OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
September 15, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Edee Edwards, and Douglas Grob were present, as were Robert Leete, Ray Combs, Stephan Chait, Blaise McGarvey, John LaFlamme, Patty Dow, Brad Rafus, Sue Kelly, Bettye Roberts, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Edee Edwards asked for inclusion of Patty Dow’s request for a revote on the town’s Homestead declaration late filing penalty, and a brief recap of VTel wireless access information discussed at Monday evening’s VT-Alert training session. The Board changed the order of new business according to priority, as Lewis Sumner was not feeling well and expected to leave before meeting’s end. Sumner added discussion of Branch Road bridge (#15), as Brad Rafus had received a query from VTrans.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Edwards made a motion to approve the minutes of the 8/31/15 special meeting as written. Doug Grob seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Sumner made a motion to approve the minutes of the 9/1/15 regular meeting as written. Grob seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Prior to the vote, the Board reviewed that portion of the minutes detailing their discussion of Branch Road bridge, and agreed that Edwards’ motion to bypass the state’s engineering grant meant Rafus could advise VTrans the town would like to pursue a structures grant next season and, if possible, roll the approved engineering grant funds into any potential structures grant approval.
Bid Request—Town Garage
Rafus and Gabriel had put together a bid request for structural engineering assessment of town garage roof leaks and ventilation deficiencies. Grob asked whether it was necessary to heat the entire building in winter; could heat be turned off in some sections? Rafus said the system was zoned, but he did not know whether it was possible to shut it down in sections. He also mentioned that it was hard on the equipment to start it cold temperatures; most of the vehicles would need to be plugged in to keep the oil warm. Heat inside the garage is usually about 52 degrees. Edwards suggested including a date for a pre-bid meeting in the request for bids. The Board reviewed the wording, added a date for a pre-bid meeting, and gave the go-ahead to publish the bid request, with an October 20th bid submission deadline.
Late Homestead Filing Penalty
Patty Dow explained that the town imposes a penalty on late Homestead filings, to cover the cost of the rather extensive time and paperwork involved. As the Halifax residential tax rate is less than the non-residential rate, the penalty is 3%; should that change in the future, the amount could go up to 8%, at the Board’s discretion. The late filing penalty has not been addressed in several years and Dow advised a revote. It works well, she said; it is a low penalty which only applies to the education portion of the individual tax bill, and late filings create a lot of extra work. Stephan Chait asked whether the Homestead declaration was filed with federal tax returns. It’s part of state tax filings, said Sumner; the form is included in the book. It has been that way for a number of years; tax preparers and filers should be familiar with it. Research of past Selectboard meeting minutes showed the Board last voted the penalty on August 16, 2011. Sumner made a motion to approve a 3% late filing penalty on the education portion of Homestead declarations. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Discuss Letter from the Kupchunos
The Board and Road Commissioner had received a letter from Kupchunos family members outlining concerns with the work currently in progress on Jacksonville Stage Road (Town Hill) in preparation for repaving. Drainage was a specific concern. Rafus said he had met with the Kupchunos late last week, walked the property with them, and explained the drainage system, which has been in place for many years. State codes and standards now require more visible, stone-lined ditches, however. Rafus suggested one adjustment to the ditching which could be made without detracting from the effectiveness of waterflow. The road crew also removed several additional trees in agreement with the Kupchunos wishes; Rafus said this would help the road rebuilding process. Everything is taken care of, he said—they’re happy, we’re happy. Edwards asked whether there was a procedure in place for tree warden notification in a situation such as this. Yes, answered Rafus, and the Tree Warden had talked to the Kupchunos’ son, but the message had not reached other family members. Sumner said Al Kupchunos had called him; Sumner suggested Kupchunos talk to Rafus first, and if the matter was not resolved he (Kupchunos) could bring it before the Selectboard. Ray Combs recalled a conversation he and Al Kupchinos had years ago about the fact that the roadbed has increased in height as it has been improved and paved. It’s pretty much like that everywhere, said Sumner.
Moderator—September 22nd Public Hearing
The Board has learned that neither Patti Pusey nor WRC could be available to moderate the proposed bylaw amendments public hearing next Tuesday evening. Several other names were proposed, and the Board agreed on remuneration of $100. Gabriel will follow up.
Wood Chip Boiler Discussion
Rafus met recently with a representative of the Wood Chip Initiative who did an assessment of the town garage, and discussed options for installation of a wood pellet boiler. The representative will prepare a proposal for review, but he advised that the change might not be practical for the town; the present heating system is fairly new, high quality, and efficient. A wood pellet boiler would not pay for itself for many years. Also, pellet storage would require a portable silo on the mezzanine, which would take up space. There is also a question of whether that structure could handle the weight of 4-5 tons of pellets. An outside silo would be more costly. Edwards pointed out that the town does not yet have specifics on how much of the cost a grant would cover. Grob suggested they could entertain the idea again in the future, especially if oil costs rose. Edwards said this may be a one-time offer, as it is based on the premise of introducing new, efficient energy methods at a time when Vermont Yankee is closing and monies are available. Bob Leete has toured Brattleboro facilities heated with wood chips. He commented that wood chips are less costly than pellets and wondered whether Halifax had investigated that option. This particular WRC grant is offering wood pellets, Edwards told him. They may be offering pellets rather than chips because they feel ultimate efficiency is higher.
Planning Commission Secretary Wages
Planning Commission secretary wages are lower than those of our other administrative positions, said Edwards, and several candidates have declined the position at least in part because of the low pay scale. She recommended an hourly wage more in line with the $16 an hour lister wage. Lately the position has required many more hours than usual. The Board agreed to consider that suggestion as a motion. Gabriel, who has been filling the position as interim secretary, asked to continue at the present wage, with the increase taking effect when someone was hired to fill the permanent position. Edwards made a motion to approve an hourly wage rise for Planning Commission/ZBA secretary from $12 to $16 an hour, effective when a permanent PC/ZBA secretary was hired. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. In discussion, Grob suggested a bonus for Gabriel in the year to come. Edwards said in past years FY budgeting included some bonus funds for the highway department, but that has not been done in the Selectboard budget. It is something we can consider, she added. Ray Combs asked about the number of hours involved in the PC/ZBA secretary job. Under normal circumstances the work might take 7-10 hours a month, but this year the zoning regulation rewrite, Act 250 hearings, conditional use hearings, and their attendant paperwork, have required many more hours.
At this point, Sumner turned the meeting over to Edwards and went home.
Act 250 Quarry Roads—Additional Data from Road Commissioner
Edwards said that in Sumner’s absence the Board would discuss Rafus’ cost estimates for upgrades on Jacksonville Stage, Amidon, and Stark Mountain Roads, and TH52, but would not attempt to finalize their Act 250 summary until all members were present. Rafus had inspected those sections of road the quarry trucks proposed to travel and noted all culverts that either do not presently meet state specifications or are at spec but in poor condition. He then used culvert costs in conjunction with a unit cost comprised of man hours, equipment, and material costs, to calculate upgrade estimates. The total figures, which also include tree removal, stumping, rip-rap, sloping and ditching, and guard rail installation in places where these improvements are needed, are as follows: Old Stage Road (TH52), $30,367.50; Amidon Road, $13,564.00; Jacksonville Stage Road, $82,710.00; Stark Mountain Road, $243,460.00. Rafus gave the Board copies of his detailed calculations. Edwards described, for Grob, the section of road referred to as Old Stage Road; she said she would prefer calling it TH52, as not all maps give the Old Stage Road designation. Stephan Chait and Sue Kelly asked questions about the detail of improvements on Jacksonville Stage and Stark Mountain Roads. Edwards will put Rafus’ numbers into a spreadsheet and said the quarry roads item would be on the October 6th agenda under old business, with the goal of adding final figures to the document, deciding whether to have attorney review of the summary, and discussing what might be a reasonable percentage of total improvement costs to request of the quarry applicant.
Discuss Open Meeting Law
Edwards said she was recently accused in open meeting of violating open meeting law, and while she does not believe she did anything wrong she wanted to have a discussion and training session on the subject. She provided fellow Board members with copies of email correspondence addressing a citizen concern, last May, with the condition of Deer Park Road, and then described the email sequence for the record. My emails are public record, Edwards said; I would be happy to provide copies to anyone who wants them. Edwards then quoted from Vermont Open Meeting Law training materials: “Meetings shall not mean written correspondence or an electronic communication, including email, telephone, or teleconferencing, between members of a public body, for the purpose of scheduling a meeting, organizing an agenda, or distributing materials to discuss at a meeting, provided that such a written correspondence or such an electronic communication that results in written or recorded information shall be available for inspection and copying under the Public Records Act as set forth in Chapter 5, §3 of this title.” Lewis thought I had gone too far, said Edwards in reference to the email exchange, but I thought I was just being polite. Edwards and Grob both urged citizens to discuss concerns with the Selectboard.
Edwards commented that during Monday night’s VT-Alert training session, which she and Grob attended, Grob had spoken about his recent communication with VTel. As this was not a topic specifically added to the September 14th agenda, Edwards requested a recap at the present meeting. Grob told the meeting VTel had come to his residence about a half-mile from the Center tower to check for signal. Testing showed there no signal could be received at his location; he was advised that connecting now would only give him service at dial-up speed. Blaise McGarvey related his own experience with VTel. During the first month, service was very spotty he said, but a test showed good signal just outside the window where the internal router was located. A different router—an R-529—solved the problem. In the process of talking to VTel McGarvey learned that while he could get no satisfaction from emailing customer service, the opposite was true if he spoke with them by telephone. Edwards said she had done an interview with VPR’s Howard Weiss-Tisman earlier today during which they discussed VTel’s new service. The Broadband Committee is hoping to have a VTel representative come speak at one of their meetings, which are held the second Wednesday each month at 6:30 p.m. Ray Combs asked about cost for VTel routers. The small indoor unit is $89, larger units are more expensive. The Broadband Committee has posted a chart of different service providers and start-up fees online at https://halifaxvermont.com/committees/broadband-committee/broadband-providers/. Bob Leete, on McMillan Road, has had VTel service since July 9th, and is very pleased with the service. His monthly cost for unlimited service is $68. Leete asked why the town offices weren’t on fiber optic, and Edwards explained that while the school has a fiber optic connection at a discounted rate, the cost for the same service at the fire department and in the town offices proved to be too high, and a long-term contract was required. John LaFlamme recalled investigating Sovernet’s service in the past, and that was also prohibitively expensive. Chait found it confusing that while the VTel brochure advertises unlimited service, the fine print speaks of a slow-down in service if the customer exceeds a cap. That doesn’t fit the definition of unlimited service, he said.
Hearing of Visitors
Chait asked whether the Board planned to go through their Act 250 roads summary and finalize it at the next meeting. Yes, answered Edwards, we had intended to do that tonight, but Sumner had to leave. The Environmental Commission has not yet notified parties of a set date for submission of legal arguments.
LaFlamme thanked the Selectboard for their participation in the VT-Alert training, and asked to be advised when the Board has had an opportunity to consider Road Commissioner involvement. Edwards asked Rafus whether he would prefer direct access to the system. I would use it primarily for road closings, answered Rafus, and those usually go through the Selectboard first. LaFlamme described some of the notification options available with VT-Alert, and said the system has the ability to dial every phone in town in the event of a life-threatening situation. There are informational brochures on VT-Alert in the Town Office. Edwards suggested further discussion in a future meeting.
LaFlamme also advised he has received an updated version of the Radiological Emergency Response Plan (RERP) which reflects changes occasioned by the VY shutdown. Big changes have been made, LaFlamme said, mostly scaling down. This will be the last update; by April the threat level will be so low the plan will be obsolete. The next step, which will occur before the start of FY17, will be to convert the RERP to an All Hazards plan. LaFlamme said he would welcome any suggestions on ways to implement the conversion. He reminded those present of the Hazard Mitigation meeting to be held in the Town Office Wednesday evening, September 16th, and also invited the Selectboard to the October 19-21 Vermont Emergency Management Preparedness Conference at Jay Peak.
Bettye Roberts had a question about law enforcement. Where do we stand with our Constable here in town, she asked. I needed someone, not for an emergency, but for legal advice, she continued, and I ended up dialing 911. Edwards said the town has a constable, but across the state that role is now limited, extending only to such duties as animal control and serving papers. In an emergency, dial 911. She also recommended calling the Vermont State Police non-emergency number; the town has a contract with VSP. And, she added, we should check with Andy Rice about whether he is pursuing training. LaFlamme said Rice had mentioned in conversation that his previous certification no longer applies; retraining would require a fresh start. But, said LaFlamme, he is available by pager or phone for questions. Could we change the Constable’s term of service?, asked Roberts. It’s not fair to ask someone who is only there for a year to get certified. Roberts suggested a three-year term would be more appropriate. That could be done through a petition, or the Selectboard might be able to do something about that, said Edwards. Roberts also asked whether bears on her property constituted an emergency. Grob recommended calling the game warden, and LaFlamme said Game Warden Kelly Price could be reached through the VSP non-emergency number. Do we have a job description for constable, asked Grob, and do we get reports from the constable? The job description is set by state statute, responded Edwards, and we can certainly check with Rice about updates.
Ray Combs initiated a round of introductions for the benefit of newcomer Bob Leete. LaFlamme introduced himself as the town’s Emergency Management Director; Combs told Leete that Brad Rafus was the Road Commissioner, and Sue Kelly identified herself as Health Officer.
Bob Leete noted that at town meeting funds were voted in support of various social services. Why doesn’t the town give any money to the fire department, he asked. Edwards explained the town actually includes monies for the fire department and two ambulance services in their Selectboard budget each year. The town also provides insurance for those entities, along with fuel, internet access, and special equipment.
Brad Rafus told the Board one tandem truck will be in a shop up north for a week to ten days with an engine issue; the repair should be covered under warranty. The smaller Ford is back at H.P. Fairfield because the paint is not holding up. As that work was guaranteed for a year, the truck is being repainted. Finally, paving of Jacksonville Stage (Town Hill) and the Reed Hill Road section by the post office is scheduled to begin September 23rd; it will probably be a two-day process but there will be no road closures. Grob remarked that the road into Jacksonville (Gate’s Pond Road), which is also undergoing a repaving process, is much smoother than Town Hill. Are they using a different kind of gravel?, he asked. No, said Rafus, our gravel has a little more quantity of stone, but the size is the same. Also, Town Hill hasn’t been compacted yet, and on a hill the stone gets kicked around more. Could we put the material we clean out of culverts back on the road, asked Grob. It has too much debris in it, replied Rafus; it makes the roads slimy. Trucking gravel is a problem out here; we have to take what we can get.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Bill Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:45 p.m.