Young professional in Brattleboro Select Board race

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BRATTLEBORO — Select Board candidate Oscar Heller believes his experience as a young professional could be valuable.

"One of the big reasons I'm running is, I think, for a town that seems pretty serious about wanting more young people, families and new businesses to move here, it's important to have someone in that demographic with a seat at the table in town government," he said. "I think it would be good for the town."

Heller said he knows drug issues and homelessness are being tackled at a lot of different angles right now.

"But I would like to see a more coordinated town level, Select Board level approach to just bringing all these efforts together and having a coherent town policy," he said. "My view is it's a pretty much settled question that you have to approach these things with a holistic approach. It's not about more enforcement. It's not rousting people off the streets."

His other interests are in economic development and modernization. But he also acknowledges affordability for taxpayers.

Heller sees Brattleboro as place for the tech industry to open up shop and young people to move in.

"For me personally as a quote unquote young professional, someone's who's 30, I have a lot of friends who love the idea of living somewhere like Brattleboro," he said. "The truth is Brattleboro has pretty good infrastructure. You can get pretty fast internet if you pay for it."

His goal is not to gentrify Brattleboro though.

"I don't want to drive up land values to the point where everyone who lived here before can't live here now," he said, suggesting more investment in affordable housing. "I think there's an opportunity for Brattleboro to become stronger in good ways."

He is running against Daniel Quipp, Elizabeth McLoughlin and Franz Reichsman for two one-year seats.

The election is on March 5.

Heller attended McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, where he was a political science major. Then he moved to southern California. He moved to town in 2014.

"I just wanted to live somewhere new and always loved Brattleboro," he said, having participated in then worked at a local summer camp for years. "It was quite a jump climate wise, culture wise."

His first job here was at C&S Wholesale Grocers. He started 10F Design, a company specializing in graphic design and website building, with his brother and their friend last year.

"That's been going really well," he said. "It's been interesting having my own business. You learn a lot."

Previously, he worked at Mondo Mediaworks in Brattleboro for about three years. He left to start his own business before Mondo began making some layoffs.

Heller has been on the town's Energy Committee for about two years. He now serves as its chairman.

"I've spent most of my time as chair basically wrangling the committee back into shape," he said, hoping to change the bylaws at a meeting Thursday so the number of members will be seven rather than nine and then only four members would be needed to have a quorum. "It's frustrating not getting something done."

He said he wants to set clear objectives then spend time working on them.

Heller supports the limited self-governance pilot program being pitched by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to the Vermont Legislature. He views it as a way for the town to develop new funding sources. He said 85 percent of Brattleboro's revenue comes from property taxes.

"That causes problems because we are a regional economic hub, which means we supply a lot of services to towns," he said. "People come from those towns to Brattleboro to use services, visit downtown but they don't pay the property taxes that fund those things. That's not their fault. That's the challenge of being the center of this grouping of towns."

The Select Board has voted to express strong support for the program. And at their annual meeting on March 23, Town Meeting representatives will be asked to adopt a resolution saying they feel the same way.

Heller is still figuring out his stance on the local 1 percent option tax being considered at Representative Town Meeting.

"My only concern is I feel like there is a hole in the proposal that would be filled by some data or a study that can answer the question of what would happen to the downtown merchants," he said, wondering what percentage of business they can expect to lose. "I'm pursuing some leads. If I get answers, I'll share that so everyone can take a look."

Heller said he felt the proposal from the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Brattleboro Alliance to provide $42,119 from meals and rooms tax revenue for promoting the community was "too light in detail." He also wanted to know more about how to measure its success.

The allocation is included in the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget but it also will come up in an article at Representative Town Meeting.

Heller's website is oscarheller.com. He also can be found at facebook.com/oscarforselectboard and instagram.com/heller_oscar.

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


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