Brandon SB discusses trucks, dams, and corporations


BRANDON—The Brandon Selectboard convened on Monday evening for its regular meeting. Board member Tim Guiles was not present.

The meeting began with the board in its capacity as the Sewer Commissioners. Stephen Cijka, Brandon’s Chief Wastewater Operator, was on hand to give the board his recommendations for a new truck to replace the Wastewater Department’s (WWD) 2015 diesel truck, which requires some repairs and is too big for WWD’s needs. 

The Highway Department (HD) has a 2012 truck that has body rust and will likely not pass its next inspection.

The Commissioners voted unanimously to allow the HD to sell its 2012 truck and purchase the WWD’s 2015 truck. The WWD will then purchase a gasoline-powered Ford F-350 for an amount not to exceed $75,000. The $75K will come from the WWD’s capital fund, which currently has approximately $192K.

The Ford was Mr. Cijka’s recommendation. He said the WWD had had luck with Ford trucks in the past. The truck will be purchased from a dealer in New Hampshire but will be serviced locally.

Commissioner Heather Nelson said that she trusted Mr. Cijka’s recommendation to purchase the Ford even though it wasn’t the cheapest option (the sticker price is $72,460). The other options presented were a Ram 3500 for $69,592 and a Chevy 3500HD for $68,843. Ms. Nelson stated that Mr. Cijka had always made sound recommendations in the past.

The board then reconvened as the Board of Cannabis Control Commissioners and approved a handful of cultivation licenses for small growers.

The board then reconvened as the Selectboard and began its posted agenda.

The first order of business after approval of the agenda and prior minutes was to approve two warrants in the amounts of $279,479.25 and $78,346.58. Because FY24 has just finished, there will still be lingering expenses from that fiscal year, hence the two warrants. The larger of the two represents expenses incurred during FY24 and paid for from that budget, which the smaller of the two represents expenses incurred during FY25, which began on July 1.

The warrants included a charge for $7200 for two water fountains that will be installed in the playground and dog park on Seminary Hill. One of the fountains will be reimbursed by the Water District while the other will be greatly offset by $2500 in donations. The installation is expected to be completed this summer.

Town Manager Seth Hopkins delivered his report, which is printed in full in this issue of The Reporter. An attendee asked about the upcoming tax sales on delinquent properties. 70 property owners have received letters indicating that they are in arrears and subject to tax sale. Mr. Hopkins stated that the large number was because the town had halted all tax sales during the pandemic and this is the first year since 2019 that any such sale will be held. He also stated that the town works with homeowners to establish payment plans but that the state requires that such plans satisfy the outstanding taxes within a year, a burden that many delinquent property owners cannot manage. 

Rec Director Bill Moore presented his report as well. He thanked everyone who helped make the Independence Day Celebration on Saturday, July 6 a success, noting that such events are possible only because of Brandon’s many dedicated volunteers.

Mr. Moore also stated that there will be a pick-up soccer scrimmage group for grade 7 and up (including adults) at Estabrook Park from 6 to 7:30 pm on Mondays. The group will be organized by Brent Wilbur.

There will also be a 4-day cheerleading camp at the OV gym on July 18, 19, 25, and 26 from 6 to 8 pm. The camp is open to grades 3 and up and will culminate in a halftime routine at an OV football game.

The Brandon Carnival will take place from July 25 to July 28 at Estabrook Park.

The board then approved a blanket payroll authorization to reflect current pay rates for FY25, which began on July 1. 

New Zoning Administrator

The board approved the hiring of Larry Stevens as the new Zoning Administrator, replacing Jeff Biasuzzi, whose 3-year term will expire on 7/14. Mr. Biasuzzi had been working 1.5 days per week for Brandon (he also worked for several other towns, such as Pittsford and West Rutland) but could not accommodate the board’s expansion of the position to 3 days per week. Mr. Stevens will remain Brandon’s Rental and Health Officer as well. Mr. Biasuzzi has agreed to train Mr. Stevens.

Dam on the Neshobe to be repaired 

The town-owned dam creating the upper falls on the Neshobe behind Kennedy Park in downtown Brandon has suffered damage over the years, with some of the stone blocks dislodging and causing water to flow unevenly over the dam. 

The damage had been the subject of some discussion by the board in the past, but no action had been taken to rectify it. The board unanimously authorized Mr. Hopkins to restore the upper courses of stone so that water flows evenly from the collection pond behind it. Currently, water runs primarily through one side channel created by fallen stones. Mr. Hopkins will also look into the cost of having the entire dam rebuilt and the pond behind it dredged. Markowski has been consulted on the project. 

If the dam were to fail, insurance would not cover the cost of any damage after January 2026, Mr. Hopkins said. He added that the overflow culvert and relatively low volume of water made it unlikely that there would be any major damage in the event of failure.

Town highways

The board approved the FY25 financial plan for the town’s highways, an annual requirement for the state. According to the plan, the town anticipates spending $1,115,155 on the maintenance of the town’s roadways in FY25, including the paving projects on North Street and Union Street.

Mr. Hopkins noted that the town had unexpectedly been awarded a Class-2 paving grant of approximately $38K that will be used to offset the cost of the North Street project. The money that the grant frees up will be used for other, smaller paving projects around Brandon.

Financial questionnaire

The board also acknowledged receipt of a financial management questionnaire prepared by Town Treasurer Sue Gage, as required by the Vermont League of Towns and Cities. The questionnaire asks town treasurers to indicate that their towns have adequate financial controls in place. A copy of the questionnaire can be found in the Selectboard packet for 7/8/24 on the town website.

Late homestead penalty

The board declined to impose a penalty on homeowners who fail to declare homestead status for their primary residences on time. The tax rates on primary residences are lower than on secondary residences but a declaration of homestead status is required to qualify for the lower rate. The penalty for late declaration can be as high as 8% of the education tax liability for the property, according to state law. However, the board declined to impose the penalty. Town Treasurer Sue Gage, who was present via Zoom, stated that the penalty was severe and often impacted people who were already facing financial challenges.

Public comment: Brandon Industrial Corporation

The board opened the meeting for public comment, though Board Chair Doug Bailey began the segment with a statement about the Brandon Industrial Corporation (BIC), which had been the subject of some controversy at recent Selectboard meetings.

The BIC is a nonprofit 501(c)(6) “business league,” akin to a Chamber of Commerce. Its purpose is to promote Brandon as a site of industrial activity. It is not a town entity, though since 1988 Brandon’s incumbent town managers have been involved as members of BIC’s board to represent the town’s interests.

A Brandon resident recently accused Brandon Town Manager Seth Hopkins of “running” BIC because he was listed as registered agent for BIC on the VT Secretary of State’s website. It was subsequently explained that a registered agent is simply a point of contact between a corporation and the state or public. If someone sues a corporation or if the government brings criminal action against it, the registered agent is the point of contact for service of process. The position carries no operational or managerial duties or powers and does not denote any ownership stake.

The resident had been concerned that the recent deal between BIC and Novus Energy of Montpelier to develop a solar field at the Brandon Industrial Park (BIP) presented a conflict of interest because of Mr. Hopkins’ involvement with BIC. The BIP is owned by BIC, not by the town.

Mr. Bailey explained on Monday evening that the Selectboard merely provided a letter stating that the town did not object to the development of the array, as part of a multi-step process for Novus to receive permission from the state to build the array. Mr. Bailey stated that the town had no further involvement in the deal except that it would ultimately purchase electricity from the array at a discounted rate.

Mr. Bailey also stated that BIC has its own board of directors: Jim Leary (president), Tom Whittaker (vice-president), Devon Fuller (secretary), and Pat Wood (treasurer). According to Mr. Bailey, paperwork to update BIC’s registration with the Secretary of State is underway. Mr. Bailey asked that all further questions about BIC be addressed to its board.

After an announcement from Town Treasurer Sue Gage that tax bills would be going out the first week of August, the Selectboard adjourned.

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