David Gartenstein: Brattleboro Selectboard files annual report

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Brattleboro's Selectboard continued its busy schedule in 2015, convening 39 meetings and focusing on a wide range of projects.

Following one-and-one-half years with an interim Town Manager at the helm, 2015 marked the beginning of the tenure of Town Manager Peter Elwell, who transitioned effectively into the Town Manager's role in January 2015 and has been dedicating himself tirelessly to ensure that the work needed to provide services in Brattleboro is being handled in a professional and efficient manner.

Adoption of new land use regulations is a significant landmark in the life of a town, and Selectboard participated in and developed a comprehensive, inclusive, and transparent process that led to adoption of Brattleboro's new Zoning and Subdivision regulations in November 2015. This project spanned multiple years and relied on countless hours spent by members of the Planning Department and Planning Commission. It was supported by grant and taxpayer funding, drew on significant work with an outside consultant, and was strengthened by broad input from diverse members of the community. Multiple public meetings and hearings provided extensive information to the public about the new Ordinance. Our new Land Use Regulations should provide the foundation for continued and orderly land use and development that serves the public interest and the public good in Brattleboro during the next generation.

Another major undertaking tackled by Selectboard during 2015 was renewed focus on police and fire facilities renovation, which was put on hold in mid-2014 after ballot referendum rejection of the FY15 budget by the voters. One of the primary priorities assigned to Mr. Elwell when he began as Town Manager was to review all aspects of this project, and to make recommendations about the most cost-effective alternatives available to bring Brattleboro's emergency response facilities into compliance with applicable codes and modern standards, to ensure they meet the programmatic needs of our police and fire departments, and responsibly serve the needs of the Town. Many public meetings were convened with the goal of gathering public input and considering how to proceed. We currently plan to convene two Town Meetings on successive weekends at the beginning of March 2016, the first to address our police and fire facilities, followed a week later by annual March Town Meeting.

Community building efforts were prominent for the Selectboard during 2015. The year began with work on the National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant mired in conflict, facing significant risk that the grant would have to be closed unsuccessfully. Rather than succumbing to this negative outcome, Selectboard developed a process that allowed the arts community to come together, culminating in an award under the grant that will be implemented in 2016 through installation of a public art display celebrating Brattleboro's connection to our rivers.

We have engaged in collaborative efforts with community partners on regional economic development, playing an integral role in the outreach and planning that persuaded GS Precision to stay and expand at the Exit 1 Industrial Park. The Town also helped develop the process for vetting applications for financing from the Vermont Yankee Windham County Economic Development Fund, and secured a formal role for the Town as part of the screening committee during that process.

In addition, Selectboard has been trying to move Windham Solid Waste Management District to a new operating model and a more equitable finance structure.

Transitions to more effective systems of government were in focus for the Board in 2015. Selectboard worked with the new Town Manager on comprehensive review of town operations and long term planning. We are shifting away from reliance on long term debt to finance recurring capital expenses, and moving towards a more consistent and principled approach to use of fund balances. Solid waste collection also saw major changes. Pay as you throw began successfully, and has thus far yielded a reduction of over 50 percent in the volume of trash collected for landfill disposal compared to similar periods during the last 2 years. This transition has allowed the Board to authorize moving forward with changing solid waste collection to an every other week schedule, while recycling and compost collection remains the same.

Selectboard was involved in many infrastructure improvements during 2015. In response to pedestrian deaths, the Town rebuilt the Western Avenue-Union Hill-Cedar Street intersection in 2015. Pedestrian-protective blinking lights were installed at crosswalks, electronic speed measuring devices were deployed, and the Town entered into a partnership with Local Motion to develop and implement new traffic calming measures. Replacement of the sidewalk on the east side of Main Street was completed. Plans are in development for repair of the retaining walls in the Harmony Lot and on Bonnyvale Road. Brattleboro continues to contend with disruption caused by the bridge replacement between Exits 2 and 3 on I-91, and we are working with the State to replace the Elliot Street bridge. At Living Memorial Park, pool repair is planned and a dog park and skate park were approved. The upgrade of Brattleboro's wastewater treatment infrastructure is slowly progressing. Necessary life safety code renovations began at the municipal center, involving installation of a fire alarm system.

Energy efficiency also has been a priority, with window replacement at the Gibson Aiken Center, completion of street light upgrades, efforts to achieve a stable net-metering solar power agreement, and energy audits at Town buildings.

As in years past, we continue to face many challenges. Brattleboro is a New England town with aging infrastructure. Vermont's municipal taxation structure does not allow regional economic hubs like Brattleboro, particularly hubs that are located on the New Hampshire border, to levy taxes to finance necessary municipal services in a manner that is fair to our property owners, resulting in disproportionately high property taxes in Brattleboro. Crime, opiate addiction, homelessness, and poverty negatively impact our community. In the face of these challenges, we continue to work hard to make our community a better place. As a new year begins, we take this opportunity to thank everyone who has participated in Town government in any way, including by serving on a committee, attending or watching a meeting, or voicing your opinion. We sincerely encourage everyone to continue participating in the life of our Town.

David Gartenstein is the chairman of the Brattleboro Selectboard.


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