Brattleboro budgets for utilities, parking, solid waste
BRATTLEBORO >> Up for a vote this coming Tuesday are the town's utilities, parking and solid waste funds.
Acting as water and sewer commissioners, Select Board members will address budgeting that falls outside the purview of the general fund, which was approved by Town Meeting Representatives at the annual meeting in March.
The utilities fund is "by far the largest and most complicated" of the three, said Town Manager Peter Elwell during a special meeting on Tuesday.
"With a couple of notable exceptions, almost everything is either a very small incremental increase or level funded. Most items are level funded and some items are reduced," Elwell said, adding that a reduction in fuel occurred by going into a pool of other customers to get a better rate. "We're very happy to report that as much as we celebrated a year ago $1.97 as the heating oil rate the town was paying, we were very pleased to come in under $2. That was a joint effort with the school district."
About $36,000 is expected to be saved in the utilities fund by locking in at a rate of $1.58 per gallon this time around. The parking fund will see fuel savings in the neighborhood of $4,000.
An increase of 1.5 percent in the nearly $6 million utilities budgeting was presented to the board. An 8.3 percent decrease proposed for the parking fund largely has to do with a decrease in debt-service payments. A 12 percent decrease is expected in the solid waste fund by moving to the every-other-week garbage pickup and seeing a reduction in the town's assessment at the Windham Solid Waste Management District.
"We are going in the right direction," Elwell said. "I think these are tight budgets."
Department of Public Works Director Steve Barrett said he tried to hold the line on most items.
A change in health insurance — the town provides employees plans with a higher deductible and it puts money into a health reimbursement arrangement or HRA — saw an increase in line items for the HRA largely offset by a decrease in health insurance line items, pointed out Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein.
"But in the largest of these sub funds, which is the water distribution and storage, we've got about a $25,000 increase in health insurance costs," he said. "And there is a $46,000 increase in staff salaries in that water distribution and storage sub fund in the utilities budget."
The "overwhelming majority" of the increase involved an employee who was on long-term disability and was receiving benefits, Elwell said. A year ago, the employee's salary was not included in the budget and the position had not been filled. But now the person has retired.
"The position needs to be funded," said Elwell. "The utilities department needs to have that person back. I think you know the staffing levels are very thin from the years of cutting that was necessary."
Another increase in the health insurance line item had to do with another retiree. The new employee has a family whereas the previous person only needed coverage for a single person.
Payments for the bond taken out for the construction of the Transportation Center led to "a favorable reduction in payments of $55,000 this coming year and $217,993 over the remaining five years of the bond," Elwell wrote in a memo. The Vermont Municipal Bond Bank refinanced the bond.
A water tank at World Learning on Black Mountain Road is set to be replaced. Bids are expected to come in soon.
"The tank itself is one million gallons. It was put in during the '60s. And of course in the '60s, there was a lot of industrial use. That's when we were building Putney Road up for the infrastructure of water and sewer," Barrett said. "So this tank is designed to give back-up water supply for large fires, large demands, water main breaks and maintain pressure on the north end of town."
Energy efficiency upgrades were given a proposed line item of $150,000. The focus of this funding will be on pump stations, Elwell said. A recent energy audit contained several recommendations.
Other funding was included to begin looking at upgrades at the Pleasant Valley Water Plant. Plans were shelved about seven years ago, according to Barrett. He hopes to have engineers return and start getting ideas on what should be done.
The Whetstone Brook interceptor, described by Barrett as an approximately four or five mile pipeline which collects wastewater and follows the Whetstone then goes to the town's wastewater treatment plant, needs some maintenance work.
"It's pretty water tight but not that tight," said Barrett. "We don't have a problem with wastewater getting out of the system. It's infiltration, water getting into that pipeline. Each year, we feel it's a need to tighten this system up."
The job will entail lining the pipe, lining the wastewater manholes and putting water-tight covers on the manholes. Elwell called it "a really good investment," saying the $30,000 a year would be paid back in "the efficiency and lengthening of the life of the operations of the many components" at the plant. Replacing the line was estimated to cost $25 to 30 million after Tropical Storm Irene.
A line item for paving in Harmony Lot in the parking fund grabbed Gartenstein's attention. He noted there being a division of private and public property.
"If it's just for a single layer of tar to go down on the broken down pavement, I can't fathom why it would cost $75,000," he said. "Before I can approve a capital expenditure of that magnitude for work in Harmony Lot, I want to know exactly what it's for and where."
Structural issues at the Transportation Center, besides the eastern stairwell which was approved for replacement last year, were another area of concern for Gartenstein. The integrity of the rear wall was being examined now, he said. And Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland suggested allocating $260,000 for parking fund capital improvements for the Transportation Center and surface parking lots.
"I will say for a 10-year-old structure, it's somewhat troubling to me to see that there's a need even to have a high-priority repair line item and medium-priority repair line item, and then the need to put $150,000 for energy efficiency work," Gartenstein said. "I'm not sure there's anything we can do about it at this point. But I would like to get a full report once you're ready to give it to us about any and all issues that are facing us with respect to repair, rehabilitation and maintenance of the parking garage."
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.