BRATTLEBORO — Collective bargaining is underway in executive sessions.
"We began the process this year with a series of goals. We wanted to make sure that the wage structures in place for all our employees are fair and that they represent accurately the work that people are doing," Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein said at a meeting last week. "I'm pleased to be able to report preliminarily that we've got tentative agreement on two of the contracts and we've had very constructive discussions with the other two unions."
Gartenstein anticipates some or all of the contracts could be ready for presentation by the second board meeting in June. Wages and benefits are part of the conversations but also affordability for the town, he said.
The emergency service provider uses a per-capita formula for charging the various municipalities it serves, Town Manager Peter Elwell told the board.
"Brattleboro's fair share for that, if we were charged strictly according to that formula for fiscal year 2017, would be $272,600.98. But we are not charged our full share and we haven't been for many years because of a crediting system that was put in place a long time ago when it was tied to certain services that the town of Brattleboro provided to Rescue," he said. "Over the years, literally all but one of the reasons for that credit to Brattleboro have become obsolete. They no longer apply. The one that remains is a credit we get back for the fact that (annual Representative) Town Meeting grants a tax exemption to Rescue Inc."
After talking with the group, Elwell presented a multi-year "phasing out" of the credit. He said this would address an inequity between the towns.
A $55,546 credit this year will go down to $50,000 next year then $40,000, $30,000, $20,000 and $10,000 in the years to come.
"By the time that last 10 will go away, we'll be done with the current tax exemption that's been approved by Town Meeting. And it's very likely Rescue simply won't seek to have that renewed," said Elwell. "They'll just pay their taxes for the property in the future."
If the organization seeks a tax exemption, he expects the town would get credited in the same amount of the exemption.
The board approved of authorizing Rescue's fiscal year 2017 $217,054 contract and phasing out of the discounted rates.
The board approved FY17 budgets for the utilities, parking and solid waste funds. These are separate budgets from appropriations approved at annual Representative Town Meeting in March. The board received presentations at a special meeting on May 10.
Approved a week later were budgets with an increase of 1.5 percent in the utilities fund, a decrease of 8.3 percent in the parking fund and a decrease of 12 percent in the solid waste fund. The reductions largely had to do with debt-service payments coming in lower than expected for a bond taken out for construction of the Transportation Center, the town's deciding to move to an every-other-week garbage pickup and a change in the town's assessment at the Windham Solid Waste Management District.
An adjustment in allocations with two of the enterprise funds was explained by John O'Connor, town finance director, in a memo, as an outcome of an analysis completed in November 2014. The purpose was to figure out how much money should be transferred from the general fund to the utilities and parking funds for services and overhead associated with those funds.
"The analysis resulted in a total cost allocation of $249,787 to the utilities fund and $36,716 to the parking fund," O'Connor said. "These amounts were rounded to $250,000 and $36,900, respectively, which became the basis for the interfund transfers. Prior to this analysis, a total of $178,800 and $33,072 had been transferred from a variety of accounts in the utilities fund and parking fund."
Dispatchers were spending about two hours each week on parking and utility matters so $4,895 was allocated to each of those funds based on the 2015 dispatch budget. The administrative cost involved adding the 2015 budgets for Town Manager's Office, Finance Office, town attorney, 16.7 percent of the Municipal Center budget based on estimated floor space, and a variety of overhead costs regarding county taxes, board salaries, Vermont League of Cities and Towns dues and more. An estimated 50 percent of the Department of Public Works garage budget was used by the utilities fund. Half of the 2015 DPW yard expense budget resulted in a cost allocation of $25,200.
"I think there's actually an improvement over the process that was used in the past, which was an arbitrary assignment of a dollar figure without any particular rationale for it," said Gartenstein. "This is a $5.5 million budget. The entire general fund budget for the town is $16 million and the utilities fund takes a significant administrative burden to support the town as a whole."
But Select Board member Dick DeGray said he felt some of those fees were exorbitant. He has spoken in favor of freezing user rates next year and the following year when debt-service payments for the police-fire facility upgrades are anticipated to be at their highest.
Previously, the parking fund came under scrutiny for a line item pertaining to Harmony Lot.
That parking lot is in need of "a series of improvements," Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland responded in a memo. "The condition of the parking lot is significantly deteriorated as are the sidewalks from Elliot Street that surround the buildings on the southern side of the property."
An engineer came up with a $195,600 figure for improvements. An extra $75,000 would need to be included in the fund to cover those improvements plus paving, which comes out to be approximately $260,000 altogether.
A specific work plan is expected to come before the board before all elements of a project move forward, according to Elwell.
Upgrades recommended in an energy audit will also return to the board for approval before anything is done. Paul Cameron, town energy coordinator, said the suggested $150,000 in energy-efficiency measures at the Transportation Center could see an annual savings of $10,995 or an annual average return on investment of 7 percent. The work would involve new insulation and moving to a wood-pellet heating system.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.