OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
December 23, 2014
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:32 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Earl Holtz, and Edee Edwards were present. Andy Rice, Greg Marguet, Joe Tamburrino, Ross Barnett, and Robbin Gabriel were also in attendance
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner said Gabriel had some follow-up details to report under old business.
Old Town Garage Discussion
Halifax EMS has been considering the old town garage site as a possible solution to their need for a warm, controlled environment in which to house their emergency vehicle, its contents, and their supplies and equipment. In particular, the pharmaceuticals and batteries EMS uses cannot withstand cold temperatures. Presently their squad car is being kept in Christina Moore’s garage, and all personnel are maintaining separate supplies of medicines, which increases expenses. Andy Rice said EMS personnel would like to have an engineer or contractor examine the old town garage building and site and advise on its suitability, if the Selectboard will give permission. Sumner said the Board had not made any decisions yet, but he thought this might be a subject for an article in the town meeting warning. Edee Edwards has learned from VLCT that there is no statutory process for entering into a lease for town-owned property. A lease is not the same as a sale, and the voters do not legally have the authority to say yes or no on such action. Rice added that based on past experience he believes a lease of fifty years or longer triggered Vermont transfer tax. Another consideration, Edwards said, is that if the site is a brownfield the town cannot apply for funding to clean it up; cost would fall on the taxpayers. While Edwards had originally expected to craft a warning for town meeting, VLCT advises talking to the town attorney first. If the town were to sell the property, that issue would go before the voters, Holtz said. Why, he asked, would a transfer tax be involved if the town were to gift the parcel to a non-profit organization operating for the benefit of the townspeople? Potential value of the site was discussed—while it is less than an acre, with no water, sewer, or current electric, and could have contamination problems, Rice mentioned that it might have a greater value to an abutting landowner than it would on its own merit. Greg Marguet asked why not just let EMS use the property. Edwards cited liability potential, while Rice mentioned EMS would be making a large investment in renovation and heating. The source of insurance coverage would not change, although Edwards mentioned a renovated property might result in a premium increase. Various alternatives for renovation or demolition and rebuilding were offered. Joe Tamburrino asked where the money would come from and Sumner said Christina Moore had mentioned previously the EMS might be eligible for a grant. In the case of a partial grant, EMS, and not the town, would be responsible for matching funds. Edwards recommended putting together an estimate of overall costs. Ross Barnett has had one contractor look at the building and make suggestions for renovation specifics. If this topic were presented at town meeting, said Rice, EMS could have cost estimates prepared for review at that time.
Marguet has a different vision for the old town garage. He finds the building and its surrounds highly unattractive, and would like to pave the entire section, spruce up the recycling bins with fresh paint, have sand available on the lot for residents’ winter use, and add a WiFi hotspot. This led Edwards to suggest arranging a forum designed to draw maximum input from residents regarding their desires for future use of the property. A non-binding business item on the town meeting agenda or a public hearing might serve this purpose. Rice brought up the possibility of a town warning article presented to the Selectboard directly from EMS, but Edwards’ information from VLCT indicates this type of decision is not a voter responsibility. More and more townspeople feel things are being taken away from them, Sumner said, and decisions are made by just a few. Bring it to the people, he advised; if you explain it to them, I don’t think they’ve ever turned us down.
Barnett noted Halifax spends much less for fire protection and emergency services than do other local towns with paid personnel and million-dollar fire stations. He understands efforts to keep expenditures down, but comparatively this project’s possible expense to the town would not be that much. Marguet recalled advice given by then-town attorney Ken Fisher many years previous not to do anything with the old town garage property due to the contamination question. Other locations for EMS use were discussed but rejected as impractical. Holtz suggested it would be worthwhile for EMS to prepare a petition for town meeting; Sumner said the deadline for the town warning was January 20th. As follow-up steps, Gabriel will take the Board’s questions to the town attorney, and find a date when he can meet with the Board after the holidays. Edwards might like a site visit. Rice recommended covering the contamination subject with the town attorney. The Board agreed to give EMS access to the old garage so they can prepare cost estimates. Barnett said EMS would be fine with erecting a replacement building should the town choose to demolish the old structure. Let EMS present sets of cost figures for both renovation of the existing building and demolition with a new building for comparison, said Sumner.
Hearing of Visitors
Marguet told the Board he would write out his plan for repurposing the land around the old town garage building.
Joe Tamburrino asked what happened to the project intended to change the angle of the current town garage driveway off Branch Road. Trees were cut, he said, but then no further steps were taken. Sumner explained that when digging commenced after the tree felling, ledge was discovered; the cost of drilling and blasting would have been prohibitive, so the idea was put on hold. Another task which has been postponed for a few years is the federal requirement for larger and more reflective road signs. The original deadline was 2012, said Sumner, but had been moved forward to 2018 or 2020. Tamburrino also mentioned that some of the town’s roads have no signs. Travelers stop at his house to ask directions, and even the listers sometimes have difficulty finding their way. Barnett added that the state police have had the same problem recently. Edwards told the meeting extra dollars had been included in the proposed FY16 budget—now in the planning stage—to cover the need for additional signage.
Tamburrino told the meeting the town is in receipt of the Vermont Department of Taxes 2014 report on equalized education property values. The COD (coefficient of dispersion) for Halifax is 13.9%, down from 18% or 19%, so no town-wide re-evaluation will be required this year. The COD measures appraisal uniformity across all grand list properties. Sumner explained that the $25,000 reserved by the town to fund a possible re-evaluation will not be spent but will be held for future years. Also, Tamburrino will prepare a letter thanking the Redding listers for their considerable assistance in achieving the goal of a lower COD. The Board agreed they would sign this letter.
Gabriel relayed Planning Commission FY16 budget figures; the Board now has a letter with a $6,000 request. Cemetery Commissioner Jeff DeForest is willing to come discuss cemetery business with the Board, but as Cliff Inman handles the bookkeeping, DeForest suggested Inman would be a better candidate. Gabriel will talk to Inman.
Board members agreed to schedule their next budget meeting at their January 6th session. They would like to choose a date when Brad Rafus can be present.
The meeting was adjourned at 7:50 p.m.