OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
September 1, 2009
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:30 PM. Board members in attendance were John LaFlamme, Mitchell Green, and Lewis Sumner. Others in attendance were Margo Avakian, Timothy Putnam, Martha McAllister, Marilyn Allen, Janice Nelson, Chris Estep, Carl Barmen, Edie Fenton, Andy Rice, Christina Moore, Maggie Bartenhagen, Paul Taylor, and Board Secretary Phyllis Evanuk.
Approval of Minutes
Mr. Sumner moved to accept the minutes of the August 18, 2009 meeting as written.
Mr. Green seconded the motion.
The motion carried 3-0, and the minutes were approved.
Hearing of Visitors
- Ms. McAllister submitted copies of a letter she had prepared for the Board, and advised that she also wanted to speak to the issues. The first issue is the condition of Josh Road and Deer Park Road. She advised that the road is terribly dangerous, and wonders what has happened. She has been here for 40 years but is a part-time resident. She suggested that when someone is hurt as a result of the condition, the town will be sued. She further stated that she can’t believe that they have allowed it to get to this condition and she thinks that legally they cannot take taxes from the people and leave them with these kinds of roads. She further stated that she has no problem getting an attorney to come and take a look at them. Her other issue is the plowing in the winter. She advised that last year part of her lawn was destroyed and she paid $1500 to have new lawn and has plants around a maple tree that she hopes will still be there after the winter. She complained about the ability of the road crew and also stated that all of the trees having been cut on Deer Park Road, Old County Road, and other roads and not sufficiently cleaned up makes it look like a war zone.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that the weather has largely contributed to the delay in the schedule regarding the tree removal. He further advised that Old County Road is a four rod road and the road crew is trying to keep the road open. He advised that her concerns will be forwarded to the people charged with taking care of the roads, and removing the trees and brush.
- Mr. Rice advised that they had received the grant for radio replacements and Mrs. Moore had ordered them today.
He advised that the camera he had purchased has really paid off. The pictures have been helpful in several police and fire incidents. He further advised that the state fire investigator wants to set up some training with Marlboro, Halifax, and Wilmington on fire investigation and also meth labs, as they are becoming a big fire hazard that they are dealing with more and more. It will be set up in Halifax and the other towns will be invited.
He advised that in a situation that occurred about a year ago in which some animals were destroyed by a dog, the town may have to pay the damages out of the licensing fees as the dog owner has moved and cannot be located. He further advised that the matter of the cows that caused damages has been half paid for and the people involved are satisfied with the situation.
He is still working on getting his FTO training completed and will keep them updated.
On another matter Mr. Rice advised that Hale Road Bridge is going to be replaced and he would like to know if Guilford will notify Halifax when it is scheduled to be closed. Mr. Sumner advised they usually are notified when any connecting road is going to be closed.
- Mr. Taylor advised that he had heard that road issues were to be discussed and he was curious what the issues might be and what to expect going forward into the season.
- Ms. Allen advised that the impression is that only some roads are graded and the main roads have been ignored. She complained about the ditching “huge caverns” along the roadsides. She further advised that although the road crew has autonomy regarding the setting and carrying out of the schedule, the Selectboard is responsible for oversight. She stated that “This is on top of a Town Meeting Report that says we have long-term debt now. I just found out that the law changed in 2007 and a Selectboard is able to take on long-term debt with no limit, the public does not have to be told about, and that long-term debt has bought machinery and everything is worse than ever. It’s a very hard picture to accommodate to reality of a small town with people being looked after in a fairly fair way.” She went on to say “The road crew is bigger than it’s ever been, they have overtime all year long, Guilford only has it during the winters, we pay a lot of money for our roads and this is very, very demoralizing to live with. There is something wrong with the whole system.”
Mr. LaFlamme advised that a view of the whole picture helps him understand the situation, which is that they have been trying to complete the work required from the ice storm, because there is a deadline to meet if FEMA is to pay for any of the costs. Given that and the weather the crew is way behind schedule and is doing the best they can under the circumstances. This does leave some areas looking bad, but they will get to them as soon as they can.
Ms. Allen advised that Marlboro was hit as hard as Halifax, and their approach was to hire a professional to come in and take care of the widow-hangers and the hanging trees, they used the FEMA money to pay for it and it was done.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that dollar for dollar Halifax had much more damage than Marlboro. The road crew is doing what they can and sub-contracting the rest out.
Mr. Rice asked to speak in defense of the road crew. He advised that because of the weather, his road was a mess, but they came and did a great job grading and then it rained the next day and it was a mess again. They can’t control the weather. He noted that in terms of the ditching along the road, look at what’s happened on route 9, runoff from Chimney Hill has taken half of Rout 9 away, even though the highway dept was taking care of the road. There is no control over the weather.
- Mr. Barmen asked exactly what FEMA is paying for. The tree cutting? Wages? Subcontractors?
Mr. LaFlamme gave an overview of the structure of FEMA payments.
- Mr. Barmen asked if there has been any savings on fuel costs this year.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that the cost has gone down so they should be saving some money.
- Mr. Barmen advised he had one more question that had been “dogging” him for years. The vacation people in this town pay extra money to have their camp or house here than the resident does. Why is that?
Mr. LaFlamme advised it was the state portion.
Mr. Barmen advised “no, because there are other towns that don’t pay that way.”
Mr. Sumner advised that the reason is our school costs are under what the state average is.
Mr. Barmen advised he could understand the school being that way, but not the town.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that the town portion is the same for all taxpayers, only the school portion is different, and that is determined by the state.
- Ms. McAllister asked why the Board did not subcontract the whole ice storm cleanup out and let the road crew do their job on the roads. If another storm should occur this year would they do the same as they did this year or put the crew to work making the roads safe for residents?
- The question of gravel arose. The complainants stated that in years past the roads had been regularly graveled, but they haven’t seen gravel in a number of years and the roads are worse than they have ever been. They insisted that Stage Road should get gravel every year.
Mr. Sumner advised that the cost of gravel has gone up so much that the amount they budgeted only purchases a small portion of the amount it used to cover. There are 65+ miles of gravel roads in town and the road crew has to rotate which ones get new gravel each year.
- Mr. Estep suggested that it would be helpful if there was more communication between the Town and the residents would be helpful in understanding the situation. He suggested the posting of an overall schedule of road maintenance so that people would have a general idea of when they might expect their road being worked on. He understands that weather conditions can change the schedule, but a proposed schedule would be helpful for residents to understand the overall picture. He suggested that a general schedule and the costs of materials could be put in the town report which might alleviate some of the dissatisfaction.
- Ms. Fenton asked why all the towns seem to leave the dead trees along the road so that they will fall in the road before they clean it up. She also noted that the ditches in front of her property are too deep, causing ponding.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that if those trees are near power lines the removal is referred to the power companies. He also advised that the deep ditches are to help accommodate silting so that they will not need to do them again so soon.
- Mrs. Bartenhagen advised she was there to submit her report as a Windham Regional Commissioner, but she also wanted to suggest that they follow up on Mr. Estep’s suggestion to inform the residents of what the plan is for road maintenance and other work. She suggested an informational meeting on the upcoming road maintenance plan might be helpful.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that the roads have taken a toll this year due to several factors; weather, more traffic, and higher costs for materials.
- Ms. Allen commented on the destruction of mailboxes, and related the damage to excessive speed.
- Mr. Rafus advised he would like to explain why the road crew is behind with brush removal. It adds two steps to maintain the roads. Usually they clean the ditches in October and November. There are so many sticks and debris in the ditches and along the roads; they have been cleaning the ditches first. That is why it’s been taking so long to grade. This year especially with the ice storm, and they got a grant for blacktop so had to do a lot of prep work to get ready for paving, which takes at least four people to do culverts. These things, as well as the weather, contributed to being behind schedule. As far as gravel, he advised that when he started with the town in 1997, the budget was $20,000 for gravel which bought approximately 8,500 yards. Last year we increased the budget to $30,000 which buys 2,000 yards. In 1997 it cost $5 a yard, now it costs $14 a yard. He stated that with 53 miles of dirt roads we should be putting down 10,000 yards of gravel a year.
Mr. Sumner advised that when Al Dacey was on the Board he had calculated that due to rain, dust and wear, that they were losing 11,500 yards of gravel a year.
Mr. Rafus advised that with 1,500 yards of gravel they can only do about 3/8 of a mile of road if it is done the way it should be. He advised that in order to keep the budget down they have not increased the line item, which should have been done proportionate to the cost for the amount required to keep the roads in good condition.
Mr. Estep advised this information is pertinent in order for the voters to understand the issues that confront the Board and the road crew in costs of maintenance and the impact on the budget.
Mr. LaFlamme advised that one of the discussions the Board has had with Mr. Rafus is regarding the possibility of hiring someone to crush gravel from the towns gravel bank. He advised that they would need to spend money up front to have it crushed, but in the long run it would save the taxpayers money as they would have sufficient gravel to repair and maintain the roads for at least three years.
The question of taking out a loan to cover the costs, just as they do when buying a truck, was raised. Mr. Green advised that they can only finance equipment that way, other loans are only for six months or less.
Mr. Taylor advised that to be fair to the Selectboard, at the last Town Meeting the people determined that the budget should remain flat and that’s what the Selectboard have to work with. If the people speak and say that no extra money shall be spent, then it’s not easy, it’s not impossible, but it is difficult. He went on to say that it has been made clear that there is a general concern with the condition of the roads and he thinks there is some value in the Board and Road Commissioner hearing the concerns even though they are certainly aware of them. In the end, the Road Commissioner can only respond to specific requests. If someone calls with a specific problem, rather than a general complaint, then action can be taken.
- Ms. Allen advised that she had been instrumental in the level-funding of the budget and her reasons were that many people are struggling and it is only fair that the town figure out how to work within a set budget like individuals have to do. She again brought up the subject of health insurance, suggesting that the town employees have a ‘Cadillac plan’ when some taxpayers have no insurance. She suggested that the Board has not even considered other plans that could save the town money, or in some instances with a health care savings account where there is a deductible which the town could pay. So if no one has health care costs the town makes thousands of dollars. The employee still has the same coverage.
She advised that when she researched health insurance a few years ago she determined that Halifax was the only town that had the full Cadillac Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan.
Mr. Green and Mr. LaFlamme advised that in fact the Board had considered other options but found none that were any better than the existing plan.
Ms. Allen advised she will look into it again as she feels that there are better options. She suggested that her insurance agent Rocky Settanni has the information they should consider and he would be happy to come and talk with them.
- Mr. Barmen asked about the trees with yellow tags.
Mr. LaFlamme advised they are to come down.
- Mr. LaFlamme advised that earlier this evening they had held the required public hearing on the proposed re-adoption of the 2004 Town Plan. He advised a motion was now in order regarding that hearing.
Mr. LaFlamme moved to send the expired 2004 Town Plan to the voters at the annual Town Meeting in March 2010 for approval to re-adopt with no changes for a period of 5 years to allow the Planning Commission time to develop and update a new Town Plan.
Mr. Sumner seconded the motion, which carried 3-0.
- Mr. LaFlamme advised that the Listers had requested a work session with the Board. It is set for September 15 at 7:00 PM.
- RERP Budget: The following items were listed for requested equipment.
10 each Class II ANSI Vests
12 each LED Flashlights
1 only LCD Projector
1 only Projection Screen
Plus Money to cover drill participants stipends
- Mr. Rafus advised that road paving will start on September 2, 2009.
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 9:40 PM.
Phyllis H. Evanuk