OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
July 7, 2020
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order in the yard at the Town Garage at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Mitchell Green, and Town Moderator Paul Blais were present. Robert Teree, Ray Combs, Marilou Parkhurst, Douglas Parkhurst, Patricia Dow, Tina Blais, Linda Lyon, Gary Rand, Jennifer Crocker, Andrea Rand, Everett Wilson, Sue Kelly, Joan Courser, Jason Ashcroft, Earl Holtz, Patricia Holtz, Mary Horne, Arthur Ferland, Marilyn Allen, Greg Marguet, Rick Gay, Norman Fajans, Lesley Pollitt, Susan Neustadt, Penfield Chester, Jessica Cooney, Alice Aldrich, and Robbin Gabriel were also in attendance. Windham County Sheriff’s deputies were also present, by invitation.
Before beginning the business of the meeting, Lewis Sumner made a sad announcement: Brad and Peggy Rafus’ granddaughter had been killed in an accident this past weekend.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Sumner said a couple of our firefighters were present and would speak later in the meeting. He then turned the proceedings over to Moderator Paul Blais.
Honor Roll Renovation—Joan Courser, Jason Ashcroft
Jason Ashcroft announced that the war memorial is being moved and renovated. The memorial, which originally stood in front of the West Halifax Bible Church, is being rebuilt and will be installed outside the Community Hall. Ashcroft said donations are being collected; $1,500 has been raised toward the anticipated $3,000 cost of the project. Joan Courser has suggested asking the Selectboard to contribute should donations prove insufficient to meet the $3,000 goal. Sumner said the Community Club could make that request if it was necessary once the funding drive was over. Ashcroft shared photos of the new memorial design with the Selectboard, there will also be copies in the Town Office for anyone who would like to see them. Ashcroft said Joan Courser and Patty Dow are accepting donations, and there may be a 50/50 raffle to assist in raising the money. He told Linda Lyon the request for donations had been posted on Front Porch Forum, and would be published again for those who missed it.
Ratify Fuel and Heating Oil Bid Votes
Sumner made a motion to ratify the diesel fuel and heating oil bid votes originally approved at the June 23rd Selectboard meeting. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. The bids were opened and accepted at that previous meeting, but Sumner said there was so much noise and confusion not everyone present could hear what was being said.
Vote to Exit Land Purchase Agreement
Sumner made a motion to exit the land purchase agreement with Brad and Peggy Rafus, and to instruct the Town Attorney to draft a letter to the Rafuses so advising them. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Sumner said contingencies listed in the agreement could not be completed before the specified July 15, 2020 closing deadline.
Set Tax Rate
Sumner advised the Town had just received fiscal year 2021 education tax rate figures from the State. The non-residential tax rate is $1.5701, the Homestead rate is $1.4486. The municipal tax rate is $0.9192, which gives a total non-residential rate of $2.4893 and a Homestead rate of $2.3678. Sumner made a motion to accept the FY21 tax rates of $2.4893 (non-residential) and $2.3678 (Homestead). Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Alice Aldrich asked why the education non-residential rate was higher than the Homestead rate, when non-residents do not have children in local schools. Sumner replied that the State sets those rates. I’ve been fighting that for 25 years, he added. Aldrich said Guilford’s tax rate is the same across the board. Green agreed the rates should be equal, and suggested Guilford’s municipal rate may not be the same as the Halifax rate.
Sign VTrans FY21 Certificate of Compliance
Sumner made a motion to sign the VTrans FY21 Certificate of Compliance for Road and Bridge Standards. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Sumner said the certificate must be signed every year.
Mitch Green said there had been some controversy over whether the town should have an official Facebook page. I don’t think it needs to be official, he said; we have a town website, and that will be the place to put town information. In my opinion we should not disseminate town information on Facebook.
Greg Marguet asked the Board to talk about executive meetings. Paul Blais said the current discussion was specific to Facebook. Executive meetings could be discussed as another agenda item, under Visitors. Blais then said he had personally found the Highway Department’s Facebook postings about current road work useful. He suggested using Twitter, which doesn’t allow comments on postings, instead of Facebook. Green agreed the Highway Department’s informational postings were useful; he said the Board could talk with (Road Commissioner) Brad Rafus about that. Earl Holtz thought social media was not the proper venue for town information. There is a place on the town website for road crew information, he added; why wouldn’t you use that? Penfield Chester asked how residents would know when the recycling bins were moved. Blais made a note to discuss that under the Other Business portion of the meeting. Jessica Cooney said she found social media helpful, as some people can’t navigate the web site, and it is outdated in places. Not everyone goes to the Town Clerk’s office or the post office to see notices, and people want to interact if there is an event going on or someone has lost a cat.
Why all the talk about Facebook?, asked Jason Ashcroft. Who brought it up? Green advised that Bob Teree requested the Facebook discussion. Teree said he agreed that right now the town should not have the responsibility of managing social media sites. He asked the Board to pass a motion to codify that the Emergency Management, Highway, and Town Clerk Facebook pages were not official town sites. Green said the town does not have an official Facebook page, and Teree replied that Patty Dow had said the Halifax Vermont Facebook page she administers was an official site. Teree stated that the page in question had been Dow’s personal site, repurposed for Town use. No, said Dow, it is not my personal site; I have my own. After a direct exchange between Teree and Ashcroft, Blais clarified with Dow that there is a “Patricia Dow” page and a “Town of Halifax” page (the Town Clerk’s page). Jessica Cooney stated that Patty’s page is a profile and not a page. Teree said Patty’s page is her former personal profile, repurposed to a page, and the URL shows the web address of that page. Blais asked the Board if they were aware the Town had a page. I was aware of it, and not opposed, said Green; but it is not an official page the Town set up. Dow did it as Town Clerk, and I didn’t have a problem with it. Andrea Rand said it seemed there wasn’t a problem with the Halifax Facebook page until there was a second page by the same name. A search (on Facebook) returns two Halifax pages—one, Patty Dow’s, is where we go to get our information and the other, Bob Teree’s, seems to be a forum where people can voice their issues. Jenny Crocker explained the difference between “liking” a Facebook page and submitting a Friend request, which the administrator (in this case Dow) can accept or deny. Dow expressed her frustration with the discussion. I will only speak on this once, she said; I feel like everyone speaking about this is twelve years old. I am ashamed of everyone who is complaining. I set it up as a profile as a quick page so we could get information out on community breakfasts, the Celebration, dinners, the Clam Bake, things like that. And then it turned political. Dow said she had never deleted anyone or refused a friend request. All my settings are public and I have accepted everyone’s friend request. Gary Rand said he finds the Halifax page helpful, entertaining, and informational. I go to that page a lot, he added, and I do not like the politics, but I appreciate the information. Jason Ashcroft addressed Bob Teree, asking if Dow should change her Facebook site to a blog. Teree said the question is whether or not the site is official. Blais reminded the meeting that questions and comments should be addressed to the Board, and Green said the two sites, both unofficial, could coexist and continue as they are, as far as he is concerned. Blais stated that no motion had been made; the item was for discussion only.
Discuss Video/Telephone Meeting Access
Green announced that the next Selectboard meeting would be conducted with Board members physically present in the Town Office, while the public would have call-in access. Callers will have an opportunity to speak, but we will have muting capability, so we can have a reasonably organized meeting. Blais said he would be willing to assist in implementing the process; he would prefer video capability so people could see speakers. Blais said programs like GoToMeeting or WebEx could be used to that purpose, and asked if a toll-free versus non-toll-free call-in number would be a concern for anyone. Linda Lyon pointed out that with video a caller wishing to speak could raise a hand and be seen, while callers with phone-only access would not be visible. The process needs to be structured Blais advised. He outlined a procedure whereby the Selectboard would speak about an agenda item first followed by questions and comments from public participants. Video callers could pose their questions either directly or through a chat panel, and then phone-only callers could be unmuted one at a time if they had comments. Lyon thought this was a good plan; she suggested people could also gather in the Town Garage yard or at the Whitingham Library and have WiFi access. Green acknowledged difficulties with the idea of allowing limited in-person access. It wouldn’t be fair, he said; where do you cut it off? Sue Kelly said the current restriction on indoor physical gatherings is 75 people or 50% of a building’s capacity. She thanked the Board for considering the remote access option.
Ray Combs said that over the last five years there were probably no more than eight people at a meeting. Why can’t you use the school?, he asked. Blais told him that currently the school could not be used for other business. Everyone’s talking about access, but no one goes to meetings, said Combs. Sue Kelly asked if it were possible to test the bandwidth connections at the Town Garage and Town Office to determine which location had a better signal. Blais took a moment to check the Town Garage bandwidth capability, and advised the connection was marginal. Noting the probable number of cell phones presently in the yard, he said the reading was 3 mgs down and only .7 (point seven) mgs upload. Green said there was no need for a motion; instructions for remote access would be included on the next meeting agenda.
Malcolm Sumner and Mike Fournier were present representing the Halifax Fire Co. Malcolm announced the yearly Clam Bake scheduled for August 1st, will be a curbside pickup. To make it work smoothly, Malcolm requested the Selectboard close Branch Road through the village on that date. Board members agreed the road could be one-way traffic from the Community Hall to the Jacksonville Stage (Town Hill) intersection. Green made a motion to close Branch Road and designate one-way traffic between the four-way intersection of Collins/Reed Hill/Branch and Brook Roads and Jacksonville Stage Road, 12 noon to 4:00 p.m., on August 1, 2020. Lewis Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Serving hours will be 1:00-3:00 p.m. Malcolm told Patty Dow the one-way direction would be from the four-way intersection toward the school. Tickets are available from firefighters and the Town Clerk.
Lewis Sumner advised the yearly tax bill mailing, which will go out within the next month, will contain a notice informing residents of the date for the planned recycling bin move from Brook Road to the Town Garage. Security cameras are on order now and should be coming any time, he said; then we will make arrangements to bring the bins down here. Gary Rand noted people are still putting plastic bags in the bins. Will there be signage or monitors?, he asked. Both, replied Lewis Sumner. He told Rand access to the bins would be daytime only, but there is no plan to have someone on-site. If we have a problem we’ll review the cameras, added Green. The Conservation has plans for signs. Andrea Rand questioned the effectiveness of monitoring cameras. We want to stop them before they put non-recyclable debris in the bins, she said. Wouldn’t it be better to have someone on site watching people making deposits?. If you can’t stop people putting stuff in, we (the Town) are still going to be fined. Green told Rand the Board is hoping to catch a few people and word will spread that violators will be fined if caught. Is there an ordinance addressing recycling violations?, Earl Holtz asked. Lewis Sumner said no. Then what’s to stop them (violators)?, asked Holtz. We can still fine them under State law, answered Sumner. Can you position the cameras to capture a person’s license plate?, asked Alice Aldrich. That’s the idea, said Sumner.
Hearing of Visitors
Marilyn Allen stated she had copies of a petition to the Selectboard requesting a special election to fill the vacancy left by Brad Rafus’ resignation. Lewis Sumner said we could not do anything yet, as Rafus has not officially handed in his resignation letter. He resigned in a public meeting, replied Allen. I can give you this petition pending his official resignation. Blais said that when a petition is presented the clock starts ticking; the Selectboard must respond within a certain number of days and then a special meeting must be warned no more than 40 and no fewer than 30 days prior to the scheduled date. Sumner said Rafus had verbally resigned at the July 3rd meeting, left on vacation the next morning, and then the accident with his granddaughter happened. He recommended Allen retain the petition until there is an official resignation letter. It doesn’t make sense to me, said Allen; you’re proceeding as if he’s on the Board but he’s not on the Board? Sumner recalled a past incident when an official announced they were going to resign, but never put a resignation in. That person missed three meetings and then returned to the Board. Linda Lyon requested that the Selectboard post the State statute requiring a written resignation to the Town website. Blais recalled a situation on the School Board when a member stopped coming to meetings and would not respond to letters or submit a resignation in writing. We weren’t even allowed to appoint anyone, he said. Lyon said the Town should not be held hostage, and it’s not fair to the remaining Board members.
Stevens and Associates Report
Bob Teree said that the Stevens and Associates preliminary geological survey findings came out last week, and while the report is long, it is the first few pages that are important. Teree said he was blown away that no analysis was done on the quality of the soil. He thought the Town wanted to know what they were buying, not just how much. The quote request to Stevens and Associates mentioned amount three times, said Teree, but there is nothing about we’re buying. He suggested we spend another couple thousand dollars and do a soil analysis of what we were buying. Blais commented that it was a moot point. Teree said the Board should answer, and the exchange got heated for a moment. Addressing the Board, Blais asked for confirmation that there is no longer a plan to purchase the land. Sumner and Green agreed. Teree said he expected that reply, but he thought it was important for everyone to know if the Selectboard was buying clay or gravel. Your question is about something that is not happening now, sir, answered Blais. We know there is a lot of material, stated a speaker who did not identify himself, we’re asking what gravel is there. Again Blais had to restore order. Ray Combs, addressing Teree, said, if you had gone to some of the meetings you could have argued that when it was in process. Blais ended the discussion and asked if anyone else had other topics to discuss. There were none.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The orders to the Treasurer were reviewed and signed.
The Board reviewed correspondence and confirmed the VTrans compliance certificate and the approved FY21 tax rate sheet, both voted on earlier in the meeting, had been properly signed.
Executive Session (if needed)
Green made a motion to adjourn. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. The meeting was adjourned at 8:09 p.m.