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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Rethinking the Police/Fire Facilities Project

I have distributed the following proposal to Town Meeting Members. It should be noted that any town meeting action that may come about can only deal with the bonding amount. All other aspects of this proposal must be considered separately. Voting to change the bonding does not automatically put anything else into effect. The purpose of holding back on the second bond is to open the scope of the project to far greater possibilities and benefits.

Rethinking the Police/Fire Facilities Project

The economy of the town of Brattleboro is fragile to say the least. We are however continuing to make ends meet even if those ends are, year by year, drawing closer together. That is, we manage to pay our bills but each year our services are slightly reduced. My work on the Finance Committee is not producing evidence that this trend will reverse in the foreseeable future. The impetus for this letter is no more complicated or mysterious than that.

Town Meeting Members have indicated that it was OK with a $14.1 million dollar bond for the P/F facilities project. The bond was subsequently split and if interest rates don’t rise in the next eight months there will be some savings from this strategy. However repayment will ultimately still be close to a million dollars annually for the next twenty years.

I have spoken about this project with a small number (a dozen or two) of Town Meeting Reps. Although some still supported the decision other sentiments ranged from increasing uncertainty to outright regret. Since the largest part of the loan, or bonding, has yet to be taken out it is appropriate if not due diligence to reconsider what we are about to do. The project will add significantly to a tax rate that is already the highest in the state and, by tying up so much money in the repayment of debt, we undermine our ability to support economic development. I liken it to a farmer choosing to remodel the house rather than replace the old and unreliable tractor.

I work from the premise that a majority of Brattleboro citizens want a town where they can live even if they are not affluent or heavily subsidized. I believe, continuing the above analogy, it is more important to buy the tractor and fertilize the fields than remodel the house. The house (Brattleboro) isn’t in such bad shape and a few repairs will keep it going until the crop (successful economic development) is in.

Here is an alternative plan. Short form. (Just one of thousands of ideas)
1. Build the fire station annex as planned but with two additional floors.
A. Relocate town hall to this space, ideally designed for municipal
2. Remodel the current municipal building enough to remove all police
functions from the basement. Do not build external addition.
(By the way, the design firm currently engaged has already
suggested that a stand-alone police station may be a better choice,
casting further doubt on an addition to a 129 year old building).
3. Postpone work on the W. Bratt fire station.
4. Save millions.
A. Create an office or department of economic development.
i. develop ideas for new sources of municipal revenue and
actually fund them!
ii. work with existing economic development groups to build
regional economy and create jobs. Provide at least fair share or seed money for economic initiatives.

Strengthening our economy should be the foremost priority for any money we can afford to spend. Good jobs are, and always have been, the only bulwark against community decline. When people have decent jobs there is little crime. If our neighbors had good work public safety would be maintained with an even smaller police force.

If you would like to re-open or further discuss the Police/Fire facilities project please contact me. Return email, telephone or the old-fashioned post. 257-0533, 145 Green St.

Spoon Agave


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a town where we can live

This would take some fortitude from Town Meeting Representative, but could happen. Many seemed confused by the rushed voting and dual issues at the time (1% downtown tax + Police Fire).

If I read this right, you'd like to relocate town Municipal Center offices to proposed new floors at the downtown fire station, then let the Police expand their offices on the first and second floors of the Municipal Center? That would move Planning, Finance, Listing, Town Clerk, Town Manager, and meeting rooms to new offices.

Putting Town Offices at Elliot Street could be an interesting change for the town. They'd be more centrally located and a bit more tied in with what's going on downtown. The psychological change of coming from high on a hill to being surrounded would be intriguing.

A big obstacle, of course, will be the idea that once you start something you can't stop it. It's not true, but once people invest time and energy into a project it can be difficult to get the project to change substantially - unless the money isn't working out.


The proposal in not specific

The proposal in not specific about a lot of things. Discussing details when shaping a concept usually causes the concept itself to be lost. Every person in such a discussion ends up on a different page.

The broad premise here is that: a) a viable community is possible only when its people are well and gainfully employed and, b) since our infrastructure is at the moment not in such bad shape any surplus funds we can muster would be much better spent on economic development and good jobs. If we can get an agreement on that we can proceed to talking about the strategy that will move us towards those goals. Another assumption is that once we get to that point, and people feel free to think more broadly and creatively, countless new, different, interesting and viable ideas will emerge.
As I said, I've already spoken to a small group of people. Every one of them had additional and stimulating ideas.

It's true, a change in direction at this point will require a lot of courage and fortitude. Traditionally we elect managers and administrators. That is, people in whom we can have confidence that the status quo will be maintained. A classic representation of that - people who see to it that the potholes are filled or the trains run on time. We often seek unity by not doing anything different. The lowest common denominator. To a large extent this fear of change is an aspect of human nature. We feel safer if we can believe that tomorrow will be the same as today.

Today however we face extremely deep and difficult problems that have never before confronted people. Certainly never all these huge problems at once. Unemployment and poverty, air and water pollution, unheard of disparities in the distribution of dwindling resources. Too many (but not all) of our young people are feeling frightened, discouraged and hopeless. They tightly grip their iphones and stare into their computers to avoid seeing the world around them. However I am totally confident that if they can be shown leadership (decision-makers who are courageous and accountable) they will come alive.

Are the people who have stepped forward to lead capable of doing so? I don't know. But I do know that there is no one else standing in those shoes.


It's decided - until it isn't.

Perhaps, if our young people truly are feeling frightened and hopeless it's because it seems like it is impossible to make a decision anymore and have it stick.

Let's build a parking garage.
Let's put it on the ballot.
People vote, the answer is no.
Let's build a garage/transportation center, it won't cost us anything.
Put it on the ballot.
The majority votes no again.
Let's put it on the ballot a third time.
It passes.


Let's pass affordable healthcare.
Let's not.
It passes both Houses of Congress and becomes law.
Oh, Supreme Court....
It's legal, it's done, move on.
Let's stop it - let's vote again.
And again, and again, and again (ad infinitum)
Okay, let's not fund it...


Let's build a skate park....


Look, I wasn't at the meetings that said we needed to take care of these building situations now rather than later. But town meeting members investigated this, knew about the tax problems that this would bring, they voted on it, and passed a plan of action.

Do we need it?
I don't personally know.
I voted for people whom I trusted to make a decision.
Should I not have trusted them?
Were they misled?
Can we afford it?
Legitimate problem, but the ways of government and money are many, and I am not versed in them.

What I do know is that I'm very, very tired of decisions constantly being revisited because someone doesn't like the outcome. It seems to have become standard procedure to constantly refight things that have been settled. We're not talking about rights here, we're talking about a building program. If people young or old really are burying their heads in their computers and not at looking at the world around them, perhaps its because there is an extreme fatigue from never ending arguments seeking to change a decision that was made.




It's not that we don't like the outcome.

It's that some of us honestly can't afford it. We have no margin. None.



No one I know can afford it.

Rolf, my comments weren't meant to address the merits of this specific topic as much as they were a statement of general weariness with the constant re-fighting of every decision around.

I have always tried to be an engaged citizen, aware of the issues that affect the area in which I live. I had to stop reading the arguments on this issue, on the skateboard issue, on so many issues (local and national). Even after a vote is taken or a decision is reached the fighting and arguing just doesn't stop. Majority decisions don't mean anything anymore - it is which side can outlast the other.


There is truth to what you say

In this case, if we don't "outlast", some people face dire consequences.

The problem of course with "majority rule", is that the needs of the minority, including the need to not end up homeless, are sometimes accidentally disregarded. It is not usually nefarious. Just a regular by product.

This is always the potential problem with majority rule, when held as an absolute. I think Spoons efforts are aimed at trying to address that.There are some people more impacted than others. For some, the impact is impossible to withstand. For others, it is merely "not affordable". There is a difference, sadly.


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