OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
December 17, 2019
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Mitchell Green were present; Bradley Rafus was out plowing. Stephan Chait, Patty Dow, David Jones, and Robbin Gabriel were also present.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve the 12/3/19 regular meeting minutes as written. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed 2-0.
Sumner made a motion to approve the 12/7/19 special meeting minutes as written. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Halifax Listers—End of Year Documentation
The Listers have submitted the year end Errors and Omissions Certificate. A correction to one parcel; acreage on the Jason Molesso property on Hanson Road. Sumner made a motion to accept the 2019 Errors and Omissions Certificate, correcting acreage on the Jason Molesso property. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Board members signed the certificate.
Records Retention Policy
Patty Dow told the meeting the per Vermont State statute, the Town must adopt a records retention policy before destroying any Town records. The State has created a set of minimum standards for the various record categories, and recommends that towns adopt those standards. Legally, a Town can elect to retain records for a longer period than the time established by the State, but cannot choose a shorter time period. The State will be continually updating their retention standards; if the Town accepts those standards without revision there will be no need to re-adopt the Town policy once it is established. As many of the State’s line item standards direct the Town must “keep (documents) until audit,” Dow recommended the Board consider having a town-wide audit conducted by an independent accounting firm. Halifax has not had such an audit for a number of years, and once that is done more of the document overload can be disposed of. Are the Town records all paper records, or are they digitized?, asked Stephan Chait. We don’t microfilm, replied Dow, and the State doesn’t accept microfilming any more. If we do keep any records in electronic format then we are responsible for making provisions to upgrade that format in future years. Dow told Chait that in addition to permanent records in the office vault, some documents are held by the Treasurer, the Delinquent Tax Collector, and at the Town Garage. The Town Chait wondered if any of the records would be of interest to the Historical Society. Sumner said much of the paperwork has names or personal information. Permanent documentation is stored in the vault and is public record, while other records (Dow mentioned dog licenses, old tax bills, applications for marriage licenses, and election documents) would be shredded once they are outdated.
Dow provided the Selectboard with a records retention policy and document list based on an example currently in use in Marshfield, Vermont. Green made a motion to accept the Records Management Policy and Retention Plan for the Town of Halifax, under the State’s recommendation. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Board members signed the new policy.
David Jones—Communications Union District Planning
David Jones advised that while the Halifax Broadband Committee is not operational yet he, Tristan Roberts and Stephan Chait, have been attending the Broadband Working Group meetings chaired by Ann Manwaring. The Working Group includes participants from nine area towns. Jones said that following group meeting discussions and a presentation by Department of Public Works representative Robert Fish, he wanted to share what he and his colleagues have learned, and make a request of the Selectboard. Jones shared copies of a summary of actions to date, plus excerpts from Vermont State Statutes related to communications union districts. He asked that the Selectboard include an article in the March 2020 Town Meeting Warning worded thus: “Shall the Town of Halifax enter into a communications union district to be known as Deerfield Valley Communications Union District, under the provisions of 30 V.S.A. Chapter 82?”
Forming a district, said Jones, is the only practical way to bring high-speed broadband to the Town. By law, if we vote to join the district, we will be included in the district, and will have a vote in governing decisions. If we wait until a district is formed and then apply to join, we could be denied. There is no risk in joining the district; the Town, and its taxpayers, have no financial obligation to the district, and can withdraw without penalty if they choose. We believe this should be an article voted from the floor, said Jones. That gives people an opportunity to ask questions and understand what they are voting on. Jones’ handout included a chart comparing Halifax with the average town in Windham County and the average town in the state. That chart showed that Halifax is smaller than average, has more highway miles, very low buildings per highway mile, and a very high percentage of underserved buildings. Halifax is among those most underserved by high-speed broadband, and due to the Town’s geographical location is among those least likely to be provided with adequate connectivity by a commercial vendor.
Jones outlined the advantages of joining a communications union district; as a district member Halifax would be better positioned to acquire enhanced connectivity, the district would be more attractive to potential investors, and the Town itself would not be taking on a financial obligation. The district is responsible for finding startup funding, possibly from loans or private investors. There are some unknowns, Jones continued. Windham Regional Commission (WRC) is beginning to explore what might constitute the natural boundaries for a communications district in Windham County; they have a first meeting on the subject scheduled for January 16th. There may be one or two districts, but Jones believes there is an excellent chance the nine towns now engaged with Ann Manwaring’s Working Group will be suitable to form a district. We could submit a citizens’ petition, said Jones, but we are asking the Selectboard first, as that will save some time. Both Sumner and Green said they were agreeable to including the requested article on the March Town Warning. Jones will confirm the name of the proposed district is accurate before the warning is published.
Jones said the January 16th WRC meeting will include information on what towns need to do to conduct a survey gauging interest among residents. He suggested when that time comes announcements and/or discussion at Selectboard meetings could help make citizens aware of the need for survey response. Later in the process there will also be a search for local private investors. Chait explained that ValleyNet (in mid-state Vermont) found potential users who were willing to invest monies upfront; ValleyNet was able to borrow in the bond market by using that initial funding to demonstrate viability. The bond monies were then used to pay back the investors. Jones also commented that a great deal of expertise was needed to launch a project of this nature, and as a small town we would not want the responsibility of trying to provide that. A multi-town district is much more likely to generate the numbers of potential users that would meet the requirements for broadband vendors’ business models, Chait added.
Stephan Chait advised that the State’s Staying Connected Initiative representative would not be available for a presentation at our March 2020 Town Meeting. Chait will be working to establish a mutually agreeable date for an informational meeting on the Initiative.
Hearing of Visitors
Selectboard’s Order to Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Correspondence was reviewed. The Board received the Fall 2019 landfill report from KAS Engineering; the report will be posted on the Town web site (Selectboard Communication page). Board members read an email from a resident asking why the beaver dam had been removed at Pennel Hill and McMillan Road. Sumner said the action was necessary to prevent the culvert from being plugged and washing out the road.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:15 p.m.