The newly-formed board had a range of regular issues as well as a few “getting started” issues to attend to at Tuesday’s meeting. Public participation also returned, giving the board some additional points of view to consider.
The board approved of grants, appointed committee members, bought a truck, and did other routine business. They also had some interesting discussions about issues of public participation, energy, town meeting advisories, as well as their own rules for conduct and the power of the Chair.
It was just one meeting, but there were some indications that this new board plans to approach things in slightly new ways.
New Chair Kate O’Connor welcomed new board members to their first official meeting.
Ol’ Town Manager Peter Elwell wanted to give everyone a heads up about the current flood watch in our area. “With the rain and snow that’s melting, there could be flooding,” he said. He wanted everyone to be alert and pay attention Thursday and Friday when more heavy rain is forecast. He said town staff are monitoring both the overall situation and known trouble spots that are often early indicators of a need to ramp up town efforts.
In related news, Elwell announced that Brattleboro’s rating with the National Flood Insurance Program has improved, from a class 9 to class 8 rating. This means we’ve taken action to reduce threats in flood-prone areas and we’ve improved emergency communication methods, he told the board. Best for homeowners buying flood insurance that get discounts. The new rating means those 5% discounts will increase to 10%.
David Schoales had the only selectboard comments, welcoming the “fresh eyes and ideas that have joined us.”
The new board brought new public spirit as well, with two residents speaking up during public participation.
Dale Joy said she had been ordered to vacate her apartment by her landlord, BAST. She explained in detail her concerns about health and safety issues at the building, which she said ranged from frozen pipes and cold rooms to mold and slime. She said her attempts to get action on these items had failed, and the Health and Safety Officer for the town “minimalized” her complaints.
Joy said nothing happened until she called the state. She wanted to know, will the selectboard follow the state health and safety standards, and how will they monitor landlords to see that they comply.
O’Connor thanked her for bringing the issues to the board’s attention.
Daniel Quipp, of 350Brattleboro, a group that deals with climate action, spoke also. He noted that the warning about flooding relates to the climate, and hoped that work to protect along the Whetstone continues.
Quipp then reminded the three recently elected board members of things they said during the campaign related to climate. Tim Wessel, he pointed out, had mentioned energy audits paying off over time, and to think globally while acting locally. David Schoales had mentioned that the town could look to create more energy without oil, said Quipp, and Brandie Starr said to move forward implementing the energy audits, and that any discussion of roads should consider bikes.
“I’d love to hear more about these issues over the year,” said Quipp.
Liquor Commissioners - Cantina Vidorra
The Brattleboro Selectboard, acting as Liquor Commissioners, approved of a first class liquor license for Cantina Vidorra, a new Mexican restaurant at the corner entry to Harmony Lot, 49 Elliot Street. John Broyles is the owner.
It opens mid-April.
Tim Wessel asked if there was a difference between licenses for restaurants and late night bars. Elwell answered that the type of license depends on if it is consumed on premises (first class) or sold to be taken out (second class). Hours of operation didn’t figure in, he said.
Water & Sewer Commissioners - Pick-up Truck
Putting on their Water & Sewer Commissioner hats, the Brattleboro Selectboard approved the purchase of a 2017 Chevrolet Silverado pick-up truck through a state bidding process. The truck will cost $26,995 (after trade-in), and will be used by the Department of Public Works.
Steve Barrett explained that we get $1500 in trade for a 2005 Silverado from Shearer Chevrolet in Burlington. $30,000 was originally in the FY17 Utilities budget for this purchase.
David Schoales brought up the earlier discussion about climate during public participation. “Over the next few years, could we also look at electric options?”
Barrett said indeed, they could. In fact, he’d already tried some. He felt the first electric vehicles could be the smaller cars used for ordinary getting around. Trucks could come on later as they get better.
Brandie Starr said she liked the idea of looking at electric cars for replacements.
Police & Fire Facilities Updates
Town Manager Elwell gave the board their regular update on the three facilities projects.
This may be the last time they discuss three projects, though, as the West Brattleboro Fire Station has a grand opening ceremony planned for Saturday, April 22. The public are invited to the open house from 9 am until noon. The ribbon cutting ceremony is at 9:30 am.
John Allen, a member of the Police and Fire Facilities Building Committee, protested that he had a schedule conflict. “I’m a bit upset, “ he semi-joked.
At the Police Station on Black Mountain Road, interior demolition is coming to an end. Steel stud framing and rough mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems will be next, and work is expected to be complete by August of this year. “We’ll make sure John gets to cut the ribbon,” offered Elwell.
Starr asked if energy-efficiency considerations went into the plans for the police station. Elwell said solar panels have been contemplated for a later installation, perhaps, and insulation of the 35 year old building is being increased. “Efficiency Vermont was at a lot of the meetings.”
Allen agreed, noting that there were many considerations, but keeping the budget down limited them in some ways. “Probably not the best way to do it.”
Both Schoales and Elwell pointed out that the new facilities are included in a recent purchase of net metering solar credits.
O’Connor asked if the Reformer was happy with their new office, and was told they were, though they are still expecting some sidewalk work and a sign.
At Central Fire Station, the roof has been installed and interior masonry walls are going up. Perimeter masonry walls come next, slabs will be poured, and electrical work will begin. Finish date is still expected in November of 2017.
Daniel Quipp said he walked by often and wondered what was going to be in the new, big space being added. Elwell told him that the large vehicles would fill the new apparatus bay. Also, regarding energy, the entire building would be well insulated, better than code. Blueprints are available to see.
The only over-$10k purchase made by the Town Manager was an order for 3 months of propane for the Police Station.
The board continues to receive their enhanced financial report for all three projects, showing project expenses, balances remaining that are unencumbered ($1,157,972) or uncommitted ($957,972) at this point in the project.
Unencumbered is the total balace remaining after all of our contracted expenses for the three facilities are paid. Uncommitted shows that grand total minus what we expect to pay for generators.
Application for Windham & Windsor Housing Trust’s VCDP Scattered Site Grant
The Brattleboro Selectboard held a public hearing and adopted a resolution in support of grant for Windham & Windsor Housing Trust’s home repair program. This allows them to apply for $715,896 from the Vermont Community Development Program, as Patrick Moreland explained.
The money also supports counseling advocacy and first time homebuyer services.
This partnership program with WWHT began in 2013. The money gets spent in other counties and towns, too, but a healthy percentage comes to Brattleboro, making it worthwhile for the Town to support, said Moreland.
Elizabeth Bridgewater and Bruce Whitney, from WWHT, explained the program and the grant in fine detail, citing the number of homebuyers served, and the types of services offered. They described their trained and certified staff ready to help homebuyers with questions, and their connections to contractors to make home repair loans more effective.
Unique to the grant this time is a partnership with other similar organizations in the state, reducing redundancy.
In addition to helping them serve more people, the grant should enable them to save administrative overhead and program delivery costs.
O’Connor pointed out that the funding comes from federal sources, passed to the state, then to the town, then to these organizations.
Whitney was asked about SEVCA, and he responded that they work very closely on an almost daily basis, referring people to one another and in partnership.
Bridgewater said the grant process was competitive but she was “pretty confident” they’d have positive news in June when decisions are made.
The board approved Vermont Road Works to do cemetery maintenance at Prospect Hill and Morningside Cemeteries during the warmer seasons under the watchful eye of the Recreation & Parks department. Their services will cost $17,180. It was the lower of two bids, and is within the budgeted amount for this work.
Carol Lolatte said it was a bit odd to see a bid from a paving company, but upon further inspection she found that they do landscaping and want to expand to be a one-stop shop for summer maintenance, paving, spring clean up, and so on.
Crosby Gannett Skatepark Grant Application
The board approved of an application for a grant to support the design and construction of Brattleboro’s first skatepark, at Living Memorial Park. If approved, the grant is for $1,000.
Allen asked how fundraising was going. Lolatte said it had picked up after permits were out of the way and the new year began. About $130,000 remains to be raised.
Vermont Community Foundation Grant for Skatepark
The board ratified Town Manager Elwell’s approval of a Small and Inspiring Grant application to the Vermont Community Foundation in the amount of $2,500. The board ratified the Town Manager’s action of last week to meet an April 1 deadline.
World Learning “Not In Conflict” Letter
Another energy-related project requiring a nod from the Brattleboro Selectboard came before them for evaluation. World Learning has a solar project that they’d like to get funding for, and need a letter attesting that their project “is not in conflict with the Town Plan” in order to apply for a grant. This is similar to the three projects that received similar letters at the last meeting.
In this case, Town Manager Elwell approved of the letter to meet a deadline of March 31, and the board ratified his actions after the fact. Chair O’Connor will also sign a similar letter.
The funds come from $5 million from Entergy to be used for energy related projects.
VTrans Annual Financial Plan and Certificate of Compliance
Routine transportation matters with VTrans brought Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett to the board.
He explained that the Annual Financial Plan for Town Highways is used to determine how much state funding comes our way, dispersed quarterly. $1,399,869 is the total estimated cost of highway repairs for the coming year.
Winter maintenance ($536,437), in case you wonder, is slightly less than non-winter maintenance ($578,432). We also have added $285,000 in major paving expenses in the coming year.
The state, he explained, looks at total mileage and the road classification to determine our funding. It’s been about $227,000 for quite a few years, he said.
Barrett’s second matter was the Certificate of Compliance for Town Road and Bridge Standards, which does just what the name says. It certifies that our roads and bridges are built to state standards, and therefore we can qualify for additional funding and FEMA reimbursements, if necessary.
“It says that if we have washouts or other situations, when we do repairs and upgrade we do it properly to the standards,” he said.
After the motion was approved, the motion-maker, Starr, announced a revelation. “David Schoales taught me the secret of page three,” she said. Page three of the agenda had the pre-written motions, ready to be easily read.
John Allen was impressed with the one she had made up without consulting the prewritten suggestion.
Town Meeting and Representative Town Meeting Matters
Kate O’Connor explained that voters approved of and suggested a few changes for the Town to act upon, and Town Manager Elwell said the acting had already begun.
Elwell explained that plastic bag banning is legally complicated, and some research is necessary before a plan for Brattleboro can be crafted. Avoiding pitfalls of other known programs is part of the goal. Town staff will do research and return to the Selectboard with options in May or June. Brattleboro is the first in Vermont to propose such a ban, and is proceeding cautiously.
Brandie Starr reminded voters that Vermont is Dylan’s Rule state, and that the town acts as an arm of state government. Had the Town looked at ordinances in other Dylan’s Rule states, she wondered. Elwell said he didn’t know.
David Schoales encouraged Town staff to work with the ballot initiative’s sponsor, which Elwell said they would do for this and the other issues.
Compassionate Cities appears to be an easy commitment to treating others as we want to be treated ourselves and looking out for those less fortunate, Elwell reported, but there may be obligations to joining a specific program. Therefore, some staff research is underway to better understand the commitment being made by the Town, or to see what other options might exist to meet the spirit of the vote. The issue will likely come before the board again in early May.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it turns out, is the easiest to implement. A legal declaration will be prepared by the Town Attorney and the Selectboard can declare at their April 18 meeting that the second Monday of each October shall be Indigenous Peoples Day. In 2017 that will be October 9.
Dale Joy said she hoped all native populations in the area would be included and offered up access to her family’s history in the region.
David Schoales said that “declaring a day is just part of it.” He hoped to hear from proponents to help work out ideas for follow up activities, perhaps with the schools.
John Allen said that the board “did a wise thing by putting it on a town wide vote. I felt the town should vote. I’m glad we did it that way.” (The board actually declined to put it up for town wide vote, requiring petition signatures to be gathered.)
Daniel Quipp pointed out that the plastic bag ban was another move away from oil. He said legislators were considering a state-wide ban on plastic bags. O’Connor cautioned that those bills were stuck in committee.
Quipp asked when the public weighed in on new ordinances - when presented, or as being drafted. Elwell said the public can be involved at any point in the process. Sometimes, he said, it is helpful to have something written to react to at a meeting.
Quipp said many people couldn’t make it to meetings, and suggested the board be more proactive in bringing more involvement from the public.
John Allen said all meetings were warned and open and complained that very few people participate until the very last minute, if at all.
O’Connor noted that decisions are rarely made at a single meeting. “It will evolve. You can help get the word out.
Quipp reiterated the request to consider meetings in other places and at other times.
“An excellent idea,” agreed David Schoales.
Brandie Starr said people could reach out to members of the board, too, with issues and board members can bring them up if they can’t make it to a meeting. “Just because you can’t make a meeting, don’t feel you can’t reach out to us.”
Annual Review of Comprehensive Review of Town Operations, Selectboard Goals
Tuesday wasn’t the night to take up these matters, but to discuss appropriate times for the board to undertake the task of reviewing the Comprehensive Review of Town Operations and setting Selectboard goals. The board will dive in on April 18.
With the CRTO, the board will get a revised copy with updates since last year. They can approve it as-is, or tinker with it and ask for changes, Elwell explained.
Elwell also suggested the board take up the question of board goals at the same time, in an attempt to align the two as best as possible.
The board made a few committee appointments:
Katie Bachler and Joel Kaemmerlen to the Town Arts Committee, Marilyn Chiarello to the Conservation Commission, and Roseann Grimes to the Energy Committee.
They hesitated, however, on appointing an Energy Coordinator. Instead, at a suggestion by Starr, the board will take applications then let the Energy Committee review and interview candidates, making their suggestion for who might work best. An appointment will be made May 2.
A suggestion by Wessel led to the board approving a motion to designate the $10,000 advised at Representative Town Meeting for the energy coordinator position, subject to a few conditions. Wessel felt applicants for the Energy Coordinator position might be influenced by knowing whether the Selectboard was going to follow through on the representative town meeting action, and the other agreed.
Rules of Conduct Discussion
The board took up the issue fo their rules of conduct, a pretty standard affair for running their meetings. It gets approved annually.
Tim Wessel had a few suggestions. He noted that they should update their rules to reflect how meetings are actually held - using Roberts Rules for Small Meetings, not the more complex Roberts Rules as it said in the document provided.
He felt that the board chair should not make motions. At the very least, it should be discouraged. He also wanted to discuss whether seconds were required.
Starr agreed that the Chair shouldn’t make motions, but could ask for them to be made. She didn’t see a need to require seconds.
David Schoales and John Allen liked things the way they were. Kate O’Connor agreed, saying that as equals they should all make motions if necessary.
The board then agreed to wait and decide later.
John Allen brought up a pet peeve of his. “During Public participation, I don’t like that we can’t respond,” he said. He apologized to the former chair, but said talking back “was discouraged.”
One person in the audience suggested they acknowledge concerns brought before them, have some discussion of available options, or dive some direction to helpful resources. “Take up a motion or confirm the concern was heard,” she said. “...that would encourage public participation. When you just say ‘thank you,’ it turns people off.”
Members of the board said that were times when responding immediately wouldn’t be the right thing to do, and sometimes answers aren’t always available right away.
John Allen said meetings had to move along and they shouldn’t give anyone a soapbox.
Wessel noted the Chair, and Chair alone, had the power to end discussion.
Selectboard Committee Assignments
The board appointed themselves to be liaisons to other committees and boards:
Capital Grant Review Board - O’Connor and Starr
Rental Housing Improvement Program Loan Committee - Wessel
Small Business Assistance Program Loan Committee - Schoales
Traffic Safety Committee - Wessel
Windham Solid Waste Management District Board of Supervisors - Allen is rep, Starr is alternate.
Police-Fire Building Committee - Allen
Schedule for Signing Warrants
Board members take turns signing accounts payable and payroll checks. Starr will handle April to June, Schoales will do June to August, O’Connor will take September to November, Wessel will sign them November to January, and Allen will have the duty from February to March.