Bigotry infiltrates Brattleboro board meeting

Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell speaks during a special town meeting using GoToMeeting on April 2, 2020.

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BRATTLEBORO — With a sizeable chunk left over from the police department budget this year, Town Manager Peter Elwell is proposing the establishment of a Community Safety Fund.

“Creation of the Community Safety Fund with $200,000 will provide resources the Select Board can allocate in future decisions to purchases and programs that are intended to increase community safety through alternatives to traditional police interventions,” he wrote in a memo. “These alternatives might be initiated by the community as envisioned in some of the recommendations from the 2020 Community Safety Review, might be initiated by the Town outside of the Police Department, or might be initiated by the Police Department.”

The town embarked on what was dubbed the Community Safety Review Process last year, hiring two facilitators who published a report that recommends decoupling police from welfare checks and to work toward alternatives that do not involve force, coercion or incarceration. Also suggested is the elimination of the Brattleboro Police Department’s social worker liaison program and instead investing the funds in “noncoercive supports.”

Elwell is suggesting criteria for the fund that would require the money be spent on initiatives pitched as alternatives to traditional policing and be approved by the Select Board. His proposal is on the agenda for Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, which begins at 6:15 p.m. via Zoom with an in-person option for those who cannot attend online.

Due to “excessive police officer vacancies” in the department, Elwell wrote, the fiscal year 2022 budget will be underspent by more than $340,000. About $70,000 is proposed to go toward providing raises to officers under a collective bargaining agreement that also will come up Tuesday.

Elwell expects there will be between $50,000 and $100,000 in savings to offset expenses where the town overspent this year or go toward a surplus. Also, he anticipates recommending an additional allocation to the Community Safety Fund when he releases town staff’s proposed FY23 budget next month.

Other bargaining agreements coming up Tuesday are those for operating engineers, firefighters and steelworkers. Sustainability Coordinator Stephen Dotson will provide an update on projects with which he is involved. The Select Board will discuss its annual goals.

Also on the agenda is the purchase and sale agreement to transfer ownership of Union Station to Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. If the board approves the agreement, the deal is contingent on getting approval from Representative Town Meeting and Amtrak leaving the space in 2024.