Brattleboro considers crosswalk safety proposal


BRATTLEBORO >> A motion on voting whether to use $30,000 to buy and install new push-button crosswalk lights was shelved so the Traffic Safety Committee could offer advice to the Select Board.

"I believe these lights are essential," Select Board member Dick DeGray said Tuesday as he made the suggestion. He also wanted to commit to an annual $30,000 contribution for the next four years. He called the lights "such a beneficial tool for pedestrian safety" and would not budge on removing the four-year commitment from the motion.

DeGray's idea was to use unanticipated revenue from the 1 percent local option tax. But Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein said he does not look at it as a surplus as it is one of the only "relief valves" on property taxes.

"I don't know about setting it up on a yearly basis," Select Board member John Allen told DeGray. "I'm a little concerned about that. Because this is the first I've heard of it."

Even if the funds were not allocated after budgeting sessions in upcoming years, DeGray said the topic would be on the mind of future board members and it shows the current board is taking "an initiative to making the streets safer."

Measures to do just that were taken less than five years ago after pedestrian fatalities in Brattleboro, according to Gartenstein. A traffic calming report was transformed into a street and sidewalk policy. Crosswalk lights went up by Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Living Memorial Park and Academy School. Also, the intersection at Western Avenue and Union Street was reconfigured.

Grants are currently being sought to put crosswalk lights in on Union Street and in front of Holton Home.

"I'm in favor of using these devices when appropriate," said Gartenstein, wary of the budgeting proposed by DeGray.

Gartenstein said he wanted to give the grants an opportunity to be awarded. He's on the Traffic Safety Committee.

"We're getting ready to turn to budget season. I know (Town Manager) Peter (Elwell) is working on a long term financial plan. If you want to put money into the budget for next year to buy flashing lights, I certainly think it's something we can look at in the overall scheme of the budget," said Gartenstein.

Waiting to see whether grants come in was unacceptable to DeGray, who said the board was not doing its job to protect the residents.

"You're telling me there's going to be other pressures. We're looking at prioritizing. Pedestrian safety to me is as important as police-fire (construction projects) and buying trucks for whatever department needs them. I'm looking at this as an overage. I could have made a motion to take the money out of the budget and we'll go to (annual) Town Meeting," said DeGray. "I'm somewhat disappointed that we're not taking an initiative to move forward and we're relying on grant money. I think that the plan I put forward is prudent."

Board Vice Chairwoman Kate O'Connor also had reservations about allocating funds without going through the budgeting process.

"I'm super into pedestrian safety," she said. "But I feel uncomfortable about setting a precedent."

The topic is expected to come up again in October. That way the Traffic Safety Committee can weigh in.

Committee member Louise Zak commended the talk.

"I'm delighted to hear this discussion," she said, noting board members' concerns about placement of the devices and finding "evidence-based solutions."

She said she was not sure the committee could come up with suggestions for how to use $30,000 in the one meeting it will hold before the next Select Board meeting.

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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