Plans for the new police and fire facilities were presented to the Brattleboro Selectboard at their first Tuesday meeting in February. The plans were detailed and raised few comments from the board or the public.
Brattleboro businesses face new fines and possible court dates. That’s the word from the Selectboard regarding those who fail to pay for a Brattleboro business license.
The Selectboard held a discussion of evaluating the necessity of positions if staff retire, provoking minor protest from department heads who felt the budget process allows the board an opportunity for just that. The board disagreed.
Read on for all the details, plus FY13 audit information, grants, liquor licenses, meetings and appointments.
There were few remarks during the preliminary portion of the meeting. No public with comments, nor board members or Interim Town Managers with comments or reports.
Chair David Gartenstein did say that the board would continue town business and begin work on the utility budget, suggesting that rates outlined in the original ordinance would be revisited this year. He said he looked forward to working with his fellow board members on this and other issues in the coming year.
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved a second class liquor and tobacco license for Hannaford Supermarket. The company recently changed from a corporation to a Limited Liability Corporation, triggering the need for a new license.
Northside Subs & More, 648 Putney Road, was granted a first class liquor license. Dorothy Pond is the new owner of the restaurant near One Stop Country Pet Shop.
John Allen said he had a fantastic sandwich there today. The board encouraged the somewhat reluctant owner to step up and promote her business.
Pond said she opened last Monday and she’s added comfort foods to the soup and sandwich menu. “I want to change it a little,” she said. “Not a bar, but it’s nice to have a beer with a sandwich. It’s great food and everyone should come try it.”
Swearing In of Police Cadets
Four Police recruits were sworn in to service by Town Clerk Annette Cappy. Police Chief Eugene Wrinn gave them each plaques, there was applause, and photo taking with members of the Selectboard.
This happens on a regular basis, we’re told, but not usually at a Selectboard meeting. Patrick Moreland suggested the new, more public recognition.
Police-Fire Facility Update
Project manager Steve Horton and Architect Ray Giolitto presented the Brattleboro Selectboard with initial plans for new Police and Fire facilities at the Municipal Center, on Elliot Street, and in West Brattleboro. The plans come with the blessing of the oversight committee. They also gave the board an update on the budget outlook for the project.
Horton told the board progress is being made, and drawings have been submitted for review. Recent work has involved soil tests to make sure the ground will support the buildings being planned, and some things were surprising. He said, for example, they bored 97 feet under the Municipal Center and never found ledge.
Horton said that the plans, as they stand, are all within proximity of the $11.2 million construction budget. “All good news so far.”
John Allen asked when it would be put out to bid. Horton said they were shooting for May.
Ray Giolitto then took the board on a tour of the plans for each of the three buildings.
He began with Station 2 in West Brattleboro, which will be built north east of the existing building. It will have 3 bays, a main entrance, a decontamination area, lobby, office, kitchen, dining area, training space, two bunk rooms, washer/dryer, shop, mechanical room and storage. Giolitto said there were options for expansion if they need arose.
The building will be wood framed, with steel around the doors. Giolitto described a simple roof, plank siding, PVC trim, architectural shingles. In the drawing it appeared grey with red doors.
“It will fit right in the neighborhood,” said Allen.
Central Fire Station was next. The work, said Giolitto, will mostly be an addition to the north of the existing station, just about to the edge of the property. He said the existing four bays will remain, but there will be a new entry, lobby, elevator and stairs, storage, towers, three new large bays, a shop and parts area, a decontamination area, offices and watch room.
The second floor will hold administrative and other offices, quarters with bunk rooms, kitchen, living and TV areas, lockers and locker rooms.
The third floor above the new apparatus bays will have the emergency operations center, tech and data room, EOC, multipurpose room, fitness and training rooms, and a kitchen area.
One “hose tower” will be used for training.
David Gartenstein asked about the need for an elevator, and energy efficiency.
Giolitto said areas beyond the first floor need to be made accessible, “by law and good practice.” He said they would be looking at cost benefit analyses for each building to see what energy improvements might yield in long term savings, and that they plan to use radiant floor heating in the West Brattleboro station bays to keep things warm, and also to help keep things dry. They plan to use LED lighting wherever possible.
David Schoales asked what the old apparatus bays were used for.
“Apparatus,” said Giolitto. “Small vehicles. Turnout gear.” He said the new station will have a soft wakeup alarm system to gradually bring up the lights and volume to help prevent sudden jumping out of bed. Firefighters can then go gear up and get out easily.
Macomber asked about the decontamination area. It was much as it sounds. Giolitto said it was a hard surfaced room that could be washed down. He said there was also an adjacent clean room to shower off after decontamination from blood, mud, or hazardous materials. He then corrected himself to say probably not hazardous materials, but anything that could go down into the sewer.
Gartenstein asked about the Emergency Operations Center. Giolitto said it wasn’t fully designed. The systems need to be detailed, he said, but they do know that critical operation equipment must be singled out. He said it would have room for tables, chairs, video, computers, dispatch connections. “It will be a secure room.” He said they should never be placed on a first floor. “It’s the right place on the third floor.”
Fire Chief Mike Buccossi liked what he saw. “We worked closely,” he said, “ and we are very happy. It is coming along well.” He said there would be some minor tweaks coming, but “overall the two fire stations are coming along great.”
Moreland pressed him to answer whether they’ll be useful for many years to come.
“They’ll carry us well into the future,” said Buccossi.
Giolitto then moved on to the addition to the Municipal Center for the Police Department. He said it was the most difficult, as “essential” public service structures had strict safety codes to follow to protect against things such as seismic events. “Whatever is essential has to stand up if the town hall falls down.”
It also rests against a historic structure. Digging down for a basement could be expensive and difficult.
This led him to suggest going without a basement for the new addition. Instead, the footprint would be expanded to take up more of the current parking area.
“What can we move into town hall as non-essential?” became the question, said Giolitto. “Gene’s office will be in town hall. Locker rooms. Everything else is essential. The impact on the site means it comes out more to the south and west than before.”
The new addition will feature a sally port (secure entryway) at the rear of the building, and the Municipal Center will have a new shared entry way coming from the north side of the building. The new structure will fill much of the the area the Police currently use for parking.
The new entry lobby will lead to the Municipal Center and the new dispatch, waiting area, interview room and public bathroom. The first floor will also have patrol stations, a work room, break room, roll call room, cell block, decontamination area, locker rooms for men and women, and an entry into the Municipal Center “non-essential” area.
The Police will be vacating the north side of the first floor and the Planning Department will move down, freeing up the second floor space for more policing. The second floor “essential” addition will have a training room, detective area, forensic space, evidence drop and lockers, weapons cleaning and armory storage area, fitness room, IT closet and data area, administrative area, storage and records.
The addition will be made of brick.
“You’ve done a fantastic job,” said John Allen. “One of the concerns was the footprint is bigger and we’ll be losing some parking. How does traffic work? Many people use it as a cut through,” he said, jokingly adding that “we can take land by eminent domain from the O’Connors for parking.”
Giolitto said they had received the most comments about the Police plans, and many were about the parking and traffic. The current plan eliminates 34 spaces, but the town is getting about 20 back from the adjacent state building. “It’s not great. Pedestrians competing with police.”
He said the planning approval process will resolve issues. He suggested that perhaps the public could only enter the lot from Grove and loop around, exiting at Main Street. He said the library and the Municipal Center needed loading and unloading areas, too.
Gartenstein asked what would be done with the current basement area and old cells. Giolitto said it would be used for police storage.
Moreland prodded the Police Chief Wrinn for his views.
“The big problems have been solved and this will take us efficiently into the future,” he said, noting that it was the 6th revision of the plans.
“It’s a nice solution,” said Moreland.
Horton estimated the project designs are in the 30-40% complete stage, and suggested that if an changes were desired, now was the time to speak up. “At 60%, there’s no turning back without consequences.” He thought they’d be there by mid-March.
Gartenstein reminded all that the Selectboard will have final say before the project is put out to bid. “We delegated oversight, but we have reviews and will approve final plans.”
Horton repeated that if the board has any objections “it would be good to hear them now.”
Schoales and Allen said there had been many views expressed at the oversight meetings. Moreland agreed, saying they discuss price versus value, whether the location is appropriate, and so on. “We’ll explore any reasonable inquiry at the committee level.”
Gartenstein said his concern was outside circulation at the Municipal Center, but that the Development Review Board would deal with it.
Schoales began to contemplate the permit parking spaces in the lot, but Gartenstein cut him off, saying it was for another time.
2014 Certificate of Public Mileage
Director of Public Works Steve Barrett presented the board with the annual number of highway miles, a certified number approved and sent along to the State.
Brattleboro has 6.42 miles of Class 1 roadway, 13.89 miles of Class 2, 65.01 miles of Class 3, and 22.195 miles of State Highway. “No change from last year,” he told the board, adding that next year may be different.
The State uses the number of highway miles to determine the level of financial support Brattleboro receives for class 2 roads.
The Selectboard approved the mileage.
Waste Water Treatment Plant Outfall Pipe Project
At the end of the Waste Water Treatment Plant is an outfall pipe, used to discharge water into the Connecticut River. It was damaged during Hurricane Irene and is one of two remaining Irene repairs to be done, according to Director of Public Works Steve Barrett.
Hannah O’Connell said FEMA initially disagreed with a request to fund the repair, but reversed its position after a lengthy appeal process. The initial estimate, however, wasn’t enough to cover even the lowest bids. FEMA said they would will pay about $70,000.
Barrett explained that FEMA has a method for determining a replacement value. “It doesn’t always meet the actual value. We have an obligation to fix it. We’re optimistic that there could be additional funding.”
Brattleboro is applying for more funding, but if the project is delayed, FEMA might reverse their decision again feeling the project is unnecessary.
With that in mind the Brattleboro Selectboard authorized a contract for $152,000 with Kingsbury Companies of Waitsfield, VT to repair the outfall pipe. Two other higher bids were received, from Vernon and Buffalo.
If FEMA doesn’t approve the changes, the costs will likely come out of the Utility Fund.
Communications Equipment Grant Application
The Brattleboro Fire Department was approved to apply for $72,232 in grant funds to replace 35 hand-held radios, 40 voice pagers, and to acquire a mayday decoder.
This request to the state’s VDEMHS program is similar to a recent grant request to a federal agency, but requires no matching funds and is preferable, said Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland. They could turn down the other, previous grant if this comes through.
HSGP Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program Grant
Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland told the board that Brattleboro will be receiving a future grant of $95,970 for portable and mobile radios for the Police Department. A request for a repeater was included but not funded.
Moreland said with this news, the town will temporarily place used Police communications equipment atop Harris Hill and begin looking for funding for the repeater.
Police Chief Eugene Wrinn said the Police will soon be applying for the same grant the Fire department used (above) for the repeater.
Moreland said both the Police and Fire departments could both apply with different applications. “The state is really pushing for improved communications.”
The ultimate goal is to place all police and fire communications equipment at the hospital.
No one asked how radio equipment prevents terrorism.
FY13 Financial Audit
Finance Director John O’Connor presented the board with a summary of the FY13 financial audit of Brattleboro’s books.
John Allen “I actually read all of it.”
The auditors, Mudgett Jennett & Krogh-Wisner, P.C., said that Brattleboro has been doing well with presenting fair statements of funds and activities. O’Connor said it was an unqualified opinion, which he said was good.
The audit says the total cost of all programs was $19,981,385.
“How do we get that figure?” asked John Allen. “Everything added together?”
Yes, answered Gartenstein.
Brattleboro’s total assets were listed at $97,345,558. Total liabilities were $50,230,773.
Allen wanted to highlight a section that said 55% of taxes will be spent to fund education, with “high pressure” being placed on the Municipal budget to keep taxes down.
“I wrote that,” explained O’Connor, who said he wrote a portion of what was included in the audit report.
“Very, very nice,” said Allen.
Total general/governmental expenditures about $16 million, very close to what O’Connor said was budgeted. “A little under.”
The report is filled with interesting numbers about the Town.
Governmental activities lists $4,077,352 in outstanding debt. The Utility fund had a surplus $560,000 and “remains on target as it continues to build a fund balance in preparation for current and future debt repayment.” The Utility fund has $34,572,986 in outstanding debt. The Parking fund had surplus of $36,000, attributed to increased expenses the prior year with Irene. It has $1,600,000 in outstanding debt.
Brattleboro has $74,608,875 in capital assets such as land, roads, bridges, highway equipment, and water systems.
O’Connor outlined numerous funds the Town is involved with including funds for disaster relief, rental housing, small business assistance, restorative justice, public transportation, recreation programs, Irene, West River Park, and the skatepark.
He encouraged people to look in the notes for additional information about pensions, investments and other financial matters of interest.
Brattleboro Business License Fines
Last year the the Brattleboro Selectboard set 2013 goals including “increased emphasis on attracting/developing new businesses and business opportunities” and to “develop better relations with business in town to assist with growth..”
In what could be seen as an unusual step to achieve that goal, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved late fees for local Brattleboro businesses as well as fines for not having a license to do business in Brattleboro. They also threatened to take offenders to small claims court, at an additional cost to the business.
The “license” consists primarily a fee of $50 due around Christmas. The fee was instituted to cover the cost to the town of the business supplying Brattleboro with information via an online form. The information can be then used by town emergency services and allows the business to qualify for a $5,000 Business Personal Property tax exemption.
Municipal Assessor Russell Rice suggested a late fee of $25, and that those found to be operating without a Brattleboro Business License be fined $100.
He gave the board a list of 50 Brattleboro businesses that are late, and said he’s found at least 20 unlicensed business operations. About 880 businesses have paid for a license, he said, and out of fairness to those who pay, we think those who don’t should pay.
He said the program has existed only four years.
“It has no bite if it doesn’t have bite,” said John Allen. “It’s useless paperwork.”
Patrick Moreland said Rice made a good argument for the fines and fees, and that an ordinance is in place to back it up. It just hasn’t been utilized in this way before.
Rice said he has sent warning letters, updating addresses as they went, using email and site visits in some cases. “We’ve done our best.”
David Gartenstein noted that the board knew where some are. “We know where some are, like the bank.” (TD Bank)
“What if they never sign up?” asked Kate O’Connor.
“It could go to small claims court once it is over about $50,” said Moreland.
“We need something to back it up,” said Allen.
David Schoales suggested notifying those who hadn’t paid. Rice said everyone on the list has gotten a third notice about the penalty. He said the penalty deadline started February 1.
Gartenstein asked if they should be notified “that we’ll be filing in small claims court.”
“The folks on the list have had numerous opportunities to remedy and stick to the deadlines,” answered Moreland.
Rice said they are now being fined and have until the end of the month before we go to small claims court. “And that has additional costs.”
Donna Macomber asked if any who hadn’t paid had told them it was a hardship.
“They say it when they pay it,” said Rice. Allen said he always does.
“Why did it start?” asked ace reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman of the Reformer.
“Money,” answered John Allen.
Rice said the chief rationale was to help emergency services get good information, and help businesses qualify for the business personal property exemption, which saves about $57 a year for the business.
“It was motivated by bringing in more revenue to the town,” insisted Allen.
Rice said about $45,000 was taken in the last year.
The Selectboard voted to endorse their previous ordinance with emphasis. “You have been warned,” said Allen.
Should Brattleboro pause when an employee retires or leaves and consider not hiring anyone new for a while? Kate O’Connor brought the matter up for discussion.
She said the board needs to think in advance about decisions that have long term impacts. “Before a position is filled, we should have a conversation about it. We don’t want to fire or lay people off, just take a deep breath and look at what we’re doing and plan better for the future.
Gartenstein said it presents an issue of how those discussions would work. He suggested executive sessions while specific positions are discussed.
David Schoales asked why not talk in a public session. Gartenstein said discussions of workloads and impacts on other employees would best begin in private.
Director of Public Works Steve Barrett said other Selectboards got involved with hiring and found it to be less helpful than looking at department budgets at the end of the year. “Respect the balance,” he said. “We gave you recommendations as to how to make cuts.”
O’Connor said last minute budget planning is difficult for everyone, and that she had no interest in micromanaging. “We don’t want to decimate departments.”
Donna Macomber said it’s the board’s responsibility to be proactive about the budget. “Town staff need to push back against us, to create a healthy tension to arrive at something that makes sense. We welcome your feedback. We want to give our best effort, and for you to tell us why that makes you nervous.”
Allen praised Macomber’s way with words.
Police Chief Wrinn said hiring pauses were already in place, as each new hire had to be approved by the Town Manager. He worried that pauses could lead to missed training, and delays. “Public safety will suffer.”
Fire Chief Buccossi agreed. “When we do the budget, you approve a staffing level. For us to come every time we want to hire to jump through hoops doesn’t make sense. We justified the staff. If hiring is delayed, that means overtime paid out to fill shifts.”
“It’s a tough road to go down, but it is what we’re supposed to do. It’s all in the betterment of the town. I can see where Kate is coming from. I see both sides to this,” said Allen.
“I usually change my mind several times, but I don’t have a mind to change yet,” said Schoales. He wanted to think about it more and gather more information.
Gartenstein said he saw it as a natural extension of gathering information about departments. “We looked at what departments do and how they do it. As people retire, it seems fine for the Selectboard to be briefed and have a discussion of whether the position is still needed.”
He said 70-80% of the budget is salaries and benefits. ”It isn’t unreasonable to have a quick discussion of whether the position should be filled. It’s due diligence. Next year we’ll have less surplus and more expenses. I’m in favor of a hiring review of open positions.”
“I understand how it makes sense to put the power into the hands of those who can make those decisions,” said Macomber.
The issue was left unresolved, but the Selectboard seemed intent on following in the direction of a hiring review.
Rosamond Blake was appointed to the Tree Advisory Committee.
The Selectboard appointed Summer Burch to the Senior Solutions Board.
“Summer Burch sounds like someone who should be on the Tree Committee,” said John Allen.
“Let’s be respectful...” cautioned Gartenstein.
Informational Town Meeting Scheduled
The Brattleboro Selectboard invites members of the public to an informational meeting prior to Town Meeting on Wednesday, March 12, 6:00 p.m. at Academy School.
District caucuses to fill empty Town Meeting Representative seats will be held, too.
Water & Sewer Commissioners
This item was moved to the end of the meeting to accommodate the Police recruits earlier.
The Selectboard discussed scheduling a special meeting to discuss utilities. They plan to examine the Utility budget, rates, and its capital plan for scheduled improvements.
Schedules will be checked, and they will attempt to meet in the early morning of a day next week, certainly to be warned.