Selectboard Meeting Notes – Rising Parking Costs and Property Taxes

selectboard july 9 2024

A hot July evening, and the Brattleboro Selectboard approved new property tax rates. , The Town’s Finance Director told the board 75% of the increase is because of education. Dick Degray called it an unsustainable increase.

The new parking ordinance had a first reading. The costs to business owners and employees on Main Street was a concern to some and an outright horror to others.

The board made a list of things to discuss with legislators, adjusted rules for political signs, and discussed parking enforcement at the Vermont Country Deli.

Comments | 8

  • Preliminaries

    They start late. 6:22p

    Chair Daniel Quipp – apologies for starting late. Amended minutes. I have no remarks.

    Town Manager John Potter – Thanks to the town work HCRS and police and fire and EMS work for the death downtown, and thanks to parade folks. Sidewalks on Western Ave will be replaced – it will take weeks. No parking, and expect delays. Seek alternate routes. Near Edwards St. Contact DPW for questions. Primary ballots available by request. You can vote early in person if two officials are present. Fuller park community forum is tomorrow night, or Thursday if it rains. Arts in Park begins tonight at The Common – 4 weeks on Tuesdays. Carol Locate says still taking registrations for summer programs.

    Franz Reichsman – I’d like to expand on one remarks and thank Brattleboro Goes Fourth – a great event. Thanks Kevin O’Connor in particular.

    Public Participation

    Kate O’Connor – I’m hear with my sister and my nephew and … brother… the whole family wants to thanks everyone who helped us organize the parade. We started because the Chamber said they couldn’t do it anymore. My father said our family would do it. He loved community. We’re 14 years in. Thanks to Town Staff, people who contributed, people who were in the parade… thanks.

    Penelope (of penelope wurr) – I came tonight because there are a couple of issues I want to check on. I’ll read this… what has held up cameras in the center of town? Have we reached final decisions on public toilet debate? I suggest requiring an admission cost. It will help keep the wrong people out. Could we raise money or get a grant. I get asked 3-4 times a day. People don’t want to use portapottys. We’ve debated this for a long time now. The other thing is thanks – the bike stands have been installed, but could we do it earlier in the year. It’s the middle of July now. People bike sooner than July. I put things out on the sidewalk. People put their bikes where I put furniture, so that’s become an issue. The last but not least. The most important issue is would the selectboard revisit the discussion of banning panhandling in the center of town. I’ve written a letter to you on this. In my opinion, it is a real crisis issue. Sales have dropped significantly this year. What is the most important thing for Brattleboro? We have a charitable instinct toward the drug users, etc… we’re not helping.

    Daniel – please send your letter. Cameras we’ve spoken about.

    Potter – the electrical lines have been installed and the camera has been ordered and will be installed soon after.

    Daniel – when people raise issues we don’t general discuss them much because they haven’t been warned. You’ve been heard.

  • Consent Agenda

    A. Second and Third Class Liquor Licenses – Retreat Farm

    B. Tobacco Substitute Endorsement Permit – SKJ Sales II Corporation

    C. Replace DPW Vac Truck

    D. Propane Bid Award

    E. Award 2024 Municipal Planning Grant Contract

    so consented!

  • Selectboard 2025 State Legislative Agenda

    Daniel – old business is preliminary consideration of state legislation priorities. I want to stress preliminary. We’ve tried to have this conversation before, but this is preliminary. Potential priorities. What would be helpful would be what we are excited about, or what is missing.

    Potter – this list came from… after you did your last state agenda, I kept a list throughout the year of everything you mentioned. Bridge 54. PILOT taxes. Ways to grow Grand List. People talked to me about SNAP distribution. What else? Things the board talked about- such as balancing out payments to the town for aid. Public safety issues, mental health reform issues. There have been regular discussions about substance use disorders. The Green Mountain Care board. Changes to open meeting las that may impact RTM. Some of these are more developed than others. If there are some that you want to champion, let us know. Legislative delegation will be at your next meeting. That’s where we are in the process.

    Daniel – so, it would be great if we started with what are we excited about?

    Liz McLoughlin – transportation funding! Bridge 54 assessment wasn’t acceptable. Glad we got some alternatives. Overall it is a dreadful policy. They take each municipality to the cleaners. No governor on their costs. There are runaway costs. they asked us to pay 3X the original cost for the bridge and the expected us to pay, and they ask this all over the state. I’m excited about this. Bridge 54 and Vtrans splits.

    Franz – I want to throw in that some of these could be grouped together. Some relate to additional funds… the one I’m really excited.. not excited… essential step for the legislature is a complete reassessment of mental health needs of people in Vermont. We made changes in the 70s and 80s and it was premised on a community based system that never came into existence. Downtown problems relate to the failure of the state. What kind of treatment is needed…

    Richard Davis – I’d support what Franz said. In addition to public safety and mental health. I think this list is really good, so when we get Baker’s report and that gets presented to us, I think we make sure these pieces of mental health reform and drug addiction get recognized or considered to make sure the issues are addressed. The legislative agenda items.. we don;’t have to rely on the legislature to do everything. We can do things locally.

    Liz – yes we can do them locally, but they are expensive so state cooperation is important.

    Peter case – I’ll throw in community development, resolving the housing problem. I’d like to hear more about that and weigh in.

    Daniel – we have the LOST at 1% but we don’t get 100% of those local dollars, so that’s something I’d like to take a deeper dive in it. I’m not hopeful but excited!

    Liz – revenue sharing!

    Daniel – and that is in a later agenda item. Anything we say no to?

    Liz – it is a great list. Nothing to take out. I’d add one item – I’d like to see our SNAP benefits are the same. EBT cards should not be transferrable.

    Richard – What assurance that we’ll follow up? How does that…

    Daniel – we meet with the state reps multiple times, and staff keeps track. There were things last year that still remain. Maybe we get a list of what remains unaccomplished. Many take years to get done.

    Dick Degray – on the 1%. .. all we need to do is to make a Charter change, that we collect the full 1%. If that is approved, then the Town collects it. The reason we pay 30% because the state collects it and distributes it back to towns. It has to be in the Charter, the the Finance department would collect it. Not sure how that would work with companies like Amazon, so you might not want to do it. Under Other – expedition for Town Meeting Reps for open meeting law.

    Potter – S. 55 – there are certain requirements that changed regarding public bodies, but do not apply to town meetings. But we don’t have a town meeting. We have a public body. Senator hash will address this at the next meeting.

    Daniel – got enough info? Good!

  • Parking Ordinance– First Reading

    Patrick Moreland – a first reading of changes. No action required at the first reading. At a future reading you can take action. A general overview of the changes, and the fine and fee schedule. Chapter 16 – a fairly significant rewrite. It’s the same change over and over. Not that complicated. The primary change that is happening is the removal of the term “parking meter” – that was riddled throughout the chapter. We replaced it with “metered parking areas”. No longer a device, but locations in town. We also removed hourly rates… it references a “fee and fine schedule” now. There is a reference to a 1978 edition and replaced it with a current edition. In appendix C there is a whole set of different actions going on. We talked of a multi departmental review of the parking department. In addition to the changes and the project planning, we came across areas of town it would be best to remove it from the metered parking areas. There are three spaces by the Co-op. It would be wasteful to have a kiosk there. So we say make them free parking for 2 hours. They would be limited parking areas. Canal Street, Walnut Street, Frost Street, park Place. 13 spaces is enough to have a kiosk, but our view is we should keep barriers to Park access low, especially with 7 day a week. And lastly, the meters along the municipal center have been gone for quite a while. This cleans up the ordinance to match current activities. So that’s what’s going on in Appendix C. Lastly, the fine and fee schedule. A couple of important things. Some of these prices were discussed – short term parking rates to $1.50…and raising parking tickets from $10 to $15 was discussed. But there are lots of types of tickets. So we scaled up all the other fees and fines by 50%. We were explicit about the permit prices in one lot, so we applied it to the Transportation Center.

    Daniel – can you put the air conditioner on and bring some water jugs?

    Peter – what’s being proposed for free two hour parking – how will that be enforced? What prevents me from leaving it for the day?

    Moreland – same enforcement as now. They have ways of knowing if your car has been there a long time… the valve stem. They don’t mark tires. You’d get an extended stay ticket.

    Peter – I’ve had three dozen different parking conversations – all over town. One large concern – people with employees who come downtown to the parking garage for inexpensive parking – this will cause problems. It’s hard to keep employees. Elm street lot is almost always empty. I’d like to have a place for downtown employees to park that is even cheaper. I’d like it held to the current $220 for people working downtown to get a further savings, to help business owners who have employees who park downtown. The four spaces by the post office. That should become free with a 15 minute limit. This are the two most common suggestions. Elm Street lot at $220 for downtown businesses’ employees and free parking at post office with 15 minute limit.

    Daniel – that would have a budget impact so we’d need to see the budget impact at the next meeting. The schedule of parking fines and fees… this is part of our ordinance change.

    Moreland – this is the document the ordinance references. Not within the ordinance.

    Potter – next time we’d recommend a motion to adopt the ordinance, and also the schedule.

    Daniel – on page 67 – the rates go into effect 2019 – and reconsidered every 5 years – we are striking that out. We looked at it each year but didn’t really look at rates too closely.

    Franz – on the fees and fines schedule, I’dd like a copy of the current values.

    Liz – thanks to patrick – his work is always wise and in support of our guidance. I don’t have a problem with the Elm Street lot, maybe $250. I do want to think about the post office. No one goes there very long. And that’s a purpose of the fees. If we kept kiosks there, it would keep people running in and out. No one stays there for even an hour. Metering is the best way to handle that situation, otherwise there will be issues.

    Peter – I go back and forth to Keene – all of their parking is free for the first 15 minutes. They do zone parking. We could do that, Park Place could be a zone. Or maybe for those 4 spots. You just register with the kiosk…

    Moreland – those two suggestions – maybe we could take those ideas and work on them for you.

    Daniel – public?

    Penny – in the letter I’m sending to you, I want to say, if I can find it. One of the main reasons that my customers are not coming downtown is parking meters (and panhandling). Everyone who is a retailer in Brattleboro is raising arms in horror that you are raising parking fees. If I ask my customers – why can’t you stay longer… they have to go feed the meter. I do have some notes – why are we replacing the meters? If we are raising rates to cover costs of new meters, and security at the parking garage, is that true? Is it part of the parking budget? Shouldn’t;’t it be security and safety budget to protect the garage. I would never park in that garage. It is not safe, even with guards. If we do need to raise parking rates, could we be more inventive, such as free parking after 4pm in the summer. Shops could stay open later. Do it midweek.

    Daniel – why the rates? We haven’t done it in a while, and the parking budget is running a deficit, so we were asked to consider a rate change… first we were asked if we wanted for it to pay for itself, or have property taxes pay for it. We could fund it partially, but the part we don’t fund needs to picked up somewhere. So we raised fines, fees, etc. to cover the full costs of the parking budget. Changing to kiosks… we got a grant to fund all of that. It’s about making the budget balance.

    Liz – Patrick laid out problems with the meters themselves that required changes.

    Moreland – I’d add that the meters are easily hit by cars. Most are at angles. heights are all over the place. They are ugly and make snow removal difficult.

    Moreland – you suggested fee parking after 4…we didn’t discuss that. Maybe we can model that and look at it for next year?

    Bill Daley – I ask that you change it – line 129 – it says from Williams to Highlawn – I’d say 406 Western Ave to Highlawn. I’ve been corresponding with John and have a picture of the area. We’ve been at the deli for 17 years. That section has been parking. Two years ago parking signs went up. No enforcement until last week. Tractor trailers deliver and need that area to park. On weekends, that relieves a lot of the parking. Eliminating parking spots makes it worse. I’d like that be put back. I support the police giving tickets but I ask that be part of this first reading.

    Potter – I know the section he is talking about and we could include that in the second reading.

    Liz – that property and the area has been discussed at great length at the Traffic safety Committee – I’d like it go back to traffic safety and be fully explored before the selectboard acts.

    Quipp- John?

    Potter – we could refer it to Traffic Safety and come back to this in August or September.

    Peter – his concerns are valid – they bought additional property for more parking. Would this impact him if we waited that long.

    Bill – I’ve been to the Committee. I don’t know the history of it, but I’ll say many customers are parking there where there is a parking sign or not. We really need that space for deliveries. I’m only asking this be passed until the consultants figure out what the traffic flow and end solution should be.

    Liz – he wants to make a short term change. But I don’t see the problem with keeping it as is until then.

    Bill – there are lines coming in during busy times and there is a lot of parking that needs to be done. W try to defer it down to the memorial park. We are trying to work on a solution with you. Until the consultants get together, this is 6 spots that hep our business and the community – people paying taxes. Taking away 6 parking spots and starting to ticket on those spots exacerbates the situation.

    Franz – if I understand – what I heard was that there hasn’t been a recent change, so whatever has been happening with the ordinance we have in effect. What changed was a change in enforcement. people had been parking there relatively freely, but recently enforcement started and that’s creating a problem. So is there another way to unload the trucks, or another way to enforce the parking ban. We could go back to turning a bling eye, or we can say “that’s tough do what you can”. It needs a solution, and there is a recent change..

    Bill – 2022 the no parking signs went up. prior – no signs. There were parking lines painted in that area blocking people until 2022. I called DPW, and they gave me no remedy. We’ve been working with the Town – Steve Barrett, Dan Tyler, Sue Fillion, John Potter. The tickets make things worse. Go back to what we had until we get a solution from consultants.

    Daniel – Traffic Safety knows this intersection is an issue and we should continue with the consultants, but also look at what we can do to help you out in the mean time.

    Shelby – I have lots of thoughts about how we got here. Decisions you made prior to tonight that I don’t agree with. As someone who has tenants downtown – the idea of raising kiosk prices is fine, but my issue is for the parking garage and lots. A 50% increase? No one has gotten a 50% pay increase. 15 years of not preparing is not the fault of those about to pay this. I get that parking is separate, and has gotten extra funding outside. I’d rather pay a slight property tax increase so workers didn’t have to bear the brunt of this overnight. A 50% increase overnight is insane. 10% a year over years can be planned for. People can’t come up with this money… I don’t understand how we got here. If we pulled the parking fund and put it in the general fund, it would cost me $160 a year in taxes, if there was NO revenue from the parking fund. You are asking the people who live and work downtown – practically a public service to still be there. I don’t want my job to be harder. Please consider a slower progression of rate increases for permits. I’d also like to see occupancy of all the lots – how many permits.

    Daniel – I appreciate your comments. The parking budget has been adopted. It’s possible that we can make changes to fines and fees. The increase to property taxes would not be nominal. This cycle it is a done deal. We’ll move on now. Second reading later…

  • Political Sign Policy

    Sue Fillion and Hilary Francis

    Hilary – the town has had policies for a while, and we’d get questions from candidates, so we revamped our policy a year ago and we got some feedback from candidates that some elements were questionable. We may have taken an extreme interpretation, so we looked further and revamped it again. Secretary of State asked that you sign off with it. Now in line with state statute. The major aspects are just clarify that political signs can’t be posted on town property – if it is private property, you need their permission to post sign there. There are places where town right of way and private property overlap. Town right of ways – the islands – can be posted in the two weeks leading up to the election. We bring this to you to sign off on. Questions?

    Liz – Hilary, with early voting so prominent, does election day have the same meaning?

    Hilary – yes. That came up with Charter Change law. The VLCT and SEC State all agreed that Election Day is Election Day,

    Franz – I was one of the candidates who had an issue, so thanks for taking out the phrase “no man’s land” because that was confusing. However, I don’t think this clarifies. Town property vs town right of way. There could be confusion if it isn’ indicated. A map would help. Another aspect is enforcement. There were places I put my sign – at Guilford Street. It stayed there. But last year I put a sign there and it was taken down. But there were commercial signs in the same locations. Commercial signs were left up. But political speech is protected more than commercial speech. To me this is still a problematic issue – the specific places it is OK and what happens to allusions – I’d be in favor of more signs not fewer. But this doesn’t solve all the problems.

    Daniel – do you want specific changes?

    Franz – I’d like a distinction between town property and right of way.

    Sue – we can supply a map of where signs cannot go. I could confuse you about right of way. If it is front of a house, you need their permission. But the bottom of Union Hill… that’s probably town right of way. We can show you where you cannot have them.

    Peter Case – a map is good. I think that’s fine. If you are in doubt, the person running should delay it a day and ask. A map could help. I’m fine with it as presented. Just ask somebody.

    Daniel – I felt it was reasonable. I’d like a little more clarification of town right of ways… but if you can’t have a list then enforcement should assume good intentions.

    Hilary – we can pull together a map.

    Liz – an example of departments and department heads working together.

    Oscar Heller – I was confused last time, too. I went through this ahead of time and still find it confusing, personally. For example, I’m still not sure.. town right of way that doesn’t front town property is OK.

    Daniel – traffic island OK

    Sue – in a state right of way, no, but a local right of way….

    Oscar – could it be more conversational? You can post it here here and here… and not here. This is a bit legalistic. The section on signs at the polling place – you can’t put them at polling places.

    Hilary – the presiding officer can alter the policy as long as it is fair to all. It allows for campaign signs in the designated area. As long as they are removed by the end of election night.

    Oscar – this reads that temporary political signs can’t be for more than 2 weeks? On town property? Anywhere? It reads that way.

    Daniel – on private property…

    Oscar – the section 2 says “on private and public property…”

    Daniel – people want a map and plainer language, could you amend it with those in time for it to be useful?

    Sue – not for your next meeting?

    Peter – a map is a reasonable amendment.

    Daniel – candidates can come to your office and you can say yea or nay? (yes)

    Oscar – if we are fixing it… there is language around public and private, there is language about town property… this is a problem I have.

    Daniel – this is band new or edited… (it is updated from the past). I’ll read section 7 and check my understanding – (reads it) I want to resolve this…

    Oscar – that section needs to say… it says you can’t put a sign anywhere in the ground. It would need an exemption.

    Hilary – you can’t put it in the ground but you can hold it. Or place it.

    Oscar – on public property only?

    Daniel – that is state statute so we’d need to come back to that. Standing and placing is a friendly amendment. So we can approve the language as amended?

    Franz – more discussion! I’ll vote against this. It still isn’t clear and Oscar brought up things, and the language of the state statute is in question.. We shouldn’t rush this. Let’s get it right. That’s why we are doing that. I’d vote against it.

    Peter – no mater how clear and accurate we make it, it will still conjure up questions. The amendment is fine. It should be the candidates responsibility. We add the map. Let’s vote. We spent more than 10 minutes on this. It should be in th rear view mirror. We have more important things to discuss.

    Richard – I’m comfortable with the changes made.

    Liz – me, too.

    4-0 Franz against.

  • Fiscal Year 2025 Property Tax Rate

    This should be straightforward.

    Kimberly Frost – decisions were made, the Grand List was filed… then later we find out about the education. (She reads the new rates… 75% of the increase is educational).

    Daniel – what if we don’t approve this? (no one knows…)

    Dick Degray – I was at the legislative forum and they were asked about the school tax rate, and none of them gave a definitive answer of how to get it under control. A 15.5% increase is unsustainable. It is ludicrous. We haven’t gone through a town appraisal – how is that affecting our tax rate. The common level of appraisal? We haven’t had an evaluation in 10 years. It is having a significant impact. It won’t be done until 2029? There is a significant price to pay for not doing it when it should be done.

    Daniel – we are trying to adopt the rate. Not entirely germane and we don’t have an assessor, but the comment is interesting…

    Franz – come and talk to me… I see it differently. Let’s talk offline.

    Daniel – we’re trying to adopt the municipal tax rate.



    The board is taking a break. Then they will come back and talk for an hour about their goals: community safety, child safety zones, and enhanced state revenue sharing.

    I, however, am going to try to attain my goal of some ice cream.

  • ice cream?

    there’s a kitty who loooves ice cream…
    Thanks for the report.

    • heh

      I get sent to the store now with a shopping list item “Margot ice cream.” It means get something without chocolate or chunky bits so she can lick the bowl. Vanilla is ideal. : )

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