Brattleboro is in a very tough spot. The town has suffered three severe economic blows in the past 5 years, in cascading order from national to state to local: The Mortgage Crisis, Tropical Storm Irene and the Brooks House Fire. Each event had a multiplying effect on the Town as revenue and equity evaporated from the region.
The mortgage crisis sapped equity from our homes and crippled real estate values which, in turn, crimped the tax revenue and town budgets. Tropical Storm Irene washed untold millions of equity downstream and cost millions more in repairs and rebuilding. And when the central block of your downtown lies vacant for three years, the economic scars seem fairly tangible.
Investing in heavy infrastructure like a $32 million sewage treatment and $14 million in police and fire station upgrades certainly do not seem well timed, but those decisions were made by officials that we elected, with due process. (To be certain, the conditions of each of these facilities are poor to very poor and I urge any opponents of these projects to make a visit before casting further judgment.)
Now for the good news: Brattleboro is still here! Across the country, towns with a similar makeup as Brattleboro have been held up as examples of success: dense, mixed use, development with multifaceted economies. Real estate values in livable communities remained far more stable than elsewhere. Location efficient mortgages were nearly bulletproof when the banks cratered.
Remember, the trigger to the collapse was the jump in fuel prices. From January of 2007 to June of 2008 gas went from $2.10 to $4.10 per gallon. By September mortgages were failing at catastrophic rate.
Communities that are walkable, have strong public transportation and have dense, mixed land use are poised to be the communities of tomorrow. People need to be able to live, work, shop and relax within one community. This is what we need to build.
I suggest enacting a local gas tax. Take $0.05 for every gallon sold in Brattleboro (13 stations pumping 600gpd) and spend $140,000 per year on the following improvements to the public realm:
New Sidewalk Connections
Police Foot Patrols
Make it a nice place to be and people will come. Populated places are active places, active places tend to see increased commerce and increased real estate values.
This is one way for the regional residents to start paying a share for the services Brattleboro provides.
Revenue shall not be used for DPW purchases of new road maintenance equipment, paving, or dirt road maintenance.
I would bet those figures are very conservative. More than 20,000 people drive into Brattleboro every day.
That's my two cents,