OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
September 16, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Earl Holtz, and Edee Edwards were present. Also in attendance were Blaise McGarvey, Ray Combs, Margo Avakian, Stephan Chait, Maria Stewart (Halifax Wings Site Coordinator), and Stephanie Powers (Operations Manager, Wings After School Programs).
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner added minutes of the August 19th, August 25th, and September 6th meetings to the agenda for Board approval.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Edee Edwards made a motion to approve the 8/19/14 regular meeting minutes with two revisions to the wording. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed 2-0, with Earl Holtz abstaining.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 8/25/14 regular meeting minutes as written. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 9/2/14 regular meeting minutes with one addition. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0, with Sumner abstaining.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 9/6/14 special meeting minutes with one correction. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 9/8/14 regular meeting minutes with two corrections and a deletion. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 9/9/14 joint Planning Commission/Selectboard (Act 250 pre-hearing conference) meeting minutes as written. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Bank Note for One Ton Truck
The Board, having previously approved the loan for the one ton truck, signed the documents for a five-year fixed-rate loan at 2.5% interest. The paperwork was then turned over to Patty Dow for her signature as Town Treasurer.
“On September 15th,” reported Holtz, “the Purchasing Policy Coffee Klatch met yet one more time . . .” to create a set of suggested modifications to the existing town purchasing policy. The Board now discussed those recommended changes which include a proposal to raise the amount town officers are permitted to spend without prior approval of the Selectboard from $2,999.99 to either $9,999.99 or the relevant department’s budget limit. Purchases not subject to the bid process would require quote solicitations from at least three vendors unless the Selectboard has approved a sole source vendor, and purchases above $10,000 would be subject to a formal bid process. Commodities, including sand, gravel, fuel, and heating oil, would be purchased from an approved vendor list, with a minimum of three vendors solicited and no newspaper advertising required.
Edwards, saying she was not comfortable with the $10,000 ceiling, referred to the results of an analysis she had done on 2011 town highway department purchasing data. Those figures indicated 10% of that year’s highway budget went for purchases over $3,000 that were not in a bid or pre-authorized category. She suggested either lowering the proposed $10,000 amount to something between $3,000 and $10,000, or, alternatively, mandate that only purchases with an anticipated price greater than $10,000 would be subject to the newspaper advertising requirement. Purchasing authorization limits and newspaper advertising policy both received much attention in discussion, with Rafus, Tamburrino, and Dow contributing comments and clarification. Blaise McGarvey suggested a $6,000 limit, rather than $10,000. Holtz noted that only one Halifax town contract has been awarded to a bidder responding to a newspaper ad, while Sumner, who has been told by some business owners that they don’t even read the newspaper, thought notifying prospective bidders by letter or telephone would be more effective.
Edwards asked why the section designating specifics for commodities purchases had been included. Holtz explained that significant delivery costs are attached to the procurement of sand gravel, fuel, and heating oil, and therefore bid requests should go to vendors within a reasonable local radius. Edwards was dubious about the clause eliminating the need for newspaper solicitation of commodities bids; she mentioned past occasions when relatively local vendors felt they were being excluded from the bidding process. Tamburrino said that being listed with the town as an approved vendor is a privilege; the town is not obliged to send bid requests to suppliers holding disapproved status. Saying the committee had worked hard on the purchasing policy revisions, Sumner made a motion to accept their proposal as written. Edwards said she would not go for a $10,000 purchase authorization without more data regarding how that limit might cause difficulties. Sumner’s motion died for lack of a second. Holtz said the committee had intended to submit their recommendations for consideration at this meeting and then vote on the revisions, including any agreed-upon changes, at the next meeting. The next purchasing cycle doesn’t occur until spring, so there’s no deadline pressure. Ray Combs asked Edwards what authorization limit she would propose and Edwards thought perhaps $5,000 would be a better amount. She said she appreciated all the work that had gone into the recommendations. Sumner mentioned other towns in the area have set their authorization limits even higher than $10,000, while Tamburrino and Rafus said that Wilmington, Whitingham, Guilford, and Readsboro have no purchasing policy at all. Tamburrino told the meeting that Halifax originally wrote a purchasing policy to satisfy FEMA requirements after Hurricane Irene. Edwards mentioned that she had been advocating for such a policy even before the storm. Rafus asked the Board to consider the cost of his time, and Dow’s, in handling the preparation and advertising the purchasing policy requires. His budget has been substantially cut; he mentioned a $2,000 cut in funds for sand purchase, another $150,000 cut from the paving budget, and wage cuts for the highway department’s employees. Edwards remarked that the hiring of an administrative assistant should reduce Rafus’ workload, but Rafus pointed out that unless the new assistant had hands-on experience with highway department equipment and supply specifications Rafus would still have to do the initial preparation. We cut corners where we shouldn’t, Rafus said, referring to the highway department budget, while spending money in other unnecessary areas. Edwards asked for a detailed list from the Treasurer’s report of everything in the highway account. In particular, she said, she would be looking at the advertising budget and examining the additional time it takes to do an advertisement. Dow cited another reason for not placing newspaper ads on smaller purchases; such ads attract headhunters and data collectors who are ruthless, calling and emailing repeatedly. Tamburrino said that raising the purchase authorization limit would eliminate much of the paperwork Rafus does now. Let’s spend two weeks thinking about the final number, said Holtz, and then we’ll address this again. The Board agreed.
Halifax Wings Program to Hold 5K Run—Stephanie Powers
Sumner suggested this presentation be moved up on the agenda list. Maria Stewart and Stephanie Powers introduced themselves as Site Coordinator for Halifax after-school programs, and Wings Operation Manager, respectively. This year, Stewart said, Wings is proposing to host a 5k Run and 2-mile Walk in Halifax as the culmination of their seven-week Halifax Fitness Club program. Powers added that Stewart had written a grant which won the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont Physical Activity Grant award of $500 in support of the event. Powers and Stewart requested the loan of road cones and signs to warn traffic on the day of the event. They have set the maximum number of participants at 100, but don’t expect that many entrants this first year. No roads would be closed, but traffic would be reduced to one lane in places. This is a one-hour, Halloween-based event, scheduled for Saturday, October 25th, with walkers and runners taking slightly varying routes beginning and ending at the school and utilizing portions of Branch, Brook, Reed Hill, and Sprague Roads. Anyone wishing to volunteer may call 368-0000 or email email@example.com. An advertisement will be posted on the town web site as soon as it is available.
Winter Maintenance Plan and Policy
Sumner gave a verbal summary of Rafus’ winter maintenance policy. The plan gives plowing priority to school bus routes and major roads. Holtz recalled fielding some earlier questions from residents as to why their roads were not on the priority list; he said Reed Hill had been removed from priority and Stage Road changed to Jacksonville Stage. Rafus said he had added Moss Hollow as a priority because it was traversed by children going to and from school. Edwards wanted to include the statement that Route 112 is a state-maintained and plowed highway, as citizens sometimes thought that route was a town responsibility. She also suggested a statement to the effect that winter drivers should “plan for their own safe travel time.” Edwards also wanted to mention that the town does not plow Class IV roads, but does occasionally plow and sand the school parking lot as part of the maintenance and lease agreement with the school. Combs asked where the policy was posted. Edwards said the document is still being constructed and has not yet been distributed. As there was some discussion on the subject during open meeting last year, the townsfolk learned partial details from news reporting and meeting minutes. Tamburrino mentioned the town plows could clear the school lot with much greater ease than the snowblower normally used, but Sumner said the school board preferred the snowblower because otherwise students climbed on the high banks left by the larger plows and the snow tumbled back down into the cleared area. Edwards told McGarvey that the school is not officially designated as an emergency shelter. Combs asked whether the puddle that formed in the school lot low spot each year and turned into a winter ice slick could be repaired. This project was in the planning stage, Sumner told him. The gravel has not been refreshed for many years, and there is a growing drop-off from blacktop to gravel lot. Edwards, as liaison to the School Board, will raise the subject with them. Rafus estimates it will take about $3,400 worth of gravel to bring the lot level with the road. Holtz ran through a quick recap of the proposed winter maintenance policy changes and asked whether he had missed any. Edwards said that Class IV roads needed further discussion. Rafus brought up the need for town-based highway employees to keep their own driveways open during major storms, and the Board agreed to add this under general provisions. Margo Avakian asked why the Board planned to wait until the October 7th meeting to approve the policy, as everyone seemed in agreement on the wording. Edwards will use the time to copyedit, and residents will have time to contribute concerns and comments. Rafus had one more addition; the highway department applies minimal sand to Class III deadend roads serving only one or two residences, and there have been questions about why these roads aren’t sanded as heavily as main routes. Edwards suggested a statement to the effect that sand would be applied conservatively to gravel roads.
Plowing of Class IV Roads
What Class IV roads does the town presently plow, Edwards asked, aside from a portion of TH52? Rafus listed Sumner Farm Road, the last 300 feet of Whitneyville Road, Aldrich Road to the turnaround, and Wheeler Road. In some cases it is only practical to plow these roads, as otherwise the town trucks would have no safe place to turn around. Sumner advocated reclassifying these roads to take advantage of state funds, and Rafus recommended Sumner Farm Road be first on this potential list, as the bridge will need to be replaced soon, and if the road remains Class IV the taxpayers will carry the full cost of that project. Edwards feels the town cannot make any changes for this year, but should begin thinking about discontinuing plowing some of these roads in the future. Responding to Rafus’ remark that the road crew plowed some Class III roads, even though there was only one residence on the road which was uninhabited through the winter, Edwards said the town has the option of choosing to close certain roads in winter months. She advised studying the Vermont Local Model Highway Ordinance to understand how to address the maintenance of Class IV roads, not just in the winter, but also in summer.
Rafus told the meeting the contractor who was awarded the town’s mowing bid would not be able to get to Halifax until November. After learning this he investigated other possibilities without finding anyone who is available soon enough to be useful. He recommended not mowing this year, but alloting more time and money next year to do a really thorough job. The Board agreed. Edwards suggested mowing earlier next year—maybe in June. Rafus believes he can get a price break on tractor rental if he gets an early start. He will bring more information to the next meeting.
Halifax Economic Development Survey Proposal (Halifax Broadband Cell Economic Committee)
The Broadband Committee has created a short online survey asking questions relating to what type of economic development activities make sense for Halifax. After giving a quick overview, Edwards proposed, as a time-saving device, to distribute copies of the Committee’s document so Board members could review and then discuss the contents at a future meeting.
Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund
The Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund is looking for information about how to administer a modern wood-heating program. Their objective is to install modern wood pellet heating systems in schools and municipal buildings, with an end goal of having 90% of K-12 students attending schools in wood pellet-heated buildings. The project would be active January 2015 through December 2016, and would be funded by monies from the Vermont Yankee Clean Energy Development Fund. Edwards thought the idea interesting, but ambitious. Sumner mentioned that Whitingham is still waiting for reimbursement after engaging in a similar project years ago. He said our School Board had considered the wood heat possibility when the addition was built; the Board had decided it wasn’t feasible. Stephan Chait said the jury was still out on the environmental impact of wood pellet heating; it might be fashionable, but not necessarily practical. Edwards believes the research done by this group is solid and reliable. She may call for additional information.
Act 250 Questions on Halifax Schist Quarry to Environmental Commissioners
Remarking that she was feeling procedural whiplash, Edwards said that whereas the Environmental Commission did not solicit submission of the Board’s Act 250 criteria questions relating to the proposed quarry project at the pre-hearing conference, she had now learned Windham Regional Commission is advising the questions should be filed with the District Environmental Commission prior to the actual hearing. Board members agreed to the filing, as did Stephan Chait. Gabriel will query April Hensel on this subject.. (Note: Subsequently, April Hensel advised waiting until she provides the full contact list.)
Hearing of Visitors
Town Garage Roof
Combs asked whether the town garage roof still leaks. “We haven’t heard of any miracles being performed on the top of that hill,” Holtz responded. There’s good work being performed, but no miracles.”
Salt Bid Contract
Rafus advised the Board their mail contained another Cargill salt agreement. The state has allowed vendors to revise their bids, and the price has come down four dollars a ton as a result.
Old County Road
A large rock, carrying an inscription, has rested in the right-of-way on Old County Road near the Deer Park intersection for many years, Rafus said. While up that way recently, he noticed someone had moved the rock, probably with the assistance of a tractor. He wanted the Board to be aware, should anyone ask, that this was not the work of the town highway crew. The rock still sits on the bank, but in a new position.
Update on VTel Tower
The Public Service Board has issued a certificate of public good approving the installation of the tower at Halifax Center. The way is now clear for construction to commence, but no start date has been announced.
Paint on School Cupola
Sumner has a report from the contractor who painted the cupola on the school building. The document shows the lead levels in the paint used are well below allowable limits.
Selectboard’s Order to Town Treasurer for Bill Payment
The order to the town treasurer was reviewed and signed.
The town is due to receive a $3,012.51 reimbursement from the Petroleum Cleanup Fund, of which $1,723.00 will go to KAS Environmental and Engineering Consultants. The reimbursement represents monies spent on the town garage monitoring wells in excess of $10,000.
Various other pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:30 p.m.