OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
November 3, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Douglas Grob were present. Also in attendance were Joe Tamburrino, Rick Gay, Ray Combs, Stephan Chait, Janet Taylor, Tim Putnam, Marilyn Allen, Jesse Ferland, Nicholas Bartenhagen, Maggie Bartenhagen, Norman Fajans, Sue Kelly, Carl Barmen, Cara Cheyette, Bettye Roberts, Edee Edwards, Larry Crosier, Greg Marguet, Brad Rafus, Peggy Rafus, Wayne Courser, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner added Edee Edwards to the agenda for a Broadband Committee update.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Sumner made a motion to approve the 10/20/15 regular meeting minutes with several clarifications of wording. Doug Grob seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Engineering Bid on Town Garage
Sumner told the meeting the Board had received a bid of $16,200.00 from Savoy Engineering, Westminster, Vermont, to perform a structural engineering study on the town garage roof/ventilation/insulation work. Stephan Chait asked whether the town had rebid the project, as no bids were available at the October 20th Selectboard meeting. Sumner explained Savoy had sent in a proposal prior to the 10/20 deadline, but as Patty Dow was on vacation it did not reach the Board until after the last meeting. Savoy had attended a pre-bid meeting with Board members and the Road Commissioner on October 13th, and Savoy said he would offer two or three options should he be hired to do the engineering study. Carl Barmen asked for specifics of those options; Sumner explained the vendor would provide that detail if the Board approved the bid. This contract would be for design and construction plans, not for the construction itself. You’ve received one responsible bid, said Joe Tamburrino, I think you should accept it. Cara Cheyette asked whether the quoted price was in line with similar engineering study costs. Edee Edwards mentioned previous quotes received for engineering studies on bridges were in the $30-$40,000 range. Sumner and Grob related details of their pre-bid discussion with Savoy, saying he was knowledgeable and has considerable experience. After further discussion and questions from the floor, Grob made a motion to accept Savoy Engineering’s bid of $16,200.00 for a structural engineering study on the town garage. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
VLCT Health Insurance, November 17th
Sumner announced that VLCT’s Larry Smith would attend the November 17th regular Selectboard meeting to give an overview of health exchange options and the Cadillac tax, and to answer questions on those subjects.
Interviews/Appointment to Fill Selectboard Vacancy
Sumner announced the names of four individuals interested in filling the seat left open by Edee Edwards’ resignation; letters had been received from Dan Menerey, Carl Barmen, Cara Cheyette, and Bradley Rafus. We’ll give each candidate 15 minutes, said Sumner. They can speak, the Board will ask questions, then we’ll open it to the audience.
Carl Barmen spoke first, saying he had served on the Halifax Selectboard for three years, and was looking for honesty and simplicity in explaining things to the townspeople. I wanted to see some changes in the town report, he said, and that got done. Barmen praised Edwards for her service on the Board. She did a tremendous job, he said; she had everything documented. Grob asked Barmen about his experience with computers; Barmen said he could type a bit, but doesn’t work on computer. We’re going to be starting the budget process next month, said Sumner; will you be available for extra meetings? Barmen answered yes he could be available, and told Grob he was okay working with numbers. Greg Marguet said past Selectboard members didn’t have extensive computer experience; he thought Barmen had done a good job on the Board in 2003-06. Cheyette asked whether he could think of changes in town during the years since his service that he might find difficult. No, replied Barmen, maybe more going on with roads, and more money involved. He told Marguet he had been living in town about twenty years, since his retirement. Prior to that he had a camp here for many years.
The second candidate, Cara Cheyette, who also interviewed for an open seat on the Selectboard earlier this year, said she believes everyone in town should have the experience of serving on the Board. The three-year bar is a high hurdle to clear, she continued; there are people who would be pleased to serve for a one-year term. This four-month appointment is a good opportunity to test things out. My skill set is different than yours, she told the Board, I’m sure there are a lot of ways we would mesh. The big thing coming up is the budget, said Sumner, how are you with figures. Cheyette said she is familiar with computers and does her own taxes; she is comfortable with the idea of working on the budget and thinks the experience will help her better understand the town’s finances. I take it you’re in favor of more Selectboard members, said Joe Tamburrino. If you disagreed with a vote, would you support your fellow members? I will abide by Board decisions and enforce them, answered Cheyette; there might be some instances in which I would register my dissent. I don’t have an agenda, she told Tamburrino. In response to Wayne Courser’s question about how long she had lived in Halifax, Cheyette said she had been here five years and, prior to that, a year in Whitingham. If I serve on the Selectboard I will not be writing for the newspaper, she added.
Rick Gay spoke for Dan Menerey, who was unable to attend the meeting. Menerey can program computers and do the math, said Gay, and he has served on the Planning Commission. How long has he been in town, asked Marguet. About fourteen years, Gay estimated. Cheyette and several others said they don’t know Menerey. It he was interested he should have been here, said Tamburrino. He’s just offering his services to the town, replied Gay, he has no agenda. He would be a big help with the budget.
I grew up here and have been in town for over forty-seven years, Brad Rafus told the meeting. I’ve been a town employee for twenty years and Road Commissioner for twelve years. I’ve been involved in the budget process for twelve-plus years and am always looking for ways to help the budget situation. Last year, Rafus’ suggestion to change from supplied uniforms to a clothing allowance for the highway crew reduced that cost by 50%. This year his proposal to purchase a smaller truck allowed the town to buy two small trucks—this year’s and next year’s replacement vehicles—for less than the cost of one larger truck. Rafus would like to see the town crush its own gravel, which would reduce trucking costs substantially. He has been reclaiming roads rather than paving over existing surfaces because the reclaimed sections last longer. I’d really like to see the town come back together, he said. When I was a kid, you’d go to a town supper and it would be full of townspeople. I’d like to see the small town feel come back; that’s what it’s all about—neighbors helping neighbors.
Grob asked Rafus whether he saw any conflict of interest in the dual role. We have a purchasing policy to protect the town; purchases have to be voted on by the three Selectboard members, answered Rafus. Town purchases don’t affect me personally. When it comes to health insurance or wages, I would recuse myself. I don’t believe there would be a conflict. There are quite a few towns with a Road Commissioner who is also a Selectboard member, said Sumner. Cheyette was of the opinion that, while there is no statutory conflict and Road Commissioners generally do not have a great deal of authority, in Halifax the Road Commissioner has greater authority because highway expenditures are such a large part of the budget. In this town, I don’t think it is an appropriate pairing of responsibilities, she said. If we had a five-person Selectboard, Brad’s presence would not be so heavy, said Marilyn Allen. Sue Kelly commented that town governments must not only avoid conflict of interest, but the appearance of conflict of interest. While Rafus might not benefit personally from the highway budget, it certainly makes one’s job harder or easier depending on the equipment one works with, she added. Brad’s input as Road Commissioner is exceptional, she continued; the value of Rafus contribution to town affairs could be lessened should he serve on the Selectboard.
I’ve known Brad for nine or ten years, said Tamburrino, and have worked with him on purchasing and on other things. Brad is a very fair person; he’s not going to do something just to get what he wants. He’s very honest. Brad ran for Selectboard last year, said Bettye Roberts. He has obviously thought about it. This appointment is a four-month opportunity for him to prove there’s no conflict of interest. She pointed out that the Selectboard does not meet behind closed doors; meetings are open to all, and interested citizens are free to attend and contribute input. This is totally legal by statute?, asked Rick Gay. Yes, replied Sumner. Marguet remarked that Rafus would be overseeing himself. All orders have to be approved and signed by the Board, Rafus responded. I have a budget, but I can’t spend it without the approval of the Selectboard. Tamburrino mentioned he had lived in a small Connecticut town with a three-person Selectboard. The First Selectman was always the Road Commissioner, he said, and there was never a problem. Maggie Bartenhagen also advocated for a five-person Board, expressed concerns about conflict of interest, and wondered whether Rafus might resign as Road Commissioner in order to serve on the Selectboard. Brad has done a good job on the roads, said Wayne Courser; he has experience with and understands the budget. I think he’d be an ideal man.
Norm Fajans recommended appointing Carl Barmen, as a non-controversial candidate with budget experience, while Tim Putnam made the point that Rafus had up-to-date budget knowledge. After further discussion in this vein, Sumner made a motion to appoint Brad Rafus to fill the open Selectboard seat. Grob seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Broadband Committee Update
Edee Edwards recounted a brief history of the Broadband committee, which was formed in 2010. Greg Marguet, Curtis Carroll, Gretchen Becker, Jessica Bruno, Earl Holtz, Mary Horne, and Edee Edwards have all served as committee members during those years. Edwards made special mention of Curtis Carroll, Gretchen Becker, and Jessica Bruno. Becker and Bruno served continuously over the five year period; Carroll was absent for awhile but returned recently. While the committee’s original purpose was broadband, its focus later expanded to include cellular coverage and economic development. The committee pursued grants associated with broadband infrastructure, including a fiber optics connection for the school, the town web site, and the WiFi hotspot at the town garage. They also assisted with the VTel tower permitting process and have gathered information about availability of various services. Presently the only outstanding grant is the WTA Resiliency grant, intended to bring microcells to the Route 112 corridor. At their October 21st meeting, after discussion, Jessica Bruno made a motion to recommend the Selectboard disband the committee, effective immediately. That motion passed 3-1-0, with Edwards casting the dissenting vote.
The committee has run out of steam, said Edwards; should the Selectboard choose to continue the Broadband committee, current members will likely resign and new candidates would have to be found. Grob asked whether we had fiber optics in town through Fairpoint. Not really, replied Edwards. The school has fiber, but the town can’t tap into it, and you can’t get it at your house. We haven’t been able to get clear answers about providers’ future plans. Peggy Rafus said she doesn’t want to see the committee go; they’ve worked hard for what we have now. She has safety concerns about the town garage spot and suggested it might be moved to a different location. Edwards thought that might be a possibility, and Grob mentioned the old town garage site as an alternative. The Selectboard agreed to postpone dissolving the Broadband Committee until the community had a chance to respond to a request for new members. A notice to that effect will be posted online and on the town bulletin boards.
Wood Heat Initiative
The Board had requested a rough cost estimate of wood pellet boiler installation at the Town Garage. WRC’s Kim Smith replied with a ballpark figure of $60-$70,000 for boiler installation and fuel storage. Grob questioned whether that number represented full cost of the project or the town’s 50% responsibility should a grant be awarded; Gabriel will query WRC. Sumner was reluctant to consider another $35-$40,000 project for the garage building, given that the town has just contracted for a structural engineering study on the roof and ventilation problems, and expects a sizable expenditure for construction in 2016. He also noted that wood fuel prices have climbed substantially. Oil went up 3% today, said Edwards; oil prices are volatile. This could be an investment in local businesses and local economy. It is a renewable resource the town should consider. I don’t think an audit would hurt at $725, said Tamburrino, but I don’t know about the boiler—that’s a lot of money. Rafus answered Maggie Bartenhagen’s query about current heating costs. Right now we burn 2,000 gallons of oil a year, he said. If prices stay where they are now, wood pellet cost would be about the same as what we’re presently paying for oil. Bartenhagen said the Wood Heat Initiative project was also investigating the possibility of a local wood chip and/or pellet processing plant. Should the demand be high enough to make such a venture feasible, that would lower the cost of the fuel. Sumner recalled that last winter the wood pellet supply dwindled to the point that people were having trouble finding pellets to buy. An energy audit could provide recommendations for other energy-saving measures, even if we didn’t convert to a pellet-burning boiler, said Nick Bartenhagen. Grob told Bartenhagen the engineering study the Board had just approved should address building energy efficiency. Would you keep the oil furnace as a back-up, asked Ray Combs. Rafus said space could be a problem. He also recommended considering a solar installation in the future. No deadline has been set on the pellet boiler grant; Sumner advised holding off until more information is available and we know what the budget is going to look like.
Hearing of Visitors
Tamburrino complimented the Selectboard on their work. I think you’re doing a good job, he said.
Maggie Bartenhagen submitted Windham Regional Commission’s annual report for July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015. Bartenhagen included her notes on issues of particular interest to the town.
Rafus said he had sent out six bid requests for the repair work on Bridge #15 (Branch Road at Hubbard Hill). Deadline for vendor submissions is December 1st.
Rick Gay said the collection of old equipment and box trailers on a Route 112 property near the Massachusetts state line is increasing. The property owner has been told “no,” said Gay, but he keeps bringing in more. Sumner advised calling the state about the situation.
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 9:00 p.m.