Can we make a good place to live even better?

‘We need businesses that will employ 50 to 100 people, that see Brattleboro as not only a good place to do business but also a place that offers a high quality of life’

Richard Davis, a retired registered nurse, was elected in March to a one-year seat on the Brattleboro Selectboard, where he serves as clerk. He speaks only for himself, and his words here do not express any official statement by the board.

BRATTLEBORO-I have been a member of the Brattleboro Selectboard only for a very short time, and I still have more questions than answers about how our little New England town of 12,000 operates.

I suspect that most people pay their taxes and hope they get good service from the town. A large number of committed citizens serve on committees. Many represent the people at Representative Town Meeting, and they all gain insight into the details of town government.

As a Selectboard member, I have received a short overview of the town departments, and I had no idea how much work is involved in keeping a town working efficiently.

I am also amazed at the dedication and competency of all of the people who work for the town, whether as a department head or as a member of the road crew.

I like to think big, and I am trying to look to the future and see what I might do now to make Brattleboro a better place for many more years. But I am struggling to come up with ideas that are practical and make sense.

* * *

No matter what you want to do for the town, you need a lot of money to do it. That is the reality of any government entity.

Perhaps we don't need to spend too much time on a broad vision as long as all of the people who run town government have plans that keep our town safe, solvent, and working efficiently. And we do have that.

Town finances are in good hands, and we will be in good shape for many years to come. No one can predict disasters and events out of our control, so we do the best we can with what we have. Rainy-day planning is always part of the picture.

So if the town is working well, why should I or anyone else try to make it better? As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Maybe a mostly smooth-running town is the best we can hope for. But I am not someone who can accept the status quo and say that everything is good enough because I know we can always do better.

* * *

I do have a few ideas about how Brattleboro can move in new directions, and they all cost a lot of money.

In these difficult economic times, the last thing taxpayers want to hear is ideas about how to spend more money. But we should dream, because we might find new sources of revenue and economic times may get better. Pollyanna? Maybe.

After looking at the town's finances, it is clear to me, as a person who is not too sharp when it comes to budgets, that we need more tax revenue. That won't happen by having more people move here, and it won't be enough to have a few small businesses fill up the storefronts on Main Street.

There are groups in town doing marketing to attract business, and I realize it is a difficult job. If we are ever going to be able to develop creative long-range plans, we need streams of revenue that only midsized-to-large businesses can provide.

We need businesses that will employ 50 to 100 people, that see Brattleboro as not only a good place to do business but also a place that offers a high quality of life.

I also think that our central location has not been marketed enough. We are centrally located and two hours to Boston, four hours to New York, two hours to Albany, and 4½ hours to Montreal. Brattleboro should be considered a hub.

* * *

Our town sits along the Connecticut River, and we have not used that fact to our advantage in recent decades. The topography is difficult, but surely some skillful engineers and landscape architects could build on the new spaces that will be available when the old Hinsdale bridge shuts down.

Recreation is not just a frivolous add-on. We need recreational options to attract people to visit as well as to improve the quality of life for all of us who live here. There will be a discussion of improving the town pool. We need to look to the future for that project.

I would also like to see a paved trail system around Brattleboro. I know the price tag for that is ridiculous, but we should develop plans and options in addition to the Whetstone Pathway.

Santa Claus will not put a pile of money under the town's Christmas tree anytime soon.

But we still need to dream.

This Voices Viewpoint by Richard Davis was written for The Commons.

This piece, published in print in the Voices section or as a column in the news sections, represents the opinion of the writer. In the newspaper and on this website, we strive to ensure that opinions are based on fair expression of established fact. In the spirit of transparency and accountability, The Commons is reviewing and developing more precise policies about editing of opinions and our role and our responsibility and standards in fact-checking our own work and the contributions to the newspaper. In the meantime, we heartily encourage civil and productive responses at [email protected].

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates