OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
June 2, 2020
This meeting was held by telephone only.
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. Other documented attendees were Town Attorney Robert Fisher, Rhonda Ashcraft, Stephan Chait, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, Cara Cheyette, Jessica Cooney, Peggy Rafus, Peter Silverberg, and Bob Teree. Robbin Gabriel monitored the meeting.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner advised the loan documents for the new truck have been received for signature; the Board will approve that later in the meeting.
Sumner said the Board has been working on a plan to move the recycling bins and install security cameras. A good location has been found on the Town Garage property, out of the way of the highway crew and with room for the roll-off boxes. The project will include moving the existing gate from the top of the hill to the bottom of the driveway. We will have it open during the day and close it at night. We have had a problem with contamination in the bins, and it is costing a lot of money. Mitch Green said there will be weekend hours, and the cameras should allow us to identify violators. Sumner asked for questions before a vote. Jessica Cooney asked for confirmation on the camera installation. We are looking into that right now, replied Sumner. We have requested prices, and a representative will be coming out soon to see where we can put the cameras. Doug Parkhurst asked about public access for sand during the winter. The gate will be open seven days a week, and on weekdays it will open at 6:00 a.m. when the highway crew arrives for work. Cara Cheyette wondered if there were already a fine established in town ordinance for illegal dumping, or would the Selectboard establish one. Green and Sumner agreed we could assess fines when we were able to identify violators. Jessica Cooney noted there is a sign at the present location advising of a fine; Sumner said the State set the fine at $500. Last month, added Sumner, one load cost the regular fee of $250 plus an additional $228 for contamination. Green said we should post clear instructions about what was allowed in the bins, and Stephan Chait explained that the Conservation Commission was working with Athena Lee Bradley, of WSWMD, to create an informational sign explaining proper recycling. The Commission would also like to erect a new bulletin board for town information. Green made a motion to place the recycling bins at the chosen Town Garage location, set the gate at the bottom of the hill with open hours advertised, and install security cameras to monitor the bins. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Brad Rafus said he would recuse himself during this discussion. The Board and Town Attorney Bob Fisher have reviewed the citizen’s petition for a special town meeting, which was received on May 1st. Sumner asked Fisher to speak on the petition. Fisher advised that, per statute, the Selectboard must set a date for a special meeting requested by a citizen’s petition within 60 days of receiving the petition. That meeting must be warned no less than 30 days or more than 40 days from the set date. There are three articles in the petition. Fisher said the first two articles deal directly with the gravel pit contract, and as the authority to enter into the contract rests with the Selectboard and not the voters, those articles do not need to be warned for a special town meeting and vote. Fisher cited case law and a Supreme Court ruling to clarify that statement for those present. The third article is more difficult, he continued. That article reads, “Should the Town be required to put the proposed purchase of the Rafus ten-acre parcel before the voters after the above work has been completed [referencing the first two articles] and prior to the completion of the purchase, and be bound by the majority vote whether or not to close on said purchase?” That article also deals with the contract, said Fisher; the question is whether or not the petition shows what the Supreme Court has phrased as “a clear right which is within the province of the town meeting to grant or refuse through its vote.” The petitioners could argue that a contingency of the contract calls for voter approval of the town’s FY21 highway budget, which includes funds necessary for the purchase, yet the budget did not contain a line item for land purchase. Voters have said in previous meetings that because the funds for the purchase were not listed as a separate line item, they did not know what they were voting on. If the majority of the Selectboard thinks there should have been such a line item, they could warn a special meeting.
Green remarked he was happy to have this discussion, but would like to postpone a decision on a special town meeting until the next Selectboard meeting. A special town meeting may prove unnecessary if the gravel quantity survey results are unsatisfactory or we find we need an Act 250 permit, and we decide not to pursue the purchase. We have until June 29th to decide. Marilou Parkhurst said the funds for the purchase were in the highway budget, and the Highway Department cannot own land, so the funds should have been in the Town budget. Fisher explained that the Highway Department would not own the land; this would be a Town purchase. To fund the purchase, the Selectboard could have chosen to bond, which would have required a vote by Australian ballot. They believed the price was low enough they could put it either in the town or highway budget, and as the purpose of the land acquisition was to obtain gravel for highway use, they chose the Highway budget. Marilou Parkhurst said the funds were hidden in the highway budget, and the voters did not know what they were voting on. Anything over $10,000 should be available for a vote by the townspeople. Green pointed out that the Town regularly makes purchases, such as trucks and equipment, well over that amount; that is within the Selectboard’s authority. He agreed that the plan should have been announced at Town Meeting; that was the intention but the meeting moved fast, and the subject wasn’t introduced. Bob Fisher asked whether voters had questioned the highway budget increase at Town Meeting. No, replied Green; the budget total wasn’t that much higher, because the Town would have needed to purchase gravel anyway from an outside source if the land purchase option had not been available. Cara Cheyette wanted to know if it was within the Selectboard’s discretion to warn a special meeting, even if they don’t have an obligation to do it. Yes, answered Fisher, the Board can choose to have the voters vote on an action that is within the Board’s discretion.
Sumner said the Board would postpone making a motion until next meeting. Stevens and Associates will be scheduling a conference and planning survey activities, hopefully next week, and more information should be available in a few weeks.
Marilou Parkhurst wasn’t able to download the cost comparison spreadsheet on the web site. Green had accessed the spreadsheet successfully and said he would check it again. He also told Parkhurst that bank run gravel was unprocessed gravel as it came out of the ground. Doug Parkhurst asked if a special town meeting could be scheduled before July 15th. No, replied Green; but the closing may be postponed. Peggy Rafus said she has agreed to postpone the closing for testing, but not for a special town meeting; that would make the contract null and void. Cara Cheyette offered the opinion that Brad Rafus’ recusal may be invalid, as Peggy Rafus is speaking on the land purchase subject. Fisher pointed out that Peggy is not a decision-maker with regard to the Board’s decision and she has the right to make comments related to the meeting’s topics, as does any other member of the public. Bob Teree asked if a map of the proposed pit has been published. The subdivision needs to be completed first, replied Green. Teree objected, the conversation deteriorated, and Green closed the issue by saying the Board would offer an unofficial sketch on the town’s parcel map, but it will not be accurate until after the subdivision survey is complete. The topic of the petition will be on the June 16th agenda.
Green made a motion to sign the financing agreement for the new highway department truck. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining.
Brad Rafus asked if the Town should proceed with repairs to the Branch Road bridge, which was damaged last year when a vehicle hit it. We have a quote, and have received the insurance reimbursement, he said. Green and Sumner agreed that the work should be done.
Should we proceed with our large summer paving project?, asked Rafus. Green and Sumner advised waiting until the State has finalized the budget and we know if we’ll have the expected funding.
Green said he would like to go back to in-person meetings at a physical location.
Hearing of Visitors
Executive Session (if needed)
The meeting was adjourned at 7:52 p.m.