OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
August 16, 2011
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:30 PM. Board members in attendance were John LaFlamme, Lewis Sumner, and Edee Edwards. Others in attendance were Charlene Martynowski, Brad Rafus, Peggy Webber, Margo Avakian, Patricia Dow, Earl Holtz, Ann DeWitt, Jan Nelson, and Board Secretary Phyllis Evanuk.
Approval of Minutes
Mr. Sumner moved to accept the minutes of the August 2, 2011 meeting with one correction on page 4. Mr. Rafus’ statement regarding the Bridge Grant should say “paperwork” not money.
Ms. Edwards seconded the motion.
The motion carried 3-0, and the minutes were approved.
- Ethics policy draft:
Mr. Sumner noted that there could be a conflict especially with the Cemetery Commissioners. It historically has been difficult to find people willing to maintain the cemeteries, other than the Commissioners and members of their families. The policy states that they should have no financial interest in the fulfillment of their duties.
Discussion followed: Ms. Edwards felt as long as there was disclosure it was not a problem; Mr. Holtz advised that VLCT acknowledged that small communities could not avoid the problem when not enough people were available to perform the various duties for the town; Ms. Nelson suggested making an exception for the Cemetery Commission; Mrs. Dow suggested posting temporary openings such as mowing first, if no response at least the notion of conflict is avoided. Mr. Sumner advised they should put in an exemption for the Cemetery Commission. Mr. LaFlamme advised he felt it reaches farther than that. Any time anything is to be decided for instance for the fire department or emergency management, both he and Mr. Sumner would need to recuse themselves leaving no quorum of the Selectboard and therefore no action could be taken. Ms. Edwards disagreed noting that as long as they disclose their position if the situation is such that they cannot recuse, at least it is out in the open. She further advised that implementing this policy may require them to state their position and affiliations more frequently than they do now, but it will keep things open. Mr. LaFlamme felt that the policy would be opening the door to tie their hands if people interpret it literally, and that in the past the matter of conflict of interest and recusal has not been a problem, as members step down if they feel there is conflict. Ms. Edwards advised there may have been some people who might have felt there was a problem. Mr. Holtz advised that as long as they disclose any affiliation the suggestion of conflict is then taken care of as long as they are acting in the interest of the town and not for personal gain. Ms. Edwards advised she feels that if this policy is adopted, they should also follow a policy of having a recused member leave the table, not just decline to participate. The presence of a recused person during the discussion and decision process has been awkward for her in the past and as this is a general practice for recusals, she feels it should be adopted for this body. She further advised that if they adopt and follow this policy it will cover them in the event of a complaint from the public. Mr. Sumner advised that future boards might interpret this differently and that might affect the way town business is conducted. Ms. Edwards noted that this board can do things that make their job easier and each subsequent board will have to decide what is best for them. If a subsequent board does not want to use this policy they would need to repeal it. Mr. Holtz advised that this policy should be considered a tool to use so that when questioned about a perceived conflict issue, they can affirm that they followed the written and adopted procedure. Ms. Edwards asked Mr. LaFlamme if it would have made things easier for him if they had this written policy at the time he was being questioned about conflict. He advised that he followed the things stated in the Selectboard handbook.
After a further short discussion Ms. Edwards advised she would like to adopt the policy.
Ms. Edwards moved to adopt this Ethics Policy as written.
Mr. Sumner seconded the motion.
Discussion of additional language and disclaimers to address the problems for small town situations followed. Suggestions were made but no changes were approved.
The motion carried 3-0.
- Returned Check Policy
Mrs. Dow advised that the policy they now had for approval had the changes that were approved by the town attorney. Regarding whether to have a policy or an ordinance, Atty. Fisher advised that a policy was fine. If it is made an ordinance it is easier to enforce, however the state already has rules governing the issuance of bad checks. Ms. Edwards asked why the penalty amount had been changed from $25 to $20. Mrs. Dow advised that while $25 seems to be the amount charged by many places, the amount charged by the bank is only $15 and the remaining $5 is sufficient to cover correspondence and postage. She does not want to put an additional monetary burden on citizens. The Board agreed that the amount should be raised to the accepted amount of $25 to cover in the event bank charges might change. Mrs. Dow advised this is preferable to having a floating fee of “bank charges plus postage”.
Ms. Edwards moved to adopt the Returned Check Policy as written with the change in the returned check fee from $20 to $25.
Mr. Sumner seconded the motion which carried 3-0.
- Penalties for late or incorrect filing homestead declarations:
Mr. LaFlamme advised that the state no longer is charging penalties for late or incorrect homestead declaration filing. Ms. Edwards advised that homestead declarations no longer need to be filed every year, so that the number of filings will only be for address changes or new purchases. This will only impact a small number of properties. Because the filings affect the tax base, and because there was a penalty charged previously, the penalty should still be charged.
Mrs. Dow advised that the penalty really only applies to incorrect filings. She advised that there is no penalty for late filing, but if a person is required to file and does not, or if an ineligible person files, these situations are penalized. She noted that if you are a resident owner you are required by state law to file. Failing to do so will be penalized. She also noted that the Board cannot actually set the rate, they can only set a percentage, either 3% or 8% depending on if the homestead rate is higher or lower than the nonresidential rate.
Mr. LaFlamme moved to approve the Town of Halifax charging a penalty for incorrect filings of homestead declarations as set by the town tax rate.
Ms. Edwards seconded the motion which carried 3-0.
- Tree Warden:
Mr. Holtz advised he is not happy with the words he used on the sheet that he typed up so he will give the gist of where he’s coming from. He advised that there were two questions put to him:
1983 Highway Ordinance – He has concluded that this ordinance only covers new roads; the maple trees along Shearer Hill Road along the Pusey’s property are not covered as they were planted before the ordinance; the maple trees along Hall Road likewise would not be covered, the ordinance only covers new highways, those built after the date of the ordinance. He is not sure how many new roads this would include but will consult with Mr. Rafus to determine that. He advised he has suggestions for the minimum specifications. One is the specification that the right of way must be 50 feet. He advised it really should state 3 rods or in some instances 4 rods. He advised that 50 feet is implying taking an additional ½ foot of right of way from the citizens, although he knows they didn’t mean that. He stated that if they are considering looking at that ordinance they should change the wording to 3 rods or 4 rods and eliminate the 50 feet term. He continued stating that in some aspects the ordinance was confusing. It states that all trees within the 18 foot area must be removed. Why then do all stumps in the right of way have to be removed? He advised he raised that question because there are some instances when there is no reason to pull the stump so this should not be there.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that when he raised the ordinance issue he was only asking Mr. Holtz for his opinion of Tree Warden jurisdiction in relation to the ordinance.
Mr. Holtz advised that the trees in question are still protected as they are outside the 18 foot line. Mr. LaFlamme advised that answered his question.
Mr. Holtz advised the second question raised was clarification of 24 VSA 2291.3. He believes that the town now complies with this statute. He recommends further research on the statute regarding shade and ornamental trees found in 24 VSA .2508.2509.2510.
Mr. Sumner noted that the state now tells the towns that the width is 50 feet.
Mr. Rafus advised that his interpretation of the 1983 Highway Ordinance is that in the early and mid-seventies a lot of roads were thrown up to trails. Then people started building on the trails and assuming that the town would have to take over the road. So the town put in the ordinance to protect it from having to “plow goat paths” and to require that all roads be brought up to town specifications before being taken over by the town. He further advised that as far as widening the existing roads that is really a judgment call and some roads cannot be brought up to the current standards. But he advised, he believes that the intent of the ordinance was to encourage property owners to consider the road conditions prior to building.
- Chris Estep resignation letter:
Mr. LaFlamme read the letter of resignation from Chris Estep from the Planning Commission and ZBA for a term expiring in 2012.
Mr. LaFlamme moved to accept the resignation of Chris Estep.
Mr. Sumner seconded the motion which carried 3-0.
A notice will be posted to fill the vacancy.
- Grant application for municipal planning:
Ms. Evanuk advised that the Municipal Planning Grant applications are available on line now and the Planning Commission would like to apply for one in order to develop clear guidelines and forms for subdivision regulations. The Selectboard as the authorizing body for the town must be the one to apply and administer any grants. Basically they can authorize someone else to write, administer, and perform any other tasks associated with the grant, however they must be the official applicant. She advised that Windham Regional Commission will help writing the grant, and giving any other assistance needed. She further advised that she believes that the usual grants have been around $5,000 and would not require a matching amount. Application deadline is September 30th.
Mr. Sumner moved to approve applying for a Municipal Planning Grant to enable the Planning Commission to develop subdivision regulations.
Ms. Edwards seconded the motion which carried 3-0.
Hearing of Visitors
· Ann DeWitt advised she was here to again ask the town to correct a culvert and drainage issue. She advised that when she was here last year she was told that the culvert might be removed. She advised that the pipe coming from Cathy MacLean’s house has been removed but the culvert is still there. The water runoff comes into her cellar and she has to keep having it pumped out.
Mr. Rafus advised that most of the water is coming from Cathy’s cellar, through the culvert and onto Ms. DeWitt’s property. He feels that the problem is a result of the change in the pipe direction from Cathy’s house. He advised he will do whatever he can to help alleviate the problem. He will need to meet with Cathy as well as Ms. DeWitt to determine a course of action. In order to see the total picture he feels they should schedule a site visit with the Selectboard, Cathy, and Ms. DeWitt, and himself. Ms. DeWitt will contact him as soon as Cathy is available.
- Brad Rafus:
1) They received the new grader today. The Board now has to decide on the financing. He called Kansas State Bank where the last truck was financed. Their interest rate was a full percent higher than Caterpillar Financial. He also checked the state program but the limit on borrowing is lower than what they need.
The Board agreed to finance through Cat Financial.
2) Old County North Bridge – they have received a grant for the engineering for that bridge. He received a call from John Alexander and was told he is “pretty sure” they have also received the grant to do the construction on the bridge.
3) VLCT Insurance representatives did a walk-through of the town garage. Several things need to be taken care of. The main thing is the leaking roof. Yesterday it was leaking; you could see the water dripping from the insulation. The other major issue is the fuel tank. It needs to be in a containment area and covered with a roof. His suggestion is to put it next to the salt shed, using one side of the shed as a wall for the fuel tank containment structure. This will conserve some expense.
4) Paving on Brook Road is supposed to start on Friday, should be done by Monday. This schedule depends on the weather.
Mr. Rafus noted that the reason for the fuel tank containment is that the law has changed since they built the garage. The cost for a precast containment structure is $1600 which can be planned on for the next budget. Mr. Sumner advised that there is $7,800 left in the budget for completion of the garage, which is the remainder of the bond forfeited by the contractor for failure to complete the work. Mr. Rafus will get as much information regarding cost for all of the items identified by VLCT prior to a site visit by the Board.
5) Fuel Cabinets needed for inside storage of flammable and aerosol containers, he has asked for pricing and is waiting for that.
6) Rag Bin also needed for containing dirty rags until pickup.
7) Reed Hill Bridge guardrails do not meet the new regulations that just came out. They need to continue for 50 feet away from the bridge on the entrance side. The side toward the Post Office is fine. He was told by John Alexander that they should talk with the property owner but if they refuse to allow it, just end it where it is and he will put the information in to his supervisor. He advised that under some circumstances you just can’t do what they would like. The problem at that bridge is without constructing a retaining wall the guardrail can’t be installed to new specs. Mr. Rafus noted that the bridge on Old County Road that they are about to do will have a lot of guardrails. The new regulation was written so that all bridges built within the last two years using grant money must meet the regulations. That is why Reed Hill Bridge is impacted.
· Mr. Holtz advised that after the last meeting when it was implied that he held up the Brook Road work he went home and read his notes. He met with Brad on May 3rd to discuss what was required, and after the trees were blazed he sent out a letter to property owners on May 13th, and because Brad said he wanted to start the work on June 1st, I gave them a deadline of June 1st to respond. “Only one person responded and Brad and I met with that person on June 1st and I signed off on the Tree Warden document on the first of June. So from my perspective I expedited the work that had to be done and I did not hold up the job as far as I was concerned.” He advised he wanted it to be on the record.
- Mrs. Martynowski advised she has closed out both the 2010 Grand List and the 2011 Grand List and that she had turned in the paperwork for the Board to sign.
· Mr. Rafus advised he was going to respectfully disagree with Mr. Holtz. He advised they met the Monday after Town Meeting to talk about tree issues. At that time he had said that the top priority was Brook Road project. He also advised when asked about the timeframe he said no later than June first. They usually like to cut trees in May because you can’t be doing much else on the roads during mud season. Mr. Rafus advised he understood that as this position was new to Mr. Holtz and it is a learning process. That is why they have put the wheels in motion already for next year’s paving season. Hopefully problems will be avoided.
Mr. Holtz advised there shouldn’t have been a problem and I don’t think even though new to the position, that he met the deadline and it was not a problem.
Mr. LaFlamme moved to approve both the Emergency Management Child Care Plan and the Radiological Response Plan for the Town of Halifax as presented.
Mr. Sumner seconded the motion which carried 3-0.
The mail was reviewed and appropriately filed.
Selectmen’s Order to Town Treasurer for bill payment
The order for payment of bills was completed and signed.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:38 PM.
Phyllis H. Evanuk