OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
December 5, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 8:01 a.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Doug Grob, and Brad Rafus were present, as were Edee Edwards, James Coughlin, Kaitlin Stone, Michael Fournier, Cara Cheyette, Stephan Chait, Nicholas Bartenhagen, and Robbin Gabriel. Town Clerk Patty Dow stepped in momentarily to answer several questions during the course of the meeting.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Discuss Town Employee Health Insurance
Any changes to employee health insurance must be reported to Blue Cross/Blue Shield by Monday, December 7th, Lewis Sumner told the meeting. VLCT’s Larry Smith has created a set of comparison charts specific to Halifax. Our current plan has the smallest premium increase for FY17, at 5.2%. Jim Coughlin said he had read in the newspaper that there was to be a 40% increase in insurance costs. Sumner and Brad Rafus explained that the report was inaccurate; the 40% increase refers to the Cadillac tax, which does not go into effect this year and which would apply only to premium costs above a set amount. For instance, explained Rafus, if the cost of a family plan rose above $27,500 a year, the tax would apply only to the cost above that figure. It is anticipated town employee premiums will not reach that level until 2020.
Do you have a direct financial interest in this discussion?, Edee Edwards asked Rafus. I’m not going to vote on it, responded Rafus, but I have a lot of information to bring to the table. Have you read the conflict of interest policy?, Edwards continued. Rafus said he had. That does state, said Edwards, than anybody who has a direct or indirect financial interest would need to recuse themselves from the discussion. Obviously you have the right to participate as an employee, but it does state that you would need to recuse yourself, and that if you don’t recuse yourself the people who appointed you have the right to ask you to recuse yourself. And I think it would be beneficial for the public interest if that kind of comment was stated up front at the beginning of a discussion. Edwards went on to ask whether any employees would be changing the plan they will need in the coming year and, as one change to a family plan is anticipated, she pointed out that the higher premium, coupled with the yearly overall premium increase, would constitute an expenditure over the amount budgeted for FY16 insurance. Sumner said he knows from talking with employees that they are happy with the current insurance plan.
Cara Cheyette said she wanted to hear an answer to Edwards’ question about conflict of interest, and also asked whether the Board would consider any plan other than the current one. At this point Brad Rafus recused himself. And I will answer your question, he said, leaving the table and seating himself in the audience. He reminded Cheyette she had—in an earlier meeting—stated that Whitingham’s town employees paid 17% of their premiums, under a less expensive plan that was saving the town money. However, said Rafus, Whitingham pays all of its employees’ deductible costs, whereas Halifax employees pay their own deductibles. So the comparison is inaccurate; Halifax employees actually pay more than 17% of their total costs. Cheyette agreed that she had been mistaken on that point, and said she was going to try to get a correction published. But she suggested Halifax employees should pay a portion of their premium costs as well as their deductibles. You also have to look at the whole picture, responded Rafus. Our town employees, on average, earn 10% less than employees in surrounding towns. That has to be factored in. When I was hired eighteen years ago, a selling point was that while the town doesn’t pay as much an hour, it pays 100% of insurance premiums.
Jim Coughlin asked whether town employees other than the highway employees would be added to town insurance. No other town employees—other than the town clerk–work the required thirty hour weekly minimum, answered Sumner. The town clerk does not use town health insurance, although at some time in the past the town had voted to make it available to her. While funds are budgeted each year for that purpose, she has never used that option. Edwards thought that having employees pay a portion of their premiums would foster appreciation and wise use. Kaitlin Stone pointed out that four of the highway employees were also taxpayers in the town. These are not desk jobs, said Nick Bartenhagen. They are pretty demanding jobs, and there is a certain degree of inherent danger involved. If they are injured on the job, that would be a worker’s comp issue, said Edwards. Cheyette suggested requiring employees to contribute an amount equivalent to the 5.2% premium increase, and moving to a less expensive plan in future years to avoid the Cadillac tax. We’re not sure the Cadillac tax will kick in, said Doug Grob. We were told it may not happen, and I don’t see reacting to something that is several years in the future and may not happen. The 5.2% premium increase translates to a little over $4,000 in additional costs; Rafus said that was more than covered by the $4,900 decrease in supplied uniform benefits this year.
After further discussion, the Board agreed to remain with the current health insurance plan for FY17.
FY17 Budget Preparation (Selectboard Budget)
The Board set up the projector and began considering line items in the Selectboard portion of the proposed budget for FY17, which begins July 1, 2016. Proposed salaries were held at the same level as FY16, with the amount budgeted for assistant town clerk and listers somewhat reduced. While Planning Commission/ZBA secretarial costs far exceeded expectations in FY16 due the many hours invested in zoning regulation revision and conditional use consideration, the budgeted amount was not increased. Under normal conditions that amount would adequately cover secretarial wages even at the higher hourly rate set by the Selectboard earlier this year. The separate line item meant to cover possible town clerk insurance costs was removed from the budget, as the town clerk has never used those monies and, if it was needed, those funds could be drawn from the rainy day fund. Patty Dow supplied percentages with which to estimate projected FICA and Medicare costs for town employees. Cara Cheyette questioned the logic of the town paying rent (to the school) for office space in a building the town owns. Sumner explained those dollars pay for utilities—electricity and heat. The amount is calculated based on 10% of total building square footage. Cheyette also asked whether dues and subscriptions expenditures had been audited. I don’t think there have been any unnecessary expenditures, replied Sumner. All invoices have to go through the Selectboard and the majority of those dollars pay for the lister’s NEMRC program, and Windham Regional Commission and VLCT dues. Jim Coughlin asked how much printing costs were for the town report, and how much the town is saving by not mailing the town report to all the voters. Sumner said printing was approximately $4.00 per report, and the postage cost, when the booklets were still be mailed to voters, was about $2.50 each. Legal fees in FY16 have thus far been almost double the $5,000 budgeted amount, due primarily to the lengthy five-session conditional use public hearing and attendant deliberative sessions. The Board left this line item open pending further consideration. Chait had questions about the town’s contract with Vermont State Police. It is a $6,000 contract, Sumner told him, and they bill by the hour. On rare occasions they’ve gone a few dollars over, but never more than an hour. Bridge construction was estimated at $100,000, based on bids received for the Branch Road bridge at Hubbard Hill. The town will be applying for a state grant to assist in repairing that bridge. Edwards asked about the need to paint beams on other bridges. Sumner said the town was probably not going to attempt any other bridge work this year. The Selectboard portion of the proposed budget will be finalized when a few more numbers are received.
Hearing of Visitors
Edee Edwards asked whether anyone had shown interest in the Broadband Committee; Sumner said no one had come forward. There is a committee meeting scheduled Wednesday, December 9th. Edwards said she would post notice on the town web site.
Sumner advised there would be a Vermont Yankee informational meeting on December 8th, 6:00 p.m., at the Governor Hunt House in Vernon. The Selectboard needs to let John LaFlamme know who is going to attend. Edwards suggested the Board might want to consider budgeted funds to pay for emergency management when VY dollars are no longer available.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:40 a.m.