OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
June 4, 2019
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, as were Stephan Chait, Patricia Dow, Jason Ashcroft, Ray Combs, Kathleen Mclean, Nancy McCrea, Diana Conway, Sue Kelly, Paula Schultz, Peggy Rafus, Bonnie Brown, Dawn Roske, Joan Courser, Norman Fajans, Marilyn Allen, and Robbin Gabriel.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner advised that Marilyn Allen wished to be included on the agenda; he also added a discussion on reclassification.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Mitch Green made a motion to approve the 5/21/19 regular meeting minutes as written. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve the 5/23/19 special meeting minutes as written. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Green made a motion to approve the 5/28/19 special meeting minutes as written. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Junk Code Violations
Health Officer Sue Kelly reported that she and Constable Andy Rice had visited 10070 Jacksonville Stage Road and met with the tenant. A health inspection was scheduled for the following day, but as Rice was detained elsewhere the inspection will be rescheduled. Kelly also delivered the junk code violation letter to Ken Boyd on Brook Road; Boyd expressed an intention to get into compliance. Sumner said Boyd had come to see him and asked if a time extension was possible. Boyd is working on the cleanup but does not have a lot of money. Rafus said the yard was looking much better, and Kelly mentioned the trash was being housed in the garage. Kelly and Green recommended not giving an open-ended extension; Sumner said Boyd still had several weeks left on the original 30-day notification. The Board will revisit the issue at their next regular meeting.
Sign Line of Credit Resolution
Sumner made a motion to sign the People’s Bank line of credit to the town for another year. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. In discussion prior to the vote, Sumner told Stephan Chait the line of credit was for $150,000 at 3.10%. Paul Blais asked whether the monies would allow the Town to pay expense reports submitted in May. Sumner said this was not borrowing in anticipation of taxes, this was money borrowed last year and not yet repaid. We have another agenda item which will address the winter deficit, he added. Brad Rafus asked whether the line of credit would still have been open had the Town paid it off using the 75% FEMA reimbursement funds the Town has received to date for October 2017 storm damage. Patty Dow said no, the line of credit would have been closed, and we would not have been able to use it for anything other than storm damage expenses. Peggy Rafus asked why the FEMA money hadn’t been used to pay off the credit line. Green pointed out that the Town would then have needed to take out another loan. Peggy Rafus was disturbed because the bank made contact with the State to verify that the State portion of disaster reimbursement funds was still forthcoming; Peggy felt that action made it appear she was at fault in her role as EMD. No one is saying that, Dow responded; she explained that verification was a common practice as the bank processed the new loan request. Selectboard members and Patty Dow signed the line of credit documents as required. Sumner and Dow explained to Chait that this loan was simply a 12-month extension of the credit line the Town took out last year.
Discuss Options for Winter Deficit
We had a tough winter and spring, said Sumner. We were over budget by $60,000 on sand this winter, $14,500 on salt, and $40,000 on stone during mud season. In total, the Town’s expenditures were approximately $130,000 over the amounts budgeted. Rafus pointed out the net figure was about $121,000, as we were $9,400 under budget on lease payments. Paul Blais asked about unencumbered accounts; Sumner and Rafus told him the deficit figure was a net number, taking into account the full Selectboard and Highway budgets. Sumner confirmed for Chait that the deficit is in FY19, which ends on June 30th. Dow suggested paying essentials only until dollars start coming in. Green asked Dow for an estimate of monies needed until the end of June. Dow did some calculations, came up with a rough figure of $60,000 in outgoing commitments, and said there should be sufficient income to pay everything due by mid-July. Are you saying the expense reports submitted for the listers at the end of May aren’t going to be paid?, asked Blais. Green said tonight’s Treasurer’s Order, which totals $16,388, had been signed. I wanted everything on the order so I would have the authority to pay it as money came in, said Dow, but I was hoping you would afford me the luxury of pushing some of it off. Dow said she did not want to see the Town’s bank account hit zero balance. If the warnings are signed, said Blais, that’s an authorization to pay, not a suggestion. Every year at Town Meeting there is an article that says borrow in anticipation of taxes. Blais went on to say that article was meant to cover this type of situation, and if there was going to be a problem paying municipal officials’ expenses, a notification should have been issued. That wasn’t done, said Blais, and I’m looking at 1,000 miles in mileage plus hotel expenses. Blais said he thought it was horrible that the cash flow issue was not communicated to folks incurring expenses on their personal accounts; if that’s what the Board decides to do, he added, I think I’m going to be stepping down from everything. There was further discussion about making adjustments to the current Selectboard order. I can pay everything on there, said Dow; just keep in mind that come the next order there may not be enough. Green suggested preparing two orders for the next meeting, one with items that must be paid and another with items that could wait. When you sign an order, said Rafus, in my opinion it’s ready for payment. Is it yes or is it no?, asked Jason Ashcroft. We sign the order to be paid, explained Green, but there are times when an adjustment is necessary, and we sign to authorize the adjustment, if there is a mistake or a figure is off, for instance. The Board agreed to pay the current order in full, and Sumner suggested the Town could apply for a small loan. Dow thought that wouldn’t be necessary.
Dow advised she had talked with legal counsel at VLCT (Vermont League of Cities and Towns), and per statute the Town has three options for dealing with a deficit. The first two possibilities, applying for a bond or adding an article to the Town Meeting warning, are off the table due to timing. The third option permits the Selectboard to add to the tax rate in 5% increments based on the value of the grand list. We are about to set the tax rate, said Dow, and a 10% addition would generate $129,600. Blais said that’s not what the voters approved at Town Meeting and asked whether the Town could borrow in anticipation of taxes. Then, by law, you’d have to raise the taxes to cover the deficit, said Dow and Sumner. Dow calculated that given a 10% increase, a property valued at $200,000 would see approximately $200 added to the year’s tax bill. Marilyn Allen asked if we couldn’t consider cutting some of our huge expenses; specifically leased equipment. Once your lease is up, you have to get more equipment. It doesn’t work that way, responded Sumner. Board members explained that if the Town leases a truck for five years, we own the vehicle once the lease is up. Then we’ll have the truck for five more years. Green noted that the overall budget has been reduced in the last few years. Are you looking at ways to save money?, asked Allen. We would save the most money, said Rafus, if the Town had its own resources. The cost of trucking material is as much as the cost of the material itself. There’s nothing here; the closest place is Dummerston, which was just sold, so we’ll be going further. The current major issue is the bad winter, said Green. Allen said private citizens also had a tough winter expense-wise. She would like to hear that in working to resolve the deficit the Selectboard is looking at ways to cut expenses. Rafus suggested postponing this year’s paving project. We budgeted $160,000 for paving, he said, and we have $50,000 budgeted for bridges but do not have a project planned for this year. We could use about $15,000 of that to shim a section of Green River Road. Dow agreed that plan would allow the Town to cover the FY19 deficit without increasing taxes. Last year, Rafus added, we did a two-year paving project in one year, so we would still be pretty much on schedule. Rafus told Ray Combs that the lower end of Green River Road was the planned paving project for FY20. Blais asked if a paving project was even realistic, given what the Town must do to comply with the Clean Water Act. If we meet the State’s Act 64 requirements over the next five years the budget will increase by $100,000 responded Rafus. Blais thought postponing the paving was a good idea; it would free up manpower and resources, and allow taxpayers on fixed incomes to plan for anticipated future taxes. Sumner said gravel banks are running out of resources and businesses are reluctant to attempt to open new pits because applying for Act 250 permits is an expensive gamble.
Discussion turned to costs associated with the Town doing its own trucking of materials versus having sand and gravel trucked in by others. Allen said the changing climate meant we could expect more rough winters and mud seasons in the future. She advocated for a long-term plan involving mapping problem sections of Jackonville Stage Road and building them up. She said sharp rocks that had been added to fill muddy sections were causing flat tires and should be covered with gravel. She said that on Easter Sunday no one could reach the highway crew members; people couldn’t go to concerts, had to cancel medical appointments, and she (Allen) couldn’t go on a plane on Monday. We had a State grant about five years ago, responded Rafus, and I recommended we pave Jacksonville Stage Road up to the Center. The Selectboard turned it down; they did not want it paved. Rafus said a large part of the problem on Jacksonville Stage was the increase in traffic in recent years. General conversation moved to the spring mud season just past, and the damage done by large trucks on the soft, muddy road. Paula Schultz, who lives at the corner of Old County and Tucker Roads, said the upper section of Old County Road is all washed out, and hadn’t been graded. Deer Park Road has been graded and it’s beautiful she added. Once again, it comes down to material, said Rafus. I have 10,000 yards of gravel, and it would take 15-16,000 yards just to do Jacksonville Stage. The Town needs to find some land and have its own material source. Rafus confirmed for Norm Fajans that the option of postponing this year’s paving was being considered. Blais remarked on the very difficult mud season the Town endured this year. He thanked the highway department for its efforts during April and May.
Allen brought the conversation back to her distress over Easter weekend. We felt completely forgotten, she said; was the Town on a four-day week during mud season? Yes, toward the end of it, said Rafus. That’s a real problem for us, said Allen. I had to walk through the mud with my suitcase to catch a flight, and had to cancel a doctor’s appointment. I couldn’t talk to anybody; you guys were having a nice weekend for three days. I don’t go anywhere, Peggy Rafus interjected. We don’t get Christmas, we don’t get Easter, we don’t get Thanksgiving. So don’t say we were having a good time. We put 686 yards of stone down on Jacksonville Stage Road, said Brad Rafus. We usually budget for 700 yards. He told Combs they put 39 loads of stone on Stage Road over five days. Is there a way we can make it better next year?, asked Allen. You can improve the road, but where is the material and money going to come from?, answered Rafus. He recalled that six or seven years ago Allen had supported the decision to cut the highway crew hours from 45 to 40 a week. That’s 1,300 hours a year, across a five-man crew, that they’re not working on the roads, he said.
Kathy Mclean asked if we crush our own gravel and if that is what was used in front of her house. We’ve had at least six flats, she said. Rafus told Mclean we do crush gravel, but the stone used on Stowe Mountain Road is quarry stone. It will be scarified and gravel will be layered over the stone. Mclean also wanted to know if the Town considered contracting material trucking. Rafus said we have bid requests out now; bids will be opened at the next Selectboard meeting and will include quotes for materials trucked in as well as materials picked up by Town trucks.
Stephan Chait announced that the Town of Halifax, Green River Watershed Alliance, Halifax Conservation Commission, and Windham Regional Commission are hosting a meeting on June 13, 2019, 6:00 p.m., at the Community Hall. Road foremen from Halifax, Guilford, and Marlboro, and representatives from the State, will be discussing the impact of Act 64 (Clean Water Act) and the difficulties it presents for towns. Chait offered flyers and encouraged people to attend, learn, and participate in the discussion. We need to have the community involved, Rafus said; it’s going to seriously affect your taxes down the road. Bonnie Brown was concerned that the State has created another unfunded mandate. Every Road Commissioner in Vermont must be going through the same thing, she said. Brown suggested Road Commissioners should communicate about the common problem, and perhaps involve Regional Commissions and legislators, in an effort to get the new laws modified so the requirements were more realistic.
Patty Dow reminded the meeting of the need to come to a decision on how to handle the FY19 deficit. Green made a motion to use $100,000 from the Town’s FY20 paving budget, and $50,000 from the FY20 bridge budget, to cover the FY19 deficit. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Community Hall as Emergency Shelter
Bonnie Brown requested a discussion on the proposal to use the Community Hall as an emergency shelter. A conversation between Brown, Peggy Rafus, and Nancy McCrea followed, addressing concerns that the Hall was not suitable as a shelter. Peggy Rafus made it clear that there was no formal proposal to utilize the Community Hall; the idea had simply come up as a suggestion for a secondary shelter option, and the possibility of providing the Hall with a generator was also mentioned. Peggy said she needed to interact with the Red Cross before she had answers to questions.
Sumner had a letter from Tristan Roberts stating that if the Town decided to discontinue a portion of Thurber Road, he would like the entire trail section to be discontinued. I met with him (Roberts) this morning, said Rafus, and inspected the underground electrical conduit. It was satisfactory and I told him he could bury it again. Rafus explained to Jason Ashcroft that a portion of Thurber Road is designated town trail which one property owner (Roberts) has been using all the way through. A trail is not designed for vehicles; it’s a town right of way for recreational vehicles. The Town has told that owner to not to perform maintenance in the town right of way. The other landowners (Nancy McCrea and Diana Conway), have asked that the secton of Thurber between their driveway and the McCrea/Roberts property boundary be discontinued. Several people expressed opinions on whether roads should be discontinued, how trails should be used, and the importance of public rights of way in emergency situations. Sumner said all these things would be discussed in the public hearing. He recommended having Town Attorney Bob Fisher write the legal notice on the matter to assure proper wording. Nancy McCrea noted that when she had requested discontinuance she also offered a right of way to the town for emergency use. Peggy Rafus asked that the Town Attorney clarify the allowed use of town trails. Green made a motion to hold a hearing to consider the trail portion of Thurber Road between the Roberts/McCrea property line and Green River Road intersection (eastern end of Thurber) for reclassification to Class 4 or discontinuance. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus opposed. Green made a motion to consider the approximately 600 foot section of Thurber Road between the McCrea driveway and the McCrea/Roberts property line for discontinuance. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed 2-0-1, with Rafus opposed. Given the many questions from attendees about permitted uses for trails and frontage requirements for building, the Selectboard agreed to request information from the Town Attorney.
Hearing of Visitors
Stephan Chait told the Board that the Resilient Roads meeting in Guilford last May achieved good attendance through a concerted effort to notify people by making phone calls and talking to individuals in advance. He asked that the Selectboard assist in the notifying as many citizens as possible to make them aware of the June 13th meeting at the Community Hall.
Brad Rafus asked for the Board’s thoughts on pursuing the two pending Act 64 projects (Pennel Hill and Reed Hill). The projects both have June 30th deadlines, and the highway crew has a full workload performing regular spring road maintenance. He told Sumner Pennel Hill still has to be ditched and stone laid down. That will take about a week, while the Reed Hill project will be longer. Sumner advised finishing Pennel Hill, and Green recommended requesting an extension of the deadline for Reed Hill. Chait will check with WRC’s Emily Davis regarding changing the required completion date. What would happen if the Town did not comply with Act 64?, asked Peggy Rafus. We wouldn’t get our $141,000-a-year State Aid money, said Brad Rafus, and it might disqualify us for structures grants. Green suggested the Town could withhold State Education payments. This isn’t something the Town is saying must be done, said Peggy Rafus; it’s something that is a State mandate. Bonnie Brown and Chait both mentioned the possibility of a waiver process on some of Act 64’s required projects.
Selectboard’s Order to Treasurer for Payment
The Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer was reviewed and signed.
Correspondence was reviewed and filed.Two driveway permits were signed. The Selectboard received a communication from the Fire Department; they want to install a water supply off the bridge on Randy Pike’s Sprague Road property. The State will pay 75% and the Town or Fire Department will pay 25%. Sumner signed the request.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:13 p.m.