OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
January 20, 2015
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. Margo Avakian, Brad Rafus, Douglas Grob, Joe Tamburrino, Ray Combs, John LaFlamme, and Robbin Gabriel were also in attendance.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Edee Edwards requested, under Other Business, the scheduling of a meeting to discuss preparation for the February 20th Environmental Commission Act 250 hearing.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Edwards made a motion to approve the 1/06/15 Selectboard/Broadband Committee Joint meeting minutes with three corrections. Lewis Sumner seconded the motion, which passed 2-0-1, with Earl Holtz abstaining.
Sumner made a motion to accept the 1/10/15 special meeting minutes as written. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed 2-0-1, with Holtz abstaining.
Sumner made a motion to accept the 1/13/15 special meeting minutes as written. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Attorney Fisher’s Comments on Old Town Garage
Sumner made note of Robert Fisher’s suggestion that while the Board does not need to warn this topic for Town Meeting, they might do so if they chose. Fisher included an example of wording which could be used in a warning article. Edwards had received a call from one citizen who was concerned that all potential uses for the old garage property be considered, and who would like to have a site visit. While Edwards is willing to see this item as an article on the town meeting agenda, she would like to assure all use options, including multi-purpose options, are discussed. Ray Combs asked about the current proposal, and Edwards described the Halifax EMS plan to lease and suitably renovate the site to provide controlled environment housing for their squad car. Sumner recommended scheduling a site visit and subsequent public discussion, and Holtz would like to see a warned article, as the EMS is proposing a 49-year lease. The Board scheduled a site visit for 5 p.m. on February 24th, to precede the 7 p.m. Town Meeting Day informational meeting on that date. An article will be added to the town warning. Sumner also advised the addition of an article requesting five years’ property taxation exemption for the Community Club. Holtz asked about the Grange. Sumner said the Vermont State Grange had been paying that property tax for a number of years.
Present Preliminary Budget
The Board reviewed the current FY16 proposed budget draft, with Sumner noting a $500 rise in fire department dispatch costs, an estimated $2,000 reduction in heating oil costs and a probable drop in overall diesel costs. The proposed budget, said Edwards, requests the town to raise and appropriate $1,225,000 for FY16 Selectboard and Highway Department expenditures. The FY15 appropriation was $1,166,000. Edwards noted that last year dollars were shifted and paving projects deferred to enable financing of the Old County North bridge replacement. In FY16, paving needs to be done, and the culvert near the post office on Reed Hill Road must be repaired. Sumner recommended applying FEMA reimbursement monies to an outright purchase of the next new truck, rather than leasing. This would save on interest and even out appropriation needs over the next few years. What equipment do we lease? asked Combs. This coming year, responded Edwards, the 2006 Sterling dump truck should be replaced. The manufacturer is no longer in business, and parts for the truck are costly and hard to find. The town owns the Sterling; leasing its replacement would spread the cost out over more years. This year, however, the Board is considering a direct purchase to avoid spikes in appropriations requests. Sumner said Patty Dow agreed with the outright purchase option as the FEMA monies represent reimbursement for leasing of town equipment in the Irene aftermath. Holtz mentioned that when leasing, the town buys the vehicle for one dollar at the end of the term—a better deal than a private lease contract. How much money are we talking about? asked Joe Tamburrino. Any budget surplus we might have at the end of the year, answered Edwards. Although we can’t predict the exact amount, as the town operates on a cash basis, the estimate is $200,000. Tamburrino said a cash purchase would be the best way, eliminating the need to raise taxes. Edwards mentioned that leasing would spread the cost out over the use of the vehicle. If leased, said Sumner, the truck we intend to buy this coming year would entail a five-year commitment at $37,000 a year. Cash purchase would save on interest. A lot of people in the room, said Edwards, seemed to be in favor of an outright purchase, but there may be others in town who have different views. Last year, commented Margo Avakian, we were told taxes were climbing 20% because of the bridge project, but this year would be better. Now we are hearing taxes are going up again. I think, she said, some people will be upset and want a fuller explanation. Conversation returned to the emergency work needed at the Reed Hill culvert by the post office. Brad Rafus explained new state regulations require any culvert over 48 inches in diameter, with continuous water flow, be replaced with a baffled, gravel-bottomed, concrete box structure to allow fish to migrate in both directions.
Doug Grob introduced the subject of the proposed quarry as it related to tax rates and town roads. Would the quarry mean additional road construction and maintenance for the town? And would the presence of a quarry mean a drop in real estate values and consequently less revenue for the town? Edwards said the question was a big one, and invited Grob to present it at the upcoming meeting which will address the topic. No new roads are planned to accommodate the quarry, said Holtz. The access road is a Class IV road not maintained by the town; any work needed there will be done by the property owner or lessee. Edwards also mentioned the VY closing, which will affect property values in the area. John LaFlamme said the VY departure would also occasion a larger state budget deficit and a loss in state funding for programs next year.
Discussion returned to the Highway Department equipment. Sumner outlined the projected vehicle replacement timetable for Combs (see Equipment Schedule link under January 10th meeting minutes at https://halifaxvermont.com). We keep our town vehicles longer than I think we should, said Sumner; he suggested an eight-year cycle would be better than the current twelve-year plan—it would cut back on down time and repair costs. Rafus added that during the recent ice storm two trucks were down with mechanical problems. The Town of Chester has moved to a five-year plan which is saving them money as it keeps their leased vehicles under full warranty and gives them $50-$60,000 trade-in values at replacement time. Edwards said the Board would review equipment life-cycle schedules and make a decision on the new truck cash purchase versus lease option before presenting the proposed budget for the town’s annual report. Consider a lease, said Grob. He quoted his father’s advice to work with other people’s money if possible. Rafus suggested putting the FEMA dollars into an account and buying both this year’s and next year’s trucks at the same time. Between 2000 and 2005 the town purchased no equipment, he said, which is why we have subsequently needed to replace trucks on a yearly basis. Edwards told LaFlamme the question of how to use the FEMA funds would be presented to the voters at town meeting in the form of an article. Avakian advised any proposal to voters for a rainy day fund be accompanied by a clear explanation of the concept.
Edwards has participated in discussions with a Windham Regional Commission informal committee whose purpose is to determine what types of shared services could be beneficial to local towns. She has suggested IT services and roadside mowing as possibilities. The WRC committee will continue meeting, with the goal of identifying specific potential shared services pilot programs. Selectboard members will be invited to an upcoming meeting. The WRC group is building a listserv for town administrators, but Open Meeting Law precludes the possibility of doing the same for Selectboard members. There is a shared services project functioning in Massachusetts; Edwards will pass web site information to the Board. Are towns besides Halifax participating, asked Holtz. Edwards mentioned Wilmington, Putney, and Guilford, and said others have joined in discussion by phone.
Selectboard Secretary Stipend
Edwards made a motion to formally increase the Selectboard secretary stipend to $2,500, as approved by voters at March 2014 town meeting. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Old One-Ton Truck
Rafus told the meeting it was useful to have a spare truck, and answered Holtz that yes, the engine leak was manageable; repair could wait until spring. LaFlamme mentioned the large amount of money already expended on repairs for the truck. Another option, suggested Rafus, would be to get rid of the green 1984 truck and the ’06 one-ton, and replace them with one ¾-ton truck, which would allow utilization of the existing plow. The Board agreed to further discussion on the subject come spring.
At this point the Board reordered the agenda, moving Hearing of Visitors forward, to be followed by the VTA Grant/BBID discussion and then the USDA Community Connect Grant.
Hearing of Visitors
Grob asked the date of the meeting to discuss the quarry. Sumner said the Board would set that schedule a little later in the evening, under Other Business.
LaFlamme submitted an EOC checklist for the Board’s signature and answered Edwards’ questions regarding dosimeter expiration and replacement. He will be attending the February 10th electronic meter training session, and hopes Andy Rice will be there also. LaFlamme will also be communicating with everyone who will be involved in the upcoming VY drills; there are three scheduled this spring. He verified for Holtz that the VY plant shut down successfully on December 29th, 2014, and that all fuel rods have been removed from the reactor and are cooling in the spent fuel pool. Removal of the rods to dry cask storage is scheduled for 2020. Holtz also asked whether a Selectboard member needed to be on the team for the Hazard Mitigation Plan. Not necessarily, said LaFlamme, but someone is needed who is familiar with area history in that respect. The Board has received (from Windham Regional Commission) a draft copy of Guilford’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. The Board and LaFlamme will be reviewing the draft, and may submit comments to WRC. Edwards stressed the importance of Halifax having a completed hazard mitigation plan to assure maximum monetary assistance from the state in the event of a disaster.
We have the new truck invoice from Fairfield, said Rafus, and need to discuss whether to take any action in response to the belated delivery of the vehicle. As the present purchasing policy has no penalty clause, a deduction is not an option, but there are plans to reconvene the purchasing policy committee to revise the document. Holtz recommended note to the vendor expressing the Board’s displeasure with the 90-day delivery delay. In the past, said Rafus, Fairfield was the only vendor available who could supply equipment to the town’s specifications. He has now found a second possible supplier.
Edwards asked Rafus to attend VLCT’s January 21st Workstrong Webinar, which is a free presentation aimed at improving employees’ health and well-being and avoiding workplace injuries.
Rafus said L&B is running diagnostics on the the 2006 Sterling truck to learn why it broke down this week. The $12,000 salt budget for the year has been spent as of now, he added, and $26,000 of the $28,000 sand budget has been used. Sumner remarked we may be in for more ice storms before the season ends. The Board will look at quarterly budget figures; Edwards thinks there should be some extra in fuel funds and Rafus said he still has money left in the chloride budget.
VTA Grant—Business Broadband Improvement District (BBID) in SW Halifax
After this VTA project was discussed at the January 6th Selectboard meeting, Edwards met again the following day with VTA and the Southern Vermont Broadband Cooperative. In the course of the latter meeting it was discovered that the proposed old town dump tower location was unsuitable, due to a lack of electric service and a misreading of the dump site’s position on the map. The new town garage was then considered as an alternate, but from that location not enough people could be reached with service to meet the conditions of the grant. There were several other barriers, involving extensive trenching, funding, and the need to find a different set of residents who might purchase the service. Given these factors, Edwards believes this project is no longer viable, although she has not yet received written confirmation from the grantors.
USDA Community Connect Grant
Shortly after the VTA grant project was tabled, Ann Manwaring brought another proposal to Edwards attention. This USDA Community Connect Grant is designed to help provide rural areas with broadband service. Two Broadband Committee members attended a webinar offering information about the grant. The USDA grant, they learned, involves some rather complex restrictions, a great deal of paperwork, and a requirement for 15% in-kind cash up front, with grant amounts ranging from $10,000 to three million dollars. Last year 150 Community Connect grant applications were submitted, but only eight were approved. Edwards offered several other suggestions for increased coverage within the town. Once vendors are delivering the service they have promised, she said, the town might put a satellite or antenna on the old town garage, or rent the Community Center, which has toilet facilities and a water supply. What about the tower in Halifax Center, asked Grob. No one yet knows how many people will be served by the tower once it is up and operational, answered Edwards. While the town offices have cable, the speed is slow. Fairpoint’s DSL work is proceeding at a snail’s pace, probably due to the ongoing strike. Edwards spoke of the Broadband Committee’s investment of many hours over a number of years; she is frustrated by lack of progress and said if the Selectboard thinks this process is valuable she would ask, at least, that the Broadband Committee have some assistance in applying for grants. We do have a web site now, and Tamburrino noted the town has gained the tower site in the Center and the WiFi hotspot at the town garage. Holtz asked what the USDA grant would provide. Operating expenses are ineligible, said Edwards, the system has to be up for at least two years, the recipient must have or build a community center with a prescribed minimum number of computer terminals, and the proposed area to be covered must not already have alternate service available. Also, the applicant would need to prove that twenty percent of residents in the proposed coverage area were under the poverty level. Avakian felt people are discouraged by continual deadline extensions and Holtz talked about his own tenure on the Broadband Committee, when he called VTel so often they came to recognize his voice. Does the Board want to make a recommendation to the Broadband Committee about whether to continue pursuit of these types of grants, asked Edwards. The Board agreed they would not ask for budget monies for the USDA grant.
Set Date for Quarry Meeting
After reviewing their busy February calendar the Board scheduled a Saturday, January 31st meeting at 8:30 a.m. to cover the quarry topic and address any final budget and town warning details.
Gabriel and the Board discussed details regarding web site update and domain name status, VLCT’s town meeting seminar, and Guilford’s hazard mitigation draft.
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. Edwards made a motion to sign the contract with Rescue, Inc., for service to the Thomas Hill area. Holtz seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:06 p.m.