OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
September 1, 2020
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:02 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus, and Moderator Paul Blais, Town Clerk Patricia Dow, and Robbin Gabriel were in the Town Office conference room. Peggy Rafus, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, Cara Cheyette, Edee Edwards, Benjamin Barnett, Sarah Barnett, Peter Silverberg, Chris Parkins, Janice Bliss, Kathy Coulombe, Earl Holtz, Patricia Holtz, Marketa Psenickova, Patrick Eck, Marilyn Allen, Kathy McLean, Susan Kelly, Bob Teree, and Stephan Chait (who joined the meeting at 7:38) participated through remote teleconference access.
Moderator Paul Blais gave instructions for participating, and meeting protocol and standards.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Open Gravel Bids
The Town has received two crushed gravel bids, as follows:
Cersosimo Industries, Inc., Brattleboro, Vermont: Option 1: 5,000 cubic yards 1” crushed gravel, $12.50/cy picked up at pit; $13.00/cy delivered; total delivered, $25.50/cy. Total cost picked up, $62,500. Total cost delivered, $127,500. Option 2: 5,000 cubic yards 1½” crushed gravel, $12.00/cy picked up at pit; $13.00/cy delivered; total delivered, $25.00/cy. Total cost picked up, $60,000. Total cost delivered, $125,000.
Mitchell Materials, LLC, Sunderland, Massachusetts: 5,000 cubic yards 1¼” crushed gravel, $12.75/cy picked up at pit (total picked up, $63,750); delivered, $27.00/cy (total delivered, $135,000).
Board members discussed location of the gravel pits; Mitchell’s pit is in Winchester, NH and the Cersosimo pit is either River Road (West Chesterfield, NH) or Vernon. Cersosimo’s price is less, and the pick-up location is closer. Mitch Green made a motion to accept Cersosimo Industries’ bids of $12.50/cy picked up at pit or $25.50/cy delivered to Halifax for 1” crushed gravel, and $12.00/cy picked up at pit or $25.00/cy delivered to Halifax for 1½” crushed gravel. Lewis Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Brad Rafus abstaining.
In discussion before the vote, Kathy McLean recommended purchasing the 1” gravel, saying the larger stone is sharp, and really rough on tires. Rafus said the 1” and 1½” measurements referred to crushed size; there is no difference in sharpness. The one-inch does lay down a little smoother, he added. Green said he would like to leave the bid as either/or, so the highway department has the option of choosing to use different sizes in different areas.
Sumner called on Patty Dow to provide details on FY20 municipal finances. Dow said that as of June 30, 2020, when fiscal year 2020 closed, the Town had overspent on the equipment, wages, and sand budgets. $252,484 was budgeted for equipment, while total expenditures for the year on fuel, truck and equipment maintenance, insurance, shop supplies, and trucks were $371,141, creating a shortage of $118,657. $261,169 was budgeted for wages; we spent $291,383, that left approximately a $30,200 deficit. The sand budget was $65,000; we purchased $83,600, for a $18,600 deficit. FY21 began on July 1, 2020; Dow said we need to find offsets for the previous year’s deficit in the current budget, to avoid incurring the expense of a deficit spending loan.
Green and Rafus said there is $50,000 in the bridge budget, plus another $10,000 for bridge maintenance. We don’t have any new bridge construction planned, said Sumner. Rafus said the only maintenance planned is resurfacing the Farm bridge, and he already has the necessary materials. Branch Road bridge repairs are paid for completely by insurance. Green suggested using $100,000 of the $160,000 allotted for resurfacing, and Sumner said there was $10,000 budgeted for emergency management equipment which might be used. These available monies total $160,000, leaving a remaining shortage of less than $7,000. Rafus and Dow discussed the possibility that the first payment on the line of credit for the new truck might not be due until after FY22 begins, but then agreed it would come due at the end of FY21. All agreed that the remaining $7,000 shortage could be made up in savings in other areas. Rafus advised reviewing and possibly revising the equipment schedule. One truck was down through most of last winter, and repairs cost about $40,000. Many of the components in the newer trucks are computerized, emissions equipment is more complex, and the vehicles have to go to the dealer for repairs and are often gone a month at a time. The Board agreed to discuss this during budgeting meetings later in the year. Green made a motion to correct the FY20 deficit as discussed, using $50,000 from the bridge fund, $100,000 from the resurfacing account, and $10,000 from emergency management equipment budget. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining.
In discussion prior to the vote, Chris Parkins had two questions. First, are the funds used to cover the deficit from the FY20 or FY21 budget? FY21, responded Paul Blais. Second, where did the $100,000 slated for purchasing the gravel pit go? Hasn’t gone anywhere, answered Green. It will be used for gravel and sand purchases, because now we have to purchase those materials. What are we expecting to spend?, asked Parkins. We need about 5,000 yards of each at $25.00 a yard, said Green; we’ll try to cut back on our sand and gravel usage. We will try to just spend what we have in our budget, added Rafus. Parkins also wanted to know what resurfacing project would not be done if $100,000 from that account was used to cover the FY20 deficit. We won’t do the Green River Road project, replied Rafus; the last half-mile of Green River (at the Halifax/Guilford line), and we were going to resurface a portion of Brook Road.
Edee Edwards asked if the $100,000 was from reserve monies or resurfacing, and how much was left in that budget. It’s resurfacing funds, said Blais, and they are using $100,000 of a $160,000 total.
Kathy McLean cautioned that cutting back on sand could be a safety issue. As it is, she noted, we just sand the steep parts in my section (Halifax Center), and not all of it, so it can be treacherous walking. She also thought we could get more gravel if we purchased the smaller (one-inch) size.
Paul Blais said that as the new EMD, he didn’t have any equipment, and he wanted to know what that fund would be used for. What was the intention of those funds? The last thing we bought, said Rafus, was portable radios that are compatible with both highway and fire department communications systems; they are at the highway department. One year we put a repeater up at the Winery, and we’ve purchased generators for the town garage and fire house. We’ve also purchased safety equipment, like barricades for when we have to close the roads. Sumner mentioned we used to have a lot more money in that fund when Vermont Yankee was operating; one year we bought laptops. The Board told Blais the $10,000 in the FY21 budget was not for specific planned purchases, it was there in case we needed it.
Pete Silverberg said it sounded like the FY20 equipment budget was off by about 50%. He asked if there was a particular area that consumed most of that shortage, and are we doing something about it so it won’t recur later. The biggest item was the maintenance budget, which covers all truck repairs, tires, plow blades, anything having to do with maintenance, said Rafus. The budget was $60,000, and we spent $171,000. One thing we’ve done—we finally took delivery on a brand new truck we’ve been waiting 18 months for. Also, we’re talking about changing our equipment schedule, possibly reducing the turnaround from ten to seven years. Vehicle maintenance costs are high between the seven- and ten-year marks. Rafus suggested the town consider a seven-year cycle which would include a bumper-to-bumper warranty, and trade the trucks at the end of seven years. That will reduce maintenance costs, and trade-in value will be higher, he said.
Kathy McLean said that when we do our own trucking (of sand and gravel), we’re putting miles on the trucks, and when we trade them, or keep them for years after the leases are up, they become useless. All that money needs to be factored into our trucking costs, and I just don’t think we have an accurate number. Trucking costs are calculated at $10 a yard, said Green. Cersosimo will do it for $13, and obviously they’re making a profit at it, so we must be pretty close on our figures. Rafus said we should be buying 10,000 yards of gravel a year, and 5,000 yards of sand, at a total cost of approximately $350,000. It does cost us almost as much to truck our own material, and the trucks are out of town during that time. But, said Green, it gives the highway crew something to do in bad weather when they can’t do other work. I think we should leave the option open to do it either way. McLean calculated paying $3 more per yard to have the vendor truck 10,000 yards of sand and gravel would equal $30,000, and thought depreciation on the town’s trucks would be more than $30,000 a year.
Hearing of Visitors
Peter Silverberg noticed that the Selectboard meeting minutes posted on the website have not been approved for a while. Are there plans to address that?, he asked. Gabriel said there is no statutory requirement for minutes approval, and while the Board has traditionally approved written minutes, they stopped doing so when meeting structure changed to teleconference. Minutes are sent to Board members for review, and Gabriel said that if errors are found she is notified and makes corrections. If the minutes are being reviewed, shouldn’t they be approved?, asked Silverberg. That would require a vote in open meeting, and we’ve tried to simplify phone meetings, said Gabriel. But it can be taken under discussion. We can consider it, said Green, and see what we’re going to do. We’ll discuss at the next meeting.
Bob Teree said he is a member of the Broadband Committee and they approve their previous meeting minutes. Does this mean that the Board is not standing behind the minutes, if they’re not approved?, he asked. Are you saying all the minutes that aren’t approved aren’t accurate? The minutes are accurate, replied Green; we review them and if there are changes we contact Gabriel and she corrects before the next meeting. Teree thought minutes need to be locked down, not edited a year from now. You’re saying State statute doesn’t mandate finalizing minutes? Are they always open for editing? Green said this topic would be on the next meeting agenda.
Stephan Chait asked when the website would be back up and running normally. It is being worked on one step at a time, Gabriel responded, and it is taking a while, partially because our server host is currently inundated with requests and problems. If there is something normally found on the site that is presently not accessible, please call or email me and I will assist.
Edee Edwards said executive session is listed on tonight’s agenda; is there an executive session being held tonight? No, responded Green and Sumner. Edwards recommended any part of the agenda that would not be addressed should be removed during changes and additions at the start of the meeting. She said her VLCT Selectboard training recommended not putting the item on the agenda unless there would be an executive session. Edwards also asked who is signing Treasurer’s orders during this COVID-19 period, and how frequently are they being signed to assure the bills get paid. We talked with VLCT, answered Sumner, and they gave us a procedure to follow so we can pay the bills. We had a meeting and made the Chairman responsible for signing orders, added Green, although usually at least two of us sign.
Sue Kelly said the information about meeting minutes approval seemed contradictory; on the one hand it was one too many things to do, on the other the Board has just switched to meeting once a month. Approval usually takes about a minute. I don’t feel it is undue burden on the Selectboard to ask they reinstate the practice of approving the minutes, so that we the citizens can know if the draft we’re reading is going to be changed in the future or whether it’s the final version. We need either draft or approved.
Referring to the website, Cara Cheyette asked what actually happened, and what kind of support do you have? Gabriel said the website’s theme, which has been in use since 2014, is now outdated to the point that problems which were solvable in the past can no longer be repaired; there have been too many technological changes. So we are going through a process of updating and working out bugs.
Chris Parkins had a tax question for Patty Dow, but she had left the meeting earlier. He also had a question for the listers about town-wide reappraisal. Blais advised Parkins to call the listers’ office, as the Selectboard doesn’t get involved in the listers area of work.
Bob Teree said he would be willing to help out with the website if he got access to the hosting environment; perhaps go with a standard theme that could be updated regularly.
Kathy McLean asked for information on voting in November. It will be at the Community Hall, said Sumner. Blais recommended calling Patty Dow at the Town Clerk’s office, as she is the election official.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The orders to the Treasurer were reviewed and signed.
One driveway permit was approved and signed.
Executive Session (if needed)
Green made a motion to adjourn at 7:59 p.m. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
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