Town getting closer to setting Town Meeting date

Town representative John Wilmerding speaks during Brattleboro's Town Meeting.

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BRATTLEBORO — Town Meeting members are returning to in-person voting Saturday, when they will consider borrowing money for upgrades at Living Memorial Park and water infrastructure improvements, among other funding requests.

A presentation and questions about the approximately $4.1 million bond proposed for park projects took up about 100 minutes of an informational meeting Wednesday. Select Board Chairman Ian Goodnow said there would “plenty of time” for debate at annual Representative Town Meeting on Saturday. It begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Brattleboro Union High School gym.

Having managed the state park system in Oregon in a former job, Town Manager John Potter said he has noticed “how well our Parks and Recreation staff keep facilities nursing along at a very low cost. And that happens year after year.”

Carol Lolatte, director of Parks and Recreation, said the proposed improvements have been outlined in a capital plan for the last five years. They include roof improvements and upgrades to the refrigeration system at the ice skating rink, replacement of a maintenance building at Living Memorial Park, improvements to the Kiwanis shelter parking and lighting at the upper softball fields.

Lolatte said the plan calls for going from a synthetic to a natural refrigerant at the rink. Town Sustainability Coordinator Stephen Dotson called the move beneficial in “environmental and economical” ways.

Overall, the rink is anticipated to be more energy efficient as a result of the proposed project, which includes new lighting and upgrades to the condenser, dehumidifier, fire alarm system and roof. The roof will go from being uninsulated to insulated.

A maintenance area currently made up of two buildings just across from the pool would be replaced with a 3,500-square-foot wooden-framed building, Lolatte said. The current space is too small to fit all the Recreation and Park Department’s equipment.

Lolatte said there’s increased demand for Kiwanis shelter parking after recent additions, such as the dog park, skatepark and disc golf course. Plans call for increasing the parking area by about 7,200 square feet.

New lighting proposed at the softball fields would bring in energy-efficient LED bulbs and make it safer for playing at night, according to the presentation.

Finance Director Kim Frost said the town would be applying for a bond in November if approved, and then funding would be available in March 2024. The plan also calls for taking $150,000 from the town’s Global Warming Solutions Fund and $122,306 from surplus to help complete projects.

Select Board member Tim Wessel said he wished the needed upgrades to the pool were part of the proposal.

“I’m extremely disappointed it doesn’t include the pool,” Shela Linton of District 3 said, seeing the rink as a place for people who are more class privileged and the pool hosting more families of color.

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Linton said the way the pool is currently structured is unacceptable for LGBTQ community members and needs to be changed.

Spoon Agave of District 2 asked the board to bring “the actual costs” of running the rink to the annual meeting.

Public Works Director Dan Tyler said a $2 million bond is proposed to make improvements to a pump station at Signal Hill, replace a water main on Bridge Street and install a generator at the Black Mountain Pump Station, which lacks standby backup power.

Polls for the bond votes open at 10 a.m. and close a half hour after the meeting adjourns. Other articles will be voted from the floor.

Goodnow said the proposed fiscal year budget totals $21,688,677 and comes in at 8.1 percent higher than last year.

“It’s a really high number and pretty shocking when you first look at it,” he said.

However, because of accounting and application of surplus, tax rates won’t rise as much if the budget is approved. They are projected to go up by 3.9 percent over the current fiscal year.

Staff salary and benefits are proposed to rise by 5.3 percent from the current fiscal year. In the budget is the creation of a new position, communications coordinator.

Potter said the Police Department currently has 16 officers on staff.

“We have nine to go to the academy in August,” he said. “So by next year, we should be very close to full staffing at 25.”

Town Meeting members will consider using surplus funds to cover matched grant funds to replace Melrose Bridge ($515,000), repair Williams Street ($400,000) and plan for pool improvements ($50,000). They also will decide whether to authorize a townwide reappraisal process, exempt New England Center for Circus Arts from property taxes, and contribute about $45,000 for the Community Marketing Initiative organized by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, about $281,000 for human service organizations and about $36,552 to Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies.