Broadband, housing are big issues for Schoales

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BRATTLEBORO — David Schoales wants the town to build a fiber optic broadband system and take a deep dive into housing issues.

Schoales, 73, was elected to the Select Board for a one-year term in 2013. He was re-elected for three-year terms in 2014 and 2017.

Seeking another three year-term, Schoales said he originally sought that seat because he felt he wouldn't be "displacing" another board member.

"I feel like I've got three years in me," he said, "let's hope. It just made sense to keep doing what I was doing."

Schoales is running in the March 3 election against newcomer Rikki Risatti and incumbent Elizabeth McLoughlin, who previously served a one-year term. Two one-year seats are up for grabs with incumbent Daniel Quipp facing off against Kurt Daims, Ian Goodnow, Oscar Heller and Risatti.

With the hiring of the sustainability coordinator, who just started this month, "we've got an opportunity to really deal with, I think, the biggest issues facing the town," Schoales said. "I think the town staff is pretty much stretched with maintaining the roads, the fiscal management and all the stuff we do as a town but there's stuff we need to do to remain a healthy community."

Most important to Schoales is attracting and keeping young people here. He sees the availability and the cost of housing as "the primary obstacle," and having decent jobs as the second. He said zoning might be one area the town could look at to help with housing.

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As the board discussed potential broadband projects, Schoales has been in favor of developing a fiber optic system throughout the community to offer internet service through the municipality. He called the project "absolutely essential" for attracting jobs or getting children to continue living here through adulthood. He also believes it would bring more opportunities related to the fields of education, health care and mental health services.

"It's just an all-around really valuable system that Comcast is not going to deliver for us," he said. "We're going to have to do it ourselves ... The municipalities and government need to step in and provide the backbone then people can pay for their own personal service."

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Fuel-related savings from projects undertaken in town-owned buildings since a 2016 energy audit and participating in a solar array project at the closed landfill at Windham Solid Waste Management District have made Schoales proudest as a board member. He looks at the money saved as underwriting the costs of having the sustainability coordinator. He had been on the WSWMD board and promoted the solar array project from its infancy.

Hiring Peter Elwell as town manager in 2014 also helped the town, said Schoales, who has strongly encouraged increasing diversity within town staff.

"Fortunately, Peter is an excellent manager," Schoales said, "so he calmed me down a little bit and went about it in a really effective way."

Now, all town staff, Select Board members and employees will be trained in understanding bias and welcoming diversity. Schoales said he hopes the town will see some progress and find some qualified candidates of color.

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Schoales sees a continued challenge in addressing poverty and its effects, and a direct correlation between opioid addiction and poverty. He said treatment programs currently in place aren't effective.

"We keep seeing the problems over and over again," he said. "I think what's most frustrating is we can't get the state to let us try to find local solutions or interventions for these kinds of problems. Our hands are tied."

Schoales said the state doesn't allow towns to come up with creative revenue sources so projects or programs would come out of property taxes. He noted the town's funding of Porta Potty facilities downtown and a jobs pilot program.

The March 3 ballot asks voters if they want to advise the Select Board to amend the town charter and move to a mayoral system. Schoales described the proposal as "the opposite of more democratic."

"It's putting one person in a position of authority with no oversight except an election however many years the job would be for," he said. "It's just undemocratic."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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