BRATTLEBORO — Representative Town Meeting had plenty to debate, discuss and decide about when the body returned to its in-person format Saturday.
The body voted 98-19 in favor of a $4.1 million bond for Living Memorial Park projects including 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.
Kate O’Connor of District 3 said the proposal wasn’t “vetted as much as it should have been.”
Arthur Davis of District 2 and the Brattleboro Energy Committee said the plans would be beneficial for the environment. Chris Chapman of District 3 called the park “an amazing amenity” that requires upkeep.
Emily Megas-Russell of District 1 expressed disappointment over the pool not being part of the project. She said the pool serves people with disabilities and LGBTQ individuals, but the latter are disenfranchised since there’s no nongendered options in the facilities.
Shela Linton of District 3 noted families of color are more likely to use the pool than the rink. Moderator David Gartenstein pointed out $50,000 for planning for pool updates is in another article, which later was approved.
The body voted 117-0 in favor of a $2 million bond for water system upgrades. The bond will be repaid by water utility users and covers improvements to a pump station at Signal Hill, replacing a water main on Bridge Street and installing a generator at the Black Mountain Pump Station, which lacks standby backup power.
Half of the bond is anticipated to be forgiven through the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.
In a 66-45 vote, Town Meeting members approved $45,028 for the Community Marketing Initiative organized by the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance. The figure represents 10 percent of last year’s 1 percent local option tax revenue.
“It’s very hard to evaluate the impact. Clicks don’t equate to money in Brattleboro,” Tom Franks of District said, referring to web traffic.
Brian Bannon of District 2, whose husband leads the chamber, argued there are metrics to evaluate the impact and the requested sum is a modest amount.
“I do know that they have been able to attract national notice from articles and those would not happen otherwise,” he said.
About $280,000 for human service organizations received approval. David Miner of District 1, co-chair of the Human Services Review Committee, said his group considered 43 applications this year, seven more than last year and $107,000 more than the budget allowed. The committee capped requests at $20,000 and couldn’t fully fund any of them, with the highest allocations going to Groundworks Collaborative ($19,000) and the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro ($17,000).
An article to determine how much to devote to human service organizations prompted strong calls to beef up support. Doran Hamm of District 3 successfully proposed giving 2 percent of next fiscal year’s budget to the groups, noting the importance of supporting organizations during challenging times. The figure has reached 1.4 and 1.6 percent in recent years.
Steve Heim of District 3 said any time taxes are raised, “it’s a burden for renters. As landlords, we pass that on.”
Cristina Shayonye of District 2 told fellow members that if the organizations up for funding aren’t part of their life “then you’re privileged. These are the basic needs of the people of Brattleboro.”
Ruben Garza of District 3, executive director of United Way of Windham County, reported nonprofits employ one in seven workers in Vermont. Their health is vital to the economy, he said.
Select Board members will again receive $8,000 in annual stipends and the chairperson will get $10,000.
“We voted this initially to see if we could increase participation across a variety of different demographics,” Franks said. “I think we failed. I think we might want to consider why we are doing this.”
Franks ended up withdrawing a motion to return to stipend rates of $3,500 and $5,000 after hearing from others. Being on the board is “really, really hard,” Paula Melton of District 1 said, arguing members should be compensated well.
Robin Morgan of District 2 suggested reducing other barriers to attract a broader group of candidates. Stipends on the School Board make it “possible for me to serve on the board,” she said.
An article to spend $1,087,306 from the surplus to match state funds for replacing bridge on Melrose Street ($515,000), repair Williams Street ($400,000) and plan for pool updates ($50,000) with the remaining amount to go toward the Living Memorial Park project received quick approval.
The proposed fiscal year 2024 budget was amended to add $350,000 for a total of $20,503,452, causing the increase in the projected municipal tax rate to increase by 6 percent over the current fiscal year instead of 3.9 percent. David Levenbach of District 3 suggested the money could cover hiring firefighters, as the need has been conveyed in a town-commissioned report by AP Triton.
On Tuesday, the Select Board voted to spend $350,000 from federal American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA) funds the town received on hiring three new firefighters.
“My proposal,” Levenbach said, “will make it unnecessary to tap the ARPA funds for essential operations.”
Levenbach has advocated for the board to engage with the public on how to spend the remaining $2.7 million from APRA, calling the source “a once-in-a-lifetime gift that should be used for long-term improvements in making Brattleboro a better place for its citizens.” He and others spoke against using one-time funds for recurring expenses such as staffing.
The board wanted to make the hires now instead of waiting until the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. Board Chairman Ian Goodnow anticipates the hires can be made by the end of April. He said the board is going to be looking at different models for EMS and holding many public meetings to “determine the best course of action for the town.”
Town Meeting members approved a non-binding resolution calling for a transparent process that takes into account public input after amending a resolution introduced by Bob Oeser of District 3. His resolution called for expressing a lack of confidence in the manner the Select Board decided to end the town’s 56-year partnership with Rescue Inc. without public input and to request for the board to hire a mediator to re-engage in discussions with Rescue Inc., however, those pieces were taken out.
Rick Morton of District 1 opposed the motion, saying it condemned people who were doing their job. O’Connor said she was “really mad” and disappointed about the lack of public input on the EMS issue, and she hopes the next Select Board will listen.
Spoon Agave of District 2 said the lack of information makes considering the resolution an “exercise in futility.” Bob Tortolani of District 2 stressed the importance of collaboration and healing.
The body also approved a non-binding resolution to develop a transparent process for using ARPA funds.
Town Meeting members approved spending as much as $120,000 from surpluses to defray demotion costs at McNeill’s Brewery, which was destroyed in a fire in December. Town Attorney Bob Fisher said funds might be recovered from the state or through insurance, or might be available from the current fiscal year’s surplus.
An article passed to provide $36,552 to Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) using program income, which originates as proceeds from the Community Development Block Grant program. Select Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin asked SeVEDS to provide a report next year with Brattleboro-specific data and financial resources.
Defeated was an amendment offered by Maya Hasegawa of District 2 to reduce the figure from $3 a resident to $2 since there was no report this year. Adam Grinold, SEVEDS board member and executive director of Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, said his groups submitted one in 2019 as asked but not much has changed since census data is trailing. He offered to provide “a meaningful update” next time.
An article for a town-wide reappraisal passed without discussion. Then questions and comments came up before New England Circus Arts received exemption from municipal property taxes until March 2026.
Morton said the organization is “internationally well known. We’ve had people from all over the world come to learn, train and enhance their skills in this area, and I’m impressed with that. It puts us on the map.”