OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
May 1, 2015
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 8:02 a.m. Selectboard members Earl Holtz, Lewis Sumner, and Edee Edwards were present, as were Brad Rafus, Patty Dow, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Gabriel requested a discussion of topics to be included on the May 5th regular meeting agenda.
Selectboard Project List Discussion
Earl Holtz had assigned levels of difficulty and criticality to the items on the Board’s previously-created task list, and also offered suggestions about who should be responsible for each task. (Note to reader: See link below text of these minutes to view the full list.) The Board agreed the road reclassification project, including Sumner Farm Road petition, and the Act 250/Denison project, should be rated as high difficulty and criticality; they are currently being worked on by all Board members.
Gabriel was authorized to purchase a printer/scanner with wireless capability for Selectboard use in the conference room. Edwards noted that #5 on the list, Television/White Board, described two very different items. The easel we have now is rickety and always falling down, she said. Patty Dow suggested a Smart Board (an interactive white board) similar to one the school has; those are expensive, remarked Holtz. The Board discussed a number of options and decided to revisit the topic once Gabriel has provided cost comparisons. Lewis Sumner said he was not opposed to placing a bulletin board in the Thomas Hill area, but it might necessitate setting up boards in other town locations. Posting all meetings at Thomas Hill would greatly increase drive time, added Edwards. It’s an hour-long round trip, said Brad Rafus. One solution might be to find someone living on Thomas Hill willing to receive emailed notices for posting. Maybe we could appoint someone to do the posting, offered Dow, but we should not designate it as an official posting location. Given the size of the current work load, the Board decided this subject should be a low-priority item.
Rafus said the should take action on the old town garage before next winter. We all know the condition of the building, he added, it could become a real liability. Dow asked about asbestos, but Sumner said the building had passed an OSHA inspection some years ago. A decision about leasing and/or tearing the structure down needs to be made fairly soon.
Once the Selectboard receives the zoning update from the Planning Commission after the Commission’s May 12th public hearing, the Selectboard will have 30 to 120 days to hold their own hearing. This will be followed by a special town meeting, which Edwards estimates will occur late summer or early fall. This last event will actually be a special election, advised Sumner, with a vote by Australian ballot. Based on past experience, Sumner said the Planning Commission hearing could be a quiet affair, while the subsequent Selectboard hearing might generate a larger amount of interest and input. I don’t understand the rush, he added; we will be going through this process later on to address the full content of the revised zoning proposal. The zoning update was classified as high criticality, as the Board must adhere to statutory deadline requirements.
Holtz and Edwards will be working on analysis of salary and benefits statistics when the state data is received. Rafus has compiled information which will contribute to the process. Edwards recommended the town participate in the state’s wage and benefit survey this year. The Board will complete assessment and make recommendations for adjustments before September. Dow said the state’s 2014 statistics books are on order; the 2015 edition will not be published until September.
Edwards, who contributed the capital budgeting item to the task list, believes advance planning for large projects such as bridge work and repaving will help give a better understanding of the town’s monetary needs. This subject will be revisited.
VLCT, said Holtz, promotes towns’ use of the modified accrual method of accounting, but he would like to have a better grasp of the potential impact should the town choose to switch from cash accounting. Dow will solicit opinion from the auditors who recently completed our town-wide audit. Edwards has spoken to Bill Hall, VLCT’s financial advisor; Hall advised that with experienced assistance the changeover could be implemented within a 2-3 day period. Dow classified conversion to modified accrual as high difficulty. She will research timing possibilities.
Holtz surmised that researching ways to utilize opportunities for shared services could, in general, be a time-consuming project. Edwards recommended investigating just one possibility at present—shared purchase of oil. Gabriel will find out whether Brattleboro’s Town Manager Peter Elwell has made progress inquiring into the legality of group oil purchases. The school district is participating in shared oil purchasing, said Sumner; we should also explore that avenue.
Holtz requested the Board consider the highway department portion of the task list next, before reviewing the administrative items. First up for discussion was the town garage roof, which everyone agreed needs immediate attention. This is a number one priority, said Sumner, we must do something about it this year. Last winter there was ice running down the interior walls; that’s dangerous. This is a high priority project; Sumner—as highway department liaison—should work on it with Rafus, said Holtz, adding that Stephan Chait had offered to solicit an estimate from a company specializing in assessment of structure deficiencies. We know the roof must be fixed, said Sumner. If it is going to cost $10,000 or more to analyze the problem, is that the way to go? We don’t understand the problem, responded Edwards, and have tried repairs that haven’t worked. The building is only thirteen years old, said Holtz, it should last fifty years. Rafus agreed repetitive temporary fixes are not the solution; we need to define the issue before we can solve it. All agreed that Sumner, Rafus, and Chait would work on this project.
Are we talking about all bridges, asked Holtz, or one specific bridge. The Branch Road bridge at the base of Hubbard Hill is the one currently needing attention, said Edwards. Rafus advised that state bridge inspections are done every two years; sometimes the results go to the Selectboard, sometimes to him. When we get the inspection reports, he said, we need to get together, review the listed defects, and prioritize, so we are clear on what the next project will be. Regarding the Branch Road/Hubbard Hill bridge, Rafus said he wanted to see an inspection report on the bridge deck. We know the guard rails are defective, he said, but there is water coming out from under the bridge deck. Rafus will address the guard rail situation, with temporary repair as a priority, and he and Sumner also talk to the state about their inspection schedule in preparation for making bridge study plans.
The second stage of the salt shed addition will take a back seat to garage roof repairs; the Board agreed any available funds should be used first for the roof. New truck purchase is underway, with bids to be opened at the May 5th meeting. Discussion of other changes to the highway department truck fleet will also be on that agenda. Rafus has ideas for more economical vehicle purchases in the future. He is also working on acquiring sand and gravel supplies for the coming year. This may include renting a crusher and crushing some of our own gravel.
Repair of the Reed Hill culvert by the post office is ready to go to bid; Sumner said the requests should be sent out right away. The culvert should be bid as a design-build project, said Rafus; we already have a hydrologic study and recommendations from the state. Rafus will get the bid process started. Edwards believes the town may be able to change the position of a berm on Green River Road as recommended by Evan Fitzgerald during the Green River Corridor Assessment project presentation last fall. Gabriel will research specifics of the suggestion before investigating the need for state approval.
The Selectboard would like a good-quality speaker phone for the conference room. Patty Dow volunteered to undertake this purchase, as the phones in the front offices are not working properly and need replacement. The unused dog pens currently housed at the town garage will be on the May 5th agenda. Carl Barmen wished to take them in return for a donation, but Andy Rice has indicated he could use one at his residence to house stray dogs temporarily. Dow also mentioned that the number of unlicensed dogs in town has been growing. What enforcement is available, asked Holtz. We can confiscate dogs, said Edwards. Sumner mentioned that a percentage of the licensing revenue goes to the state. Dog licensing will be a topic on the May 19th regular meeting agenda. Returning to the topic of the dog pens, Edwards said the town should develop a policy for dealing with excess equipment dispersal.
Holtz is assembling documents for Town Attorney Fisher’s conversation with Lane Construction about repairs on the Green River Road failing pavement. A signed, stamped copy of the purchase order has been located, but no copy of Lane’s standard contract has been found. The signed purchase order may be all there is, said Sumner, and we have Lane’s letter acknowledging the problem. A decision was made to proceed, using the paperwork in hand and Rafus’ photographs.
Edwards recommended creating a Class 4 roads policy to identify the town’s responsibilities related to Class 4 roads. We have a full summer schedule, she said, but maybe we can take this up over the winter. VLCT has a template the Board will use as a basis for the policy.
Other administrative tasks on the Board’s list include revising the personnel and purchasing policies, creating a records management policy, updating ordinances regulating overweight vehicles and outside storage of junk and junk vehicles, and developing a hazard mitigation plan. Holtz has conversed with WRC’s Alyssa Sabetto about hazard mitigation; she is waiting for approval of grant funding, which may happen in June. The town needs to have a completed plan in place to be eligible for the highest available percentage of reimbursement monies in the event of a disaster. If grant dollars are not forthcoming, said Edwards, the town should investigate ways of proceeding without WRC assistance.
The Board intends to update the purchasing policy to include a late-delivery protection clause. Rafus recommended a penalty process for late- or non-delivery. We should also add guidelines for disposal of excess equipment, added Edwards. Updates are proposed to the vacation/holiday pay and CDL portions of the personnel policy. CDLs are federally regulated, said Rafus, but laws have changed and the town needs to adopt the most recent version of the policy. As the employer, he explained, the town has certain responsibilities related to assuring license-holder compliance.
The two ordinances on the task list–overweight vehicle and outside junk storage—have what Holtz defined as enforcement issues. We’ve been living with not being able to enforce these ordinances since forever, he said. I think we need to figure out a way to enforce, but it’s going to take a serious amount of time. Edwards suggested asking Mollie Burke address the low overweight vehicle fees during the next legislative session. She (Edwards) also expressed concern with what she sees as an increase in junk accumulations in the town, some of which might be classified as hazardous. We can do things about leakage into waterways, or removing doors from refrigerators, said Dow, but we haven’t had any recent complaints about those. At some point, advised Edwards, we need to do a survey in town, decide where the problems are, and start talking to individuals. This is low on my priority list, she continued, because unless there’s a health hazard, we have too many other things on our schedule. It is a very tough issue, said Sumner. He cited a Maryland case which dragged on interminably with little result. We’ve been through this before, he added, this is not the first time. Edwards suggested starting a beautification fund; proceeds could be used to remove accumulated junk.
The state recommends towns adopt a records management policy; currently Halifax does not have one. Edwards, who is not planning to run for another term, would like to have guidelines in place to assist her in disposing of her personal collection of town business-related documents and emails. Dow explained that the town could adopt a blanket policy as prescribed by the state, or could choose to address specific items, working within state mandates to write policy which fits town needs. Dow and Gabriel will research state requirements for records management.
May 5th Regular Meeting Agenda
The Board created an agenda list for the next regular meeting.
Hearing of Visitors
The meeting was adjourned at 10:39 a.m.