OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
November 20, 2018
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:02 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus were present, as were Peggy Rafus, Ray Combs, Stephan Chait, Nancy McCrea, Diane Conway, Tristan Roberts, Jennifer Preston, Kaitlin Stone, Laura Sibilia (BDCC/SeVEDS), Sarah Lang (BDCC/SeVEDS), Michael Fournier (arriving about 8:20 p.m.), and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve the 10/16/18 regular meeting minutes as written. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Sumner made a motion to approve the 11/6/18 regular meeting minutes as written. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
BDCC and SeVEDS, Programs and Projects Update
Laura Sibilia and Sarah Lang, representing Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC) and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS), an update on the organization’s programs and activities. Sibilia introduced herself as Director of Regional Strategies for BDCC; Lang runs the Southern Vermont Economy Project and the Southern Vermont Young Professionals Group. After handing out informational packets, Sibilia explained that as the organization recognizes the importance of working together with small towns in the region to successfully promote economic development in the area, BDCC/SeVEDS looks for opportunities to visit all the towns each year to talk about their programs and services. Sibilia said SeVEDS works with municipalities, businesses, residents, and state and federal governments to promote economic growth in Windham and Bennington counties. Programs include small business loans, young professionals support groups, connectivity summits to assist under-served towns, a paid internship program for college students, and online 30-minute webinars (Knowledge Bites) providing information on a variety of topics. (Note: These webinars are available at https://brattleborodevelopment.com/knowledge-bites/.) The organization is also working with eleventh and twelfth graders in local high schools to make them aware of work-skill training opportunities. Sibilia said BDCC/SeVEDS invites public input on business and municipal needs. BDCC/SeVEDS asks municipalities to include an article on their town warning fund the organizations efforts at the rate of $3 per per person per year; Sibilia said they would be happy to come to Town Meeting to answer questions or for discussion.
Sibilia invited questions, and Sumner said probably the biggest difficulty in Halifax was the absence of high-speed Internet. Sibilia encouraged those present to attend the Connectivity Summit in Dover, on November 30; the goal of that session is to provide small towns with the knowledge and technical ability needed to resolve Internet and cell-service issues. Mitch Green asked whether Sibilia saw any signs the State was becoming more business-friendly. Ray Combs said the problem with bringing business to Halifax is that we’re off the beaten path. Have you seen any progress with keeping young people in Windham County for jobs?, asked Tristan Roberts. Sibilia said she felt there has been some progress. That’s not a Vermont-specific problem, she added; it’s a rural America problem. Kaitlin Stone said it was sad that so many people don’t want to work any more. Sibilia asked the Board how to follow up with the Town on the question of a town warning article. Sumner said they should check back, maybe in January.
Thurber Road Discussion
Sumner said this conversation had been started last meeting, but there was limited time due to the election. Green told Combs the Board has a request to discontinue part of the road. Stone said she was here as a Planning Commissioner; she would like to hear about the facts and reasoning. Green read a letter to the Selectboard from Nancy McCrea and Diane Conway, as follows: “We respectfully petition you to discontinue the portion of Thurber Road designated as a town trail that runs through our property. The petitioned segment begins at the easternmost end of Thurber Road, which is a Class 3 highway, and proceeds in an easterly and southeasterly direction ending at our property line. We are only petitioning for that portion of the trail on which we abut both sides. We are lawful owners of 449 Thurber Road in West Halifax.” Do they state a reason?, asked Stephan Chait. Nancy McCrea said they own the property on both sides of the road, and most of the pasture is on the far side. If the section of road were discontinued their animals would be able to move from barn to pasture, in a fenced-in area. McCrea also said that since she has lived there, people have come up to dump things and vandalize vehicles. Was that section of road used during Irene?, asked Combs. Sumner said yes, and discussion followed about how the trail was used until it got too muddy, then vehicles traveled through the pasture. McCrea said they would be willing to make an arrangement with the town for use of the pasture or trail during an emergency. We can’t make a decision tonight, said Sumner; we have to go through the process. Sumner said a site visit and a public hearing with 30-day notice would be needed. Green recommended putting the question off till spring, when the Board may be considering other roads. We wouldn’t do it in the middle of winter, said Sumner. He told McCrea that in the interval, the status of the road would remain the same. Diane Conway said a trail by definition accepts hikers, snowmobiles, ATVs; not pleasure vehicles. Brad Rafus had discussed trail use with VTrans’ Marc Pickering, who said trails were for recreational use unless prohibited by the town. Pickering advised that if a trail were to be used for cars it should be upgraded to Class 4, to avoid potential town liability. A trail is a public right of way, but not a public highway, added Rafus. The discussion then turned to permitted and disallowed uses of a trail, whether or not a trail can be gated, and who can cut trees in the right of way.
Rafus advised there was another issue on Thurber Road; underground power has been installed on the eastern end of the trail without a permit. I did that, said Roberts. I didn’t know I needed a permit for it. It’s four feet deep, in conduit, buried in sand. Rafus said he had no proof of that. Conversation returned to the tree-cutting issue; Roberts said this had been discussed two weeks ago (see https://halifaxvt.com/selectboard/meeting-minutes/2018-11-06-selectboard-regular-meeting-minutes-draft/); some brush-cutting had been done without notifying the neighboring landowner. Rafus said no work should have been done without permission from the town. Roberts replied he had left a message at the Town Garage in July and attended the July 17th Selectboard meeting; he wished to use the upper end of the trail, where it joins the Class 3 section, for winter access, as it is flat and safer than the steep eastern end. He asked that the Town plow snow off to the side where the Class 3 section meets the trail. Roberts believed he had been given a go-ahead to work; Rafus disagreed. McCrea and Conway then spoke of other activities on the trail; gravel added, leaf-blowers and a backhoe being operated after dark. Roberts said he had been living on the Thurber Road property for 13 years, and had used the trail for access and maintained it during that time. Others use the trail, for emergencies and recreation. I think we’ll have to revisit this after a site visit, said Green. He recommended Roberts do no further work on the upper end of the trail until the Town addresses the issue in the spring. Green said he understood Roberts needed to maintain and plow the road as far as his (Roberts’) house, but he should leave the portion beyond the house alone. Stone felt something should be done sooner rather than later; she was concerned about reported night-time activities on the trail. Roberts explained he had brought his backhoe back from the repair shop one evening about seven p.m. There was further discussion concerning access rights, where plowed snow should be deposited, and which end of the trail should be used. Jennifer Preston said she felt they were getting off topic, and asked if they could read what they came to say. Go ahead, said Sumner. Roberts then invited anyone to drive or walk the trail with him; he said access to the upper end of the trail was most convenient, especially in winter season. Putting in a driveway off Green River Road is a topographical challenge. Roberts felt the request to cut off public access through the Thurber Farm while maintaining access across the Roberts property was unfair. He referred to the 1869 Beers map, which shows Thurber Road, and said town maps indicate the road has been a throughway at least since the 1950s. If the Town gives up that historic right it’s not going to come back. Roberts said he doesn not support the request for discontinuing a portion of the trail, but if the Town were to so decide he would ask the entire trail be discontinued. Sumner advised these points could be brought up when a hearing was held. Preston asked that snow be pushed aside so they could walk out safely if necessary. Roberts wanted to know whether he was allowed to plow the upper trail portion. Rafus said he had not seen that section of the trail plowed in the past. Green suggested using the eastern part of the trail for access through the winter. Further discussion made it clear differences between the neighbors could not be immediately resolved. We’re not getting anywhere, said Sumner; it’s just getting heated. The Board advised Roberts and Preston should use the lower section of Thurber for access through the winter.
Private Well PFOA/S Test Results
Sumner advised that PFOA/S test results on the Rafus and Phelan private wells had been received; both were negative. He told Rafus that test results on the old landfill monitoring wells had not yet arrived. Chait asked what negative meant; Sumner said that meant zero, or non-detect.
Town Hill Road Obstruction
Rafus and Green said there was a problem once again with vehicles parked in the travel portion of the road at the junction of Branch Road and Town Hill (Jacksonville Stage Road). We sent the owners a letter before, and it was taken care of, said Rafus. Mike Fournier said he has had a similar problem at a residence on Old Stage Road, both in past years and during the last storm. We need to send letters to both, said Green; advising no parking in the road and, on the Town Hill property, addressing the issue of too many junk vehicles. Gabriel will prepare letters for Selectboard signature.
Set FY20 Budget Meeting Dates
The Selectboard will be meeting at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, December 1, 2018, and Saturday, December 15, 2018, to prepare the FY20 proposed budget. If weather intervenes, Saturday, December 8, 2018 will be the alternate date. Sumner told Chait that the Selectboard budget will be addressed at the first meeting, the Highway budget at the second.
Annual Health Insurance Update
Rafus recused himself on this topic; Sumner noted the Board did not need to make a decision tonight. I’ll give you the numbers, said Rafus, and you can take it from there. Currently premiums are $8,594.46. If there are no changes in coverage the premiums will be $8,993.82 in 2019, about a $400 a month increase. Rafus told Combs five employees have health insurance coverage, through VLCT. Green made a motion to approve 2019 health insurance coverage with no changes to the plan. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining.
Executive Session (if needed)
Hearing of Visitors
Ray Combs asked if the Thurber Road residents had built a house, and if they have a building permit, don’t they have to show they have access? The Board explained there was a pre-existing camp on the property, the owners have built since then, and the property has frontage on Green River Road. They told Combs the Zoning Administrator reviews permits. Who put the power in?, asked Combs. The landowner, said Rafus and Green. What happens now (about the power)?, asked Stone.
Peggy Rafus advised the Town has been notified our FEMA reimbursement documentation has been approved by the State, funds have been released, and the request is being closed out. The Town paid for the last work—the Hatch Road box culvert project—on tonight’s Treasurer’s order. We will be receiving $551,863.62, said Sumner.
When someone brings in a camping trailer, do they have to put in a septic system?, asked Combs. He said someone had brought a trailer onto the property off Jacksonville Stage (approximately across from the Tucker Road intersection). If it’s registered, it can be there six months, said Sumner. Green added that it can only be seasonal; they can’t live there year-round.
Selectboard’s Order to Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Correspondence was reviewed and filed. A check from Halifax EMS for $29,149.33 will be given to the Fire Department. Rafus recommended the department should use a portion of the funds to update their radio system, as presently they cannot communicate with the Town’s upgraded radio system.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:10 p.m.