Selectboard Candidate Interview – Tim Wessel

Wessel Family

We continue our series of interviews with candidates for Selectboard, this time with Tim Wessel, the only incumbent and a three-year seat candidate.

Give us a brief biography – who are you? What do you do?

Hi, I’m Tim! I’m a father to a 29 year old AND a 13 month old, which is crazy and strange and pretty darned wonderful too. I work for myself running Vermont Films, a video production company here in Brattleboro, and I spend my work life shooting and editing films for many different clients, both local and national. Many people saw my appearance on House Hunters on HGTV a few years back, and I also work in production for that show about once a month, usually traveling to do so. My wife and I just celebrated our second wedding anniversary, and the first birthday of our son.

What impresses you about Brattleboro?

A simple question that would take a long time to answer. But I will boil it down to the town’s beauty and the wonderful people I meet here, many of whom dedicate their lives to helping others and serving their community. It feels like my “forever home” – to use an over worn phrase from House Hunters!

Why are you running for Selectboard again?

I just completed (almost) my two years serving on the Selectboard, and I think I continue to offer voters a good balance between relative youth and a good amount of experience with the town.

I still consider myself a fiscal conservative, with the taxpayers’ concerns and tax affordability at the forefront of my mind, but I also recognize the need for some creative thinking and smart expenditures when it comes to Brattleboro.

I think I am able to “see both sides” pretty clearly often, and that skill tends to allow me to offer suggestions for compromise that comes in handy for many issues. When two sides remain locked and polarized, often nothing gets done at all, so I seek compromise with some movement too.

I also have been a renter in Brattleboro, then a homeowner, and now a landlord. I’m a small business owner and I’ve been an employee too. I’ve been single here after a divorce, now remarried, and a parent of a twenty-something and now a parent of a newborn again. I think that even in just the past 15 years I have lived through many circumstances and perspectives, all of which inform me about how different people might see different issues affecting our town.

Do you have a long-term vision for Brattleboro?

I’d like to see Brattleboro become more cohesive when it comes to use of our outdoor spaces. Like my push for a skate park, I want to see other initiatives that bring the beauty of Vermont into the confines of our town. I want to see more of a direct connection to our rivers. I want to see a running/walking/biking path along the Whetstone pathway. I want to see a walking bridge going over the Connecticut River that enables us to hike up to Wantastiquet without dodging cars. And I’d like to see all of this while retaining affordability. I think all of this is possible.

What current issues need our attention?

There are many. We need to strengthen safety measures for rental properties. We need to control spending and enact some simple new revenue generating sources. We need to improve our sidewalks and pedestrian/bicycle safety. We need to work in tandem with outside agencies to improve our housing stock here in town, and increase affordability. There are many more.

Almost every selectboard member for the last 20 years has said high taxes or affordability is an issue to deal with, but taxes seem to increase every year. Is it impossible to reduce costs/taxes in Brattleboro? Why/why not?

It’s not impossible to reduce spending, but it is very tough to do it without reducing services. As our Town Manager has repeatedly pointed out, the “low-hanging fruit” of expenditure savings have already been plucked from the trees. Now, to reduce further we will have to reduce services and/or reduce staff… and so far, our community does not seem to want to do that, and last year, town meeting increased spending beyond the Selectboard’s recommendation. So we have nice things, and we have to pay for them.

I must say here that IF Representative Town Meeting approves our recommendation to enact the 1% Local Option Sales tax, our municipal taxes portion will go down 3 percent. That hasn’t happened in a while, and I look forward to that!

Do you believe Brattleboro deserves special compensation for being the “hub” to surrounding communities? (Are surrounding towns freeloading in some way?)

It’s not about “freeloading”… I think that’s some of the older language that previous Selectboards used maybe, but not me. For me, the “hub” community means both good and bad. The good is that all of the people who live outside of Brattleboro come in to shop, eat, work, etc and are all contributing to the health of our town in that way. The bad about being a “hub” is that the services that we provide (professional police and fire for example) are 85% paid for by only the residents of Brattleboro. More pressure is put on our taxpayers because 20% of our property is not taxable since it is owned by nonprofits. As a result of these and other pressures, our tax rate is significantly higher than surrounding communities, which is suppressing the desire of folks to purchase here over purchasing nearby elsewhere. (Chris – didn’t you and Lise just experience that effect yourselves?)

So there are good and bad things about being a “hub community”, and I think acknowledgment of the complexity of both is important.

What should we do about panhandling/poverty?

Wow, what a question. Anyone who has been watching our meetings for the past two years knows that I brought up the issue again, and we’ve been struggling with finding solutions ever since. We won’t solve anything by ourselves, but we’ll alleviate the pain by using coalitions with smart and dedicated local people who are already working on these issues. Just like the battle with the opioid epidemic, it’s much bigger than Brattleboro, but we can work hard and make our own contribution towards lessening the suffering of many in our little town.

What should we do about funding the arts?

Whether or not public money, and/or how much of it, should be going to fund art is an ongoing conversation that I look forward to digging into more. Brattleboro is already an “art town” and that makes us attractive to many, and is definitely one of the reasons I live here. We have to decide as a community how much public funding should go to the arts, and what priority it should play in our town.

Does Brattleboro do enough about climate change?

That’s a question that I’m sure will be addressed further in this coming year. Personally, I try to keep reminding residents that we have done quite a bit here (in addition to having the state’s biggest net-metering solar array here at WSWMD just go on line, which is huge), but I want to continue to look at ways to do more. I will continue to insist that any measures we take are real and not just “feel good” measures, and of course I want to see that projects make fiscal sense to taxpayers.

How would you like to see Putney Road developed?

I’m a fan of what we’ve seen coming from Vtrans and the Putney Road Master Plan, and I’ve been in touch with them periodically, checking in on progress. This will turn Putney Road not only into a much more attractive area (with trees in the middle median!) but also make the area friendly to bicyclists and pedestrians.

Does the Long Term Financial Plan and Comprehensive Review of Town Operations, both long-term plans, confine the selectboard in any way? Are you just implementing a pre-made plan? What’s your actual role on the board?


What’s been filling your free time lately? Have any books or movies to recommend?

I now have an infant, so I doubt I have to say what’s filling my time! I’ve recently pretty much memorized the soundtrack to Moana, since my son and I enjoy it during diaper changing time!

Have any questions for voters? This is a two-way street…

I am always seeking to understand everyone’s concepts of things that we should be dealing with on the board. I’m talking specifically about what taxpayer money should be going towards exactly – what is the true role of town governments, and how would you like to see that change? Those are big questions, but I love asking them since it helps me understand exactly what residents think we should be doing in addition to the obvious stuff we do on a weekly basis.

Thanks for spending time with iBrattleboro!

Thank YOU!

Comments | 3

  • Oops

    Forgot to answer one!
    “Does the Long Term Financial Plan and Comprehensive Review of Town Operations, both long-term plans, confine the selectboard in any way? Are you just implementing a pre-made plan? What’s your actual role on the board?”

    Both the LTFP and the CRTO are meant to be living documents, and a real-world “check-in” to make sure that our Town Manager’s priorities are aligned with the board’s priorities. The five Selectboard members are our Town Manager’s boss, so we make sure that these docs reflect good policies. Since both documents are long-term visioning tools, it’s absolutely the role of the Selectboard to provide feedback and alterations as we move along toward the next update of both docs. They are also both incredibly valuable for citizens as a starting point to provide feedback if they feel we are not aligned with their own priorities, so both are “must reads” in my opinion!

  • Kinda sorta

    ” (Chris – didn’t you and Lise just experience that effect yourselves?)”

    A bit. Taxes were one consideration, but the big reason we aren’t in Brattleboro (other than greedy out-of-state landlords) was there is a big lack of okay houses in the $100-200k range in Brattleboro. There were lots of nice places that cost more, and quite a few unliveable places for less. Not much in that sweet spot in the middle, so we had to go a bit outside the town limits to find something.

    Had there been some properties in the right price range, we probably would have stayed. Taxes weren’t the main issue for moving.

    As for Brattleboro paying for services – our Town Meeting info in Newfane shows a lot of money going to Brattleboro services, plus we pay for parking and library and recreation and trash, etc. We contribute! (I think the main things we “outsiders” use is the roads, which, in Brattleboro are quite poor. So maybe it’s our fault that there are potholes on Estey Street… : ) )

    I’ll take a stab at your question:

    What’s the true role of town governments? Good question! If you look back at the history of Brattleboro, the town came about to take care of roads and keep track of births, deaths, etc. Policing was added slowly, and watching over liquor consumption. Then more infrastructure such as water cisterns and water/sewer.

    In these olden days, fire prevention was volunteer, with different businesses sponsoring small departments. The library was not part of town government. Recreation was whatever people did outdoors. There were lots of private individuals and organizations that donated (or built for profit) various services – gas, electric, phones.

    Town govt has expanded to do much of the work citizens used to do on their own, and then some.

    Out here in the wilds of Newfane, most of our tax money goes to roads and capital projects, and then for staff to do those things. Some money for police and fire. Some money for service organizations in the region. That’s pretty much it. (No $40k to promote us, for example. No pools, ice rinks, or sidewalk plowing either.) If Brattleboro wanted to scale back, it could, by looking at what others who spend less go without, and do the same.

    But plans for Brattleboro show more spending anticipated to “keep up” with aging vehicles and buildings. (Speaking of which, the Town Hall used to be a place people could rent out… the Municipal Center could learn from the old town hall if no tenant is found.)

    What would a scaled back Brattleboro budget look like? We don’t know. No one has attempted it.

    • Sorta and Kinda right back

      I agree with you on the $100-$200 lack of solid choices for houses here. This is exactly the problem I’d like to address, if re-elected, with some incentives to home buyers who are looking at maybe an “almost liveable” place but need a little boost to be able to take the plunge for renovations.

      With your role of town government comments – yes! This is exactly what I think should be part of our dialogues right now, and you make good points. People want low taxes, but they also want all the things. In my support for a skate park, I pointed out that this type of community activity is exactly the type of thing that attracts young families to the area – and convinces them that the quality of life afforded to the by being able to walk to the pool, skate park, hockey rink, etc, is worth higher taxes. I’ve never jumped in our town’s pool, like ever, but I know how important it is to many different families here, and I feel the same about the skating rink. It’s also a draw, as you’ve pointed out, to bring in people from outlying towns, who then pay for parking, go shopping or to the movies, and support our merchants…

      Historically, while there was less taxpayer support for things like libraries and recreation, there was also a bit more expected philanthropy from the monied citizens I think- sort of an agreed social construct that if you had the money you shared it with the less fortunate, or risk consequences. Now there is less of that, but perhaps that’s a good thing since we can be in control and rank priorities more democratically.

      What I also find fascinating lately is the shift we have taken as a community to increase our funding of social services. Our budget for giving to various agencies is growing every year, and now approaches 1 percent of our entire budget. Some would argue that’s not enough, and some would say nothing should be given- that that is the role of private giving decisions. No one is saying that these agencies and institutions don’t deserve support, but it is worth having that discussion about how much is appropriate when people are having trouble paying their taxes. From a cold, fiscally conservative position, it’s forced giving, but from a more liberal tradition of taking care of the most vulnerable, it’s essential. These are tough conversations, but good ones to have.

      Oh and rest assured, we are certainly about to have some big conversations about the municipal center, so stay tuned!

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