BRATTLEBORO — On Saturday morning Town Meeting Representatives will have the opportunity to tell the Select Board how they feel about moving the police station from downtown to Putney Road.
What to do about the town's police and fire stations has been up for discussion for the more than two decades. Committees have been formed to look at the issue and projects have been proposed but the town has never been closer as it is today to remedying the situation. The Select Board has recommended the town buy the building housing the Brattleboro Reformer and move the police station there and has also recommended that Central Station on Elliot Street be renovated. On March 12, Town Meeting Representatives will cast their ballots on whether an amount not to exceed $4.5 million should be taken out of the previously authorized bond for purchasing and renovating 62 Black Mountain Road rather than making improvements at the current police department site at the Municipal Center. The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. at Brattleboro Area Middle School.
Town Meeting Representatives have been inundated with a flood of information about the proposed project, but they will receive some new information related to not having an office in the Municipal Building.
"We have done some extensive research about the actual nature of calls to the police department, the number of walk-in reports and the subgroup of those walk-in reports that actually related to reports of criminal conduct," said Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein, during the board's regular Tuesday night meeting.
Gartenstein said a recent analysis of department paperwork showed 12,000 total calls for service. Of those, only 59 were walk-in reports regarding criminal activity. He said the department gets about two walk-ins a day and "The vast majority have nothing to do with criminal activity."
At this time, said Gartenstein, there is no plan to set aside office space in the Municipal Building for an officer, but he said if Town Meeting members express a desire for such an office, they will have to discuss how to pay for it.
In other business, the Select Board disbanded the Regional Economic Study Group after a year of work.
"This was a collaborative effort from beginning to end and a really rich process," said Town Manager Peter Elwell. The group was formed to study what is the impact on Brattleboro of being a "market town" or economic hub for the region. The group concluded Brattleboro bears a disproportionate share of governmental expense due to its status. This cost burden is partially offset by the advantages Brattleboro has as "the vital center of economic, cultural, educational, and governmental activity ..." However, the group noted, Brattleboro, like other hub towns around Vermont, is suffering from a tax burden that is not sustainable.
Two years ago, Brattleboro's representatives in the State House proposed a bill to "analyze the variations in property tax rates between economic centers and surrounding communities, and identify any impacts these variations have on economic development efforts." The bill did not pass.
Elwell said the group reached out to other economic hub towns in Vermont and all the towns realized they were dealing with the same problems. Elwell said the next step is to present a unified front in Montpelier and demand that legislators do something.
"To varying degrees, some communities have looked at this issue, but none as intensively as us. They are eager to get together."
Gartenstein said any resolution to the issue needs to "achieve some fundamental taxing fairness in the state of Vermont for the communities that serve as regional economic hubs."
• The Select Board approved changes to the town's Small Business Assistance Program to allow businesses to apply for loans up to $70,000. Previously, the limit was $40,000.
• The Select Board assessed $175 in fees and fines to 12 local businesses for not paying their business license fees. Those business were Christina Bernales Photography, Distinctive Decor, Fibermark, Flat Street Brew Pub, Green Mountain Community Fitness, Headroom Stages, Peoples United Bank, Superfresh Organic Cafe, Twice Onsite, Twice Upon a Time and Vermont Vinyl.
• Several parking spots on the top level of the Transportation Center have been blocked off because cracks were discovered in the northern wall. An engineer will inspect the structure on Friday to determine if the cracks have compromised the parking garage's structural integrity.
• Work on the Green Street Wall is expected to commence soon. The $300,000 project should be completed some time in June. And the state will begin work on the Elliot Street Bridge when the school year is over.
• The Select Board approved the purchase of a utility trailer for the Department of Public Works at $11,690.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.