Town Clerk’s Office
Meeting of MONDAY, January 23, 2017
- The meeting was called to order at 6:30 P.M.
Members present: John Benson, Chair; Jeff Kimmel, and Cory Haggett
Staff present: Carla Preston, Alternate Administrative Assistant.
Others present: Ray Peck, Road Foreman; Ginny Brees, Auditor; and Dennis Larocque.
- Adjustments to Agenda – The Board moved discussion items up in the agenda to address persons present.
- Public Presentation or Comment
Dennis Larocque expressed his concerns that the parking improvement situation on Stone Road was rather short-lived. He reported vehicles again being parked in the road near the residence. Chair Benson advised that the Sheriff’s Office will be notified and noted that the area is being monitored on a regular basis. The Town is making efforts to address this safety issue.
- Old Business
The Chair called for approval of the Minutes of the January 9, 2017 meeting. Mr. Haggett made a motion, seconded by Mr. Kimmel, to approve the Minutes of the January 9, 2017 meeting as presented. The question was called and the motion passed unanimously.
- New Business
Chair Benson reported that he, Mr. Kimmel, and Mr. Peck met with Larry Brassard to review the snow maintenance operation in the area by Mr. Brassard’s home. Mr. Brassard had raised concerns about his waterline which runs under the road due to snow plowing and other road maintenance. The agreement reached between the Town and Mr. Brassard is as follows: The Town will hold plowing to two feet off from Mr. Brassard’s mailbox and limit winging back the snow on the roadway 30 to 40 feet near his waterline. Mr. Brassard has 2 years (construction seasons) in which to adjust his waterline to protect it from freezing so that during the winter of 2018 to 2019 the Town will resume snow plowing in that area as usual.
Mr. Kimmel added that Mr. Brassard agreed to move back buildup of snow within the Town’s right-of-way with his tractor. This pertained to the west side of Mr. Brassard’s property abutting on Bear Hill Road.
Chair Benson will draft a letter to Mr. Brassard to share with the Board to memorialize the mutual understandings from this meeting.
Chair Benson also reported that he received a phone call from Bonnie Fallon to verify that the construction on Route 65 was performed by the State of Vermont. She advised that all four tires on her car were damaged and had to be replaced. He confirmed that the State did the work. Ms. Fallon advised that she plans to start a Front Porch Forum posting in an effort to have the State reimburse her for the cost of new tires. She was invited to the Board meeting to discuss her concerns further if she wished.
Chair Benson acknowledged that the Town is not satisfied with the condition of Route 65 which was resurfaced last summer between Pond Village and the intersection of Route 12. Brookfield Town Highway and Selectboard members met with people involved in the project which included representatives from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), the contractor, and garage personnel all of whom agreed that the project was not ready to be closed out. They hope the issue will be addressed this Spring.
- Highway Report
- Certificate of Highway Mileage –
Chair Benson explained that this certification involved a short portion at the intersection of Route 65 and West Street, and the change at the west end of Old Stage Road. He will be working on it and anticipates it will be ready for sign off at the next meeting.
- Ridge Road Grant –
Mr. Peck advised that this grant has not yet been closed out but is close to completion. The notes need to be reviewed by Administrative Assistant Kasey Peterson and then submitted for closure.
- Other Highway Items –
Mr. Peck advised that his crew is prepared for the upcoming Ice Harvest event. He noted that parking will be opened up at both ends of the bridge.
Mr. Peck reported that Ms. Peterson is working on the VTrans Safety Hazard Enhancement grant which would bring signage along Route 65 to the Ridge Road up to current code. The process was begun two years ago, but they have not heard anything about its status.
In response to questions from the Board about equipment quotes for a grader, Mr. Peck advised that he has not yet received a quote from Caterpillar. For comparison purposes, he will also contact other towns with new graders. He is aware the quote is needed prior to Town Meeting.
Mr. Peck advised that overall things are going well with respect to the Town Garage/Highway Department. He noted sand supply is holding up thus far. He will be sure to get invoices to Ms. Peterson regarding Route 65 maintenance expenditures. He indicated that they will work with the State’s contractor to repair potholes in Pond Village.
Mr. Peck left but called in a bit later to report that he had been unable to reach the woman who owns property abutting the Town Garage. Chair Benson explained that the Town is looking at options to expand the Town Garage property. This woman owns property to the west of the garage and they have been discussing a lot line (boundary) adjustment. Mr. Peck has been reaching out to her to discuss options. The Town must determine the exact amount of acreage and its value. Options for compensation of the property need to be considered and approved by Brookfield voters during Town Meeting. Options include abating a portion of her property taxes in lieu of payment for the property or simply purchasing the property. The Board agreed to write a letter to the property owner outlining options.
- Budget –
Ginny Brees, Auditor, advised that based on their review of several reports, they are not suggesting any huge changes. They identified a few issues in discussions with Town Treasurer Teresa Godfrey. She advised that they like the current format for the budget used in the Brookfield Town Report which included the full prior year’s budget, six-month expense report, and proposed budget for the next fiscal year.
Ms. Brees noted that in general, there seems to be tightening on budget figures but some areas are not as clear. She gave an example of diesel fuel expenses over the years with the understanding that having some leeway was necessary. She encouraged the Selectboard to tighten budget items down as much as possible. She understands the importance of having room in the budget for unanticipated expenditures but was concerned that leaving too much room could lead to unscheduled projects, particularly nearing the end of the fiscal year. They have seen figures bounce around and get lost in the annual budgeting cycle due to extra funds and buying items ahead of schedule. She felt if the figures were narrowed down it would support better tracking of expenses. She confirmed that there were no signs of misappropriation, and she intended to encourage improved accuracy in the budget process. She noted that such issues keep happening in towns which supported further narrowing accounts.
In response to the Board’s questions regarding other examples the auditors found, Ms. Brees advised that with respect to budgets for building and grounds, and building maintenance, she believed that unscheduled projects were undertaken. She felt it would be better if those projects were stated in the plan and not projects created because the money was available.
Chair Benson advised that funds were in fact built into the plan in those areas. He explained that the confusion caused was because the projects were not all completed in the same year (calendar or fiscal). Those tasks were selected and chosen to be performed.
Ms. Brees praised the amount of detail in the Selectboard’s Report which included what was being accomplished and future goals. She felt it was important to get the information out there.
Chair Benson confirmed that he tries to lay out what is going on in the Town which helps draw people into the conversation. He explained that with respect to diesel fuel expenses there are many factors that have an impact on cost which included the fluctuating price of crude oil and winter weather conditions. He mentioned the Town’s efforts to keep the costs down and obtain the maximum discount available.
Ms. Brees noted that there is a lot of uncertainty this year and suggested utilizing a budget worksheet that would help address risk management. She understood that some costs have to be estimated, such as healthcare. She advised a worksheet would call into question trends, loan payments, assets, insurances, and suggest that the Town contact vendors to review the data, select other providers or other options to reduce costs.
Chair Benson agreed that healthcare was a significant expense, particularly depending upon the employee coverage plan selected. That budget line item must be sufficient to offer a different plan should it be necessary. He noted that they have the ability to adjust the budget as well.
Ms. Brees advised that the Auditors’ goal is to improve recordkeeping, budgeting, and projected annual budgeting. The budget should be developed based on the prior years of data. She again mentioned utilizing a worksheet or check list as a tool to review expenses and project for the future. She reiterated her recommendation to narrow the budget down as much as possible, particularly when the Town seeks to purchase an expensive piece of equipment. The options for such a purchase need to be clearly presented.
Chair Benson agreed that a budget worksheet would be useful and asked Ms. Brees to develop such a worksheet or check list. The overall objective is to have a budget that meets the Town’s expectations and expenses. He noted that there is some volatility in several budget areas.
Mr. Haggett described a budget as abstract and noted that it could be overly narrowed, which would also need to be avoided.
Ms. Brees advised that her message and recommendation is more pressure to keep on task and hold expenses down without having too much room available. The auditors do not want a negative opinion and want to be sure procedures are in place to avoid it. She noted that an external audit was conducted in 2014 but not in 2015. She recommended skipping 2015 for now to get caught up and moving toward 2016/2017. Proposals from a couple of auditors should be requested soon after Town meeting so that the audit can get on the schedule right after year end (July). She noted that it might be less expensive to conduct an audit every other year once the Town gets on track and current.
Chair Benson advised that there is no intention to inflate proposed figures and mentioned diesel fuel for the reasons discussed above. He added, that one truck needed significant repairs which impacted the budget.
Mr. Kimmel noted that changing from a calendar year to a fiscal year was an effort to improve recordkeeping. He asked Ms. Brees if the auditors have seen sufficient improvement that would make skipping an annual external audit reasonable. Ms. Brees advised that they have seen improvement and noted that Ms. Godfrey had picked up on matters that did not reconcile. She felt that it would be possible to skip a year as long as the standards were met. She mentioned coding of the accounts and the need to add another check box on the accounts form for easier verification.
Chair Benson indicated that Board members need to meet with the auditors and treasurer to go through those items and make recommendations.
In response to questions from the Board about the Town’s software system, New England Municipal Resource Center (NEMRC), Ms. Brees reported that they are getting more adept at using it. They discussed benefits of further training on the software system or handling issues one on one as they arose.
Mr. Larocque asked for more information about the NEMRC system. He also expressed an interest in becoming a Lister. The Board advised him of this software system designed for municipalities and explained the process to get his name on the ballot.
Chair Benson updated the Board regarding the budget and how he derived totals. He explained that by replicating the truck payments and other information provided by the treasurer, the Town would retain options to purchase the grader outright, lease it, or finance it. He will present options at Town meeting which could include making a large down payment and financing the balance. He noted that the Town typically buys a new truck every three years. He was pleased to report that there is less maintenance with the newer trucks.
Mr. Kimmel indicated that they need to get bids in and work out the pricing. He noted that by paying off a truck early, there is about $55,000 available as a down payment toward the grader.
The Board agreed that it would be too risky to reduce the budget for diesel fuel. Members understand the auditors concerns, but felt that retaining a buffer is prudent. They acknowledged that diesel fuel costs have been down the last few years but the winter months in particular will have a large impact on the budget. The Board agreed it would be wise to have a risk management review sheet when working on the budget, which will help avoid oversights.
The Board will ask Ms. Peterson to research the balance on the lease for the loader. They will gather payment options for the purchase of a grader in preparation for Town Meeting. Chair Benson will make the changes to the budget that Ms. Godfrey provided to him and will circulate the revised information to members. As a follow-up to those changes, members will meet with Ms. Godfrey to verify the updates. Chair Benson also noted that legal expenses is another budgeting issue that needs review.
- Payroll/Accounts Payable Warrant
Based on the documents presented, Mr. Kimmel made a motion, seconded by Mr. Haggett, to accept the payroll and accounts payable warrants totaling $17,510.99. The three larger amounts of the warrants consisted of: $6,460 to the White River Valley Ambulance; $5,185.22 to Cargill Inc.; and $1,586.50 to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The question was called and the motion passed unanimously.
- Other Proper Business
Mr. Haggett advised that he received an email from Julie Benedict with the White River Valley Ambulance service requesting a response to her December 19th inquiry about financing. Mr. Kimmel advised that he received information from WRVA for the Town Report, but wanted to discuss the matter with her in more detail. The Board is still interested in splitting the Town into two sections with respect to ambulance services and is pursuing discussions with Barre Town.
The Board will invite Ms. Benedict to its next meeting. Mr. Haggett agreed to send her an email to keep her in the loop and advise her of the next meeting date.
- The next regular meeting of the Brookfield Selectboard is scheduled for February 13, 2017.
Mr. Haggett made a motion, seconded by Mr. Kimmel, to adjourn the meeting at 7:50 PM. Motion passed unanimously.
Alternate Administrative Assistant
Town of Brookfield