OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
December 15, 2020
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus were present, as was Moderator Paul Blais. Linda Lyon, Everett Wilson, Stephan Chait, Kathy McLean, Cara Cheyette, Edee Edwards, Marilyn Allen, Pete Silverberg, Sue Kelly, and Tina Blais attended by teleconference. Robbin Gabriel was also present.
After Lewis Sumner opened the meeting, Paul Blais reviewed meeting procedures and instructions for participation. Blais explained that this was a budget preparation meeting, with proposed budget file templates available on the Town website for citizens participating by phone. The Selectboard would be discussing budget items line-by-line; Blais asked that listeners hold their questions and comments until after the review process.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Sumner requested the Board consider printing the full proposed budgets in the annual Town Report. In past years the budget pages showed only totals for each expense category. Mitch Green made a motion to include full expanded Selectboard and Highway proposed budget pages in the 2021 Town Report. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
FY22 Budget Preparation
The Board reviewed salaries first; they increased salaries for the Selectboard secretary and administrative assistant, the Town Clerk, and the listers. Other salaried positions remained the same. They reduced the amounts allotted for conference training, and lister and Planning Commission expenses. Funding for computer services was increased and the amount needed for ballot clerks was reduced. Dispatching fees and contracted ambulance services were increased by about $500 each, in anticipation of rising costs. The budgeted amount for recycling was increased by $6,000, as the Town’s costs have been exceeding previous budgeted funds and the current contract expires on June 30, 2021. Sumner noted the decisions made at this meeting are preliminary; the Board is still waiting for figures on some of the line items. After the Board completed its review Blais invited questions and comments from attendees.
Stephan Chait thanked Brad Rafus for assisting with installation of the instructional signs the Conservation Commission has supplied for the recycling bin area at the town garage.
Edee Edwards said it had been some time since the town has had an independent audit, and asked whether funding should be included in the budget for that purpose. Sumner recommended that question be included as an article in the Town Meeting warning, so voters could vote on it. Edwards asked if the Board would include that article, or should a petition be submitted. The Selectmen said they would put that article on the warning.
Paul Blais mentioned that the Pennel Hill cemetery, one of the oldest in town, was in serious disrepair, and he hoped the Cemetery Commission could do some work there. Earlier in the year some of the town’s cemeteries benefitted from the efforts of volunteers assisting the Cemetery Commissioners, and Blais said he would be willing to volunteer his time and equipment to help renovate the Pennel Hill cemetery. Green suggested the Board revisit this subject in the spring, perhaps as an agenda item at a meeting that included the Cemetery Commissioners, and a public request for assistance could be issued. Blais said perhaps the cemetery situation could also be discussed at Town Meeting, as an article of non-binding business.
Cara Cheyette had several follow-up questions. First, if an article for an independent audit were approved at Town Meeting, how would it be funded if monies were not included in the proposed budget? Second, how will be the article be phrased and will people have an opportunity to hear about it in advance? Third, would it be an Australian ballot question decided in March, or in some other fashion by a floor vote? The expenditure would be an add-in, said Green, just like other similar articles in each year’s town warning. Blais said there would be an article to approve the Town budget, and then an article to approve an audit, similar to the articles voted on each year to approve funding for various organizations. If approved, the funded amount is added into the budget. Green said the wording of the article might request approval of funds for an audit up to a specific dollar amount. Blais noted that the annual warning is approved at a regular Selectboard meeting in advance of Town Meeting, so the article wording would be available for public review prior to publishing. The article would be voted from the floor at Town Meeting. Cheyette then asked if the Selectboard supports an audit of the Town’s books. Yes, replied Green, we’ve discussed having an independent audit every ten years or so; I think we had one about eight years ago. Cheyette wanted to know who was in the room tonight (the conference room at the Town Office), and whether or not those present were masked. There are the three Selectboard members, Robbin , and myself, answered Blais; I have my mask on. I know people have to make decisions for themselves, said Cheyette, but we do have an executive order, and it would be nice to see, sort of, leading by example. It’s to keep you safe, keep your colleagues, friends, family, safe—I’d ask you to reconsider how you do the meetings and maybe work within the confines of the Governor’s order.
Peter Silverberg said he had done some research and found a Vermont statute (24 V.S.A §1681-1686) requiring yearly audits. He asked that the Board query legal counsel and see if we’re supposed to be doing that, and if so, he added, we probably shouldn’t vote on it, but just do it.
Edee Edwards spoke supporting Cara Cheyette’s earlier comments about following the Governor’s recommendations. This is a public health crisis, she said, I would urge you all to take care.
Cara Cheyette asked what the deadline was for submitting petitions for Town Meeting warning articles. Forty-five days before Town Meeting, answered Sumner. The 2021 Town Meeting is March 2nd; Blais told Cheyette Patty Dow would be able to give her the exact date.
Stephan Chait thanked the Board for their work on the budgets, and wished everyone a wonderful holiday and New Year. Sumner and Green said the next budget meeting, for the highway budget, would be two weeks from tonight—December 29th at 7:00 p.m.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The orders to the Treasurer were reviewed and signed.
Rafus made a motion to adjourn at 8:21 p.m. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.