OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
May 3, 2016
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus were present, as were Janet Taylor, Ray Combs, Stephan Chait, Kaitlin Stone, Cara Cheyette, Olga Peters, Arthur (Jesse) Ferland, Tim Putnam, Linda Lyon, Peggy Rafus, Sue Kelly, Andrew Rice, Nicholas Bartenhagen, Melissa Hudson, Andrew Blais, Hayley Hudson, Maryelen Calderwood, Kathy McLean, Kayte Bak, Carolyn Conrad, James Valente, Marilyn Allen, Justin Hill, Lesley Pollitt, Inta Jurcik, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner noted numerous attendees were present because of the dog situation in Halifax Center. We’ll put that on the agenda, he said, though we may not make any decisions tonight.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Sumner made a motion to approve the 4/19/16 regular meeting minutes with several corrections. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Sumner advised the Board would address the dog situation as the first item of new business, beginning with an update from Health Officer Sue Kelly and Animal Control Officer Andy Rice. Rice reported that, following the April 19th Selectboard meeting, dog owner Kayte Bak had agreed to have the dog euthanized within 48 hours, and have the State test for rabies. Bak then talked with the state pathologist, who recommended a 10-day observation period, ending Sunday, May 1st. Rice read an email from Bak, stating she had an appointment with the VT-NH Veterinary Clinic on Monday, May 2nd, and giving Rice permission to confirm the dog’s death with the clinic. Sue Kelly examined the dog for signs of rabies on May 1st, but Bak did not have the dog euthanized as agreed. Rice added that he could have imposed a vicious dog fine, but felt that money would be put to better use in construction of a fence.
James Valente introduced himself as an attorney representing Kayte Bak, and asked permission to respond to Rice’s remarks. If the Board is willing to consider a fence as a solution to the situation, he said, Bak has obtained an installation estimate from Wayside Fences and is willing to keep the dog leashed while walking, and contained in a fenced area, for the rest of its life. Andrew Blais, who uses a wheelchair, spoke in defense of the dog (Shiloh), saying that while many dogs reacted poorly to his chair Shilo had been fine with it. Justin Hill described being bitten twice in the back of the leg and once in the hip while doing yard maintenance on property next door to the dog’s residence. I had to go to the emergency room, he said, and have a $600 medical bill. I don’t think the dog is friendly or well-behaved. You promised to pay my medical bills he added, addressing Bak, and then you wouldn’t return my calls. Valente asked whether the Board wanted to hear testimony about the bite incident and the dog’s history, or discuss fencing as a possible solution. We can have an hour of humans discussing what is or what isn’t a vicious dog, he said; I was hoping to avoid that. I think it’s our job to consider both sides and make sure the townspeople are comfortable with the situation, responded Mitch Green. Sumner said this wasn’t the first time; it happened about three years ago. Bak’s primary focus, said Valente, has been how to keep the dog alive under State law and municipal ordinances; she has not been considering payment of Hill’s medical bills, although it is his (Valente’s) sense Bak would pay them in a minute if it meant the dog could live. I don’t think the medical bills are based on whether or not the dog lives, said Green. The medical bills exist. Valente told Brad Rafus that yes, precautions had been taken after the first bite incident. An invisible fence had been installed in 2013, but it did not effectively contain the dog.
Rice said if an agreement involving fencing were reached it should include clear language regarding consequences should the dog be found roaming free thereafter. Brad Rafus made the point that the dog was not licensed or vaccinated until after the DHL driver was bitten, and several others voiced concerns about Bak’s ability to care for or control the animal in a responsible manner and the limitations of fencing as an absolute deterrent. Sue Kelly felt Valente was misrepresenting her position by implying she and Rice were advocating for a fence; while she had said a physical fence could be more effective than an invisible fence, she did not say a physical fence alone was sufficiently safe. If that avenue is chosen, there should be an agreement in place that the dog roaming free in the future would be a violation comparable to a third dog bite, added Kelly. Valente said Bak would be willing to agree to that condition, and any other specifics the Board might impose. Green asked about the significance of the third bite. Carolyn Conrad, Valente’s legal assistant who worked at one time for the Humane Society, advised there was no particular statutory significance to the third bite, other than an increased fine. The statute does state, however, that every bite has to be documented. Rice responded that documentation had been filed with the town on the DHL driver’s and Justin Hill’s bites, but thus far he has not been successful in locating the victim of the bite incident which occurred several years ago. Our dog bit our neighbor because he was trying to protect our daughter, said Green, showing visible emotion. We put our dog down, because we didn’t want our dog biting somebody. I know it hurts, I know it’s hard, but you have to do the right thing.
Hayley Hudson said she had been Shiloh’s dog-walker for about four years, had spent much time with the dog, and had never had a problem with him. Maryelen Calderwood, a long-time friend of Katye Bak’s, said that after being bitten as a child she has always been wary around dogs. She read a statement into the record detailing her experience with Shiloh and describing him as the only dog with whom she was comfortable. Ray Combs, who lives on Tucker Road, said he had successfully trained his own dogs to reliably remain within his invisibly fenced yard, and has not had a problem with Shiloh when that dog came visiting or when he (Combs) encountered Shiloh on the road. Valente said Bak had hired and would be working with a professional dog trainer.
Valente quoted from V.S.A. Title 20, section 3546(e), which states that a municipal dog ordinance, if not consistent with state statute, takes precedence over state law. He then referenced the enforcement portion of the Halifax town ordinance which states the Animal Control officer may impound a vicious dog and—if the owner does not reclaim the animal within six days—either give the dog to the Humane Society or dispose of it in a humane manner. Also, there are civil fines which can be imposed. There is no provision, however, for euthanizing a dog which is reclaimed by the owner within the specified time period. Cara Cheyette asked what the state statute would allow in the absence of a local ordinance. Everything, Valente replied, including disposing of the dog, ordering it muzzled, fenced, or leashed. Green argued that the municipal ordinance is not inconsistent with the statute, it simply does not address euthanization. I don’t think that’s a correct interpretation, responded Valente. You can made a decision based on that, but that decision is going to force Ms. Bak to seek a declaratory judgment.
As conversation concluded, all agreed the Board should consult the town lawyer. Green wanted assurance that the dog would be fully restrained and muzzled in the interim, and that Hill’s medical bills be paid. Hill said after failing to resolve the medical cost issue directly he would present the bills through his attorney. Green asked Rice to check over the next few days to confirm the dog was restrained.
Discuss Tandem Truck Financing
Patty Dow was not able to attend tonight’s meeting, but had prepared a cash flow statement for the Board and left her recommendation for a $35-$40,000 cash down payment on the tandem truck purchase. Sumner made a motion to approve a $40,000 down payment on the tandem truck. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. That will bring the yearly lease payment down to about $28,000 a year, said Rafus. We had budgeted $40,000 a year for five years.
Green-Up Day Refreshment Funds
As Betty Rafus’ memorial will be held Saturday, Green-Up Day has been rescheduled for 9:00-11:00 a.m., with snacks and drinks available at 11:00. Dow and Gabriel will stand in for Peggy Rafus, and have requested a small appropriation to cover the cost of refreshments and extra trash bags. Mitch Green made a motion to provide up to $100 for Green-Up Day expenses. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. It would be nice if we could find a way to do something about tires in the future, said Rafus. We pick up a lot of them, and the town has to pay to get rid of them. Kaitlin Stone suggested putting them on Craig’s list; maybe the farms would take them to cover silage. Stephan Chait asked whether road pavers used reclaimed tires. Rafus thought not, due to the steel belt content. The high schools used to use them on running tracks, said Combs.
Adopt and Sign the Local Emergency Operations Plan
This is a yearly requirement. Sumner told Green John LaFlamme had already made updates to the document. Board members reviewed the content. Sumner made a motion to approve the LEOP. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. The Plan was signed and will be returned to Windham Regional Commission. Is there any money involved?, asked Jesse Ferland. No, answered Sumner, the Plan details directives to follow in the event of an emergency
Executive Session (if necessary)
Brad Rafus reminded the Board of Lane Construction’s failure to correct paving deterioration on Green River Road. We forwarded details to the town attorney quite a while ago, he said, and I haven’t heard of any response. Sumner said the attorney had concluded that even though the work was guaranteed, it would be difficult to get any satisfaction unless an agreement were tied to a new bid. Lane is no longer on our preferred vendor list, said Rafus.
Green asked that a property encroachment issue be added to the May 17th meeting agenda; specifically the Boyko Branch Road property intruding on town property. We need to confirm exactly where the property line is, said Green.
Rice said the town had authorized a pager for the constable, but as cell phones were a more efficient means of communication he had not used the pager for a year. Since you authorized it, could you unauthorize it, he asked. The Board agreed.
Hearing of Visitors
John Gannon introduced himself as a member of the Wilmington Selectboard who is running for the House seat being vacated by Ann Manwaring. Sumner invited him to a future meeting to speak of his candidacy.
Marilyn Allen wondered if the Board had dealt with any past situations similar to the current dog issue. We have, said Green, but never to this extent. In the past the owner has always taken care of it.
Has anything been done about truck communication yet, asked Combs, and have Collins Road paving bid requests gone out? Sumner said the town has to find a company to assess the communication problems. Paving RFQ’s will go out tomorrow, said Rafus.
Sign Orders to the Treasurer
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed. This order included the second Vermont State Education tax payment of the year, in the amount of $132,917.19.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed or signed.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:58 p.m.