OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
April 6, 2021
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:02 p.m. This meeting was conducted using Google Meet, with Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Peter Silverberg, Bradley Rafus, and Moderator Paul Blais in the Town Office conference room, and the following individuals participating through video or telephone: Sue Kelly, Kathy McLean, Peggy Rafus, Edee Edwards, Chris Parkins, Janice Bliss, Cara Cheyette, Stephan Chait, Kaitlin Stone, Rhonda Ashcraft, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, David Jones, Scott Ashcraft, Tina Blais, Marilyn Allen, Donna Estep, Linda Lyon, Everett Wilson, and Robbin Gabriel.
Paul Blais explained the use of the new remote access platform, Google Meet, and the general meeting process and rules. He confirmed for Cara Cheyette that remote access participants should keep their videos off to assist with bandwidth usage. Doug and Marilou Parkhurst have a phone with no mute button. As the Board began opening bid packets under New Business, David Jones told the meeting that “star six” would allow callers to mute their phones.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Paul Blais asked that the topic of agendas be added under new business.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve the 3/16/21 meeting minutes as written. Peter Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Open Truck Bids
Sumner advised that three truck bids had been received, as follows:
Clark Truck Center, Jericho, Vermont: Two bids submitted. (1) 2022 International HV613 SBA 6×4, $199,980. (2) 2022 International, to be built, $204,275. Trade-in, $10,000. Any discounts available from International will be passed on to the Town of Halifax. Silverberg asked if the bids were in accordance with the Town’s specifications. Sumner said Brad Rafus and Keith Stone ordinarily reviewed bid details prior to a decision, to assure specs were correct.
Advantage Truck Group, Westminster, Vermont: 2022 Western Star 4700, $132,243, extended warranty package $11,051, total chassis price, $143,294, less trade-in allowance of $48,000, chassis net $95,294. Plow body equipment from Viking, $75,350. Total cost after trade, $170,644.
Delurey Sales & Service, Inc., North Hoosick, New York: 2022 International HV613 SBA 6×4, chassis $120,685, Viking side dump $72,300, total $192,985, less trade-in $30,000. Total cost after trade, $162,985.
After Board members had given the bids an initial review, Rafus said he would like to table the offers, until he has had an opportunity to calculate the costs associated with switching the equipment currently installed on the truck the Town is proposing to trade. We would be giving it (the trade-in vehicle) away, he said. Rafus is concerned that by accepting a low trade-in offer we would be losing yet more money on a vehicle that has cost the Town many thousands of dollars in repairs and down time. After discussion among Board members, Silverberg made a motion to postpone a decision on the truck bids until the next meeting. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Prior to the vote, Chris Parkins asked whether the bid documents were available in print form, to make it easier to follow the discussion. Blais explained that the bids were sealed until they were opened at the meeting; Silverberg said the Town’s specs were available, and Rafus added that the bid figures would be posted with the meeting minutes. Kathy McLean, recalling that the trade-in truck was a lemon, asked if it were worth more than $30,000. If it didn’t have problems, it would probably be worth $60-$70,000, replied Rafus. The dump body is only two years old, and is worth $30,000, even though the truck itself isn’t worth that much. I need the numbers for the cost of an equipment transfer for comparison, so we can make a decision on the best deal. Are you looking at 2021 models, asked Marilou Parkhurst. You’re probably not going to find a 2021 model in this size, Rafus answered. If you buy used, you won’t get the municipal discount, so you’ll pay as much as you would for a new truck. Rafus told Parkhurst we cannot purchase factory direct; we have to go through a dealer. Cara Cheyette asked if we could sell the equipment off. Rafus said he could probably sell the plow, but finding buyers for the rest could be difficult. If the Town sold the existing equipment, we would have to buy new. Chris Parkins suggested the whole truck could be sold for $40,000, as a parts truck. Rafus doesn’t believe we could part it out for that much.
DVFiber, Resolution Approval & Representative Appointments
Sumner said that currently David Jones, Stephan Chait, and Tristan Roberts are serving on the governing board for the communications union district, and the Board has received a request for reappointments prior to the next DVFiber board meeting. Sumner made a motion to appoint David Jones as Chairman, and Tristan Roberts and Stephan Chait as alternates, to the DVFiber board. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. David Jones told the meeting DVFiber is working hard to obtain broadband service for Halifax. He thanked the Board for their support and said there should be news on progress in the near future.
2021 Town Official Appointments
Silverberg suggested the yearly town official appointments should be postponed until after the May 25th election, which will add two additional members to the Selectboard. It would be a courtesy for them to have a voice in the appointments, he said. Blais asked about statutory requirements; what would it mean for people whose terms have expired? Silverberg felt it was just asking those presently serving to extend their terms. Compensated positions are covered until the next fiscal year, said Rafus; that would not be an issue. Linda Lyon said many people are reappointed, and if an extension were an inconvenience, they could resign. Cara Cheyette said these things are pretty fluid; people are sometimes reappointed on the basis of not having declined a position. It doesn’t seem like a huge deal. Sue Kelly thought it made sense to wait and have the five-member board make appointments. Silverberg made a motion to delay town official appointments until the first meeting after Selectboard elections, and to continue funding compensated positions until that time. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Rhonda Ashcraft asked if we knew who is running for the Selectboard positions. Blais advised candidates had until April 19th to declare. Sumner told Blais a few people had volunteered for some of the officials’ positions. The Conservation Commission is down one man, he said, but they still have four, and one potential candidate.
Sign Special Election Warning
Blais read the special election warning for the record: The inhabitants of the Town of Halifax, Vermont who are legal voters in said Town of Halifax are hereby notified and warned to meet at the Halifax Community Hall, 20 Brook Road, in West Halifax, Vermont on Tuesday, May 25, 2021, for the purpose of voting on the below warned articles by Australian ballot between the hours of 10:00 a.m. (at which time the polls open) and 7:00 p.m. (at which time the polls will close) on the following articles:
ARTICLE 1: To elect by Australian ballot one Halifax Selectboard member to serve a term of one year, ending March 1, 2022.
ARTICLE 2: To elect by Australian ballot one Halifax Selectboard member to serve a term of two years, ending March 7, 2023.
Dated at Halifax, Vermont, this 6th day of April A.D. 2021.
Sumner made a motion to approve and sign the warning for a special election on May 25, 2021, to elect two additional Selectboard members, for a one-year term ending March 1, 2022, and a two-year term ending March 7, 2023. Prior to the vote, Edee Edwards asked if there would be an absentee voting option. The Board said yes, absentee ballots will be available from Town Clerk Patty Dow. Cara Cheyette wanted verification of the statutory requirement for term length following the first terms described in the warning; she believes they will ultimately be two-year terms. Sumner explained that initially the terms would be for one and two years. In future elections, each of the two new seats will be for two-year terms.
VTrans—Annual Financial Plan & Compliance Certificate
Sumner said that VTrans calculates the amount of State aid available to the town each year, and provides the Selectboard with a financial document and a Town Road and Bridge Standards certification of compliance for adoption and signature. This year Halifax is eligible for $148,000. Rafus made a motion to sign the VTrans annual financial plan and compliance certificate. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Sumner asked about grants. Rafus said this year we are 10th or 11th on the list for paving grants, and 18th on the list for structures grants, so he won’t be applying this year. Signing the compliance certificate is important because without it we lose 10% of the available funding, and in the case of an event like Irene, FEMA pays to reconstruct according to the code’s requirements.
WSWMD Roll-off Container Agreement
This agreement states that the Town agrees to take possession of the recycling roll-off containers now on loan from WSWMD, with the understanding that the Town will be responsible for liability insurance. There is no charge for the containers. Sumner made a motion to approve and sign the WSWMD container agreement. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Rafus recommended discussing the recycling situation prior to the next budget preparation period, as the cost has climbed considerably. Sumner said one option would be to discontinue the service, but it is popular. Edee Edwards thought the town was required by statute to provide recycling. Sumner said no. Cara Cheyette asked about the insurance; would it cost us more? Sumner believes our existing town liability insurance will cover the containers. Marilou asked, if there are three roll-off containers, could one of them be for plastic, like plastic bags? Sumner said those bags were not recyclable, and Blais added that the third container is for use during rotation.
Local Emergency Operations Plan Adoption
Paul Blais, as Emergency Management Director, has submitted the yearly updated LEOP to the Selectboard for adoption and signature. Blais reviewed the paperwork with the Board, and highlighted changes made to update the plan. Sumner made a motion to adopt the Local Emergency Adoption Form as written, and the Local Emergency Operations Plan as amended. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Discuss Certified Public Accounting Firm Quote Request
Sumner advised it was voted at Town Meeting to contract with a certified public accounting firm to audit the Town’s financials for fiscal year 2020. Sumner made a motion to send out quote requests to multiple firms, bids to be submitted by the first meeting in May. Silverberg seconded the motion. Rafus noted we are close to the Massachusetts border; he asked if the vote specified Vermont firms. Who do we send them to, asked Silverberg. Sumner mentioned Pieciak as a reputable firm. Blais said the warned article was for a Vermont-licensed firm. We have to do the audit every year, said Silverberg; if you contract for multiple years the first year is more expensive but subsequent years should cost less. What if next year the voters approved a return to elected auditors, asked Rafus. Silverberg said a clause could be included in the contract freeing the Town from the agreement if the voters rescinded the decision. Sumner offered a sample contract provided by Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Sumner made a motion to start the process of developing a request proposal, to be approved at a future meeting. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Gabriel will provide a list of potential vendors. Chris Parkins is aware of a Vermont bid database online; he offered to send the link to the Board.
Silverberg, referencing the travel difficulties associated with mud season, would like to find a way to communicate to residents the criteria used by the Highway Department to determine the order in which the roads are repaired and maintained. Through roads and school bus routes are first, said Rafus. We have a winter roads policy that spells out which roads are done first. During mud season, Hatch School Road and Stage Road are high priority because they are the biggest connectors. But it depends partially on which roads freeze and which don’t. You can’t haul material on a road that’s not frozen; if you can’t drive a 3,000-pound car on it, a 70,000-pound truck will destroy it. Also, the amount of traffic has changed dramatically through the years; there are more residents on secondary roads. Hatch School Road needs to be paved due to the quantity of traffic, and Jacksonville Stage should be paved to the center. Silverberg would like to create a written explanation to let people know what to expect. He will prepare a write-up and present it at the next meeting. Rafus gave Silverberg his email and cell phone number; the email and garage number are also on the Highway Department page on the town website (halifaxvt.com), and Gabriel will add the cell phone number. Kathy McLean suggested putting a message on the garage answering machine telling people where the highway crew was working on a particular day. Rafus said he had been doing that on the Highway Department Facebook page, but he removed the page because it was being used inappropriately. Linda Lyon said she appreciated the Highway Department’s efforts; she suggested an informational column in the monthly Halifax newsletter.
Silverberg has researched communication on local coronavirus status. There are privacy issues, he said, but we could put a link on the website to the State’s covid informational pages. Blais said that there are weekly updates posted on the EMD page; Blais is also on conference calls several times a week. There is a COVID-19 update link on the halifaxvt.com home page. He also read off the State’s statistics as of April 6. Edee Edwards thanked Blais for the update; she has been monitoring the reports and said there is one more case in Halifax this week. Edwards suggested the Selectboard give updates at each meeting. Blais said, during conference calls with the State, he had discussed out-of-state visitors here for recreational purposes. He’s seeing the ski areas have high infection counts.
Blais proposed an alternate method of handling meeting agendas. He has heard a recommendation (possibly from the Vermont School Board Association) for having a Hearing of Visitors session both at the beginning and the end of each meeting. That would give people an opportunity to express opinions on agenda items at the outset of the meeting, the Board could proceed through their agenda without interruption, and then the public could weigh in again after decisions are made. Blais felt this process might improve the meeting flow. Silverberg liked the immediacy of the feedback from our current process, but agreed the alternate might be a smoother process. Rafus pointed out that sometimes people have a comment on an item several steps back on the agenda. Chris Parkins would like digital documents to be made available to the public during actual new business discussions, to enhance understanding. Blais noted that documents like the truck bids are large, up to 20 pages; other documents might be easier to display. Parkins said maybe the agenda itself could be shown on screen. Perhaps documents could be attached to the agendas when they are mailed out, said Blais. Gabriel said she would be willing to work with Blais to experiment with on-screen displays during the next meeting.
Sumner said there have been no applicants to date for the Selectboard secretary and administrative assistant jobs, although advertisements have been run for three weeks in the Deerfield Valley News, on the bulletin boards and on the Tow website, and on Facebook. Cara Cheyette asked if the Board would advertise in the Commons and the Reformer. Sumner said we needed someone close by. Blais asked, if we were moving to a five-member Board, does the Board still need an assistant, or could Board members divide the work. Just about all the towns Sumner is aware of with five-member Boards have an assistant or a manager. Gabriel said communication through email and by phone, and website maintenance, are two important aspects of the assistant’s job. If there were Board members who could divide those tasks, it might be possible, but it would depend on the ability, talents, and time of the people who were serving. David Jones felt the assistant’s job is important, and we should continue searching for a replacement. Board members agreed to have Gabriel advertise in the Commons and the Reformer. Silverberg made a motion to advertise for two weeks in the Commons and the Reformer. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Chris Parkins asked about compensation and the number of hours required for the job. Yearly stipend for the administrative assistant is $12,000, to become $13,000 in fiscal year 2022. The secretarial position is $2,500 a year, and will be $3,000 in fiscal year 2022. Approximate hours, based on past time sheets, range from 35-65 hours a month, depending on what is happening in town business.
Hearing of Visitors
Everett Wilson, as Windham Regional Commission representative, asked for information about the financial impact of the coronavirus on the Town, and also about monies needed to expand broadband access. He said that the county would be receiving funds from the American Recovery Act. Unfortunately Wilson’s phone connection was very poor, and some of what he said could not be understood.
Cara Cheyette relayed some of Wilson’s information; if there are costs associated with broadband, or pandemic-related losses to businesses, WRC may be able to facilitate compensation. Cheyette suggested David Jones or Tristan Roberts might be able to assist with broadband information. Linda Lyon said Everett would forward details to the Selectboard secretary. Cheyette thought the Google Meet video option was wonderful and she appreciated the effort. She asked if the mud season road postings might come down before May 15th. Not at the moment, said Rafus; but he will reassess in a week or so. Cheyette also said she hoped the new secretary/administrative assistant, when one was found, could, in conjunction with the Selectboard, find ways to make the job more efficient, as it was a lot of hours for not much money.
Edee Edwards was also pleased with the Google Meet video platform. She reminded the meeting the deadline for Selectboard candidates to submit their consent forms was April 19th, and said the Board might want to hold a meet the candidates night around May 10th.
David Jones said there are American Recovery Act funds allocated to towns, as well as to counties and states, but he has only researched that as it applies at the State level. He suggested the Board should request information from Windham Regional Commission or any other appropriate sources. Governor Scott has announced that Recovery Act funding will be made available to communication union districts. Jones encouraged the town to investigate possible funding eligibility.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The Treasurer’s order was reviewed and signed.
Three overweight permits were signed.
Sumner made a motion to enter executive session, including Paul Blais, at 9:25, to discuss a personnel matter. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. The Board exited executive session at 9:35, with no decisions made.
The Board spent a few minutes discussing the yearly landowner’s appreciation dinner invitation from the snowmobile club. This year will be takeout.
Rafus made a motion to adjourn at 9:45 p.m. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
The audio recording of this meeting is available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YbxXS9WRbajuEQiq4c8oaSiznVzr6MIh/view?usp=sharing