BRATTLEBORO — With a steady flow of things returning to a normalcy resembling life before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Select Board is anticipated to vote Tuesday night on whether to continue a moratorium on water service disconnections.
Town Manager Peter Elwell is recommending the Select Board authorize resuming disconnection of water service for delinquent utility accounts at residential properties following the Nov. 16 payment deadline. Customers would receive a notice about the change in policy with information about payment plan options and financial assistance available through the state.
In a memo, Elwell recalled the board voting unanimously March 17, 2020 to temporarily suspend disconnection of water service on all delinquent utility accounts as one of the town’s earliest actions related to COVID-19.
“The basis of this decision was two-fold: the need to maintain access for everyone to frequently wash hands and the financial hardship that was expected as an impact of COVID-19,” he said.
In August 2020, the board voted unanimously to resume disconnection of water service for commercial and industrial customers. But the moratorium for residential customers stayed in place.
“At that time, staff expressed a concern that customers who routinely wait for a disconnection notice before paying their bill may find themselves ‘in over their head’ once regular water utility disconnections resume,” Elwell said.
As of July 2020, 85 residential accounts were delinquent for a total of $69,066, according to the memo. Currently, 251 residential accounts are delinquent for a total of $150,822.
The board also will get an update from town staff on their preparations for a hybrid meeting structure, where attendees can join in person or online. The only current option is via Zoom teleconferencing software.
Previously, the board voted to lift a mask mandate that applied to establishments providing service in town.
Other businessThe board is considering amendments to zoning regulations. According to a notice for public hearings happening at the Tuesday and July 6 board meetings, the intent is “to make the interim Zoning Bylaw pertaining to housing density permanent; reduce design requirements and regulatory barriers for residential and lodging structures; compliance with state law; allow retaining walls greater than 16 feet in the Industrial zoning district; remove exemptions for stormwater and non-conforming signs coming into compliance; reduce parking requirement for mini-storage facilities; require permits for parking lot repaving; add an energy review criteria to site plan review; make temporary signs regulations content neutral; add standards for vertical blade and distinctive signs; update the use standards in the Service Center district and Residential Neighborhood district, and increase the minimum building footprint in the Mixed Use district.”
In March, Representative Town Meeting approved spending $75,000 for website upgrades and improving community engagement. The body also approved a motion directing town staff to come up with a request for proposals (RFP) after getting input from community members — especially those who experienced difficulty accessing town information and those with lived experience with social services, racism, sexism, classism and homelessness.
Planning Director Sue Fillion is recommending a plan to the board that includes reviewing the current website, interviewing each town department, forming a focus group with people actively involved in managing pages on the site and conducting a survey of the public. The process is anticipated to take about three months to complete.
“Staff expects to present a draft RFP to the board for review in the early fall,” Fillion said in a memo.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda is a loan agreement for financing the Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Facility replacement project, and refinancing of debt for the Tri-Park Cooperative Housing Corporation water and sewer improvements in order to lower payments and improve cash flow for the group.