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.