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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Selectboard Meeting Notes - Budgets, Wood Pellets, Parking, PAYT, and Pool Repair


The Brattleboro Selectboard examined and approved the FY18 Utilities, Parking, and Solid Waste budgets on Tuesday night. There was ample discussion about a wide range of energy-related issues throughout, from wood boilers and pellet prices to energy improvements in town facilities.

PAYT bag costs will not be increased. The board also approved of studying downtown parking, is looking at water treatment facility improvements, has approved of the emergency operations manual, set their goals, approved grants, and acted quickly to spend money on repairing the repairs at the pool, so that all may swim by opening day in June. 

Preliminaries

Chair Kate O’Connor started off by saying it was an honor for Brattleboro to host the All State music festival last week.

Town Manager Peter Elwell had no preliminary comments.  

Under Selectboard comments and committee reports, David Schoales was also impressed by the All State music festival.  Brattleboro was very involved, putting up kids from out of town and volunteering for the event. The conductors of the various bands, he said, brought out children's skills, and that they were “playing music, not notes.”

John Allen felt guilty following up Schoales accolades with solid waste but so it was.  Allen had attended the Solid Waste Committee meeting where, he said, they are “still debating flow control on composting, always contentious. They are split.” Then there’s the matter of outside haulers - July 2018 about is when private haulers start picking up food scraps. This is “confusing for everyone.”  As for the solar project, no new word on that yet.

Under public participation, Kit Whelan said that she was interested in the vote in March to reduce or eliminate single-use plastic bags, and asked how that effort was going. Elwell said that there were a range of options, from outright prohibition to strongly encouraging people to comply, and that Brattleboro would likely land somewhere in between the extremes.

Liquor Commissioners

Acting as Liquor Commissioners, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved adding Spirits of Old Bennington to the list of vendors for the Strolling of the Heifers street festival on June 2.

Water & Sewer Commissioners

The board removed their liquor hats to become Water & Sewer Commissioners and to take up three matters.

First was the Wastewater Treatment Plant Energy Efficiency Analysis. Brattleboro’s Energy Committee, Efficiency Vermont, and Process Energy Services were approved to undertake an energy audit at the town’s newest facility - the Wastewater Treatment Plant. The goal is to reduce the amount of electricity being consumed there, and Efficiency Vermont will contribute half the $12,900 total cost. If Brattleboro completes the audit and implements the low cost recommendations, Efficiency Vermont will refund Brattleboro’s share of $6,450.

This came about as a result of actions by the Energy Committee earlier in the year. They noticed that the WWTP has the highest electric bills, and if operations could be tightened up, the potential for savings could be significant.

This energy process audit will focus on use of electricity. Other recent energy audits were more focused on building envelopes. All the major equipment will undergo testing of pressure, flow, and use of electricity. The pump system will be analyzed, HVAC will be evaluated, and the treatment process will be investigated. The project will result in a report that outlines cost saving opportunities.

Steve Barrett, Director of Public Works, said that they audit should take about 10 weeks.

...

Next, the board ratified Town Manager Elwell’s decision to apply for a Drinking Water Asset Management grant. The grant had an application date of May 12, and the Town Manager applied for $20,000 to gather data and do planning for Brattleboro’s drinking water system. Assets will be inventoried, life cycle costs calculated, and succession plans for DPW staff will be developed. 

“Our drinking water exceeds minimum standards.  This audit isn’t about that but about keeping our infrastructure in good shape.”  He explained that this audit will provide an asset inventory, after which “we do engineering.”

The Department of Public Works would like to do this both to gather useful information and to prepare for upgrades at the Water Treatment Plant. The grant requires a $5,000 match, if approved.

...

Finally, the board discussed the FY18 Utility Budget. Town Manager explained that the Utilities budget can be up or down, depending on the year, but that overall it is managed and the health of the fund is strong. That said, the FY18 Utilities Budget presented showed a deficit of $66,825.

Much of the discussion was spent reviewing the current rate structure (6% increases in sewer, 2% in water each year for five years), and then deciding not to change it.

Steve Barrett went over the Utilities budget point by point for the board, and they had minor questions.

Barrett explained that the water and sewer rates have been accepted by board prior, and that “rates have worked out well and performed as expected, which is good.”  When the board voted for a 5 year increase, that decision took into account the big picture. “Some years there’s not much, sometimes there’s extra,” said Barrett.

A Western Ave/I-91 overpass water main needs replacing at a cost of $460,000.  “It’s an unexpected expected expense,” and an example of why the previous board kept the water and sewer rates as-is. (The fund needs to have enough cash to handle emergencies.) The board questioned the seemingly high cost, but were reassured when told of some of the difficulty of installing a hanging 12” water main across four lanes of traffic on I-91, and knowledge that a 15% contingency was built in that might not be used.

The other big project coming down the proverbial pike is an upgrade of the water treatment plant. The project begins with gathering information, then engineering and plans can be developed. It will be a multi-year effort, but the wheels are beginning to turn.

The other capital improvements include replacing water mains and water meters, working on manholes, energy improvements at the Waste Water Treatment facility, and starting to plan for a new DPW building.

Elwell explained that there is a current cash balance in the fund of over $5.2 million, which is expected to be just under $4 million when FY18 begins July 1.  John O’Connor showed projections that suggest an increase in that fund every year of about a million dollars, and said that if the rates continued until 2022, the fund would have $7.3 million in it.

There was a bit of discussion about the difference between catching up and regular maintenance. Elwell said that once the town catches up, it becomes easier for budgets to be stable and surprises become less frequent, which causes expenses to go down. “We’re years away, but that’s the goal.”

Tim Wessel said his impression was that the water and sewer rate increases were a temporary fix, and wondered what the plan was for when the ordinance expires. Elwell said there was no set plan and alternatives would be reviewed when it comes up.

Wessel also said the current rates “hurt now.”

Daniel Quipp said he was pleased with the conversation about clean water and waste water. “I see an average cost to homeowners of $725 for wastewater and $120 for drinking water,” he told the board. In his view it was a good deal for clean, drinkable water. He said it was good to invest in a livable town, and that Flint, Michigan was an example of what could happen if water is ignored.

Brandie Starr liked that Utility Fund plans fit with the Comprehensive Review of Town Operations.

The budget was approved 4-1, with Wessel voting against. 

Selectboard Goals Discussion

The Brattleboro Selectboard adopted their goals Tuesday evening. In addition to previous goals, they added reviewing the utility fund financial model, to aim for programmatic budgets, and to continue to support economic development. They’ve also set a goal to consider ways in which the Town can promote increased staff diversity.

Brandie Starr said she saw the selectboard goals as a bit like a marriage.  “Can we commit,” she asked.  She said she liked the goals regarding diversity and energy sustainability. 

She said she could think of more goals, but that it would take it to a 3 page document. David Schoales quipped that “our goal could be for fewer goals.”

Tim Wessel broached the issue of panhandling which he said was an issue being discussed around town.  He felt that everyone had strong feelings on the matter, but not very good data.  “Since we pledged compassion, let’s have a discussion, and get things rolling,” he said.  

Starr was interested in looking at underlying causes.  Kate said that it would be necessary to talk to “those dealing with it” such as the police and the downtown organization, and landlords.  “People make assumptions,” she said. 

John Allen suggested they work on it without making it a goal. David Schoales suggested looking at new ideas, such as offering panhandlers some sort of work to do.

Chief Fitzgerald was pleased to see the new board thinking about an old issue. “It’s been going on for years.” he suggested that people working on the issue need to “get out of their silos”.

In the end, the goals were approved without amendment.

Police-Fire Facilities Projects

Town Manager Elwell gave the selectboard his regular update on the work being done at Central Fire Station and the Police Station. The short version is that work continues, they are doing what you’d expect, and everything remains on schedule.

The selectboard then approved of some planned communications purchases - $71,917 worth of dispatch equipment from Green Mountain Communications, $25,831.86 in dispatch furnishings, and $16,400 for a radio tower.

The dispatch furnishings include a special two person desk, with individual task lights, a lazy Susan in the center to share resources, desk racks for equipment, and power-charging outlets.

“I’m glad this is almost done,” said O’Connor.

Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor

Finance Director John O’Connor gave the board the April financial reports. 83.3% of the fiscal year is complete.

The un-prorated General Fund expenditures stand at 80.2%, the Utilities Fund at 79.9% and the Parking Fund at 86.2% of their respective budgets.

Solid Waste revenues are at 68% and expenditures at 74.9% of their annual budgets. Always remember that bag revenue, collection and tipping fees get figured in the following month.

Brattleboro has loaned out just over $4 million and has $458,384 available for additional grants and loans.

48 grants are active and 10 are in the application process.

Brattleboro is “doing well,” he said.

More Emergency Pool Repairs

A bit of late breaking news of emergency pool repairs was next. Town manager Elwell said that on Monday the Town learned that pool repairs done last fall had already failed. Some of the new concrete pool wall had water behind it, and winter heaves broke it.

Who is at fault remains to be worked out, but for Brattleboro to be able to open the pool on time, work must begin immediately.

The pool walls will be repaired, and the autumn work completed, then the pool gets filled and tested. If it holds water, it will be drained again, painted, left to dry, and re-filled. All of this will be done by June 17, the scheduled opening for the season.

The board authorized up to $20,000 be spent on repairs, with the issue of who will ultimately pay for it to be decided later.

Whetstone Station Subordination Agreement

Whetstone Station is refinancing their mortgages and requested that the town subordinate their Small Business Assistance Program mortgage.

Want the accounting details? Whetstone is undergoing new financing with a new lender, People’s United. This new financing replaces prior financing, bumping BS&L from 1st position. The Town is currently 3rd behind BS&L and VEDA. The Town, with the new agreement, will remain at 3rd position, and People’s will replace BS&L in 1st position.

We’re always in the bottom position. Commercial lenders are ahead of us,” Elwell said.  He wasn’t worried about losing money on the deal due to the borrowers credit history and track record with the town.

David Schoales noted that Whetstone Station just got funding from the Town to build a food truck to use mostly in Dummerston, and how it was exciting that they were working with a company in Putney to make the promised truck instead into a tiny house on a trailer. “They could sell beverages at a tiny house festival” he said.

“So we’ll have a beer cart?” said Allen. “I’m all for that.”

2017 Aquatic Nuisances Control Grant

The Brattleboro Selectboard accepted and appropriated $1,560 from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Watershed Management Program. It will be used to survey, document, and educate the community regarding invasive aquatic species.  The program covers Sunset Lake, South Pond, and the West and Connecticut rivers.

The Town had requested $3,800.

Governor’s Highway Safety Program Grant

Brattleboro is applying for $18,637.75 from the Governor’s Highway Safety Program via VTrans. If the money comes through, and it almost always does, it will help pay for occupancy protection (seat belts) and DUI enforcement.

The grant requires a 20% in-kind match from the Town.  It was approved.

Brattleboro Local Emergency Operations Plan

“We have to approve this and send it to the state,” said Chair O’Connor. She was referring to an updated Local Emergency Operations Plan (LEOP)

Elwell explained that Fire Chief Mike Bucossi is “keeper of the plan,” and that the long document is updated each year with new contact info and slight changes in procedure.

Bucossi offered to show it to anyone who wanted to see it.  It’s a complete guide to potential disasters, be they weather-related, radiological, an event at a school, or other, and is a reference that shows who’s responsible and what should be done if a disaster occurs. Information about shelters, evacuation routes, helicopter landing pads, and other resources is packed in.

The LEOP is filed annually, and qualifies Brattleboro for emergency funding, and helps with grants.

The board approved of the plan, and it will be signed and sent along to the Windham Regional Commission for review and approval, then on to Vermont Emergency Management.

Parking Study Contract

The selectboard approved of spending $25,825 on a downtown parking lot study. Desman, Inc. of Boston will get the gig.  Said Planning Director Rod Francis, “They’re going to count cars, basically. “  No study has been done since the parking garage was built and the town would like to know how usage has changed.  

Said John Allen, “Could open a can of worms.”

Brandie Starr asked whether they would be studying bike parking. Francis said they would be looking at both bike parking and a trend toward more electric vehicles.

He said the work would start in June, measure parking patterns in summer and fall, they will conduct public outreach, and be done by December.

Desman promises data gathering and public review and comment on their proposals. They’ll gather and analyze, then prepare a report for the Town that includes goals, strategies, potential costs, potential financing, and benefits and outcomes.

We’ll find out about who is parking where, and for how long. There will be both downtown and web-based surveys, and there will be at least two meetings for the public to weigh in.

A $6,000 match will come from the Planning Department budget. Kate O’Connor questioned why it was being billed to the Parking Fund, and was told that the parking study, while about parking, was part of a larger project of downtown planning.

Desman points to their experience with parking in Burlington as an example of a similar project in their portfolio.

One bit of trivia - the police station, due to the number of spaces in their new parking lot, will be required to have two charging stations for electric vehicles.

FY18 Parking Budget

The Brattleboro Selectboard approved of the FY18 Parking Budget and Capital Improvement plan. Patrick Moreland explained it to them.

The Parking Fund is expecting to spend $822,930, and bring in $875,300, which means a surplus of $52,370. This is due in part to raising the rent at the Transportation Center and better accounting of parking permit sales. A fuller Brooks House was also increasing the demand for downtown parking.

One new, somewhat odd source of revenue for the fund was some bond interest being returned. Some statewide refinancing of bonds resulted in the unusual situation of savings exceeding the interest paid in the past. For the next few years, the fund will be getting some previously-paid interest returned as revenue.

The Parking Fund will have $335,773 as a cash balance as of the end of the fiscal year, and Town staff recommended using $175,000 of it for capital improvements in parking. At the end of FY18, it is expected that the fund would have $275,000.

The capital plan for parking looks ahead three years and tries to anticipate the big expenses. For now, the issues are focused around building improvements at the Transportation Center and energy efficiency efforts such as a transition to wood heat.

Moreland said that if the energy improvements were paid for with cash, the town could save $280,000 over 20 years.

Wood heat, though, was the sticking point for John Allen. As he has in the past, he expressed his doubts about the projections for savings. “Whenever we talk, we never talk about wood pellet prices going up.” He said they were a commodity, just like oil, and supply and demand would lead to price increases. He also felt the Transportation Center had other more pressing needs. “The building is falling apart.”

Building Green’s Peter Yost was on hand to explain that while wood pellet prices do fluctuate, they are much more stable than oil prices, especially when buying in bulk. He said that if the Transportation boiler was in good shape, there would be no need, but the current boiler sits outside, is in poor shape, and has no working controls. He said energy efficiency was separate from other problems with the building.

The board then did some philosophical soul-searching as to the meaning of projections and the future. “We’re guessing,” asked O’Connor. Moreland suggested that they were making a judgement with insufficient information, not guessing.

Starr said budgets are always projections and assumptions, sometimes right and sometimes wrong. “It’s about your appetite for risk and the long term goal,” she said. She said she was comfortable with using assumptions in budgets.

I believe there is global warming and a lot of this stuff, but the world won’t end if we don’t do this,” said Allen. He pointed to changing technology, and the likelihood that something better would come along in ten years. “The sky won’t fall and we won’t be living on Mars.”

Starr agreed that technology changes, but said that this was a good step in the right direction.

O’Connor wanted to postpone the vote, but Schoales made the motion and the three recently-elected member outvoted Allen and O’Connor to pas the budget with the energy improvements included, 3-2.

Nearly $200,000 will be spent on parking meters over the coming years, with improvements and new pay boxes (over $10,000 each!) in the plan for FY19 and 20, but there wasn’t much mention of it Tuesday.

FY18 Solid Waste Budget

The FY18 Solid Waste Budget was approved by the board, along with a transfer of $75,000 from the general fund to the solid waste fund to offset lower than expected revenues from Pay As You Throw bags.

Town Manager Elwell explained to them that this was the simplest of the fund budgets. It’s also in a bit of flux, due to changes locally, at Windham Solid Waste, and at the state level.

Town staff expect to spend $815,620 and receive $757,896 in revenue in FY18. 

The main news here was that Pay As You Throw bag sales are below expectations. Significantly. Elwell said options included raising the per bag price, or making a transfer from the General Fund to cover the losses. Staff felt the transfer was the better way to go for now, and board members wholeheartedly agreed that participation was worth more than an increased bag price.

No one wanted to raise bag rates. “We might as well just go burn down our houses,” said Allen.

Franz Reichsman asked the board if subsidizing PAYT was defeating the idea that people should pay to throw.

Elwell said that he expected the transfer to cover bag sales to increase in coming years, then level out and remain steady. “The Solid Waste Fund will be a greater burden to the General Fund than in prior years.” This is due, he said, to reducing the waste stream.

Town Committee and Board Vacancies

The annual list of vacancies on Town boards and committees was announced.  The town will send out a list soon, so we’ll wait for that  rather than list everything here.

...

Thanks to Lise for helping me type some of this while we co-care for our ailing, aging cat.

»

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" Kate said that it would be

" Kate said that it would be necessary to talk to “those dealing with it” such as the police and the downtown organization, and landlords. “People make assumptions,” she said." It's interesting and frustrating that those people that Kate feels need to be included in the conversation about panhandling and homelessness don't include those who are actually living it. They are among the people "dealing with it" in a much more intimate way than any downtown organization or landlord. And, even the phrase "dealing with it" is off kilter. One of the many issues around homelessness is that nobody IS "dealing with it".
There's a lot of bitching and mocking signs being put up and people talking about how "they" just don't want to work,etc.,etc. So, where are the jobs for someone who has no given address, perhaps no work history due to mental or physical problems; who may not even have the skills or the clothes to be able to seek out employment. Where is the town wide effort to engage landlords in a conversation about charging fair rents? It's all well and good to acknowledge there is a problem of homelessness in town and have our compassionate and liberal conversations over dinner about how terrible it must be to have no home or, the other side of the coin- how terrible it is that people can't go about their business or tourists can't come and buy overpriced gifts to bring back home without being accosted by someone asking for money. Wasn't there a project in a competition last year for a town wide art project about talking to and filming those people who actually are homeless? And.didn't the people making the decisions rule that project out in favor of one about the river? Am I remembering that right? There is no face to homelessness in this town. Just a lot of assumptions and anger and hand wringing. How about a town sponsored event that includes the homeless and business owners and landlords and anyone else who is concerned about this problem. Maybe there's a meal and a big table full of donated things like socks and Tylenol, sunblock and towels and wash cloths and personal hygiene items. Maybe some books. Or portable art supplies . Or notebooks and pens. Things that are in short supply in a life on the street and that offer a little dignity.
And maybe we give some of the people who are actually "dealing" with homelessness a chance to speak about why they're homeless; what they need; why shelters do or don't work; all without judgement and anger. That's a start on treating our homeless population like human beings who need help.

 
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Thanks once again

Great accurate write up Chris and Lise, thank you both for your effort.
And best wishes to your ailing kitty.

 
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A Town-sent Correction

"I noticed an error last night in the calculation for the average annual household cost for water. This calculation does not affect any other aspect of the model, it is basically only used for informational purposes, so I had not really focused on the calculation until it was pointed out last night. The bottom line is that the average annual cost of water per household based on a daily usage rate of 210 gallons is approximately $377.00 in FY2018 rather than the $156.00 reported last night. The calculation for the average annual cost for wastewater is correct....

Let me know if you have any further questions. Thanks.

John O’Connor
Finance Director
Town of Brattleboro"

 
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Thank you

Chris and Lise, thank you so much for doing these minutes, and I am sorry that you are in this phase with kitty. Never easy. Hope you are having lots of snuggles.

 
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New Pellet Board

Thanks to the newly (re)elected board members for approving a pellet boiler in the transportation center under the new parking budget. We have to make decisions based on the information that we have and the technology that is available at the moment, and this was a good choice. It is true as John Allen says that there is a chance pellet prices will go up disproportionately to oil and propane. It's also true, though, that oil or propane prices could go through the roof with national and global wheelings an dealings being what they are. I have seen credible projections that natural gas prices will double in the short term as the U.S. starts exporting it, and propane prices will quickly follow.

The thing that we know for certain is that Brattleboro's contribution to climate change will go down, and our contribution to the local economy increase, with this decision.

Thanks Dave, Tim and Brandie.

 
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risk taking

I enjoyed Brandie's comments about "appetite for risk" and long term goals being a part of planning for the future. It's nice to see some members not adverse to a bit more risk taking.

One of the thing about taking a bit of a risk is that there is potential for a bigger payout than with a conservative bet. Not guaranteed, but buy that risky stock at the right low price, and if it goes up you make a fortune.

The town isn't buying stock, but it is investing, and anything that saves energy will eventually pay for itself. And that might make the next phase, whatever that may be (solar pellets!), more affordable.

(Thanks for the cat thoughts, folks... she's hanging in there and today perked up quite a bit. Must have been the discussion of utility rates last night. )

And yes, the Our Town grant has a finalist with a focus on homelessness - Liz Lavorgna’s homeless stories project.

 
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Risk Avoidance

The thing is, though, there is also risk in not taking action or in continuing on the same path. For some reason that kind of risk always seems to be less 'risky' than the taking-an-action kind of risk. Bringing it back to the town plan is brilliant and, unfortunately, somewhat rare in these discussions.

 

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