Selectboard Meeting Notes – Summer Public EMS Discussions Wrapping Up

selectboard aug 15 2023

The Brattleboro Selectboard held their August public EMS discussion at their regular meeting on Tuesday. The board is happy with their progress though one member said that the public doesn’t understand what decisions are to be made,. They will make their EMS decision in late September. Two more public meetings will be held prior.

The Town Manager said the EMS project web page has had over 1600 page views since May. (This site averaged 7,750 pages viewed per day in August for comparison). The board had questions about the Fire Department’s large overtime budget and the public had questions about downtown cameras and sheltering people without homes this winter.

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  • Preliminaries

    Chair Ian Goodnow – no remarks.

    Town Manager John Potter – elevator is out of service in Transportation Center for a couple of weeks.

    Franz Reichsman – downtown safety fair was great. Could talk with key people about downtown. Great conversations. I hope we do it from time to time.


    Bob Oeser – brief announcement – on Sat Aug 26 Rescue Inc will have an Open House.

    Michael ? for BCS – some guidance of where to go since winter is coming?

    Dick Degray – still want a camera discussion. I keep asking about it. What’s the status of security people walking around? And third, there was a death on Flat Street? Could you address that issue?

    Ian – cameras in transportation center?

    Potter – close to being installed. Very good resolution. Should be operating soon if not already.

    Ian – security people report?

    Potter – in September we will report on that.

    Ian – don’t know about Flat Street?

    Potter – I have nothing.

    Bruce Clauson – hello – I’m with BCS. Is there a rule that housing for the homeless must take years? Can’t we help with something less substantial? Don’t say the churches should do it. It’s not just winter time… when things become overcrowded it affects everyone. Many homeless won’t participate in hotels. Living in campers are preferable to overcrowding. Building structures take years. We can manage public camping. Who is hurt? Hand them a tent and a sleeping bag?

    Ian – finish the thought

    Bruce – children and adults got no help last winter. let’s help them.

    Nancy Levitt – It’s Paul Levitt… you know me. I own the National and the market block. I’m losing tenants left and right. Mocha Joes window has been broken twice. There have been OD’s. There are people afraid to use the parking lot. People are breaking leases. People refuse to sign leases. It is impacting myself and my tenants and people do not feel safe anymore. I can’t believe Brattleboro can’t protect the downtown historic district. It’s impacting me like crazy.

    Ian – thanks. This is an issue that we stablished as a goal and we will try many ways to address the issue. We’re working on it. It’s a frustrating answer. Keep coming to meetings!

    Dick – I didn’t get an an answer about security people. Has it helped in these facilities?

    Ian – we’ll tell you in September.

    Peter Case – we did a walkaround and asked questions about security and it appears to have a positive effect.

    Ian – I hope we hear more in September.

  • Consent Agenda

    A. West Brattleboro Village Center Designation – Authorize Renewal

    B. Fire Alarm for the Brattleboro Transportation Center Bid Award

    C. Fire Alarm for the Brooks Memorial Library Bid Award

    D. Living Memorial Park Generational Improvements – Authorize Use of $150,000 from Global Warming Solutions Fund

    E. Re-Award Propane Bid

    F. Support Letter to VTrans Requesting a RRFB and Crosswalk on Putney Road (Route 5) at the Intersection of Wantastiquet

    G. Support Letter to SEVT Requesting a New Permanent Bus Stop at The Chalet


  • Midnight, LLC First and Third Class Liquor License

    Ian – I know everyone except you, so… I like giving business owners an opportunity to talk about your business.

    Potter – 1st and 3rd class liquor license for a bar where Mole’s Eye was.

    Ms. Rera – I’m excited. It’s interesting to start up at a time like this. There is no place for bar fly community to go. It doesn’t exist. I heard stories about the old Mole’s Eye. The numbers became viable . It will be a bar, with beer. Just regular stuff. Food will be pastries and coffee. Two offsite bakers supplying us. A place to get together an commiserate. Good to be off Elliot Street, too, to open the town up.

    Franz – I was disappointed to see no rodents in the name…

    Rera – Midnight was my dog. Sorry for not keeping with the subterranean rodents.

    Fish – I’m excited for you.

    Rera – looking for an electrician and need to build up bathrooms. Maybe by October.

    Ian – late night options are important downtown.


  • Financial Report

    Finance Director Kimberly Frost reads the finance memo. 1st month of FY24, so we’re on track. Month one, 8.3% of the year complete. Etc.

    Liz – meals and rooms?

    Kim – Let me grab my phone.. yes. We got the 4th quarter. I’ll pull up the numbers quickly. OK. Q4 sales tax is $265k and Rooms and Meals – $120k. Both better than budget. About 1.5 million total for the year.

    Daniel – Fire Department – so, month one – nothing too surprising. We’ve been tracking overtime expenses. 21% of our budget for that line is paid out. The operating expenses we had… it’s high. It has been high. I know why. When can we expect it to stabilize? What would need to happen.

    Kim – we spoke and he said he’d join me.

    Chief Howard – 25 or 35 days we had to fill shifts in July. Additional days we had to fill because of National Guard call up for floods. At end of June we lost someone, which made a shift two people short. As of Aug 4 we are fully staff. In two weeks two of the four in trains should be on the short count. We had a big fire and flooding. It’s not enough to put in a request to FEMA, so, with the reasons I’ve giving you. We had a busy July. There’s more coming. We require staff to keep up training. If that’s a work day, we have to cover it. I hope once staff is up it will stabilize.

    Liz – in the discussion of overtime, up until this week, before that, overtime was compensated for by you being understaffed

    Chief – and it is vacation season.

    Liz – when short staffed it was used against overtime..

    Franz – how much training takes place in house vs at other places. Is there a limit to what can be done at the station? Can training be geared to minimize off premises?

    Chief – a bit. We have four people to go to Rescue’s school in October. The state will give us a voucher to cover the cost.Classes don’t fall on everyone’s shift every week, but it will be on some. Those types of training you have to send out of house. We do training in house every day.

    Franz – if it is certification, it will be done elsewhere ? (Yes)

    Daniel – on the fund report – UDAG with 2+ million in there? What’s the purpose?

    KIm – there are some restrictions around housing.

    Patrick Moreland – the UDAG funds came by way of a grant from long ago. We’ve spoken with HUD about uses. IT is recently available to us, based on a loan repayment to the town from the Holstein Association. We need to clarify what it can be used for. Initially it was to be returned to town revolving loan fund. HUD said we should use CDBG uses, which is fairly broad or state rules which are more restricted. We’d need to determine are we required to use the state plan or the federal guidelines?

    Daniel – we can talk about the process later, but I wanted us to remember this and think about it.

    Dick Degray – fire chief – zero dollars to be spent, and you spent $1500 in July… and the second question – operating supplies – you already overspent.

    Kim – when we didn’t the budget we took the clerical payroll and rolled it up into the salaries… next month it won’t be there. New software.

    Chief – the reason the line item was spent was for computer software, and the price went up because the company was bought. That will become a separate line item.

    Ian – are there additional things that will fall in there?

    Chief – I have to juggle the budget, unanticipated things… maybe we don’t get some equipment to cover that cost.

    Daniel – whilst much focus has been on the fire budget line. I’m not concerned about the full budget. We just are investigating lines.

    Liz – I think you had a contract with the company – can they raise their prices?

    Chief – I can ask them. We had to do it and moved on.

    Bob Oeser – I’ll admit I’m not good with numbers, but trying to keep track. In Aug 2021, the FD overtime was at 13.77%, then in July of 2022 overtime was 27.8% over, then it is over 21% in July of 2023. It would be interesting to see that in a graph.

    Daniel – so thanks for saying… the percentage piece – you referenced other years – percentages of budget, not over budget.

    Potter – one reason we hired the Chief – he needs to balance all of the line items. He does a great job.


  • EMS Update

    Assistant Fire Chief Charles Keir – always nice to provide the overview. The report will include July. (reads memo to board). We were challenged with the early July rains, and fortunate in our part of the state. We had 21 calls during the storm. All calls answered. Aug 10 we had 22 calls in 24 hours. Taxed our system. All calls were answered in a timely manner. Dr Storn is still active with us. Gave us an in-person training. We improved our report based on your feedback. All previous info can be found on the town website or call us and we’ll get you those reports. 259 EMS calls in July. 174 transports.

    Daniel – thanks for the report. It is appreciated. It is interesting to note that as we look at this monthly, there’s always little wrinkles here and there, but now we’re in in year two and we know the average amounts time we need 2 or 3 ambulances. I’d like to see a percentage change compared to last year and over the full year.

    AC – easy to compare July to July. That sort of thing.

    Chief – how long to collect to total revenue? He said 3-6 months before he knows. I checked with him and a third party billing company. They said the same thing. A vendor for billing said the same thing.

    Ian – any system we build, you’ll see the limits when stressed. All calls were answered in a timely manner

    AC Kier – and our personnel did an outstanding job.

    Ian – we continued to operate in a stressed moment.

    Dick Degray – I’m up too early for you people. I thank you for your response. I wanted last July’s intake of money invoiced and brought in. This is the first month that says we billed $80k and got $60k in? How did we get the answer? This can’t be for the full month? In Sept, give us an update on what is invoiced out… keep us updated monthly until we know we get 80%. This answer here is what I’m looking for.

    Ian – to be clear – the $60k is from the three months before…

    Dick – you shouldn’t do it this way. It’s a new year. We don’t carry budgets over. It makes us look better than we actually are. How do I compare this July with last July if it isn’t a true figure?

    Daniel – you hav what EMS calls happened, amounts billed, and payments received. maybe it is more interesting to break it out. When you bill, how long does it take and what do you get back? We could have a cumulative figure. That’s my proposal.

    Liz – It is more difficult than it sounds. People could pay a January bill in June. It’s hard to say it is billed here and pay there.

    Daniel – what matters – and Golden Cross gets this money – to see what they have billed and received cumulatively.

    Dick – I didn’t get an answer

    Ian – Dick – I am running the meeting.

    Dick – you are out of the loop and won’t recognize people on follow up questions.

    Ian – I’ll recognize you again. I’m happy to.

    Franz – maybe a spreadsheet for would allow us to look at different periods. If it were more available.

    AC Kier – I can present it any way the selectboard wants. I can present it many ways and it can be perceived many ways.

    Liz – the only thing that makes sense is to see cumulative totals.

    Ian – can you figure out how much was billed in July 22…and when it was paid, since it is a year later. As an example. He can say no if it is too much to do.

    Fish – if it were invoiced in Jan and it was paid in June, we’d see the invoice # and know when it was paid.

    AC Kier – ems transport could be paid by insurance, or it can co-pay some, or pay the hospital bill first and leave the transport to co-pay, or it will have the individual pay for the transport – they could pay it or buy a large screen TV.

    Fish – ahh, partially paid invoices!

    Daniel – why are we doing this? We are curious how much of a bill we can expect and use these with our revenue projections. The Town’s revenue projections are different. Cumulative is something we can all work with – 65% of what was billed was paid… that is interesting!

    Chief – thanks to Golden Cross to give us this information. We asked before for this and never got it.

    Ian – cumulative totals, then? (yes) July 22 sample of total billed and paid.

    Daniel – all the months aren’t the same.

    Liz – ask for a representative month.

    Ken Roswell – a suggestion – when you get a bill, it says what’s due, then 30 days, 60 days, then 90 days.. that could give the board a general idea of what’s going on.

    Ian – that would be a different way to look at it…

    Chief – we can ask.

    Liz – Dale is kind enough to give us this info, we can ask what he is comfortable with…. how we’d understand how we’d be reimbursed if we did this.

    Reta – I didn’t appreciate the comment about not paying EMS because of “buying a large screen TV”

    Bon Oeser – if I understand this, the cumulative number – two problems. If you take the cumulative receipts and translate it to revenue, your fiscal year ends and the collection period has lapsed. You an only look at what you collect in the year. Also, all the variables about collections, it would be good to know how many of the non-collected items are bad debt, or charity cases, what’s behind those numbers? You can only look at what you collect in the year.

    Liz – our projections are based on a model Patrick and his team prepared. Maybe he could…

    Ian – not relevant to this item.

    Dick Degray – I apologize and appreciate what the Chief said. We’re on the same page. We’re going to make a decision in 35 days and revenue is a big part of this for me. The quality of service is equal among the three. We invoiced over a million and brought in $630k… how if that total going? Revenue gets applied back to the something was billed. What did we bill July 2022 and July 2023… and you say we can’t have that total figure. And those are policy decisions you have to make Big, big discussions about bad debt, or non payment. That will play a huge role. Let’s get the rich numbers. I have a store on Main and look at how we did this July vs last July. Then you can look at the variables.

    Ian – could we just get the total number of bills from the last year.

    Daniel – the model we are using depends on who pays the bill. If you use those categories , given to us by Golden Cross, we could see that we billed x number of dollars for each of the different payers, that might be more useful information. Not the same as our revenue projection model. It would be interesting to me…

    Ian – we have lots of questions to dale. I hope we provided enough guidance.

    Bob Oeser – last time I asked a question about a media report about 16 staffers departing from the BFD. The answer I was given were the stated reasons for leaving. The question was what happened at the exit interview? What was the candid conversation? The reason for the reason? Was there and exit interview and were people asked why they were really leaving. If not, why weren’t they? Worsening turnover in EMS – increased in 2022. 20-36% turnover rate. Our department’s number are 3x the national figures. What did we learn in the exit interviews?

    Ian – we can direct that to Sally the HR manager.

  • Fire-EMS Transition Update

    1) Public Engagement

    2) Fully Municipal EMS Alterative

    3) Third-Party Contracted EMS Alterative

    4) Project Plan Update

    Ian – we’ve been moving through the process for many months with lots of good public engagement. I want to make sure we all understand what happens in the next 35 days. If there are questions or materials that need to be made available we want to address that in the coming weeks.

    Potter – Not asking for any action tonight, just feedback. Public engagement – not a lot to update on. We have the website with all the information, we have 1600+ page views since May. About 70 emails. There are chains on the same topic. If there is anything we can be doing further… let me know.

    Potter – Municipal EMS alternative – revenue and cost information has been shared and we continue to get requests for clarification. Staff are beginning to prepare a framework for comparing this to third party EMS proposals we may receive, so we can compare financial information in an apples to apples manner. We’ll also address intangibles like risk, customer satisfaction, etc. Also the ability of the town to maintain an effective response force. That will all be part of this analysis.

    Potter – 3rd Party Contracts – we have a public procurement process to get proposals from 3rd parties. RFP request went out. Questions due today, and we got two sets of questions that we’ll be posting for all to see. Proposals due Aug 29.

    Potter – The project plan was approved in May, immediate next steps are to get RFP proposals and make that information public for Sept 5 meeting, then the Sept 12 public Forum – 6pm at Brooks Memorial Library – staff will review any viable alternatives and invite the public to express views on those options. Sept 19th meeting will be for selectboard to make a decision.

    Ian – thanks very much. You’ve kept to an aggressive schedule. I’m very grateful. Sept 5, Sept 12 forum, Sept 19… those are the big dates.

    Franz – on public engagement – a lot of members of the public have gotten in touch with me and I find the exact scope of the decision we are making isn’t clear to the public. People may favor one choice over another when we don’t know what our choices are yet. Until we get proposals, we don’t know what our choices will be. That will kick off the process. I come up with questions, but answer come when we know who gives us a proposal. We are still in a waiting period until the proposals arrive. The other thing, which is not clearly understood, is the effective response force – having enough firefighters to put out a fire even if they are doing something else. What is that number and how do we make them available, and what do they do when not putting out a fire? Then you weigh costs and revenues and numbers of people on duty and it gets pretty complicated and each scenario has different answers. We’re integrating our information with the effective force for firefighters. So I want to put those out there. The public doesn’t need to go into the depth we do on the board, but should know generally. When do we call for backup? When do we call for mutual aid?

    Fish – to piggyback – Patrick and staff have presented the municipal version. We know how it would be handled municipally. We’re still in the option phases, for information only.

    Ian – we’ll show all the options in September. It’ll be our responsibility to make it as clear as possible, and it is a complex issue.

    Potter – we’ll do our best.

    Ian – On the 5th – so people can give feedback on how it is presented for the public forum. Can we redact any of the materials in the questions sent to us?

    Potter – it is all discoverable.

    Ian – yes, public records. But that’s different than us publishing them. I don’t want any special information revealed, like home address, or email…

    Franz – do we really want to do that? They wrote to us. I don’t like anonymous internet stuff. There’s more than one side to the issue.

    Liz – I wouldn’t want people to be harmed…

    Daniel – we are talking about 70 emails – we could ask if we can publish theirs name.

    Potter – we already had a public request and now we want to ask?

    Ian – (notes that emails to public officials are public)

    Dick – how is the responses to the rep… will it be made public? We know everything about the fire department about staffing, so we’ll need to see what is proposed to the town. Will it be done in executive session, or will it be posted for everyone?

    Potter – plan was to make as much as we can publicly available. if something is marked proprietary we might wait on that part.

    Kate O’Conner – you don’t have to worry. The public knows what is going on. I appreciate the process. There is one thing I’d love to see you do. Maybe if I word it differently. This isn’t about quality of care. It is about the financial sustainability. We have estimates for year one. It is really important to have a conversation and discussion about where EMS is going in the state of VT. It’s a conversation happening across the state, locally and in state legislature. For the town to make a decision without what the state is saying is sustainable. It’s municipal or regional. You are making a decision but not doing it in the context of what’s going on around us. Ask other municipal chiefs to come in and explain the challenges, get someone from the legislature. I don’t see how you make a decision about eh future without looking at the future. The solution is regional, to the state. I urge you, if you get proposals, to have a conversation – have people come in about the future of EMS in the state. Two quick quotes – “the whole decision by Brattleboro sent shockwaves.” “Brattleboro has its work cut out…” It’s a big decision to make and a policy decision.

    Franz – we are aware of those issues regional vs municipal. That is an important consideration. There are some advantages to each option. It depends on your resources and your town. I’ve heard you loud and clear on this. yes, we are taking that into account.

    Ken Roswell –

    Bob Oeser – I want to underline… forget about my question – I underline what Kate was saying. If you have a forum on Sept 12th, you could bring these people in by Zoom to attend that meeting to talk about the future of EMS. I’ll leave it there.

    Franz – WE have been in touch with numerous other towns already and that’s been part of the process. There’s a bigger question, how to decide who to talk to? Who should we invite? Even if we do that, we just get anecdotal evidence.

    Daniel – it is a reasonable request and the quotes seem meaningful. Brattleboro is a large town. Morristown is small by comparison. here we are bigger, so Barre is an interesting town. Hartford, Springfield… I know we’ve talked to them. each community is different. WE’ve done so much work to investigate our own fire department. An hour with someone somewhere else will give us any info we can transfer here. What’s happening in the state is a real question, but that’s not the question we’re trying to answer in the next month. We want to decide what’s best for Brattleboro.

    Liz – the Fire Chief has spoken to the fire department s and it is silly to think he hasn’t.

    Beth – in support of Kate – you may have talked to these folks. We read things in the media. The idea of inviting someone – if that’s not good, it is important information to share with the town. if a town expected X but got Y… that would be good for us to know.

    Kate – There’s been nothing in the public information that you’ve talked to anyone. The decision you make now we’ll deal with 10 years down the line, and if you make the wrong decision we’ve invested millions…

    (topic ends)

    Ian – a brief break… (for them. For me, I’m done._

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