bad town experiences with the company. The local mask mandate will be lifted on Friday. And State Senator Becca Balint described the huge piles of money coming to Vermont in the near future.
They get started a bit late. 6:21.
Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin had no remarks.
Town Manager Peter Elwell had one comment. I became aware of a situation where there was some confusion regarding advising incumbents to reapply to boards and commissions. To make sure the playing field stays level, you should defer appointments until Sept 15. Then you will have the full compliment of applications.
Daniel Quipp – September?
Elwell – JUNE 15.
Ian Goodnow – Friday is the first Friday and it is Gallery Walk time. I encourage people to get down there and hopefully the weather will be good.
Jessica Gelter – It’s June and Pride Month and I’ve hung my colors and want to acknowledge the LGBTQ people here and all they contribute, and to Out In The Open.
Joshua Ferguson – this weekend I met with a former student of high school and he shared reports of the things the town was king to rectify the veterans memorial and I wanted to learn of the status of that and I wonder if we can do something for Juneteenth to help rectify the situation.
Elwell – there are a group of people working on this including three students and Joe Rivers their teacher, and we are preparing draft language for a new plaque – we are working on it. The plan is to now move to complete the language and how another plaque could be placed to describe the omissions and reasons for them – racism and classism, and tell additional information to correct the record. There is so much information to share, that it can’t tell the flu story, but it will call attention, and will lead people to learning more about this in Brattleboro and more broadly.
Elwell – the three items are A. Monthly Annual Dog Warrant (License and vaccinate your dog!), B. Re-Appoint Tree Warden (Dan Adams) , C. Reimbursement for Brattleboro Fire Assistance in Hinsdale, NH ($824.48 for a brush fire)
Water & Sewer - Proposed Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Facility Improvements – Bid Award
Elwell – it is 6:32 and we’ll spend some time on that item, so you might want to skip this item for now…
State Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint re: ARPA and Other Funding
Becca Balint – I’ll try not to go too fast. So, I have been trying to cull through all this information about ARPA, so I thought what I would do is to start with some budget highlights then ARPA funds then take questions. You are trying to find out how to best spend the money. I know how difficult it is. We’re trying to get it right at the state level. A brief overview of budgets and ARPA, and I’ll try to touch on ARPA funds that are of interest to you at the town level. There are a lot of others that aren’t a good use of our time. For those with us, and later on, the budget we passed was $7.3 billion of spending. A massive budget. We don’t usually have those funds to spend. The ARPA funds are about $600 million. We’ll get additional funds, too. About 4-500 million of other ARPA fund, and others. The total amount of investment in the communities is about $158 million – over $109 million is ARPA funding. Without ARPA we would have spent about $50 million on general funds. The housing investments – $150 million of ARPA for housing. Another $66 million in tech modernization at state level. Our systems are in need of investment. Money put into climate action , clean water totaling $120 million, and other funding for tax conformity. What is of interest to you is that we also dedicated 3% increase to mental health and choices for care, and that impacts people in our community. We also have $2.7 million to refresh the ? benefit – a 3 member household increase of $100. We have funds for child care investments and my chief of staff called me. The governor vetoed two bills tonight. Investments in state colleges. That’s a high level take on budget investments. Now – ARPA funds at the town level, I’ll give you the specifics and I’ll try not to go too fast and I can follow up later. From ARPA funds we dedicated $5mil for adult day services. You could apply for those grants. There is $9million for judiciary for backlog of evictions and child support and expungement. Money for states attorney’s and sheriffs for the system, opening up again for many cases. $2 mil for Dept of Labor for apprenticeship programs. Another $2 mil to take courses if employment was impacted. Another $3 mil to degree completion for people who never finished their education (at least 40 credits). We have a workforce shortage and there are grants and programs for training and education. Another $5 mil for last tuition dollars – for critical occupations (bookkeeping, IT, production, graphic design, software and web, electrical dental accounting, radiological science, etc… certifications. They may go to specific Masters degrees if money is left over. Also $540k for paramedics, training, nursing, child care. $5.7 for VSAC for grant programs for students. $2 million for working land programs. $1.5 million for technical assistance to arts. Additional training for CTE programs for adult training scholarships, $300k for curriculum, $150k in grants for BIPOC businesses tech assistance and outreach, micro business assistance, and smaller things – $1.5 mil for better places grants. So back to housing – $94 million to VT housing and conservation board to provide housing and shelter capacity – those displaced by the hotel voucher program. Additional $5 mil to VHIP program for landlords to get more units back online that have fallen into disrepair. Another $40 mil from general funds to affordable housing. $36 million for rental assistance. $50 million for Reach Up. The climate piece – quite a bit of money for weatherization programs – $4 million to DCF, $9 mil for weatherization, and $5 mil for efficiency. Another 42 mil for workforce development around weatherization.
I wanted to talk about the guidance about how you can spend the dollars coming your way… this money going to municipalities is specifically to respond to the public health emergency and the negative impact on arts, business, tourism, hospitality … weddings. It can go to workers performing essential work, and for providing premium pay to some of those workers. There is a provision for revenue shortfalls and filling gaps. Quite a few have asked about investing in pensions.. we’re forbidden from doing that. You can invest in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. I can send you my notes. You have a big task ahead of you. Where there is money, there will be people advocating for it. Happy to answer questions.
Daniel – thanks, Senator. The seasonal fuel benefits were increased between 40-200% and that helped us at SEVCA – we heard from fewer people. Will it be increased again this year?
Becca – I think so but would want to get you the correct number. Could you give me a sense that you could meet the needs of everyone?
Daniel – yes – usually we’d go through more crisis fuel money. A modest increase on seasonal fuel benefits would really help the people. One other question – housing is a huge concern for us and when people come to the board with housing questions there isn’t much we can do. There is much housing money in there – we have the money but not enough properties to get people into them. How can we create more housing stock?
Becca – it keep me up at night. The cost of all our building supplies have gone up dramatically – the number of units we thought we could build with this keeps going down – do we pay now and hopefully buy not at the top… or wait and see if prices come down? Local Housing partners will be making difficult choices. We have a short window for building weather-wise. I wish I could be more optimistic. very concerned about the inflation rate, and our capacity. This investment will make a dent, but not reach everyone we need to reach in VT.
Becca – it’s nice to be home. It was an odd session. I was one of the only people at the statehouse every day.
Tim – I watched and you were the lone person up there…
Ian – as our senator, are you going to help us bring this money to Brattleboro? As a resident, I see the money and it is so much, how are we actually going to access this – who will help us get it? Who should people reach out to, to make their situations understood.
Becca – so, there are a lot of ways to answer it. I’ll send my notes – when you look at Brattleboro and how we got this dynamic arts scene and organizations that want to take advantage of the VT Council of Arts money – how do I get in touch with these people because they’ll have that grant, which is true of other things. I sit in two committees, and the first is the economic development committee, talking about how to get the information out to VT about these programs. BDCC will know about some, but there is no one place to learn about all these programs at once. I don’t know if you might be able to house some of those links on your website. People will find out from case managers for other programs. It is a challenge. We’ve never had this influx of cash in such a short time. We learned that the money we set aside for BIPOC and woman owned businesses – organizations that do that work accessible those grants. That’s true for so many people in need – if they aren’t connected to an organization, you’ll be at a disadvantage, and that is concerning to us. Accessibility is part of the conversation.
Daniel – we do referrals and help people at SEVCA, and 211 is a good resource. They are quick to adjust.
Tim Wessel – thanks for this. Articulate and well defined starting point. What I think about is the assigned municipal funds, and we’ll need a wall-sized flow chart to map it all out, and we need to know what other funds will be for a better purpose. We need to hoard our municipal funds.
Becca – yeah – that’s our struggle with the Governor – how much should be general fund, how much ARPA, how much for later infrastructure. We want to invest in people programs – we anticipate more infrastructure dollars later on. Having buckets – it gets confusing very quickly with this volume of money. If there are funds you can get elsewhere, that will be critical for you.
Tim – we’ll lean on you for some coordination.
Becca – maybe in a room together soon.
Liz – thank you and hope this is first of many to understand your work.
becca – you are welcome – in m remarks to the Senate I said how thankful we were to those who serve on select and school boards.
Liz – that was great.
Elwell – it is going to be important for us to understand how federal and state monies will benefit Brattleboro so that helps you decide priorities – we think about $3 million. We need much greater clarity in any boundaries of what choices we can make – it is not at all clear. Rules still been written. What’s out of bounds? We’ll be on a slower pace than we anticipated. We have until 2024 to spend these funds, so we can be thoughtful and methodical. That’s likely to be mid to late summer.
Kurt Daims – I work with Brattleboro Common Sense and our economist has reviewed the legislation and it seems clear to him and me that there are very few strings attached to this money – perhaps a regular stimulus relief. The board is overworked, and it is not mandated that the board distribute the funds. He has some analysis that shows how it could be distributed to people in Brattleboro, especially those below the median income level – 1900 households. If the money were distributed they could each have $2000 as a one time payment. BCS would like to propose that RTM could work out a distribution scheme or it could be given to all people as vouchers and people could decide what parts of the town budget get the allocation. Adam would be happy to discuss it with you one on one.
Elwell – Jessica has lost internet and wanted to ask if you want to keep going or take a short break.
Liz – a break, then we won’t need one at 8 pm…
Liz – ok maybe two breaks.. back in 10 minutes.
Water & Sewer - Proposed Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Facility Improvements – Bid Award
Elwell – Jess is working on it but can’t resolve it yet. She’s working on it and will take a few minutes.
Liz – let’s reconvene… as Water and Sewer Commissioners. We don’t have Ian.
Ian – starting exactly at 10 minutes… I missed the motion.
Elwell – I’ll give an overview and Steve Barrett and Dan Tyler and Chrissy haskins – the one things I’d do to underscore awarding the bid. There was information in the references and it led to questions about an experience in Bennington. Chrissy and staff agree to move forward. You’ve seen that the personnel assigned can make a difference, and the personnel assigned to this job throughout he Townathat our interests will be well protected. I wanted to address that straight out. Not every reference was glowing, but you can award the bid with confidence.
Steve Barrett – DPW. I’ll read my memo, then Chrissy will jump in and do an overview of the engineering recommendation, then take questions. We got one bid for $16 mill and Kingsbury had one for just under $12 mil, plus alternatives. When we build the new facility it will have four filters. The alternate would be to purchase a new filter. We see an advantage to building a new plant with two new filters, and use two old filters reconditioned. We’d get rid of the current third filter. The alternate is worthwhile. There will be bugs, and we want to be ready for the switchover. Chrissy has reviewed all these documents with her team and she recommends the low bid for Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Facility to Kingsbury Companies of Middlesex, Vermont, at a cost of $11,999,500.
Chrissy Hhaskins – when we reviewed the bids we checked the math, review the bids for completion and signatures and forms, and the low bidder sends us qualifications and references. We contacted three references and past projects… well, 4 of them, and we had responses from two, and we used our own experience with them as a third reference, and we contacted their bond agent to make sure they haven’t defaulted or any other issues, we check on insurance, … so references. One was from and engineer in Bennington waste water treatment project. Not happy with the performance – worked with them in 2020, noted that project manager wasn’t experienced, quality of work wasn’t great, didn’t meet the schedule. The next reference was from another engineer in Whitefield NH in 2020 – that one said they were competent and on schedule and recommends them. So they were two very different references, so Randy Goodwin for our group who has worked with them in St Johnsbury said – the proposed superintendent in Brattleboro worked on projects in St J. All were on schedule except for delivery delays. Attentive to detail. So, with all that and insurance bonds, we see no reason not to recommend an award. That’s our evaluation,
Steve – we are looking at revolving loan funds, and we are limited in choosing low bids…
Liz – do either of you know who the project manager is?
Elwell – that’s what she just spoke to…
Liz – is superintendent the same as project manager?
Chrissy – manager may be the same person or the person managing paperwork; super is on site. Contracts require that a single person is in charge for the full duration, full-time on the project.
Ian – Given that there were many bid items, what explains the large difference in bid prices?
Chrissy – it often comes down to proximity to the project, and the sequence of work. Kingsbury was closer, and needs fewer subcontractors. Also might relate to how busy a company is.
Tim – it is never great when you hear a couple of comments about past bad experiences but given the work done vetting this I have confidence this will go well under their watchful eye. In the real world you have people that are less than stellar in a company. This company helped us with wastewater treatment…
Steve – they helped after Irene and built a new outflow pie and did an excellent job.
Daniel – I trust our selection process – they know more about it than we do. It is a rough reference to read, and this is big for the town. I trust that this will go well, so let it be so.
Liz – I think Steve and Chrissy are aware of what may come and will make things runs smoothly.
Fire tablet – Dick Degray – question for Steve – the contractor.. when we bid the line up on Black Man Rd who did that?
Steve – Kingsbury.
Degray – that was quite a fiasco fo merchants at Black Man Square – I have a concern about picking them… knowing what I know I would go out for a rebid.
Steve – in the end, we got a sewer line that woks for the town and got rid of a pump station – you can’t always pick what you want. Insurance companies were brought in, an overflow flooded businesses. It became an insurance issue. In the end we had the contract fulfilled for what we need and require, and we thought about that when this bid came in, but to get the funding at this cost, we’re limited on saying we just don’t want this contractor. Looking at this hard with the engineering team and myself, we recommend selecting them.
Elwell – I’d add on, in addition, there was an extended dispute about that project, relating to communications and delays. There was a settlement and the Town paid additional funds, about equal to the change order requested. We were concerned about how that job evolved, but it was determined that the additional amount owed by the town was what was requested in the change order the previous summer. Not an indication of them being unacceptable for this work. We think they do qualify for an award, this is an awardable bid, meeting state requirements. We think you can award the bid. The legitimate concerns about Bennington and here on Black Man Road – we intend to staff this as a full partnership with full time town staff and significant attention paid. We’re confident this can be completed successfully. We’d like to start without this cloud of concern, but with the person being assigned to lead it and how we’ll staff it, you should award it.
Liz – ready for a motion?
Liz – we’re gonna have a lengthy discussion about COVID 19 matters and we break at 8 pm… is this a good time?
Tim – don’t leave it up to me. Just around 8 I get to say goodnight…
Liz – if you say goodnight now, then we could begin the discussion.
Ian – goodnight Daniel.
Daniel – goodnight Ian.
Liz – let’s break now until 8pm.
Liz – reconvening to discuss COVID-19 matters. let me start by saying that for those who think these meetings are Kabuki theater, I have no idea how this will end up. We’ve heard from many quarters. We’ll review the dat. Remember that many are vaccinated and many remain at risks – children, compromised immune systems, and non-vaccinated people. This mask ordinance was enacted to help retailers in Brattleboro.
Elwell – you asked for Brattleboro data – and that’s a little bit hard. There is data complied town by town but ask that be used in a not overly precise manner. They are confident of statewide numbers and county numbers. One complication is many people here are not residents of Brattleboro – some come here to go to the doctor or get vaccinated. can’t be too precise about Brattleboro, but some data is in my May 27 data – a decline in new cases. The health dept tracks that on two week rolling averages to avoid spikes skewing data. The numbers are very encouraging – for Brattleboro – 17 to 10 to 4 to 3 in rolling averages. New cases have gone down during may. the vaccination rate is probably similar to the state – 70% with one shot and 60% with full vaccination.
Daniel – for this watching we are going to discuss the order we put in place last May about wearing face coverings. A year ago-isa we had a meeting and on the agenda was COVID matters, and has been the way of things, things get announced on Fridays after our agenda is set. We learned last May we could be more strict than the state and we had a meeting and I raised that issue. Burlington had passed an order. Now, CDC mask guidance changed and the state changed it on May 14. Since May 14, our mask order doesn’t match the state’s current guidance or the state’s current guidance, so there have been some that feel Brattleboro is dragging their feet, and this is the first time we could warn it and discuss it. I would like us to be aligned with the CDC and the state’s guidance and it is importance that the guidance is unvaccinated people should continue to wear masks. Fully vaccinated may take off masks in most settings. It is important at this time given the way vaccinations are going in the county and state. 70% in Windham county have had one dose at least. For me, I want to give some context and say we should align with state and CDC. The disconnect is causing confusion and that leads to conflict – employers and employee, or customers and businesses. When we put this in place we did so to be the bad guy for everyone, and now we’re the bad guy in another way. people who have stores are employers or workers are in conflict because of our mask order. Given where we stand on cases and vaccination, and it is a powerful tool in this pandemic and the reason we are almost out of it. I hope we will get out of it if enough get vaccinated. Follow CDC. I have more to say later.
Ian – I agree with daniel. I think I support ending the mask mandate. At the end of the day I want to acknowledge how difficult a discussion this is. We worked so hard to build masking as a public health decision, and we aren’t done, but we need to trust the vaccine and the science and be in alignment with the levels above us to avoid confusion. The other part – the other two covid items may provide for some opportunities for stepped progress toward normalcy. This is less of that… I’ve heard from the community that quick changes are difficult. I don’t see a way to have this be stepped. We need to decide to have the mandate or not. That’s the most clear way. I agree. In support of ending the mandate and relinquishing that to business owners who may continue to have a manslaughter requirement.
Jessica – I agree that the guidelines of the state are on – people should keep masking if not vaccinated. I walked around downtown this weekend and talked to folks. We got emails from business owners about the time taken to deal with this. We saw a lot of tourist traffic. It was a great moment to bring up the topic, with teenagers behind counters downtown. Teens have not been fully vaccinated yet, and the numbers for our county are behind those of others. If we do away wit this, people would feel more in dagger doing these jobs welcoming people from all over the place – NY, CT, MA, OK… when they ask people to please put a mask on, people were compliant and didn’t take offense. That was everyone I talked to. People were absolutely willing to wear masks. Who are we serving by getting rid of this mandate? Not kids. Just people who just don’t want to wear a mask. I’ve watched my kid wear a mask for 6 hours a day – if we can’t require 20 minutes of a mask until we hit 80%… it’s not fair to the kids who keep the rest of us. We should show we care, viewed through an equity lens, and keep the mandate until the end of the summer.
Tim – I have so many thoughts. First, we’ve spent a year being so careful, sacrificing a lot, depending if you are an introvert or extrovert. It’s okay to give into a fear that is warranted, and to hang on to that too long. I worked down in NJ for two days. I worked this morning looking into things, It’s a very different world down there. NJ got hit hard by COVID and they are serious about masking, but order was lifted two days before I got there. My hotel required them, and people wore them. The disconnect I’m seeing – a fear not lining up to data – our mandate, and credit to Daniel, he proposed a policy on masks ahead of a lot of people. We need to understand that everything has kind of flipped. WE wanted to flat the curve, to limit use of beds in hospitals. We were being responsive to merchants, and now we have the reverse. More merchants look to be in favor of lifting the order. The difference is – if people understand exponential growth it is scary, but if you look at data I shared on my social media, it was an amazing drop. It can feel untrue, but if we say we are following science to put it in place, we have to do the same to let it go. The argument that we should wait would be powerful to me, if there was evidence that there was clear and present danger right now. There is no longer any evidence of danger. Everyone should get their shot. That’s how we got here. It is the way to get out. If you feel freer to take off your mask, that shows everyone the end game. I’m in favor of lifting it and there is no danger of lifting it. Merchants can keep the order if they want, individuals can keep wearing masks. The governor hasn’t lifted all restriction, so Vermont restrictions will govern us when we lift this.
Liz – From what I’ve heard is that we’re still in a state of emergency and people are still vulnerable, but people still wear masks if they want if we lift this. I think we owe it to the community that we acted a year ago, and the best way we can act is to rescind the order allowing people to wear masks if they choose and us to come back and stoke up the order again if there is another threat to the community. It would signal to the community that Brattleboro is open. The more we can encourage people to get vaccinated, the sooner we can protect those who cannot be vaccinated. It needs to be said.
Daniel – that’s the clearest message – vaccination is our path out of the pandemic. maybe zoom meetings seem normal now, but 15 months ago we had other business to attend to, and we’ve become used to this way of working. The mask is a tool people use for public health – it isn’t the way out of the pandemic…Brattlebor’s mask order doesn’t drive people’s behavior – that’s community and culture… maybe that’s why VT has been spared some of the ravages is because we sacrifice for small levels of comfort for others. Wearing a mask shows you care for others. I was lucky to get vaccinated early. Didn’t feel comfy until a month ago, and people will have different levels of comfort. I do appreciate comments about people not yet vaccinated, but enough are vaccinated that numbers are dropping and that’s the goal. People won’t rush to Hannaford and tear their mask off. People will want to still take care of one another.
Jessica – I ran into two people – one a teen not fully vaccinated, and one who was immunocompromised and both told me about their employers and their take on masking – neither employer wanted make, welcomed unmasked people into the store, lots of tourists… I just don’t understand this may be good for business and employers, but the employees on the front line who aren’t there yet… if we could just hold on a few more months – I don’t see how that’s hard. To compare us to Brookline – they aren’t seeing the traffic and tourism we are. Brattleboro is different. Being on Rt 9 and 91. It’s the frontline workers who represent Brattleboro and we should respect their needs for a little longer.
Daniel – it isn’t chaos outside of Vermont – the states we border – Mass and NH are doing like we are. NY has had 64.8%, CT, too… people coming from those states are coming here responsibly. Six months ago we were thinking of viral transmission from people from away and we just didn’t see it. The transmission in VT was largely from in VT. Since our nearest neighbors are taking this seriously, I don’t think there is some big threat over the borders.
Liz – the spike came from the holidays and the numbers surged and now with such low numbers it is hard to justify. I understand that some can’t be vaccinated and will need to protect themselves, and I’m sure people will allow people to wear masks as long as necessary.
Tim – I lot gets back to the role of government. We have situation in our daily lives that have risk but it isn’t appropriate for the town of Brattleboro to mandate a child holds a hand crossing the street. We trust people will do the right thing to stay safe. A real lesson we’ve learned… we’ve learned that colds went way down – wearing masks and washing hands… maybe that message will live longer, but should we mandate people who have the flu must wear a mask? I don’t think we should step into people’s lives that way. The risk now is lower than the flu. The intersection of personal responsibility and harm reduction. I speak conservative. It’s too much nanny state and in my business. i was asked to trust board members about billing for child care, and I want everyone to trust our community and merchants and visitors. There is trust in vaccinations. We can ramp down.
Gary Stroud – I want to put faith in people to do what’s the right thing to do. Trust is okay, but faith is what we need. I was hung ho when I got shots, but didn’t get complacent. I think we are in the yellow zone. Even though I got my shots… I asked about my surgery team if they were vaccinated. We have to come out of the cave and have faith and trust people will do the right thing. I did research about who got inoculated – some aren’t ready, couldn’t do it.. yo have to use common sense and wisdom – there will be people who did get it, didn’t get it or are in between. I still wear my mask… I see others with them. There is that fear factor. It will take a while to have faith and trust.
Megan Barrows – I agree with many – I want things to open up and go nback to normal, but like Jessica, our kids made big sacrifices, and puts them at risk. I don’t want to risk them not going back to school in the fall. I cut hair, and touch people’s heads and faces. I’m immune compromised – I’m open to it but it will be a month. I’m willing to wear a mask, but it is hard without the order. Some aren’t being honest. How do we know if they are vaccinated or not. It’s challenging. A coworker is vaccinated, and I’m not, so we have different days for masks. I have an employee with covid now. We should wait just a little bit longer. This summer will be like the holidays and things could spike. I have t be inches from people, vaccinated or not, so it would help if you could continue it a couple months longer. The state just opened it to kids 12 and up. There are vets in town get close to people holding pets. By telling people to choose themselves, some of us don’t have a choice… I can’t just quit my job. I don’t see the harm keeping it longer. People will still shop in Brattleboro.
Robin Morgan – I understand that the town wants to make a science based decision, and sometimes we can get caught up in numbers but forget the humans involved. I in 4 are not vaccinated if we go by numbers… what are the other ways to keep us safe? I have unvaccinated family members not eligible until September – what do you envision keeping the children and people with vulnerable conditions safe? What about the other three categories?
Trevor Hool – this comes down to personal choice. Businesses can choose what to do. Like Tim says, the powers of municipal govt are? Science says masks aren’t a necessary element anymore. If you choose your children to wear a mask, wear a mask. the Vince says I don’t need a mask if vaccinated.
Liz – unvaccinated people should still wear masks. Let’s not get off track on that matter, and there are people who aren’t vaccinated. Should we do this now, in two weeks? On the fourth of July? In September? That seems to be the range. What shall we do tonight.
Ian – Thanks for the public input, and Jess for the perspectives you’ve brought. I think it makes sense to decide on a date and it not be tomorrow, so people have an opportunity to know it is coming and can decide what to do. maybe it is a bit stepped… if we say we’ll revoke it on this date, people can be ready for it. I’d support that. It will take patience and empathy. The community has shown we have that capacity and it will continue. In two weeks? I’m not sure.
Daniel – a month ago I thought we’d end up like this and tried to figure out a metric to know when to let this go… I had 70% in mind and we are at it today. The governor has said 80%. That will determine what all state restrictions end. Once that happens, which will happen before we meet, where does our order lie then?
Elwell – spending on what the governor does – the end of any state imposed restrictions, such as outdoor gatherings. That’s distinct from the state of emergency order. There are other implications when eliminating that. How that affects this order… if the state of emergency is in effect, then your action would remain in effect. if he takes away the state of emergency, it would nullify this order.
Daniel – when we were given the authority, it was by executive order, which is part of the state of emergency. I don’t mind us waiting until a date certain, or metric certain. I’m not blind to people not getting vaccinated yet. I’ve been talking to lots of people – frontline staff in their own businesses and staff in lager places like the Coop. There are mixed feelings. I reached out to the DBA and they sent us survey results and it was about 50-50 – you could rescind it day – it would be the simplest. or at our next meeting. The majority of people will do what is comfortable for them, and for many it will be to keep earring masks for a while. our order is driving behavior, but we could hold on for a couple of weeks.
Liz – the state will get to 80% and that’s herd immunity and that’s when I’d feel comfortable saying we had a June 15th deadline… people would have time to know this is coming, talk to employers, talk to kids, camps are opening. The world is opening. people have to find their place in it. herd immunity is right around the corner. June 15ht.
Jessica -we’re at 70-80% of those eligible to have had one shot. That’s not fully vaccinated, nor the population under-12. Fully vaccinated is closer to 50%, and the CDC recommends 70% is what is needed for herd immunity in a community.
Dick Degray – (fire tablet) – I had to put a helmet on – I was banging my head against the wall. It started with 4 board members saying they’d lift the order, and now we’ll push it out two more weeks. Daniel says if we lift it today people will still wear masks… if you move the date to June 15th, my birthday, people are still going to wear masks until they are comfortable. I have a business and over the weekend and many asked if they had to wear a mask… I’m going to let people come in without a mask. There’s no penalty for it. To continue this… the business community is about 70-30 to get rid of the mandate. I applaud Jessica for her stand and not caving, but the four of you…pushing it off two more weeks. Just more frustration for everyone. To say the community is unaware of this discussion – the Chamber and DBA have used social media to have a discussion about how people feel and I’m really disappointed if you push this off. They think they’ll get to the number by June 10 or 11th. When you look at science and what’s happing in Brattleboro, it is really non-existent. You are saying you are the new CDC in Brattleboro. If there is a spike, you can put it back in place. We had heavy tourism in the fall and no spike. Not many tourists yet, and we’re out of step. Mass has lower numbers that us, lifted all restrictions. I hope you change your minds and go with the original plan to do away with it. We can always go back to it.
Gary Stroud – I agree and disagree. If it protects the kids, we’re golden, let’s get inoculated and move forward. The sooner we do something we’ll be back to normal whatever that is.
Fahr Weiss – I hear you talking about 70% – that’s just people who go their first shot. I’m 47 and it has bee a week since I was fully vaccinated and we busted our butts to get vaccines as soon as possible. WE’re there. Some are just getting there. We’re old. I feel old. Those younger than us are not in the clear. The 70% number… we shouldn’t be using those numbers. I hope you talk about the timeline but hope it isn’t immediate.
Tim – It seems that people have embraced the idea of herd immunity and I follow the science closely and science doesn’t believe we’ll ever get to herd immunity due to new variants. They are less deadly but more transmissible. It looks for strategies to survive. It’s tipping point. Israel saw a drop in transmissions and deaths . We have to look at the numbers and we’ve reached that tipping point and that’s why the CDC issued their clumsy order. Every state around us is lifting mandates. I understand – we had four people interested in lifting the mandate but didn’t talk about timing. I was thinking immediate. Not sure we need a ramp up period of two weeks. I move we lift it as of June 4th which is this Friday.
Passes 4-1 (Jess)
More COVID matters
Liz – what to do about selectboard meetings? Continue on zoom as we have, have in person meetings, or have some sort of hybrid? I think we all need to understand these meetings are of long duration, and if indoors they are for long durations. The other thing about zoom is that it provides us with more people participating, and that it provides us board members with flexibility – if people are traveling they can still log on. A hidden bonus of zoom that we should take advantage of as we can. Peter, hybrid technology?
Elwell – we’d need to formulate a plan. There welcome a time when we move to hybrid rather than just in=person, and there are places ahead of us. One challenge is the current clunkiness of our selectboard meeting room and tech setup. We’re working toward a renovation, which will include a meeting room designed to do video conferencing. With the intention of hybrid. Now, we’ll probably use the screen we have and a projector, and someone controlling – in person we won’t be each in our own box… how do you have the room visible to people in the zoom meeting? Some places are better equipped, but there are communities making this shift with tech issues like ours. We can work on a plan if you want. To do it before having a plan would be chaotic. Need to do some trial and error.
Daniel – I think that’s helpful. I am in favor of us doing a hybrid with the greatest amount of access. Members of the public won’t be forced to be there in person. I’d like for us to build up to a decent hybrid model rather than figure it out on the fly. Maybe by mid-July?
Ian – Yeah, I agree. i have so much faith in fully staff to figure it out. The future is the hybrid model. It will be one of the positives we take away from COVID, and shouldn’t roll it out until we are ready. I’d be in favor of having us all in the room first and having the meeting remote, or whatever is necessary to test it to make it work so we do it well.
Tim – the reason I pushed for this was not for a date certain, but that we’re all thinking the same way. My rough plan is to ensure the added access. You can have an unperson meeting, bctv can plug it into zoom, and we can turn to someone to take comments from zoom… otherwise it proceeds as normal. I don’t think it is that complicated, but needs to be worked out. Need to have this now in case the governor tells us to go back to normal. Many others are going back to normal without incorporating zoom. We’re all in agreement to keep zoom comments.
Elwell – based on that, we’ll bring an update or plan back to you at a June 15 mtg. You can give us feedback, or accept it. Either way it is a step forward about making a change. No need to push it out further – we’ll come back with what we know and what our concerns are. You don’t want to just go back and have meetings . You want hybrid meetings. We’ll get there when we are ready and it will benefit the public. We’ll give you an update.
Jessica – if we do invite public into the space I’d like to see distancing and/or masks like in performance settings.
Liz – I’d agree as it is an enclosed public space. We’ll wait to hear from Peter.
Gary – Memorial park has a lot of space… it’s summer. Hold them there.
Megan – its contradictory that you would wear masks in an enclosed space but not mandating it for the town. I guess we just have to do our own orders. It’s contradictory.
More COVID matters
Elwell – when we started in 2020 with COVID there were actions we took. The board suspended small business loan repayments This was prior to any federal relief. We couldn’t do much, but we could help a bit with this. That went into effect in March 2020. The board said to defer all payments indefinitely. You’ve talked about it a bit since then. There are 8 businesses with loans being repaid, and 4 have begun repayment. Four others have not resumed. The question is whether this is the time to end the deferment?
Liz – the town would write to them and say it starts uo next month?
Elwell – you’d give notice… the minimum would be to provide notice this week to have payments resume July 1 or later. There’s no good guidance to follow in this regard. Businesses have been aided in many ways, and yet some have been negatively impacted more than others. Don’t make the decision based on granular information – just what is fair to the community. While we defer the revolving loan program is limited. Right now it is stagnant. Weigh those factors.
Jessica – two questions – what is the program capacity limited to right now and is there a waiting list for this funding?
Elwell – no waiting list of applications. They tend to come occasionally over time. Loans of up to $70k, with $340k currently in the fund. No one currently waiting in line. It has been up to $700k and down to $100k or so.
Liz – if one of these groups has an issue they can negotiate with the town to change terms of a loan?
Elwell – yes – sometimes with financial difficulties they rework the terms.
Ian – I recall when we sent out letters to people who owed the town money – water bills – we sent the letter and said to come talk to us if you need a payment plan. Could that be included in this letter?
Elwell – absolutely.
Tim – I was going to suggest the same thing – we decide it is time to end the deferment July 1. Gives them a chance to ramp back up. If they have special circumstances they can come to staff or us. Four have already started paying.
Elwell – if terms were adjusted it would come to you. A committee would look at it and make a recommendation to you to act.
Daniel – I’m mulling it over.
Jessica – it would be more gentle to allow until the second quarter but they can opt to pay sooner. It would be difficult to bring this on them for next month, and might make more work for us if we have to renegotiate. I’d wait until October.
Liz – We’ve been generous and our responsibilities to the town are real/
Tim – do you have some sort of understanding about a business has a problem.
Jess – nope. I don’t know who they are.
Liz – we want to make a broad decision like zoning, a decision that is fair.
Elwell – I did offer the earlier. IT’s the right way to think about this – as a policy decision. Especially because of the idea that yes people can restructure a loan. The program is to help businesses start or grow. No one is going to be denied the opportunity to rework their loan to be helpful.
Daniel – so, I do think October is too far out but July is too soon, so how about August 1, and we reach out this week to give them ample time to restructure as necessary.
Liz – sounds like a compromise to me…
Agreed. Deferment discontinued as of August 1, 2021. Letter to business with willingness to restructure loans as necessary.
Tim – thank those who have begun repaying.
Daniel – one other decision was about water and sewer disconnection. There is a moratorium for regulated utilities, but our water system isn’t under that. Let’s start thinking about that. I can see the assistance piece and it is moving slowly and don’t want people shut off if state is just moving too slow.
Tim – we kept it in place for individuals and not for businesses.
Elwell – yes. Should we bring info to the next meeting? Not to act on but to continue examination?
Ian – yes – the same structure – a COVID section with enumerated points.
Memorandum of Understanding with the New England Police Benevolent Association (NEPBA Local #412) – Due to Recent Schedule Change
Elwell – Acting Chief Carignan is here too. The schedule change is the result of several folks leaving the department and not having replacements. It’s all across the country right now. We had too many people working too many overtime hours and it is burning out employees, causing tired police officers on the street. That was the basis for the change that was made. The implementation requires the contract be tweaked slightly. It will be a cost savings for the town.
Mark Carignan – you saw my memo. Like Peter said, we’ve been short staffed for some time, but our staff has declined recently as more officers resigned or left. We’re at 2/3 right now. Not all are assigned to patrol duties, but sometimes we work shifts. Patrol staff is at half strength – this causes a lot of overtime to be assigned. It’s fine for a brief period of time. Police officers know long hours is part of it. But it isn’t sustainable for years on end. Involuntary overtime means double shifts, vacations are cancelled, or denied, working on scheduled days off, not able to take time off, they get tired, personal relationships suffer, and mental and physical health can suffer. The model is harming them. Up until now, Brattleboro hasn’t seen any reduction in service. They respond with smiles on their faces. But as their leaders I can’t see them endure this – I need to see that officers go home in good condition. We’ve switched to a new staffing model – two shifts instead of three. We’ll always repost to life threatening emergencies, but there will be some hours when there are no police officers in the community. Some calls will be handled over the phone, some calls won’t get an immediate response. Some will be delayed. We still take our role seriously, and looked at call volumes to see when we can implement these during the day with the least effect. Brattleboro will still be safe and we’ll monitor changes in crime trends to be as nimble as possible. That’s it in a nutshell. We won’t give out he specific hours for public safety reasons.
Elwell – I want to credit mark and staff to collaborate on this schedule change. A tremendous amount of collaboration. It’s been hard to maintain a three shift model and a two shift model could be implemented – it made collective bargaining agreement simple.
Daniel – so, I wonder if you could give the public how long a typical shift is and including overtime?
Mark – the traditional model has been officers working 4 10 hour days a week. It’s not 4 on 3 off. It rotates over a 5 week cycle. The way overtime works, if there was a vacancy on a shift they would have to come in early and could be held into their next shift as well. The max we allowed was 20 hour shifts when I started. We shortened that to 16 hours. We were getting to a point that we couldn’t hit the numbers.
Daniel – they need humane hours. My 7.5 hour day can be grueling. But that’s nothing compared to this. I support this schedule change and I hope we’ll continue to track the calls and see patterns and maybe recalibrate if need be. officers need to be well rested.
Jessica- I want to express extreme gratitude for how you’ve been working. Can’t imagine the stress and heartache. Excited to see this solution.
Ian – yea.. I’ll pile on the praise. I want to express gratitude to staff trying to make the three shift setup work, at self sacrifice. And to you for recognizing the issue and finding a creative solution. Glad to hear we’ll look at it, but grateful for it and the work you are doing.
Tim – Just left speechless because they’ve said what I would say. Taking care of town staff is a primary responsibility of our board. I appreciate your leadership and collaboration on this.
Liz – I too appreciate the officers and the work they do and the stress and the solution will help alleviate some of that stress. This is a sustained period of concern for their labor hours and liked the word “humane” – we need to recognize the police department is under a lot of stress.
Retain Executive Search Firm for Town Manager Recruitment
Liz – the last item. Retain Executive Search Firm for Town Manager Recruitment .
Elwell – happy to recommend the board authorize the Mercer Group. Ellis Hankins is senior VP and he led the successful search for the VT league of cities and towns. I was impressed with how he ran that process. The main benefit of using firm for this kind of important search is the national reach they have. He will help us through vetting applicants, etc. but what we can’t do locally is reach out for targeted recruitment to get a diverse applicant pool. Ellis does this for a living. Not just applications, but getting them to a broad pool. For this search, it is the right thing for the board to hire a firm and I can recommend them and Ellis based on my experience with him at VLCT. We can be confident of landing in a better place if we retain the Mercer Group. Also, for a limited scope or full scope? Staff is to go with the full scope of services… full scope of services for a fee of $20,500 and reimbursement of expenses not to exceed $5,500. It’s affordable and we recommend you approve it.
Liz – I think this is an excellent proposal and I understand this is a distinct specialty that the town needs. I support fulls cope.
Daniel – I agree – a dollar saved at this point would be unwise. We should engage fully with this professional firm to get a great roster of candidates. It can be difficult and we need all the help we can get.
Jessica – I agree – important to do it right. Hiring someone will get us the expertise. I was a little disheartened that we didn’t investigate other ways, but they look good.
Ian – I have a motion.
Tim – I’m in fill support.
Full scope option approved!