Monday February 11, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Select Board Vice Chairwoman Sharyn Brush is seeking a sixth term hopes the board will address what has been a controversial issue in past years -- consolidation of the two fire departments in Bennington.

Brush, who previously served as the board’s chairwoman, said there are still things she hopes the town will accomplish, which prompted her to seek re-election. While fresh faces and ideas are good, she said, too much turnover on the board could thwart progress.

"I think three new members on a board would not be a good thing. Not that I know that I’m going to get re-elected either, but I just think it wouldn’t be healthy for the board to have so many brand new members because we had two brand new members last year, also," said Brush, who is one of seven candidates seeking three available seats on the board.

It has typically taken new members some time to get up to speed, she said.

"There’s a learning to curve to being on the Select Board and it’s going to take a good six months to a year to really get your feet in the game," Brush said.

Consolidation of the Bennington Fire Department and the Bennington Rural Fire Department, which has its own charter through the state, has been pursued before and failed. Brush said she hopes the board can help foster a new discussion among officials in the fire departments about merging.

"I’d like to see the board work on some kind of consolidation, or at least appeal to the fire departments to consider it. I think that would save the town a lot of money. We’ve kind of run the numbers on that a little bit as far as equipment, and budgeting purposes and tax payer dollars. It would save quite a bit of money for the town," she said.

Brush acknowledged that it will be "a contentious subject for some people," but a town-wide discussion could help determine how to proceed. Fire department officials will have to participate, however, she said.

"I think you make the suggestions to ... the fire chiefs or start a dialogue with the fire chiefs. I think it has to come from their upper levels of management," she said. "I know the rural department has a pretty strong board that says no, so, we’ll have to see where that goes."

The board voted last fall against a zoning change for property off Northside Drive that was formerly occupied by Johnson Controls. Some have sought to change the property’s zoning to commercial. Brush said she continues to favor keeping it industrial, but will consider viable plans if the owner presents them.

"If he brings it to the board we would make a decision then," Brush said. "It will have to be something that’s good for the town. It could be industrial or it could be retail use. I’m not opposed to retail use of the property, but it needs to fit."

The town and state have sought to retain and recruit young professionals. Brush said the Select Board plays a small role, but other organizations are at the forefront of that effort.

"I’m not sure it’s entirely the Select Board’s responsibility to make sure everybody is happy and having fun. Our duties, as I see them, is to run the town. We have the economic development (task force), we have the (Better Bennington Corp.). They’re moving forward. We have the young professionals group," she said. "I would see it as more their responsibility."