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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Selectboard Meeting Notes - Water Treatment Expenses Could Top $10 Million, Local Compost Continues


Despite Dick DeGray’s call to freeze rates at current levels, utility rates will remain unchanged while the Town conducts some engineering studies to see how many millions, exactly, will be required to upgrade Brattleboro’s water treatment and water mains. Very preliminary estimates put combined upgrades at over $10 million, and the engineering studies will deterimine actual requirements and costs.

Compost will continue to go to the Windham Solid Waste Management District (only recycling will go to Rutland after July 1), West Brattleboro fire station is in operation and sucking well, Peter Havens will be expanding with new space for special events and Jasmine’s Bakery, energy proposals were deemed non-conflicting, and the board shared some thoughts regarding the final regular Brattleboro Selectboard meeting for Dick DeGray and David Gartenstein.

Preliminaries

Chair David Gartenstein began by saying that it had been a real honor and privilege to serve on the Selectboard. He said his highest priority as Chair had been “to make sure everyone’s voices were heard in a safe manner and that the board made decisions on the best possible information.”

Town Manager Peter Elwell thanked Gartenstein and Dick DeGray for their service.

Kate joined “the goodbye train” by noting that Gartenstein had helped steer the board through hiring a new Town Manager, finally getting the Police and Fire station projects underway, and developing numerous town budgets. She said that Gartenstein had accomplished his goals. She thanked Gartenstein and DeGray.

John Allen said he wanted to “share his condolences” over their departures. He said he’d miss DeGray’s saying “at the end of the day...” to summarize points. He said Gartenstein taught him to watch his words and not ramble. “You give me the eye. I know when to be quiet. I’ll miss you.”

David Schoales agreed with the others, and added siting the skatepark to the list of succesful Gartenstein-led projects.

DeGray thanked fellow board members for their dedication to the community, and wished the newly-elected board members well. “They’ll be good and thoughtful and deliberate board members, If they aren’t, I’ll come back and take them to task.”

As is often the case, no members of the public brought up any off-agenda topics during public participation.

Liquor Commissioners - Festival Permit

The board, acting as Liquor Commissioners, granted WTSA a festival permit for their annual Brattleboro Brewers Festival. It will be held in the afternoon of May 27 at the VABEC Field property on Old Guilford Road, and will feature 30 breweries and cider makers, food vendors, music, and more.

About 1,000 people are expected to attend.

Water & Sewer Commissioners - Fund Finances and Rate Model

Board member Dick DeGray had asked for a report on the Utility Fund, including how much money is in the fund and whether the rates, set in 2014, should be updated in any way. He noticed that the fund seemed substantial, and hoped scheduled rate increases could be frozen at current levels to help keep costs down for ratepayers.

Town Manager Elwell gave the report. He said the sewer rates, which go up 6% annually, and water rates, which go up 2% annually, pays for the $32.2 million Waste Water Treatment Facility debt, funds small projects as they occur, and is designed to gradually increase over 5 years to prevent a sudden, large burden on those experiencing the rate increases.

While the Utility Fund stands strong at $4.2 million, Town staff recommended that rates should remain as-is. They say the Brattleboro’s aging water treatment plant will need repairs and upgrades, water mains need replacing, other small projects are required, and engineering work is required to determine the full scope of all of expected costs. 

Without knowing those costs more precisely, Elwell said it was unwise to do anything to the current rate schedule.

A “very preliminary” estimate for upcoming water plant and main repair work is just about $11.5 million.

DeGray queried Finance Director John O’Connor on the fund. “Are these funds exceeding original estimates?” Yes. “We never projected having $4.2 million cash on hand in this fund?” No.

Noting the increased debt caused by the Police and Fire facilities projects, DeGray offered a motion to freeze upcoming rates for the next two years at the current year’s rate.

Gartenstein pointed out that the rates were set in an ordinance, and as such, would need to be changed via an ordinance amendment, which takes time.  He and other board members wanted additional information about the actual costs of water treatment plant improvements and water main replacements before deciding on rate changes.

DeGray withdrew his motion. “I’m disappointed that this came up at here at this time (DeGray’s last meeting),” he said. “Maybe Tim and Brandie will look at this and convince someone to bring it up again. At some point, you have to look at people’s ability to pay.”

Still, others were sympathetic. Kate O’Connor said rates should be discussed by the new board. David Schoales said the discussion could happen with more information. And John Allen suggested passing DeGray’s motion to get an ordinance ready in case the new board wanted to pass it.

Rates were not adjusted, but board members pledged to look at the issue further in the coming year, and asked Elwell to prepare to get the engineering analysis completed in the near future so they could be fully informed of upcoming water and sewer costs before tinkering with rates.

Police and Fire Facilities Projects Updates

West Brattleboro’s new fire station is in operation. The fire department began running calls on Monday, March 20, with the first fire truck backing in at 8:30 am. 

Backing into a garage is typically uneventful, but in this case it was a chance to see the new exhaust system in operation. As the truck backs in or heads out, the exhaust system turns on and sucks out fumes. It worked.

Central Fire Station’s steel frame is in place, the roof is going on, walls are being built, and electrical rough-in work will start soon, with an anticipated project completion of November of 2017.

Black Mountain Road Police Station is in the process of interior demolition, with steel stud framing and rough-in of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Project is expected to be finished by August of this year.

New project financial reports are now included for Selectboard members to easily see overall project costs, plus contractual obligations, set-asides for generators, the “unencumbered balance,” and the “uncommitted balance.”

Monthly Finance Report with John O’Connor

Finance Director John O’Connor provided the Brattleboro Selectboard with their monthly financial update, covering eight months of the fiscal year through February of 2017. That means 66.7% of the fiscal year is complete.

The General Fund stands at 67.1% of the annual budget. Utilities Fund is at 63.4% and the Parking Fund is at 66.8%.

Solid Waste revenues are at 54.6% and expenditures are at 57.9%, and as everyone knows by now, the February bag revenue, tipping fees and collection costs get posted one month later.

Brattleboro has loaned $3,856,501  and has about $651,080 for additional grants and loans.

There are 47 active grants and 7 more being prepared.

John Allen asked about the sale of garbage bags. O’Connor reported that “we’re behind. It slowed down a bit.”

David Schoales asked about a delayed $86,000 FEMA payment. O’Connor said the state was renegotiating it based on revised waste water treatment project estimates, and they hope to have it resolved, with an additional $60,000 payment as a result.

Windham Regional Commission Matters

Rod Francis and Elizabeth McLoughlin are the Town’s representatives to the Windham Regional Commission, and each year they report to the selectboard. Brattleboro works closely with the Windham Regional Commission on issues of planning, zoning, transportation, energy, and community development.

Brattleboro’s Town Reps attend meetings and participate in committee work. In the past year, work has centered on legislative matters such as the Vermont Clean Water Act (Act 64) and the Energy Development Improvement Act. They also work on VY decommissioning issues.

Both Francis and McLoughlin were re-appointed by the Brattleboro Selectboard for the coming year.

Solid Waste Matters

When the Town made the switch to send recycling to Rutland, it was thought that curbside compost would also be sent to the new location. Since then, Brattleboro and the Windham Solid Waste Management District have worked out a plan to keep the compost at WSWMD.

The details are primarily in the pricing. Tipping, handling, and delivery costs were adjusted by the district and Triple T to keep Brattleboro’s current rates. There is also a limit to the maximum price that can be charged, and a protection in the event WSWMD develops their own hauling program so that Brattleboro doesn’t pay for hauling of other town’s compost..

So, as of July 1, Brattleboro’s recycling will go to Rutland, but the curbside compost will be sent to WSWMD. It’s a seven year agreement. Reminder: you can co-mingle your paper, plastic and glass after July 1, if you want.

Triple T’s contract will be revised to note the changes.

Consistency Review for Proposals to the Windham County Renewable Energy Program

The Brattleboro Selectboard provided letters of support for three energy-related projects, allowing them to move along in the application process. The letters confirm that the projects are “not inconsistent” with the Town Plan,  but fall short of endorsing full projects at this point in the process.

The projects are:

- A multi-unit nanogrid for a building on Elliot Street, proposed by George Harvey, that proposes using solar panels for small-scale, off-the-grid system. This will serve as an educational demonstration project, in addition to providing energy.

- Tad Montgomery proposes a downtown program of energy audits, conservation, and renewable energy systems.

- An anaerobic Digester Project is proposed by Sky Clean Energy and Dynamic Organics for the WSWMD brownfield landfill.

With preliminary letters proclaiming projects “not inconsistent,” the proposals can now be more fully developed for the Windham Regional Commission’s Windham County Renewable Energy Program, and possible future funding.

Money will be granted from VY settlement funds for clean energy.

Small Business Assistance Loan - Peter Havens

Peter Havens was approved for a small business loan in the amount of $70,000. It’s for a period of seven years with a 3.25% interest rate.

The funds will help Peter Havens expand with new catering and special event space, Jasmine’s bakery retail space, kitchen improvements, and an ADA bathroom.  They are hoping this adds 8-10 new jobs, as well.

Kim Ellison, grants manager, asked the board to promote the fact that residents can get money to create small apartments through the rental housing improvement program. If you’d like to convert some residential space, call her!

Department of Libraries Grant

A grant for First Wednesdays programming in the amount of $650 was accepted and appropriated.

Assignment of Motions on Articles

Members of the board were assigned their annual allotment of motions and articles to be read at Representative Town Meeting.

John Allen was given the long list f human service funding organizations to read.

Selectboard Confirmation Meeting

The new members of the Brattleboro Selectboard will be sworn in on March 27 at 5:30 pm in the Selectboard Meeting Room at the Municipal Center on Main Street.

The End

John Allen called for, and received, a round of applause for Gartenstein and DeGray.

»

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A viewer's view

I'd note a few things about David Gartenstein's time as Chair.

The first is what he said about one of his goals - to make sure all voices were heard. It was a notable change in style from previous Chairs that Gartenstein asked for public comment on everything. I can't recall an agenda item during his tenure when he didn't ask if anyone from the public wanted to speak. This wasn't red of boards before him.

The public didn't take him up on these offers very often. Public participation seemed to drop as opportunities to weigh in increased.

Second, he was very good at being both efficient (rare that meetings went too long) but also explanatory - giving background on issues or explaining to the listening public the details of some new report handed to everyone in the room. As one reporting these matters, it was appreciated that these smaller details were shared.

Prior to his chairmanship, the selctboard was coming through a period of turmoil-recovery. Financial checks and balances were in place, and the the budgets trim and lean, but we hadn't really figured out how do much more than react to emergencies. It was a tough few years.

This board's contribution, in some ways, was to build on that foundation, try to stop borrowing for everything, and to make some long term plans. More proactive than reactive.

This lays the groundwork for the next board. With solid financial and a good plan for the future, attention can be shifted, perhaps, to some of the other issues in the community.

As for DeGray - this time around he surprised me. Many a meeting I wondered if he had been switched with the previous DeGray. He had quite a few good suggestions, and spoke up for the little guy more than ever. As he said, he won some and loss some, but contributions this time around seemed generally good.

...

So, we have to upgrade the water treatment plant. And water mains. Just a few more million... : )

 

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