OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
March 20, 2018
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Bradley Rafus were present; Mitchell Green was unable to attend. Also present were Linda Lyon, Ray Combs, Laurel Copeland, Tom Raffensberger (representing Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club), Laure Raffensberger, Wayne Courser, Cara Cheyette, Fabio Girelli-Carasi, Peggy Rafus, and Robbin Gabriel. Wayne Estey (petitioning candidate for Windham County, Vermont State Senate) arrived at approximately 7:57 p.m.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner added approval of the February 20th meeting minutes, which were not included on the agenda.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to accept the 2/20/18 regular meeting minutes as written. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Rafus made a motion to accept the 2/27/18 informational meeting minutes as written. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Sumner made a motion to accept the 3/6/18 regular (abbreviated) meeting minutes as written. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Tom Van den Broeck Raffensperger—Marathon
Tom Raffensperger told the meeting he represented the Sugarloaf Mountain Athletic Club, a running club with members from the Greenfield through Easthampton area. The club is planning a 26.2 mile race, to be held August 26, 2018, beginning at Marlboro College and finishing at Greenfield Community College. They are asking the Town’s permission to pass through Halifax. Raffensperger handed out maps of the proposed course; runners would travel Moss Hollow Road to Green River Road, cross the Halifax/Guilford town line, then proceed down Hinesburg Road to Guilford Green River Road, through the covered bridge, and on down into Massachusetts. There will be a maximum of 350 participants. Money raised from the event will be split between the Connecticut River Conservancy and the Athletic Club. Will you be putting out signs?, asked Rafus. Raffensperger said the club will be posting signs several days in advance, so drivers who travel those roads regularly will be aware of the event. They are also attempting, with the assistance of the Green River Watershed Alliance, to get names and addresses from the grand list so they can send out notification postcards to residents along the route. He told Laurel Copeland the race start time would be 7:00 a.m., the proceeds split would be 50/50 between the Club and the Conservancy, and there would be a thorough post-race clean-up—no debris or signs would be left behind. Cara Cheyette asked about the entrance fee, which is $90 or $110 for late-comers. Wayne Courser commented he hoped the runners would not be rude, as emergency responders have had some difficulties in the past (with bike races). Raffensperger said the importance of courtesy and yielding right of way will be made very clear to participants. We have a web site, he told the audience. Google New England Green River Marathon; the site will answer questions, and if you have others you can email me through the site.
Rafus advised he had reviewed and compared specifications of the two repeater upgrade estimates opened at the March 6, 2018 meeting. The vendors are offering identical Motorola equipment. SWNH (Southwestern New Hampshire) Fire Mutual Aid’s equipment pricing is slightly higher than R&R Communications’, and SWNH has listed some separate labor and travel costs, while R&R includes those costs in their package. The R&R estimate is approximately $5,000 less. Sumner made a motion to accept R&R Communications’ $9,021.00 bid for the repeater upgrade on town equipment. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. In discussion prior to the vote, Rafus told Ray Combs the project will replace units in the trucks and the repeater will be upgraded. Peggy Rafus said the bid ties in with the next agenda item of radio tower placement. If we accept a bid, she added, it has to be done by the June deadline, but it also has to have a place to go. Will we have our own tower?, asked Combs. We’ll have to, replied Brad Rafus.
Discuss Radio Tower
(See https://halifaxvermont.com/selectboard/meeting-minutes/2018-03-03-selectboard-regular-meeting-minutes-draft/ for background information on this topic.)
Wayne Courser has researched fire department records for details on the original fire tower purchase. He offered a Fire Department ledger containing a line item entry for a $2,065.77 payment to Mutual Aid, in 2004, in payment for the tower. At that time, Harry Farrington had requested a copy of the invoice, which Courser provided. In January 2005, the record shows that Farrington donated that exact amount, $2,065.77, to the fire department. Cara Cheyette asked Sumner for clarification of the situation; Brad Rafus said he would answer the question as he has been more heavily involved than Sumner. Recently the Town asked a repair person to inspect the tower. Farrington asked that person to leave, stating that the town owed him (Farrington) money, and no one would be allowed access to the tower until he was paid. Rafus and Courser then arranged a meeting with Farrington to discuss the situation. Before that meeting, Rafus reviewed the original contract between the Farringtons and the Halifax Fire Department. The contract says the Fire Department owns the tower, and makes no mention of money or reimbursement. Farrington remembers a gentleman’s agreement in the amount of $150 a month. Rafus calculated the tower has been in place for 160 months, and in a second meeting with Farrington proposed $200 a month, or $32,000, in recompense. That, Rafus said, would cover the Fire Department’s side of it. Five years ago, the Highway Department repeater was added to the tower, but there is no paper record of that event. Rafus further proposed $200 a month in recompense going forward, and offered to have a second electric meter installed so the Town would be responsible for the tower electric usage. Rafus then read Farrington’s response to these proposals. The response, written by Farrington’s daughter, stated, in part, “We’d like to figure out how much the taxes would drop by removing the building holding the equipment. To clear up the past 14 years with the agreement made with the Town of Halifax through Wayne Courser, Harry would like his taxes to be paid in full for the next six years. This covers all the monies lost over the 14 years from promises from the Fire Department, and the electrical use, and increasing amount of equipment over the years. Based on agreement, the total owed Harry and Patty exceeds $500,000. With the lower tax base they’ll be paying less than $300,000 over the six years, with no money changing hands. Moving forward as soon as possible we would like a consultation with the Halifax Road Commissioner, Green Mountain Power, and owners of the equipment to get a different electrical meter. The Town of Halifax would take this payment on moving forward. If this problem is not resolved, the equipment will have to be removed. As far as R&R Communications is concerned [Highway Department equipment], moving forward we would like $1,000 a month, due the 25th of each previous month….” Peggy Rafus commented that Brad Rafus was acting in his capacity as Road Commissioner in this exchange, as it involved Highway Department equipment and communications. I hope you’ll seek some counseling, said Cheyette. She noted that this was probably an unenforceable agreement, and said if there was a contract, then the presumption is it contains all of the terms. I’m troubled that you actually offered to pay them back payment, she added; I know the Winery has done good stuff for the Town, but it feels like they’re holding the Town hostage. Are there other entities that use the tower?, asked Linda Lyon. Keene Mutual Aid uses it, said Brad Rafus. They’re ready to pull their equipment. Peggy Rafus clarified that Brad Rafus’ conversation with Farrington did not constitute an offer, it was simply a conversation to see what might work. This is the highest point in Halifax that provides a good communication point for Highway and Fire Department trucks. They wanted to see what it would take to keep it (the tower) there. Mutual Aid estimates repeater electrical cost at about $525 a year, advised Courser. He said the Fire Department is willing to write a $7,000 check in back pay and present it to the Farringtons along with a letter and a copy of the original contract. Mutual Aid is ready to pull out, he continued. They (Mutual Aid) have located a site in Whitingham that provides good reception to Halifax village. He noted that the Farringtons have done much for the Halifax Fire Department. Cheyette said that, given the contract, she did not believe the Farringtons could deny access to the tower. We don’t want to upset him any more, said Courser. He could not predict how Farrington would react to receiving the Fire Department’s check, but said that at their March 19th meeting department members supported the effort. Peggy Rafus recommended the Town examine the possibility of installing something temporary on the Town Garage, so we don’t risk losing our grant. Brad Rafus explained to Combs that the grant (the final funding available from VY monies) will upgrade and improve the currently spotty Highway Department communications system. We need a location with a generator for backup power, said Sumner. Cheyette asked whether the Town Hill (Whitingham) location was an option worth exploring for the highway repeater. We would need permission from Whitingham, replied Brad Rafus, and would need a larger, more costly, repeater. He would like to see the repeater system installed on Town property, with full Town ownership, to forestall future issues. There was further extensive discussion of potential sites, access, power and equipment housing requirements, and Act 250 regulations. Combs asked whether his property was a possible site, and Lyon wondered if a second repeater on her parcel would improve reception on Green River Road, and perhaps in the Thomas Hill area. The Town will continue to gather information on alternative sites for the Highway Department tower.
Peggy Rafus—EMD Report
Peggy Rafus advised the Board that it is now a certainty the FY18 VY grant is the last which will be available from that source. The current grant deadline is June 30, 2018. Also, VT-Alert will be holding an April training session for anyone who would like to participate. No date has been announced yet. There will either be a coordinated session in Vernon (for both Vernon and Halifax), or a session in Halifax if a joint effort cannot be arranged. Sumner verified for Cheyette that there have been no VY stipend funds since the plant closure, but equipment grants were awarded for the two post-closure years. Rafus said the Town will now need to decide whether to fund the EMD position.
Sign NEMRC Reappraisal Contract
Board members signed a contract with NEMRC for a town-wide reappraisal which will begin July 1, 2019. Sumner told Cheyette the cost is $63,000, for a full reappraisal of 644 parcels over a two-year period. Additional parcels will be $85 each, and BCA hearing time will be billed at $125 an hour. The Town’s listers will be working with NEMRC throughout the process. Are there grants available?, asked Cheyette. The Town already has monies in an account, responded Sumner. The State sends $6 per parcel per year, and presently there is about $68,000 in that account. Statistically, during a reappraisal, one-third of the assessments rise, one-third drop, and one-third remain the same.
Executive Session (if necessary)
Gabriel explained to the Board that the Town web site’s host, GoDaddy, is migrating its customers’ sites to a new platform. GoDaddy is offering a discounted rate to clients who migrate now; cost of a three-year contract would be $288.00, plus $99 for file transfer, while the cost of remaining on the existing platform would be $253.00 yearly. No credit is offered for the six months the Town would be losing on the present contract. Laurel Copeland asked whether fees are paid up front. Yes, said Gabriel, they are paid in advance. Fabio Girelli-Carasi asked for the technical specifications of the new and existing platforms. Gabriel said she was not qualified to answer that question, but she maintains the site, uploading new materials, and utilizes the host provider’s expertise if problems are encountered. She told Girelli-Carasi the site, established some years ago with technical assistance funded by a grant, uses WordPress. Cheyette asked whether the Town had done any competitive pricing research on other host providers. Gabriel said her experience with GoDaddy has been most satisfactory to date; they are responsive, the site has been trouble-free, and during one hacking episode several years ago GoDaddy was of great assistance in pinpointing and resolving the problem. Copeland observed that GoDaddy’s price was reasonable.
Hearing of Visitors
Laurel Copeland requested some education on the Open Meeting Law. She said there was confusion on the subject, and in conversation with Representative John Gannon she had learned of a lawyer named Barrows who was willing to come to Selectboard meetings to tell citizens how to interpret the law. Sumner advised waiting to see what happens in State legislature, where amendments are currently being considered. Lyon recommended addressing the topic soon, as diverse interpretations have been presented in meetings. Cheyette presented the Board with a written request to have open meeting law/ballot question as an item on the next regular meeting agenda. The request was accompanied by a letter from the Secretary of State’s office responding to Cheyette’s questions about the law. Sumner said the item would be added to the next agenda; that meeting will be April 3, 2018.
William Estey presented the Selectboard with a page of written commentary, and introduced himself to those present as a petitioning candidate for the Windham County State Senate. Estey said he recognizes that Halifax is part of Windham County; he’s not sure that all the State Senators know that. Estey, an economist and attorney, worked 30 years as an energy conservation specialist and public utilities lawyer in Connecticut. He would like to see some State offices moved out of Montpelier, Burlington, and Waterbury, and into the southern Vermont area. He mentioned particular interests in school unification and cell phone coverage. He told Sumner he has a house in Dover and a studio in Brattleboro, as he is also an artist. Estey confirmed for Cheyette that he was running against Jeannette White. Rafus asked for Estey’s thoughts on Act 64 (the Clean Water Act). I don’t know anything about it, Estey responded, but I can learn. Rafus described some of the new requirements Act 64 has mandated for Vermont municipalities. Estey thanked the Board for hearing him.
As correspondence was being addressed, there was some general discussion about FEMA reimbursement for last October’s storm damage. Presently, FEMA is understaffed, very busy, and switching to an online process for entering data, so the process is moving slowly.
Selectboard’s Order to Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
New correspondence was reviewed. Three overweight permits, and the yearly VTrans annual financial plan and certificate of compliance were signed.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:47 p.m.