OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
January 5, 2021
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus, Moderator Paul Blais, and Robbin Gabriel were in the Town Office conference room. The following individuals attended by teleconference: Patty Dow, Rhonda Ashcraft, Peggy Rafus, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, Linda Lyon, Everett Wilson, Marketa Psenickova, Patrick Eck, Kathy McLean, Tina Blais, Bob Teree, Marilyn Allen, and Peter Silverberg.
Chairman Lewis Sumner opened the meeting, and Moderator Paul Blais gave instruction for meeting conduct and participation.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve the 12/1/20 regular meeting minutes as written. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Green made a motion to approve the 12/15/20 special meeting minutes as written, Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Sumner made a motion to approve the 12/29/20 special meeting minutes as written. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus, who participated in that meeting as Road Commissioner, abstaining.
Town Meeting Update
Sumner initiated a discussion on possible methods for conducting Town Meeting in March. We can have all articles voted by Australian ballot, he said, or we can wait to find out if the legislature will approve alternate procedures. Green thought it would still be hard to hold a regular in-person meeting. He suggested voting by Australian ballot in March and postponing a regular meeting. If the choice is Australian ballot, said Rafus, multiple information meetings should be held, rather than trying to cover the school, town, and highway budgets, and the rest of the articles, all in one night. Green made a motion to vote on all warned articles by Australian ballot on March 2nd, and to hold three informational meetings prior to Town Meeting, one for the school, one for the budgets, and one for the articles. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. In discussion prior to the vote Blais stated that arrangement would be the best choice from the school’s perspective. Patty Dow, who has been monitoring activity in other towns, and said many are deciding to go with Australian ballot on Town Meeting day, and will be holding multiple information meetings. Green said dates for the informational meetings would be set at the first Selectboard meeting in February.
Patty Dow said she has been asked if electronic signatures would be accepted on citizen petitions for articles to be placed on the town warning. Specifically, these would be actual signatures that were then scanned, emailed to the person sponsoring the article, and then delivered as a complete packet to the Town Clerk. VLCT has advised that the Selectboard would need to approve electronic signatures, as the legislature has not yet ruled on alternate ways of conducting this year’s town meetings. Dow emphasized the need for actual signatures and Blais clarified by saying that the signee would print out the form, fill it out and sign it with a pen, scan the completed petition, and email it. You would not accept a typed signature he added, and Dow confirmed that explanation was correct. This would be only for 2021, said Dow, as a way of keeping people safe during covid. Green said he didn’t have a problem with electronic signatures if they were actual written signatures, not typed. Green made a motion to approve electronic signatures on citizens’ petitions for the town warning, for 2021 only. The signatures must be handwritten, scanned, and emailed, not typed. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Sumner told the meeting the Board has received a letter from Casella, the company that purchased TAM Waste Management. Halifax has a contract with TAM to provide the town with recycling services; that contract ends on June 30, 2021. Casella’s letter advises the Town that their per-trip fee will be increasing from $250 to $345. We increased the recycling amount in our FY22 budget to $18,000, said Sumner, but I think we need to raise it to $20,000. The Board discussed the fact that the hauling increase was to be effective immediately, but the Town has six months remaining on the original TAM contract and Casella has not offered a new contract. They agreed that they could research other vendors for the Town’s recycling needs. Responding to a question from Marilou Parkhurst, Green said the proposed budget line item number for recycling was 6715. Everett Wilson, who attended the meeting when the original TAM contract was approved, said that a set amount of money had been agreed upon for recycling costs, and if it were raised the contract would be broken. Our contract expires on June 30th, responded Blais, and the new ($20,000) figure is being proposed for fiscal year 2022, which begins July 1st. Green said the Board could also consider discontinuing the recycling program, but would need to think about the cost to residents. If we’re going to go down that road, said Rafus, I think it should be an article on the warning. The Board agreed to discuss the topic at a future meeting. Linda Lyon explained that WSWMD (Windham Solid Waste on Ferry Road in Brattleboro) does not charge per load for recycled material but users must purchase a sticker once a year if they take recycling there. Lyon recommended the Board investigate what percentage of the town’s residents are using the recycling bins. Sumner said Constable Andy Rice has requested an increase in his budget, due to a heavier work load, and that line item in the proposed budget was changed from $4,000 to $5,000.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The orders to the Treasurer were reviewed and signed.
The Board signed one driveway permit; one other will be reviewed. The State’s grand list equalization figures have been received; the education grand list is $129,842,446, and the equalized education grand list is $119,614,441. The CLA (common level of appraisal) is 108.55% and the COD (coefficient of dispersion) is 29.6%. We know that’s high, but we are having a reappraisal, said Sumner. He explained that the CLA number indicates our appraisals are higher than what the State sets, and the COD represents the difference between high and low sales.
Hearing of Visitors
Marilou Parkhurst questioned FY22 proposed budget line item #7430, gravel. It was $60,000 in 2020, $95,000 was budgeted for 2021, and the proposed 2022 budget is $130,000, said Parkhurst; that feels unreal. She also noted that the $60,000 2020 sand budget was increased to $95,000 in 2021, and is being decreased to $40,000 in 2022. Blais offered an explanation based on what was discussed during the December 15th highway budget meeting. It’s based on material costs, he said. Previously the cost was $6.50 a yard, because they were crushing at the town yard. Parkhurst thought the numbers still seemed high. If you budgeted $95,000 (for gravel) in 2021, can you tell me how much has been spent to date?, she asked. We’ve spent $29,780 on gravel thus far, answered Rafus. We only have about 7,000 yards on hand right now—the remainder will be done in the spring. With the current bid, the cost will be $25.50 per cubic yard, delivered. I’m hoping we can haul some of it ourselves, to keep the cost down. We have about $60,000 left to spend. The sand budget came down because the trucking costs have been separated in the FY22 proposed budget. We use 4,000 yards of sand a year. If we truck half of that ourselves and hire the other half out, that’s $22,000 for the trucking. If we have someone truck the 6,600 yards of gravel, the cost is $72,600. The $95,000 trucking fee is a combined fee for hauling both sand and gravel. Parkhurst asked if that number could be reduced during the year, and Rafus said it all depended on how much we can haul ourselves and how much has to be contracted out.
Kathy McLean noted that Blais had answered a question about the budget, and the question was directed at the Selectboard. I was answering a question that was answered at the last meeting, responded Blais; that’s fully within the discretion of the moderator.
Linda Lyon thanked the Selectboard for approving Australian ballots and electronic signatures. She also asked about the Board’s meeting minutes on the website; minutes from February through August are still marked as “draft.” Gabriel explained that when the Board moved to remote meeting access they stopped approving past meeting minutes at each regular meeting. Late in the summer, at a citizen’s request, the Board resumed the practice, but did not make it retroactive. Lyon asked that those minutes be approved. Green made a motion to approve all the past meeting minutes as written, February 4, 2020 and July 21, 2020. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Doug Parkhurst asked if the electronic signature process discussed earlier included faxed submissions. The Board agreed.
Bob Teree thought the Town Clerk wouldn’t want to receive random individual petition pages; he suggested the person circulating the petition should collect all signed pages and submit a packet. Dow was no longer on the teleconference, but Blais remarked that she would likely prefer to receive a completed package. There was some discussion about how to determine how many signatures had been collected if individuals sent their pages in separately.
Paul Blais announced the Halifax School budget work session would be held tomorrow evening, via Zoom. While the budget can’t be finalized until after School Board Director elections on January 19th, the School Board hopes to complete the work at their meeting on the 20th, and presently the numbers indicate there will be a tax reduction of approximately eleven cents.
Peter Silverberg said he thought the Town had been trucking in their gravel all along; he now realizes that’s not the case, and asked how much gravel was trucked in the past. It’s new this year, said Green. We truck all our sand but weren’t trucking gravel. Rafus said that the last three or four years we were crushing gravel in our own pit, usually twice a year, spring and fall, about 5,000 yards each time. We crushed about 20.000 yards the year before Irene, which we expected would supply us for several years, but we used all of that and more in reconstruction following the storm. We had gravel hauled in for a while after that, until we got set up to do our own crushing again. At times, if we are working on Thomas Hill, it is actually cheaper to have gravel trucked in than to use material from our pit. Silverberg said he now understood that while the Town had previously been crushing, all gravel would now be trucked in from elsewhere.
Marilou Parkhurst asked for details about tomorrow night’s School Board meeting. That information is on the supervisory union’s website, answered Blais. He told Parkhurst he would email her the link to the agenda and instructions for calling in to the meeting.
Sumner made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:03 p.m. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.