BY MAT CLOUSER
BRANDON — The Town Hall meeting room had a sizeable crowd on hand Monday night as Brandon’s selectboard covered a variety of topics, including a report from Brandon Energy Committee Chair Jim Emerson and a presentation from Rutland Regional Planning Commission’s Stephanie Bourque about the local hazard mitigation plan as well as a critical executive session dealing with the police union contract and filling the board’s vacant seat.
Jim Emerson spoke for several minutes outlining the Energy Committee’s recent successes over the last fiscal year. “We’ve gotten to be quite a group now,” he said, “and we’re excited about what we’re up to.” Among the items Emerson mentioned were; SolarFest’s decision to make Brandon a permanent home base for its Arts and Music festival, as well as its longer community-outreach-based endeavors; the inaugural Davenport Electric Fest, a strong presence at the independence day celebration, and regular updates via published letters in The Reporter.
“We put a good deal of effort into learning about options for solar installations for the town and its residents,” said Emerson. He also cited the recent passing of the Inflation Reduction Act as a boon to the committee’s potential to have even more impact moving forward.
Some discussion was had about how many opportunities the committee had had to sit down with individual families in Brandon to gauge their needs and the committee’s abilities to help them run more energy-efficient households. Emerson acknowledged that the committee had not yet sat down with any individuals but that that would be the main thrust of their next year’s work.
Board Chair Seth Hopkins ended the conversation by congratulating Emerson and their committee for its ability to grow membership—the board grew from five to seven members over the last year—and participation at a time when many other committees are struggling to find enough help. “I think it’s great the amount of involvement that you’ve harnessed for the energy committee, and I think that the model that you have there is admirable,” he said.
Following Emerson was a presentation from the Rutland Regional Planning Commission’s Stephanie Bourque on updating the five-year local hazard mitigation plan. According to Bourque, the plan differs from a typical emergency response plan in that it focuses on identifying and reducing hazards—specifically natural ones.
Outlined in the plan (which can be found online as part of the Board’s Aug. 22 packet are three main factors that present the most significant risk to the Brandon area: High winds, flooding, and extreme cold, as well as numerous strategies that the town and residents can employ to minimize the effects of those hazards.
Bourque’s presentation also marked the opening of the public comment phase, which will remain open until Sept. 12, when the board will reconvene to discuss those comments and finalize the plan.
The board went into executive session to discuss matters about the police union contract and to discuss and vote on which of its three applicants might fill Mike Markowski’s recently vacated board seat. Following the session, The Reporter received an email update from Board Chair Seth Hopkins, who revealed the board’s decisions.
As for the first matter, it was decided that the board would send a side letter to the police union contract increasing the starting wages for patrol officers to $25.00 per hour.
As for the second, the board vote was split two to two on whom it would like to fill the vacant seat. By law, a minimum of three votes is required to make a decision, and Mr. Hopkins noted that the next step would be to reach out to the Secretary of State’s office for guidance.
In other news, the selectboard:
- Accepted an invitation to join IDEAL Vermont, a state program focused on inclusion, diversity, equality, action, and leadership that will “create a coalition of Vermont municipalities dedicated to advancing racial and other forms of equity… through shared learning and tangible actions.” According to Vermont’s Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana RT. Davis, Brandon was invited because “it has demonstrated a willingness to confront and overcome inequity, including racial/ethnic inequity, through actions such as the adoption of the Declaration of Inclusion.” Brandon was among the first towns in Vermont to adopt the declaration, which can be read in full at https://vtdeclarationofinclusion.org/read-the-declaration/