OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
November 17, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Doug Grob, and Brad Rafus were present, as were Nicholas Bartenhagen, Margaret Bartenhagen, Stephan Chait, Rick Gay, Marilyn Allen, Arthur (Jesse) Ferland, Cara Cheyette, Susan Kelly, Keith Stone, Norman Fajans, Sarah Barnett, Larry Smith (VLCT), Michael Fournier, Travis Briggs, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Doug Grob requested discussion of the Branch Road bridge (#15) request process. As VLCT’s Larry Smith expected to be a few minutes late, Lewis Sumner announced the Board would speak to other new business items while awaiting his arrival.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Sumner made a motion to approve the 11/3/15 regular meeting minutes as written. Doug Grob seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Brad Rafus abstaining.
Sumner nominated Doug Grob to fill the Vice Chair position left open by Edee Edwards’ resignation. Brad Rafus seconded the nomination, which passed, 2-0-1, with Grob abstaining. Sumner told Grob Vice Chair duties include running a meeting or signing official documents in the Chair’s absence.
Set Meeting Dates for FY17 Budget Preparation
The Board set two dates for FY17 budget preparation—Saturday, December 5th and Saturday, December 12th, at 8:00 a.m. in the Town Office. They will begin with the Town, or Selectboard, figures on the 5th, and anticipate three- to four-hour sessions. The Board will schedule additional meetings if more time is needed or if weather results in postponement. Sumner said the Board has until early January to complete the budget proposal.
Bridge #15 Bid Requests
Grob noted that the town posted a single request for bids on the Branch Road bridge repairs. He asked whether the Town should have posted several separate bid notices, as the project might require vendors who specialize in different areas. Rafus explained it was common practice to post one bid notice—posting separate requests can result in confusion; the Town might then receive a proposal for one portion of a job and nothing on another part of the project. Rafus used truck bids as an example; the town will receive a single bid which includes one company supplying the truck and another company equipping the vehicle. And, added Sumner, some vendors are able to handle all aspects of a particular project. For this bridge project, the town sent bid packets to six different contractors on the preferred vendor list. Notice was also published in the newspaper, and other contractors responding to that advertisement or posted notices receive a bid packet on request. Rafus told Stephan Chait contract agreements are made with one vendor who is then responsible for subcontractors, if any.
At this point the Board opened a discussion of the old town garage under Old Business, then tabled the item as Larry Smith had arrived.
Health Insurance and Cadillac Tax Presentation—VLCT, Larry Smith
Larry Smith, of Vermont League of Cities and Towns, distributed charts detailing Blue Cross 2016 health insurance plans and premiums, and flyers with information on the Cadillac tax. Smith spoke first about health insurance plans. While there were some changes to Blue Cross health plans this year, no changes were made to the Platinum plan in which Halifax town employees are currently enrolled. Blue Cross premiums increased on average about 5.9% this year; the platinum plan increase is 5.2%. Smith described two new products introduced by Blue Cross in 2016, a Silver CDHP (Consumer Directed Health Plan) and a Bronze CDHP, and itemized changes to existing plans. If the town were to consider other insurance options, one possibility might be a switch to the Gold plan, which has higher deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses but lower premiums, and then create an employer-funded account (HRA) to cover a portion of deductible costs. Blue Cross plan offerings are standardized, Smith said, and a decision to change plans would not result in the difficulties town employees encountered several years ago under a different provider who at times would not approve physician-ordered prescriptions or procedures. Keith Stone said he did not think it right that towns with fewer employees paid more than larger towns. Starting in 2016, Smith replied, towns with fewer than 100 employees would be buying insurance through the HealthConnect Exchange at equal rates. By 2018, if legislation doesn’t change the requirements, all towns regardless of size would be using the Exchange. Smith will create and email a comparison sheet for the Selectboard showing the specific variables between current town employee coverage and Gold plan coverage with an HRA.
Cara Cheyette has learned that Whitingham offers a Bronze CDHP, with employees contributing 17% of premium cost and the town covering deductibles; she said the town has been saving money. Cheyette suggested Smith could provide an across-the-board comparison of all plans. There is a risk with an HRA, said Smith; if you add up the out-of-pocket expense and the premium cost, in a worst-case scenario where the HRA was maxed out, the town might be spending more than if it were covered under the Platinum plan. In response to a comment from Rafus, Smith said all the Blue Cross plans cover preventative medical visits at 100%. However, required DOT physicals are an exception across the board.
The Cadillac tax is a 40% tax on health insurance plans costing over $10,200 a year for self-coverage or $27,500 a year for two-person or family coverage. The tax will apply to coverage costs (premiums, flexible spending accounts, health savings accounts, and any health reimbursement arrangement) over these base amounts. This is a law that could potentially go away, said Smith, but it is now on the books to be implemented in 2018. Sumner said there is pressure to repeal, particularly since a number of exemptions have been established. While thresholds and premiums may change in the future, the town’s current Platinum coverage costs are below the amount that would activate the Cadillac tax.
Executive Session (if necessary)
No executive session was held.
Old Town Garage
Doug Grob recently inspected the old town garage building. I know it’s on the agenda to take it down, he said; it’s a pretty spot along the brook and would be nice to get it cleaned up and looking attractive. In discussion, suggestions for use of the lot included a town park, WiFi spot, or farmer’s market. Halifax EMS had considered using the building but discovered the red tape involved was too prohibitive. Sumner told Maggie Bartenhagen the building was constructed in 1968; it probably does not have architectural features old enough to interest buyers of antiquities. Cheyette told the meeting the operators of the former ReNew Building Materials company are back in business in Dummerston and might be approached about dismantling the building.
Hearing of Visitors
Stephan Chait posed this question: With Brad being on the Selectboard and Road Commissioner, when one of you (Board members) need to talk to the Road Commissioner, how does the Open Meeting Law interact with that? Chait was referring to the open meeting law requirement that town business between Board members must be discussed in public meeting. Even before Rafus was on the Selectboard, we never made any decisions, answered Sumner. Someone might call to say there’s a mud hole or a tree down, and I’d relay the message. We wouldn’t be discussing policy, said Grob. I think, if anything, with Brad being present at this table, we can have better communication. It would be a lot better than two Selectboard members discussing things by email, added Keith Stone; they’ll be talking here. Chait said that if three Planning Commission members met in the Co-op, they weren’t supposed to talk. You can talk, said Sumner, you just can’t discuss town business. Nick Bartenhagen suggested conference calls between Board members. That is allowed, but requires public meeting notice, he was told. Maggie Bartenhagen said seven of the 27 towns in the Windham County region have three-person Selectboards; the rest have five. A three-person Board can be potentially difficult, she added. Twelve or thirteen years ago Halifax had a Selectboard member who was also Road Commissioner, said Sumner; we still had open meeting laws back then, though they’ve changed a little. Marilyn Allen also recommended a five-member Board for the town. That option has been voted down several years in a row, said Mike Fournier. Cheyette suggested someone other than Rafus as point-person for highway/Selectboard communication. I usually go through Robbin (Selectboard assistant), responded Rafus; it’s easier to make one call and let her get in touch with others. Norm Fajans asked whether, when Rafus reported on roads, he is doing so as Road Commissioner or Selectman. Rafus pointed out that Planning Commission members, who were also on the Zoning Board might discuss the same topic at a meeting of either Board, and the town has had Selectboard members who also served on the Broadband committee give Broadband reports during Selectboard meetings.
Sue Kelly asked whether a petition could be presented to get the five-person Board question on an Australian ballot. Cheyette requested those present to share their reasons for not wanting a five-person Board. It has been voted down year after year, responded Keith Stone, and it keeps getting brought up again. It’s time to move on; I’m sick of it. Peggy Rafus spoke eloquently of the long and careful thought Brad had put into volunteering for the Selectboard. He has the interests of the town at heart, he gave careful consideration to how he could serve fairly, and he is willing to serve for the long term, she said. I think it is sad a person so dedicated to this town is getting questioned so constantly. Maggie Bartenhagen was concerned that some perceived the questions as personally intended; the questions have more to do with the logistics of a three- or five-person Board, she said. There was further discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of a five-person Board, including difficulty finding candidates willing to serve not only on that Board but on the other commissions, boards, and committees in town.
Cheyette wondered about the status of the Selectboard’s response to the Act 250 Denison application. We haven’t finalized anything, because the Environmental Court has not yet requested submissions, answered Grob.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Bill Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed. This order included the $161,644.00 semi-annual Vermont education property tax payment. It is a little less this year than last, said Sumner; last year we made a $198,000-plus payment, and then a slightly smaller second payment, for a total between $370-$375,000. Lately people are finally beginning to talk about the large amount of money the town sends the state in property tax payments. Last year the School Board succeeded through hard work in reducing their budget, yet tax bills were higher rather than lower, due to the education tax, over which the town has no control.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed. Sumner noted that the Board has received Windham Solid Waste’s preliminary budget, which is 11% less than last year. He anticipates that the recycle bins will remain in town after December 30th.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:03 p.m.