OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
August 18, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Edee Edwards, and Doug Grob were present, as were Ray Combs, Blaise McGarvey, Patty Dow, Stephan Chait, Brad Rafus, Peggy Rafus, Marilyn Allen, Jesse Ferland, Rick Gay, Keith Stone, Michael Fournier, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Edee Edwards had two items of new business—an update on the VTel tower and the assignment of an informal Clerk of the Works for the Reed Hill box culvert project. Doug Grob requested discussion of the rented excavator and repair schedule for the town machine.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Edwards made a motion to approve the 8/4/15 regular meeting minutes as written. Lewis Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Grob made a motion to approve the 8/6/15 special meeting minutes as written. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed 2-0-1, with Sumner abstaining.
Sumner made a motion to approve the 8/10/15 special meeting minutes as written. Grob seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
State Salt Bids
The town has received state winter salt prices, and a salt contract from Cargill. Cargills’ quote is $81.80 a ton, higher than last year’s price of approximately $78.00 a ton but lower than the $85.13/ton price offered by the same vendor through a state contract. Sumner made a motion to approve the Cargill contract for an estimated 250 tons of salt at $81.80 per ton. Edwards seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Sumner and Edwards explained, in response to a query from Stephan Chait, that while Cargill is the only approved state bidder, the company has also made a direct offering to the town. The contract was signed.
Zoning Regulation Bylaw Amendment
As a date cannot be set for a public hearing on the bylaw amendments until arrangements for use of the school multi-purpose room are made, the Board chose to set the topic aside pending re-opening of the school office.
Employee Wage Raises
Some of the guys haven’t had a raise in three years, said Sumner, and there’s a little bit of tension. Edwards, who had prepared an hourly wage analysis, noted that hourly rates had been raised on December 1st, 2013, at the same time that the work week was reduced from 45 to 40 hours. Edwards reviewed percentage differentials between budgeted amounts and actual wage expenditures since 2009, and said fiscal year wage history data showed two employees experienced a reduction in gross pay after the 40-hour work week was implemented, while others had an increase. The effects of the December 2013 change could not be immediately assessed, as it was implemented midway through a fiscal year, but the overall figures show Earl Holtz did a good job revising the pay schedule while attempting to achieve parity, Edwards added.
Ray Combs asked whether employees had lost money immediately after the change to 40 hours. Each employee got an increase in salary when the work hours changed, said Edwards. Brad Rafus disagreed—we got an increase in hourly wage, but a cut in salary, he said. His current gross pay, excluding overtime, is $61 a week less than it was in 2012, and even with last winter’s overtime hours his total earnings were less. Rafus had done a wage comparison with five area towns, and said our town is by far the lowest paid. Grob asked about insurance; Rafus’ comparison indicated a majority of nearby towns have 100% coverage. But some of them have different plans, said Edwards; we have the platinum plan. I think we have to address benefits in a separate meeting, because we don’t have final Blue Cross/Blue Shield data, and we don’t have specifics on the state’s intention to begin taxing cadillac plans.
Rick Gay spoke strongly in favor of wage increases. We have several young men with families who need to have a living wage, he said. We have men operating a $350,000 piece of machinery for $16 an hour; that’s not right. We in this community can afford to pay those men a living wage. Marilyn Allen returned to the subject of insurance; she wondered whether some employees would prefer less expensive health insurance and more dollars in their paychecks. Allen suggested investigating an insurance plan with a higher deductible which could be covered by the town should employees actually have medical expenses. Nobody wants to pay for insurance until they need it, remarked Blaise McGarvey, then they are happy to have it. I’m not saying change that, replied Allen, but a higher deductible could cut overall cost when insurance is not used.
Sumner brought the discussion back to the wage topic. Edwards quoted VLCT’s state averages for road crew members, assistant road foremen/mechanics, and highway supervisors. Grob asked about the 401(k) program. It’s the Vermont Municipal Employees Retirement System, explained Patty Dow. The town’s portion is 4%, and employees are required to put in 2.5%, non-negotiable. Once you join you can’t opt out, all employees have to participate. The only way you can change that is to go to a different plan, said Rafus, but all town employees have to be on the same plan; there is no individual choice. I am a mechanic who has been retired for 15 years, said Ray Combs. When I left, we had insurance and uniforms paid for, we could take out 50% from our 401(k), we had a 6% match, and I was making twice as much. Yes, Combs answered Edwards’ question, that was for a private company.
If we gave them all a decent raise, asked Gay, how much money are we talking gross? Sumner said he had been working on figures for the last week; he proposed bringing Mike and Ben up from $16.15 and $16.40 to $18.00 an hour, Travis from $18.24 to $18.50, Brad from $22.26 to $24.00, and Keith from $20.84 to $22.00 an hour. What about Keith’s $80,000 worth of tools?, asked Gay. Keith saves us a lot of money, said Sumner. We were spending about $65,000 on repairs before he started. At 150 hours of overtime a year, which is in the ballpark, those suggested increases come out to $236,453 total. We voted $246,811 at town meeting, so that’s about $10,000 under budget. When the work week went to 40 hours, what percentage raise did the men get, asked Combs. It was variable, answered Edwards; Rafus said it averaged $1.50 an hour. And the following year?, asked Combs. The following year we made an adjustment to the two lowest-paid workers, replied Edwards. Everybody got a 10% reduction in work time, commented McGarvey. Sumner reminded the meeting that in the winter months the crew is on call 24/7. How long have the men been with us, asked Grob. Eight, nine, and ten years for the younger men, answered Rafus; Keith has been here about 15 years, and I’m going on 20 years. We save money, observed McGarvey, because we have a well-seasoned crew who know their jobs and work well together. Rafus concurred; this is a good, experienced crew he said, reminding the meeting that as the town rebuilt after Irene, they gave up vacation and family time for months.
I have some numbers, said Edwards, but if people are satisfied with Lewis’ proposal, let’s state it in a motion and finish up. Is it in our budget, asked Grob. Yes, answered Edwards and Sumner, it’s within budget with a $10,000 cushion. Grob mentioned that one of the proposed hourly increases was substantially less than the others. It’s a fair compensation, said Edwards. That one salary has been consistently higher than others; possibly there was a high labor demand when that employee was hired. Edwards asked Dow how difficult it would be to make wages retroactive to the start of the fiscal year. A few hours work, with Rafus’ help, answered Dow. Sumner made a motion to raise town employee wages as follows, retroactive to July 1, 2015: Michael Fournier, $16.15 an hour to $18.00; Benjamin Barnett, $16.40 an hour to $18.00; Travis Briggs, $18.24 an hour to $18.50; Brad Rafus, $22.26 an hour to $24.00; Keith Stone, $20.84 an hour to $22.00. Edwards seconded the motion. Sumner amended the motion to include $400 a month Road Commissioner’s pay. Edwards seconded the amended motion, which passed, 3-0.
Town Project Prioritization
Early in May the Board had created a projects list for the fiscal year; they now reviewed the list for the benefit of the new Selectboard member, and discussed updates and revisions. One item, the Act 250 quarry roads discussion, was on tonight’s agenda under Old Business. Board members agreed to set a separate meeting date—7:00 a.m. Monday, August 31st, 2015–to discuss details with Rafus. Edwards will follow up with VTrans to get information needed before proceeding with Branch Road bridge repairs and to request a state inspection and hydrology study for Sumner Farm Road bridge. Sumner noted that while the town has reclassified Sumner Farm Road, the state does not yet officially recognize it as a Class 3 road. Grob said the town needed to get bid requests out for concrete repairs if Branch Road guardrails were to be fixed before winter. How critical is the tearing down of the old town garage?, asked Edwards. Rafus is concerned about the integrity of the roof once snow falls—it is not in very good shape. The highway crew could work on taking the building down after the ground freezes, he added. Gabriel will confirm that EMS does not want to utilize the site. What is stored in the old garage, asked Chait. Signs, barricades, items given to the town by Vermont Yankee, and various other materials not immediately needed, answered Rafus. Edwards mentioned liaison responsibilities: She is liaison to the School Board and Planning Commission, and is on the Broadband Committee. Sumner is liaison to the Highway Department, and Earl Holtz handled finance. Edwards said she would be glad to pass something on to the new Selectboard member. Rafus said it was very useful to have Sumner in the liaison position, and also encouraged Board members to refer citizens with highway-related complaints directly to him, with the understanding that he would bring issues back to the Board when necessary. We do need to update the personnel and other policies, advised Sumner. The Board will discuss these topics further in the future.
As of July 9th, the new tower in Halifax Center is operational, announced Edwards, but people who signed up with VTel to receive notification of that event have not received that notice, and have found out by accident. Edwards recommended sending out a press release, and will compose a piece for submission to news media. After hearing the news from neighbors Marilyn Allen ordered a router from VTel, then called them back and received a discount, which was not initially offered, when she learned that as a resident of an under-served area she should be eligible for a reduction in cost. I’m hooked up as of 5:00 today, she added, it’s great service, I would recommend it. Keith Stone suggested the tower is up and running to meet the deadline requirements of the federal grant, but the structure is not actually finished; there is still work to be done. How do we know if it works?, asked Rick Gay. VTel has a list of who can receive service, said Edwards. The speed depends on your location, and you may need an indoor router, or an indoor or outdoor unit with an antenna, depending on where you are.
Reed Hill Clerk of the Works
Sumner agreed to act as unofficial Clerk of the Works on the Reed Hill box culvert project while Rafus is on vacation. If the weather is right, the project might be completed this week.
We’re paying for a rented excavator, said Grob; do we know when the part from Russia is going to arrive for our machine? It was shipped on the 7th, said Rafus, and should arrive on the 19th. Then it will take an additional three to five days to do the repairs. Edwards was shocked at the $1,700 round-trip transportation fee for the rental unit, but Rafus said that was comparatively cheap.
Town Garage Roof
After revisiting the dual dilemma of town garage roof leak/condensation the Board decided to have Grob ask Rodd Roofing, of St. Johnsbury, if they could assess the situation within the next few weeks. Keith Stone suggested the company as a vendor specializing in industrial buildings. A decision on tarping the roof for the winter will be postponed for the time being; the town has been advised mold is not an issue, and efforts can be focused on getting bid requests out in anticipation of roof replacement early next construction season.
Branch Road Bridge
Sumner noted this topic had been covered in earlier discussion; Edwards would be getting in touch with VTrans District #2.
Quarry Roads Information/Discussion with Road Commissioner
A meeting for this discussion has been scheduled for 7:00 a.m. Monday, August 31, 2015 in the town office.
Hearing of Visitors
Ray Combs, having reviewed the notification list for the Sumner Farm Road reclassification petition, was concerned when he found some of those mailings had gone to out-of-state addresses. Gabriel, who had prepared the mailing lists, explained that Town Clerk Patty Dow had verified all petition signees were registered voters, but mailing addresses were taken from the Grand List, and some went to other states. Other notices went to out to mortgage-holders in other states. It’s all done, said Combs, and I’m satisfied with the outcome, I just wanted to be clear on who could sign a petition. Stone mentioned he gets his mail in Jacksonville, though he is a Halifax resident, and a number of other residents have Brattleboro addresses.
Rick Gay had a driveway permit and a building permit for the Board to sign.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Bill Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Various pieces of correspondence were reviewed and appropriately filed. The Board determined that a further letter from Hans Hammarquist on the subject of a secondary driveway needed no response, as they had previously written to Hammarquist with their decision on his query. Edwards had recently attended a Vermont Yankee transition meeting in Jamaica and received a sample town budget which will be a topic on a future meeting agenda. With the VY shutdown, alternate plans for handling generator servicing, emergency phone and internet, and training costs will be necessary by FY17.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:02 p.m.