OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
JOINT SELECTBOARD/BROADBAND COMMITTEE MEETING MINUTES
January 6, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:32 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Edee Edwards were present; Earl Holtz was not able to attend. Broadband Committee members Jessica Bruno, Gretchen Becker, and Curtis Carroll were in attendance. Edee Edwards is also a Broadband Committee member. Others present were Joe Tamburrino, Brad Rafus, Claudia Greene (Wilmington), Jennifer Fitzgerald (Wilmington Town Nurse), Sarah Axtell (Whitingham), Greg Marguet, Blaise McGarvey, Ray Combs, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Edee Edwards requested a discussion of a letter from Debra Foster regarding Planning Commission scheduling, and she and Lewis Sumner agreed to postpone consideration of town attorney Robert Fisher’s comments on the old town garage until Earl Holtz could be present at a future meeting.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Edwards made a motion to approve the 12/16/14 Joint Selectboard/School Board meeting as written. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 12/20/14 special meeting minutes as written. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Edwards asked Gabriel to include a link to the FY16 budget-in-progress file with the online meeting minutes.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 12/23/14 special meeting minutes as written. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Edwards had found information on the federal highway sign regulations, which were discussed at the December 23rd meeting. There is no deadline for upgrading signs, but replacement signs must meet the new standards.
Sumner made a motion to approve the 12/30/14 special meeting minutes as written. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Aging in Place Presentation—Jennifer Fitzgerald
Jennifer Fitzgerald has worked as Wilmington town nurse for over thirty years. Over time, she told the meeting, second home owners and part-time residents whose children have settled in the valley have returned to spend their retirement years here, and have spoken to her about a lack of senior services in the area—services that were available to them in their former places of residence. Wilmington, said Fitzgerald, has nothing in the way of aging-in-place assistance—no senior center, no meals. After the Wilmington High School closed, a representative from Brattleboro’s Gathering Place inspected the building and thought it had potential as a care-giving satellite to the Gathering Place. It would make an ideal daycare facility for older people who cannot be left alone. Eighteen people from the valley have been traveling to Brattleboro to use the facility there, so with the perceived need for a more local site in mind Fitzgerald participated in an open meeting to discuss the possibility of repurposing the old high school building. This meeting was attended by people from Halifax, Dover, Whitingham, and Jacksonville—people who support the concept of aging-in-place services in our area. Fitzgerald decided to visit surrounding towns to raise awareness of this issue. The state, she said, has cut back on Councils on Aging; there were originally thirteen, now there are only five. Yet Vermont’s aging population is growing rapidly, and many members of the younger generations are relocating elsewhere. Fitzgerald gave the Board an informational packet, and encouraged Halifax to think about whether the town might be interested in designating money should the old high school project be carried forward. She offered to assist in putting together a petition. Senior citizens are important, said Sumner, who indicated he was in favor of the idea. Edwards thanked Fitzgerald for a well thought-out presentation. She spoke of the town’s twenty-six cent tax increase last year, and the large amount of time spent discussing social services appropriations during budget preparation, advising that a petition would be the appropriate way to proceed. Greg Marguet said he would be willing to help in circulating a petition and Cara Cheyette agreed there was a need for services in Halifax. She mentioned a recently published book, “Being Mortal,” which discusses aging and dying in place. Cheyette believes the book would be a good candidate for a community read, and suggested applying for a grant for that purpose.
General discussion covered various ways senior citizens’ needs are met in southern Vermont towns, and potential means of acquiring funds to provide services. Edwards recommended a comparison of the amounts appropriated by surrounding towns for social services. Halifax, said Sumner, gives more to Hospice and Deerfield Valley Rescue than does Wilmington. Claudia Greene brought up the possibility that an established health center in the old high school could result in geriatric specialists from places like Bennington and Brattleboro traveling to Wilmington to care for clients. Edwards suggested Greene or Sarah Axtell post Wilmington’s Wednesday meeting announcements and contact information on Front Porch Forum. Sumner advocated a petitioned monetary request go on the town warning. No specific amount was discussed, but Cheyette asked any amount requested be accompanied by an itemization of planned use. Last year, said Edwards, Halifax gave $200 to Brattleboro Area Hospice, $550 to the Council on Aging for Southern Vermont, $190 to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and $500 to the Gathering Place. There is a need, said Axtell, for a resource guide listing all available services in one publication for convenient reference.
VTA Grant—Business Broadband Improvement District (BBID) in SW Halifax
At the outset of this discussion Edwards noted a potential conflict of interest, in that her home is situated in the area under consideration for coverage. She believed, however, she would be able to vote on the issue without conflict, as it is unlikely her house will actually have access to the service. Jessica Bruno said her home was also in the district, but she would not have access, either. This is our last chance, said Edwards, for a non-commercial entity to help provide internet service in the town. If we don’t take advantage of this opportunity the chances of getting fiber optic service anywhere in town other than the school are slim. She then explained, in answer to Cheyette’s question whether this project would be supported by grant money, that yes, there is grant money, but the town would be an Initial Offer Licensee, and as such would pay a proportional share of the actual costs for maintenance, management, pole attachment, and repairs. No exact figures are available, but previously received information indicates the cost might be in the vicinity of $3,500 a year, or $70,000 over a twenty-year commitment. Cheyette, who has DSL through Fairpoint, wondered if there were not other ways to get coverage to people in town without a large monetary outlay for a service which would only serve a limited number of residences.
Joe Tamburrino asked what area would be covered. Edwards used the projector to display a map of the area under consideration—a portion of the Route 112 corridor in the southwestern corner of the town. VTA is proposing a 60-foot WiFi tower on the old town dump site. The Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative, out of Stamford, has offered to help with management and the mechanics of getting the system up and running. Edwards told Ray Combs that yes, individual subscribers would pay a fee for service; approximately $45 a month. What proportion of residents would be within range? asked Cheyette. Eighty-seven properties are within the blanket area, but Edwards does not know specifically how many presently have service, need service, or might be interested in changing providers. Twenty potential customers are needed for the project to go forward. Curtis Carroll asked about speeds; 10mb per second download and 3mb per second upload, responded Edwards. Because VTA is about to merge with another government entity, a decision on this proposal must be made very soon. Fiber optics is currently the most advanced technology available Cheyette agreed, but in five years that might no longer be true, and a twenty-year commitment could set Halifax back technologically. Yet the infrastructure has to be built, said Edwards, and we cannot depend on private, for-profit companies for that. VTA would need to complete work by the end of June. They are looking for a no-cost land lease, and trenching and conduit placement would be at the town’s expense. Placing conduit from the school to the tower site is a very big project, said Brad Rafus. Fairpoint serves some Halifax residents with DSL, but the provision of that service is at Fairpoint’s discretion. Several petitions from the town have met with failure. The box in Halifax Center, said Edwards, is still not turned on. Gretchen Becker added that it was originally scheduled for 2014; an extension was granted changing the date to sometime in 2015. Blaise McGarvey has been hampered recently in his attempts to do business with Fairpoint because they do not recognize his location as a valid address. Combs mentioned lines going in on Reed Hill, which Sumner said was a Sovernet project, but no one knew positively what end result to expect. Carroll thought Sovernet might be putting in redundant, or back-up, lines for existing service.
If the project under discussion were able to serve eighty percent of Halifax residents, offered Cheyette, it would be worthwhile. She is willing to help bring better service to the town, but strenuously objects to this particular undertaking, given its limitations. Tamburrino spoke in agreement with her opinion. We need more answers, said Sumner; for instance, a better idea of cost to individual customers. After extensive additional discussion, Edwards said she would attempt to get more answers to bring to a future meeting. McGarvey spoke in favor of the VTA proposal even if he were not served by it.
Temporary Appointment to Board of Listers
No one has come forward with an expressed interest in filling the temporary opening on the Board of Listers. Edwards made a motion to appoint Robbin Gabriel to the Board of Listers until March elections. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Planning Commission Secretary Appointment
Edwards made a motion to appoint Gabriel to the Planning Commission secretary position until new appointments are made after March elections. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Gabriel agreed to continue as secretary, but stated that if at any time a more qualified candidate appeared, with knowledge that would better serve the Planning Commission, she would step aside.
Selectboard Report for Annual Town Report
After reviewing the selectboard report for the annual town report, Sumner made a motion to approve the Selectboard Report for the Annual Town Report, with one small correction. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. The final version will be forwarded to the Auditors.
Set Date for Next Budget Meeting
The Board set the date for the next budget meeting as Saturday, January 10th, at 8:30 a.m. Sumner said Rafus would be available that morning, and Gabriel will ask Cliff Inman and Jeff DeForest to join the meeting to discuss Cemetery Commission affairs.
Set Date for Check-In Meeting with Highway Department
Rafus suggested 12:00 noon on January 13th, 15th, or 16th as possible dates for a check-in meeting with the Highway Department. A day will be chosen after consulting Earl Holtz’ availability.
Second Letter from Debra Foster
In a December 29th letter to the Selectboard, the Planning Commission, the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and the Town Attorney, Debra Foster again strongly recommended the Planning Commission meet twice a month to work on updating zoning regulations. Edwards chose not to list this item on the agenda as the Planning Commission had spoken to the subject at their December 30th meeting. Edwards had explained to Ms. Foster in earlier conversation that the Planning Commission is a volunteer board doing the best job it can in the time available. The grant permitting Windham Regional Commission and the Halifax Planning Commission to work together on the zoning re-write runs until May 2015, and while Edwards has every interest in seeing the process completed within that time frame, she is reluctant to push for faster results. Gabriel mentioned that first pass through the existing regulations should be completed at the upcoming January 13th meeting. Edwards said she would like to see a fresh schedule, and brought up the possibility of a Developmental Review Board for future consideration. After discussion, the Board chose not to take any immediate action on this issue.
Hearing of Visitors
Greg Marguet asked if he could get an escort to let him enter and examine the old town garage. Edwards said she would prefer scheduling and warning a site visit to allow everyone with an interest to inspect the building at one time. This should be done before town meeting. The Board has town attorney Robert Fisher’s comments in hand, but has deferred discussion until Holtz can be present.
Rafus reported that the new one-ton truck has finally arrived. Sumner asked whether the builders had finished the salt shed addition yet. No, said Rafus, but he has notified the contractor the town is holding the bill until the project is completed, and Rafus and Sumner are both aware the contractor’s son has been ill, which is putting demands on his time.
Marguet recalled a time when the townspeople would vote on purchases of trucks and equipment. He asked whether that had changed because leasing is more common now. Sumner said the legislature had changed that law maybe fifteen or twenty years ago. Rafus said anything over a five-year lease has to be voted on, and Edwards added the vote must be by Australian ballot.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard’s and Road Commissioner’s orders to the Treasurer were reviewed and signed.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed or processed.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:17 p.m.