OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
January 19, 2016
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:32 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Doug Grob, and Brad Rafus were present, as were Stephan Chait, Raymond Combs, Bettye Roberts, John LaFlamme, Steve Barrows, Homer (Chum) Sumner, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Doug Grob asked for a discussion of the letter to Act 250, under old business.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to accept the 1/5/16 regular meeting minutes as written. Grob seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
(Sumner noted that Gabriel had not listed the minutes from January 12th and 13th on the agenda.)
Sumner made a motion to accept the 1/12/16 Joint ZBA/Selectboard meeting minutes as written. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Sumner made a motion to accept the 1/13/16 Selectboard public hearing minutes as written. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
(As Chum Sumner was working late and had not yet arrived, the Board first considered the WRC Mitigation draft and Old Business.)
WRC Hazardous Mitigation Draft
Windham Regional Commission Planner Alyssa Sabetto has submitted a first draft of the Halifax Hazardous Mitigation Plan for Selectboard review. The document will be available for public viewing in the near future. Board members made note of several small corrections needed, including town road mileage, adjacent towns, photo credits, and mutual aid affiliations. Gabriel will send the Board’s edits to Sabetto, who will return a revised draft which will be available online and in the Town Clerk’s office. Grob asked about availability of flood insurance for property owners not in the designated flood zone, and what effect a zoning repeal would have. Anyone is eligible, answered Sumner. LaFlamme said there would be no effect in the event of zoning repeal, and Gabriel has learned that towns without zoning can also still have flood regulations in place as a separate document.
Letter to Environmental Commission
Earlier this year, the District #2 Environmental Commission advised that once they closed evidence in the Denison Act 250 permit application matter interested parties would be given opportunity to submit a proposed findings and conclusions document to the Commission. When I first started on the Board, said Grob, we spent time working on a letter Edee (Edwards) had drafted to present to Act 250. I realize things have changed; we have a new Board, and we are also in litigation now. I think it would be to our advantage to agree on whether or not to send the letter. I don’t really know where I stand on this issue, he continued. I realize we are in litigation, and maybe laying off is the best thing. Grob said he found that four written submissions had previously been sent to the Environmental Commission; one from the Planning Commission and three from the Selectboard. He went on to read a brief letter he had composed, which stated that while the Town hesitated to submit findings and conclusions on the Denison permit application in light of current litigation, they did have concerns about possible need for road upgrades and loss of tax revenue due to potential devaluation of properties adjacent to the site.
The way I look at it, responded Sumner, we’re only going to have two trucks a day. We presently have log trucks and other trucks that weigh as much or more than what that ten-wheeler will weigh with the stone. Stephan Chait asked about the fate of the first letter. We never voted on it, said Sumner. That’s why I brought it up, added Grob, so we can decide whether it goes anywhere or not. Why do the current legal actions in the conditional use permit process prohibit the Town from sending findings and conclusions in the Act 250 procedure, asked Chait. I’m sure this will come back to the Selectboard for a decision; answered Sumner. He mentioned the Honora Winery permit action, which the court returned to the Selectboard for a decision. It was important then, said John LaFlamme, that we remain unbiased. We should stay neutral, continued Sumner, and throughout this process I’ve tried to stay neutral. If we were going to submit a letter, said Brad Rafus, it should come from the present Board, not from a previous member who is no longer here. They (the court) might not send it back, said Chait. Sumner said that was possible, but in his experience the court often returned such decisions to the Selectboard.
Chait again questioned the need for Selectboard impartiality. In a quasi-judicial proceeding, no bias should be shown prior to a judgment, responded LaFlamme. Steve Barrows offered an alternative: If someone is really, totally against this, they could hire their own attorney—throw $50-$100,000 in the pot, and not let the town pay for all this litigation. Ray Combs asked the reason for the present litigation. Chait explained the specifics of the applicant’s declaratory judgment claim against the town and the separate appeal of the Zoning Board’s decision on the conditional use permit. The appeal is not a suit against the town, said Chait, and Sumner added that information had been incorrectly reported in the newspaper.
Any way you look at it, said Rafus, it is going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money. It bothers me, commented Barrows, because they might raise my taxes. That’s where the Selectboard has to look at it differently than the Planning Commission, Rafus responded. We are responsible for everybody in the town; we oversee expenditures in this town. How do we respond, asked Grob. Sumner made a motion not to send findings and conclusions to the Environmental Commission on the Denison Act 250 permit application. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-1, with Grob opposed.
New Business (continued)
Homer (Chum) Sumner—Act 46 Tax Implications
Chum Sumner began with an explanation of the current school budget situation. We have been so efficient with our budget in the past four of five years, that we are kind of being penalized, he said. Last year our per-pupil cost was $13,568, and this year we’re allowed $13,846 before we hit the penalty box. We are only allowed to raise our per-pupil cost by a certain percent before we are penalized. We have schools in our supervisory union who can have per-pupil costs of $17,500 before they hit the penalty box, because they haven’t been as fiscally responsible as we have.
Per-pupil cost is calculated by subtracting all school revenues from the school’s total budget, then dividing the remainder by the number of students. If you (the Selectboard) would be willing to add $40,000 to the town’s budget for the school, it will raise your budget, but it will help the taxpayers because every penny on the town’s tax rate raises $12,700, while every penny on the school tax raises $8,200. It’s like fifty percent less, because the school money gets sent to the state, and the state decides how much they send back. The cost to the town to raise $40,000 is about three cents; the cost to the school is about five cents. Taxpayers will get a break, and the school will stay out of the penalty box. Right now, we are about two dollars under the penalty box, and we made some drastic cuts this year, which will put us about five dollars under the penalty. $40,000 from the town would put us about $40 under the penalty.
Penalty levels are likely to be reconfigured, Chum went on, because miscalculations were made in setting the original caps. One school has set a budget that puts them under penality levels he added, but the new calculations may put that school well over penalty levels. He also mentioned several other pieces of legislation that are currently under consideration and may change the equation. Grob asked for an explanation of the penalty box. Chum said that for each dollar a school’s per-pupil cost exceeds the allowed amount, the town has to send the state two dollars. But you’re under now, said Grob. We are about five dollars under, said Chum, if they leave the formula the way it was when they sent us this figure. The new legislation (Act 46) was supposed to cut costs, commented Grob. It didn’t, was the response. Lewis mentioned a recent newspaper article about schools in Brattleboro; under current conditions, costs there are expected to increase about 25% over the next five years. Vernon, Guilford, Dummerston, and Putney will also see higher taxes. When we scrimp and save and send money to the state, and they’re putting astroturf on their football fields, there’s something wrong with this picture, added Chum.
If we were to close our school, said Chum, our per-pupil costs would put us in the penalty box. Our seventh and eighth grade per-student cost would be over $17,000, we would be paying more for transportation, and see an increase in special education costs. I’ve talked to four Senators since Act 46 was passed, he continued, and they did not know about the penalties and restrictions included in the act.
Returning to his original question, Chum said money could be raised more cheaply on the town side than the school side. Whitingham has done this; $120,000 in past years and $150,000 this year. The proposed $40,000 would become revenue on the school side and would reduce the school budget. It doesn’t change the bottom line of the school budget, it will simply reduce the cost to the taxpayers. There was further discussion of the possible effect of gaining or losing students in town, number of students starting kindergarten or graduating eighth grade, the new pre-school requirements, and the effects of the school’s proposal on the town’s budget and overall tax rates this year and in future years. Bettye Roberts recalled the town’s vote last year to add $31,000 to the school’s budget. Will than happen again, she asked. I hope not, Chum responded. That would probably cost us a penalty. If we get this $40,000 we are requesting, it will not increase the school budget. It will simply mean we don’t have to raise those dollars on the school side, where it will be more expensive. If we do this, said Rafus, our Selectboard budget would still be pretty much level-funded. Lewis Sumner made a motion to add $40,000 to the town budget for the school, as rent and user fees, to save the taxpayers some money. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Grob abstaining because he felt he did not have a full grasp of the subject.
Executive Session (if necessary)
No executive session was held.
Hearing of Visitors
John LaFlamme presented the greatly reduced emergency response plan, which will be in effect for about five years, until the fuel rods at Vermont Yankee are out of the spent fuel pool. It will be up to us what this plan looks like, he said; we have a little bit of money for training and I’d like to get the EOC people together to review this plan. LaFlamme will schedule a session to consider the plan. Rafus asked whether LaFlamme knew yet what equipment will stay in town and what will get returned. It’s pretty much going to be staying, responded LaFlamme. Some things that Entergy owns will be returned. LaFlamme also gave the Board a laminated map of the town.
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 9:58 p.m.