OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
October 7, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:32 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Edee Edwards, and Earl Holtz were in attendance. Patty Dow, Joe Tamburrino, Ray Combs, Margo Avakian, Brad Rafus, Stephan Chait, Blaise McGarvey, Cara Cheyette, and Robbin Gabriel were also present.
On opening, Lewis Sumner recognized Robbin Gabriel as the Board’s newly hired administrative assistant.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Edee Edwards corrected the list of meeting minutes slated for approval, adding the September 15th minutes and correcting the line item dated September 25th to read September 18th. She also requested inclusion of the Halifax Broadband Economic Development Committee Survey for discussion under Old Business.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Earl Holtz made a motion to accept the 9/15/14 special meeting minutes as written. Edwards seconded the motion with an amendment adding one word. The motion passed, 3-0.
Holtz made a motion to accept the 9/16/14 regular meeting minutes with one adjustment. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Edwards made a motion to approve the 9/18/14 special meeting minutes as written. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Holtz made a motion to accept the 9/24/14 special meeting minutes as written. Edwards pointed out that while she had written notes for that event, no true meeting took place. Holtz then realized he had been looking at the 9/22/14 minutes and he “unmotioned.” Edwards made a motion not to approve the 9/24/14 meeting minutes. Lewis seconded the motion, noting that no business was conducted and only he and Rafus had accompanied the VTrans representative on the site visits. Edwards decided no vote was necessary but recommended the documentation remain in the record. Everyone agreed, and the Board moved on to consider the 9/22/14 minutes.
Holtz made a motion to approve the 9/22/14 special meeting minutes, amended to indicate the Board had agreed to purchase safety shoes for highway employees. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Edwards abstaining.
Sumner made a motion to accept the 10/29/14 special meeting minutes as written. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Holtz made a motion to accept the 10/3/14 special meeting minutes as written. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Approval of Purchasing Policy
Sumner made a motion to accept the committee’s recommendations for updating the town Purchasing Policy. Holtz seconded the motion. Edwards opened discussion by quoting detail from her analysis of 2014 highway department purchases. She said approximately $95,000, or a little less than 10% of the budget, had been spent on items—mostly parts—that were not pre-authorized. Are we comfortable, she asked, with that much money being spent without a review? Edwards also noted a substantial increase in the number of transactions; 425 transactions in FY14 versus 333 in FY11. She recommended adopting a $5,000 ceiling, rather than the $10,000 suggested by the revision committee. Sumner said than often repair costs cannot be fully estimated in advance, and Brad Rafus added that equipment repairs can’t wait, especially in winter months when being short a truck would put the highway department behind schedule. Also, while Keith Stone is able to undertake most basic repair tasks, the town does not have the costly equipment needed to do their own computer diagnostics. Edwards also questioned the commodities portion of the policy; diesel, gravel, and sand are large purchases which she suggested should be subject to a formal bid process. Rafus explained that before the purchasing policy was implemented, his practice was to request prices over the phone from the three or four vendors available to supply the town. When the purchasing policy went into effect the town’s bid solicitations netted responses only from this same group of vendors. He pointed out that while the town is spending more time and money advertising and sending out bid packets, the list of responders is still limited to those few suppliers in the immediate area, as it is not practical for businesses further away to attempt to supply the town’s commodity needs. Edwards suggested that using the formal bid process may result in more competitive price quotes, and could encourage other vendors to bid. Holtz said his experience with vendors indicates it’s easier to get local suppliers to bid by giving them a phone call.
Cara Cheyette asked whether the difference between the $3,000 and $10,000 figures represented the amount a town employee is permitted to spend without pre-approval, or whether that was the threshhold for requiring a bid. Edwards explained there were two separate clauses in the policy and she would like to see two different definitions, with the pre-approval ceiling set at $3,000 and the bid solicitation level at $10,000. Cheyette also commented that Edwards’ analysis showed few FY2014 non-bid purchases exceeding the $3,000 level; it might not be wise to create policy based on exceptions.
Joe Tamburrino said that raising the ceiling to $10,000 frees Rafus to get faxed price quotes through phoned requests. This will provide documentation of the responses, save time and money, and eliminate bid packet requests from vendors at too-great a physical distance. We’re getting the same thing, he said, but more quickly, without going through a long, drawn-out affair. Edwards noted that the policy, as written, applies not just to the highway department, but to all departments, so anyone could go out and spend $10,000 without pre-approval. Holtz said the revised policy had been modified to read “up to the limit of their (the department’s) budget.” Sumner said he didn’t think anyone, ever, that he knew of, had made large purchases without coming to the Selectboard first. Repairs and maintenance costs, Edwards said, have gone through the roof, and we’re not doing a good job of tracking those expenditures. Tamburrino remarked the $3,000 ceiling was set originally due to FEMA’s directive; other towns in the area don’t have a written policy. Holtz suggested that, if in the future anyone abuses the policy, the Board would revise the wording again. Sumner told the meeting he has learned the highway department is having problems with the new diesel fuel supply; sometimes the lowest bid is not always the best choice. Cheyette agreed—she’s noticed the Board often goes with the lowest bidder. Board members gave her several examples of instances when the lowest bid was not the one approved. We’re working with people’s tax dollars, Edwards said, and we want to be as fiscally responsible as we can, and get reasonable products at the same time, in a streamlined fashion. She would like to see documentation of the bidding process to give her a clear picture of the quoted dollar ranges and the vendors submitting proposals. Sumner said that anyone who would like to be on our vendor list can make that request. Rafus offered, as an example of the drawbacks to formal bid solicitation, his experience with the new one-ton truck purchase. He sent out nine bid packets, but only two vendors responded. After the process was complete he made calls to ask the other vendors why they had not submitted bids, and was told they did not want to get involved in the formal bidding process.
Sumner asked for a vote on the revised purchasing policy. The motion passed, 2-1.
Edwards asked whether the final version of the policy would be submitted to the Board for signature. Holtz will prepare a clean copy of the revision for that purpose.
Approval of Winter Maintenance Plan and Policy
After copies of the revised Winter Roads Policy were distributed, Edwards said VLCT had confirmed the legality of the 14-hour work period followed by six hours of rest. Edwards made a motion to approve the highway department’s Winter Maintenance Plan and Policy as revised. Holtz seconded the motion. Sumner called for discussion, and Rafus had a comment on a sentence in the general provisions which states that the town does not plow any other town or village lots. Rafus disagreed with this wording; he believes his department should be able to help out during community events. Edwards said the town does not have a contract to plow for the church, the post office, or the Community Hall, and tax dollars should be paying for things that are shared by the whole community. The church is not community-owned, she said, and the Community Hall is a private, not-for-profit entity. We do have an agreement to clean the school parking lot on occasion. Sumner mentioned that the townspeople voted at town meeting to give the Community Hall $2,000 and Edwards said they could use some of those dollars to pay someone to plow. Sumner said the town crew doesn’t plow at the Community Hall, but they sometimes lay down a little sand. We have senior citizens attending church and going to the senior meals, he said. Patty Dow said that while she doesn’t attend the local church, or all of the local community events, she does not have a problem with a little plowing or sanding to make it safer for our residents. Holtz commented that in that case he would like his driveway plowed, and Blaise McGarvey asked how one decided who should and shouldn’t get the service. Cheyette said she was torn—while she understood the position Edwards and Holtz were taking, she felt that as a practical exercise this was not a very big issue. It’s sort of a courtesy, she said, and perhaps could be brought up at town meeting. It’s a community thing, Rafus offered. The town is divided right now, and this will make it worse. Dow suggested dropping the statement in question, and perhaps making it a line item at town meeting, while Holtz responded the sentence could be left in place and then addressed at town meeting. Edwards brought up separation of church and state. If I’m a taxpayer, and I don’t go to church, what responsibility of mine is it to pay for that? she asked. After lengthy additional discussion in this vein, Holtz made a motion to strike the sentence from the general provisions. Edwards seconded the motion, amending it to strike all of paragraph #7. The motion passed, 3-0. The Board then returned to the original motion to approve the policy. The original motion passed, 3-0.
Review of Vermont Telecommunications Authority Lease Agreement at Town Garage
Sumner moved this item forward on the agenda to allow Patty Dow to perform her notary duties and go home. Edwards made a motion to sign the Vermont Telecommunications Lease to allow placement of a cellular service at the town garage, and also to sign the Net Metering paperwork. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed 3-0. Blaise asked if a start date had been set and the Board told him that wouldn’t happen until after all the documentation was properly signed and exchanged between parties. Board members signed the lease and the registration form, Dow notarized the lease paperwork, and Gabriel will mail both documents to the appropriate recipients.
Discussion of Class IV Roads
It is too late in the year for further consideration of Class IV road maintenance changes, said Edwards. People would not have time to adapt to alterations. Holtz agreed—maintain status quo for this year. Edwards told Rafus to bring any specific situations to the Board for consideration if needed.
Discussion of Shared Municipal Services
Windham Regional Commission is beginning to examine assistance requests from various towns, said Edwards. WRC will be holding once-a-month meetings which Edwards has volunteered to attend; she asked that any specific shared-services topics or ideas be communicated to her. Cheyette wondered why the town doesn’t share transfer station services with Whitingham. Halifax is a member of WSWMD, said Edwards. WRC is looking at such things as shared purchasing services, animal control officers, or zoning, listing, IT, and grant-writing assistance.
Discussion of Building Community Grants
Edwards and Sumner agreed that deadlines for this year’s grants were too close for practical consideration this year. Edwards asked if the Board would like the Broadband Committee to review the grant offerings in preparation for next year’s round. Sumner agreed, and also suggested Gabriel read and research the printed information over the next few weeks. Cheyette is enthusiastic about the concept of community solar and said there may be grant monies for such a project. She would be pleased to be involved. There has been some general discussion along those lines, said Edwards, but no specific plans thus far. Sumner told the meeting Windham Solid Waste has hired a consultant and will be putting their 25-30 acre solar project out to bid around the first of the year. The consultant on this project is currently collecting electric use cost information from surrounding towns. All the towns in the District will have a chance to participate once the installation is functional.
Discussion of Town Highway Employees Uniform Contract
The Board reviewed budget detail for highway department uniforms and cleaning rags and agreed on employee allowances for work clothes purchase while maintaining a vendor contract for shop rags. Edwards made a motion to change the town’s contract with G & K Services to supply shop rags only, with the town providing an allowance for the remainder of work wear. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed 3-0. Various methods of implementing the direct purchases were discussed.
Hearing of Visitors
Ray Combs asked whether Deer Park Road had been paved yet, causing a bit of confusion until it was understood he meant Green River Road above the Deer Park bridge. Yes, Holtz responded, that work has been done.
Cheyette welcomed Gabriel as assistant and then told the meeting the Whitingham Farmer’s Market has been a real success in its first year. A large number of the vendors are Halifax residents. Edwards said there were brochures available on the counter in the Town Clerk’s office with Farmer’s Market information. Cheyette also said Rescue, Inc. is about to present a new contract. She commented on the flavor of the evening’s exchanges, describing them as robust and impassioned but still respectful and productive, and said she appreciated the proceedings were managed without the use of a gavel.
Regarding the salt shed project, Rafus said the containment tank is set, the fuel tank moved, and the piers are set. The roof should be in place next week. Also, the new one-ton truck has been delivered to the company tasked with installing the body. Hopefully, it will be ready before the first snow. Cheyette offered her services in the matter of any potential letter-writing pertaining to the water in the diesel fuel problem. Finally, Edwards has communicated with the School Board regarding new gravel on the school parking lot, and Rafus expects to be able to get an estimate on paper and complete that project next week.
Holtz reported the Old County North bridge is now finished, the close-out meeting will be held shortly, and the final invoices are in the Board’s hands, to be paid after the close-out gathering. (Note: Close-out meeting was subsequently held 10/10 a.m.) Holtz may use his photo collection to create a short video of the bridge construction process.
Halifax Broadband Economic Committee Survey
Edwards reviewed the Broadband Committee’s questionnaire and asked whether Board members supported the idea of an online survey. How do we keep the data confidential? asked Holtz. Edwards said no personal information is requested; there are no questions about income, age, gender, or ethnic background. Holtz and Sumner both agreed they were fine with the survey being posted online.
Selectboard’s Order to Town Treasurer for Bill Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed. Sumner asked that Gabriel investigate 2015 pricing for town employee health insurance in advance of the next meeting.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:32 p.m.