Brattleboro Promotion Committee proposal criticized by board

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BRATTLEBORO — A proposal from the Town Arts Committee is heading back to the drawing table after Select Board members criticized several of its components.

The idea was to establish a Town Promotion Committee, which would unite the efforts of local arts and business groups. Money would go towards advertising and marketing.

"On the outset, I need to disagree with the premise of the proposal that there are organizations in this town that are not doing a good job and there are organizations that are hurting the town," said Select Board Vice Chairwoman Kate O'Connor, also Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce's executive director. "Criticizing those organizations really does a disservice to the people who work for those organizations and the hundreds of volunteers that spend a lot of time and effort. I also take issue with the premise that the town does nothing for small businesses whether they're artists or other small businesses."

The chamber was one of four groups mentioned in the proposal put fourth in Town Arts Committee Chairman Adam Salviani's proposal. The others included Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, Latchis Theatre and Brattleboro Museum & Arts Center.

At Tuesday's meeting, O'Connor cited the Brattleboro's grant programs and its revolving loan fund as proof for the town's support of small businesses. She said the town was not meant to act as a promotional or marketing arm. Events held in town were looked at as ways of bringing in tourists.

The rooms-and-meals tax surplus was identified as a potential funding source by the committee.

"The way I look it at," O'Connor said, "There really isn't a surplus. All the money is allocated."

Tension during the National Endowment for Arts grant awarding process was brought up by board members who had concerns over how a volunteer committee would decide to use the funding.

Also questioned was the setting of a new precedent.

"We've never funded committees," Select Board Chairman David Gartenstein said. "Committees are made up of volunteers and from time to time a committee has a specific project or proposal that's made. And it comes to the Select Board for funding."

A motion to vote on the proposal was withdrawn by Salviani's request. Before receiving feedback from the board, he said the Town Promotion Committee would provide "valuable attention and exposure" for Brattleboro.

"Given the dire state of Vermont's economy, it has never taken more courage to be either an artist or a small-business owner," he said. "One of the main goals of this committee would be to create additional revenue through these new tourism dollars."

Efforts between existing arts and business groups seem "scattered," said Select Board member David Schoales, adding that he didn't see any coordination. He wanted to see more information on "the nuts and bolts" of how the committee would achieve this and called for more evidence showing there was a need.

So did board member John Allen, who said he didn't feel comfortable making a decision yet.

Board member Dick DeGray supported the plan, saying the town has benefitted from all the organizations named in the proposal but the town doesn't help to promote events those organizations put on. The surplus was a matter of semantics, he said.

"I think that really constitutes a misunderstanding of the way in which we do budgeting," Gartenstein said of the surplus. "This is a town that faces significant pressures in raising revenue and there's way intense pressure on our property tax and there are really limited sources of non-property tax revenue available to us."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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