OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
January 26, 2021
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:01 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus, Moderator Paul Blais, and Robbin Gabriel, were in the Town Office conference room. Teleconference attendees: Linda Lyon, Cara Cheyette, Sarah Barnett, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, Amy Kamstra, Edee Edwards, Patty Dow, and Tina Blais. Kathy McLean joined by phone at 7:51 p.m.
Chairman Lewis Sumner opened the meeting, and Moderator Paul Blais gave instruction for meeting conduct and participation.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Finalize Proposed Budget
Sumner advised the Board now has the actual cost of dispatching fees for the coming fiscal year. That figure was increased from $15,000 to $15,234. Income from State Aid was increased from $141,000 to $145,000. The final total amount to raise and appropriate is $1,449,957.
Finalize and Sign Warning
All Town Meeting warned articles will be voted on by Australian ballot this year, said Sumner. He asked Paul Blais to read the full warning for the record. (Note: Readers can read the warning online at https://halifaxvt.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Halifax-Annual-Town-Meeting-Warning-March-2-2021.pdf. This link and a link to the sample ballots can be found on the Home page of the halifaxvt.com website.) Blais had a question about Articles #6 and #7. Article #6, the Selectboard article, requests no more than $15,000 to fund an independent certified public accountant audit of the Town’s finances for fiscal year 2020, while Article #7, a petitioner’s article, asks to eliminate the Town auditors and contract with an independent CPA firm to audit the Town’s finances every year, beginning with fiscal year 2020. Article #7 does not mention a dollar amount, and Blais asked if it was an incomplete article, and wanted to know what would happen if both articles were approved. It is a petitioned article, replied Green; unless there is something wrong with the wording we can’t change it. If both are approved, I think Article #6 would be null and void, because #7 leaves the money open-ended. Blais thought this might be a question for the Secretary of State; he felt #6 was a more complete article because it specifies a dollar amount. If they both pass we’ll have to see, said Sumner. Green said the Selectboard should be able to decide on the amount if #7 were approved.
Article #8 asks to expand the Selectboard from three to five members. If that passes, said Blais, would the Selectboard appoint new members? Green said it would be by election at the next town meeting, Sumner said it could be a special election.
Cara Cheyette did not agree with Blais’ comment that Article #7 was incomplete; she said the two articles speak to entirely different issues. She added that if Article #8 were approved the vacancies would be immediate and would need to be filled by appointment after Town Meeting, or by immediate special election, if a petition is presented. Cheyette also had comments on the budget, specifically gravel costs. She outlined the proposed budget figures for FY22, which include $135,000 for gravel plus $95,000 in trucking costs (for sand and gravel), and recalled that Rafus had said, in a past meeting, the $135,000 gravel material cost translated to 10,000 yards of gravel at $13.00 a yard. She then quoted, from past meeting minutes, statements showing the Town was purchasing 5,000 yards of gravel a year, not 10,000 yards. In addition, last year’s budget included $40,000 to cover a deficit in the previous fiscal year, and the gravel budget of $95,000 included an anticipated land purchase. Cheyette questioned why the Town was now buying 10,000 yards of gravel. It’s a mystery to me where the money has gone, she said; hopefully the auditing will get to that. At this point Blais cautioned her on her wording. Most years, we crush 5,000 yards in our own pit, which costs $25,000, responded Rafus; then we would bid to purchase 4,000-5,000 yards to make up the difference. This last summer, with covid and no grants, we didn’t do our big projects, and we put a lot more gravel down. We had 5,000-6,000 yards stockpiled, and that’s gone. We’re using 8,000-10,000 yards every year, but usually we have a 3,000-4,000 yard carryover. This year we only have 500-600 yards of gravel remaining in our stockpile. Rafus said it takes about 1,100 cubic yards of gravel to resurface one mile of road at the minimum three-inch depth, and the Town has 54 miles of dirt road. To really resurface as it should be done, we should have 20,000 yards, rather than 10,000, he added. We’ve gone from buying gravel for under $6.00 a yard to paying $25.50 a yard; it’s almost five times more than we were paying a few years ago. That’s why the increase in the budget.
Cheyette spoke of her confusion when visiting the recycling bins at the Town Garage; the signs on the bins themselves didn’t match the signs set up by the Conservation Commission, and she couldn’t tell which bin to use. Sumner said TAM, the company providing the recycling service, always sets the bins in position to correspond to the Conservation Commission’s signs, and users should follow those signs, not those on the bins. TAM delivers empty bins according to what they have available, so a bin marked “paper,” may be placed in the “glass, plastic” spot, and vice versa. I think we need to make it really clear that people should follow the signs the Town has put out, said Green.
Edee Edwards asked for the overall proposed budget increase or decrease percent from last year. Green said the total increase between FY21 and FY22 is approximately $200,000.
Tina Blais thought the signs at the recycling bins were working well. She said she looks in the bins to see what’s there, and if everyone would do that it shouldn’t be that big an issue.
Amy Kamstra finds the recycling really confusing. I think the signs have been helpful, but there should be more clarity, she said.
What was the philosophy of budgeting this year, asked Edee Edwards. What was the intention, walking in, to doing the budget for the year? Same thing we do every year, replied Green. We have to figure out our expenses, and what things are going to cost. So your philosophy is to maintain a level of service, not to level-fund the budget, or stick to a 3% increase, or stick to everybody cut 5%, is that correct, asked Edwards. We just try to figure out what it will cost us to maintain what we have to maintain, answered Green. Sumner noted the cost of many services has gone up. Maintaining services is a fine philosophy, said Edwards, but in a year when many are experiencing hardships you will probably get questions about why there was not an attempt to level-fund it.
Amy Kamstra, referencing the earlier gravel discussion, said she had not been aware that in past years the Town had a stockpile. She thought that should be documented and asked, if we used all that (gravel), where did we use it. Various roads; we can’t do an entire road every year, it would take the whole budget, answered Rafus. Two mud-seasons ago we used a lot of gravel on Stage Road, Deer Park, Hanson Road, Pennel Hill, McMillan Road–5,000 yards doesn’t go very far. Just for culvert replacements, on a yearly basis, we use 1,500 yards of crushed gravel. A half-mile road project, like the Green River Road section we hope to do this year, will take 1,400 yards. Kamstra suggested, for clarity, putting updates on the website to help answer people’s questions about gravel usage and where work is being done.
Cara Cheyette returned to the recycling issue, saying she thought we had paid $8,000 for contamination in the bins in the recent past. She also addressed the role of Moderator in Selectboard meetings, remembering past occasions when discussions got heated and people talked over one another, and she acknowledged that teleconference meetings made the process more difficult. She recalled Sumner saying people have to talk and get things off their chest, and said she always wished Sumner would exercise more of the control that Blais imposes. But, she went on, I think you (Blais) are censoring discussions, and muting people for word usage is a little bit much. The only thing different this time around is that Lewis (Sumner) was at the receiving end of some really heated criticism, and now it feels like the Board has a bodyguard. I’ve also had the experience of having raised my hand and not being recognized; that may be inadvertent. Cheyette recommended holding Zoom calls, with Sumner operating the system as Chair with someone helping him with the computer, so everyone could see if someone was raising their hand. I think we’ve gone way too far, from a very heated issue with the gravel thing that the Board brought on itself, to a place where it’s kumbaya, or you get muted by the Moderator, she concluded. I appreciate your opinion, responded Blais. The meeting is run by Roberts Rules of Order. If someone’s is going to condemn the consequences of a proposed measure, as I referenced before on page 392 of Robert’s Rules of Order, then I’m going to do exactly what it says, act immediately and decisively to correct the matter. It is not appropriate for anyone, Board or public. On raising your hand and not being recognized—the only time that has occurred is when someone else is speaking, or if we have already passed a discussion topic. I’ve never not recognized someone with their hand raised; it could be a technical difficulty. We had to do something to get better order, said Green; it was too unruly. The first phone meetings weren’t manageable.
Amy Kamstra wanted clarification of when Selectboard meetings are. She can’t locate dates on a calendar. Blais advised the present discussion concerned the annual warning.
Sumner made a motion to accept the 2021 Town Meeting warning as written. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Set Dates for Pre-Town Meeting Informational Meetings
The Board and Moderator discussed available dates within the range mandated by the State. Informational meetings must be within ten days of Town Meeting. The School informational meetings will be held on Monday, February 22, 2021. The Halifax School meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. and the Southern Valley Unified Union School District meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Sumner made a motion to hold informational meetings on Tuesday, February 23, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday, February 24, 2021 at 7:00 p.m. The meeting on the 23rd will be for Selectboard and Meet the Candidates, and the 24th will be for Highway and other warned articles. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. In discussion before the vote, Edee Edwards said it would beneficial to let people know if those meetings will be recorded. Gabriel said she has not been permitted to upload meeting audio files to the website for security reasons, but audio files are always available on request to the Town Clerk or the Selectboard secretary. As informational meetings are informal, Board members agreed they would be open to questions on any Town Meeting topic at either meeting. Marilou Parkhurst asked if a postcard would be mailed with details about the informational meetings, and would candidates’ names be listed on the card. Patty Dow advised a postcard would be mailed with information about how to obtain an absentee ballot and the Town Report, but there is not enough space on a postcard to include articles and candidate lists. A sample ballot will be posted on the website; there will be four ballots this year. Dow confirmed the postcard would list the dates of the informational meetings. When will absentee ballots be available, asked Parkhurst. Hopefully by Monday, responded Dow. Sarah Barnett, who creates the postcards, reviewed the list of items to go on the postcards and asked for verification that all voting would be by Australian ballot this year. Cara Cheyette recalled that in the fall Selectboard meeting minutes included instructions for dial-in access to meeting audio recordings, but later minutes do not include that information. Gabriel said the teleconferencing system made those two recordings available by dial-in as an introductory sampling, but that was no longer available. Recordings can be provided to citizens making a public records request, either on disk, or by email if file size permits. Edee Edwards suggested letting people know when specific articles will be discussed at the informational meetings. Board members confirmed those discussions would be held on the second meeting night, February 24th. Marilou Parkhurst asked if the call-in and access numbers would be printed on the postcards. Yes, that information will be included.
Hearing of Visitors
Edee Edwards noted that at the beginning of tonight’s meeting it wasn’t clear who was present. Going forward, it would be helpful to know who is on the call, she said.
Kathy McLean had a safety concern; she said the roads had not been plowed yet. (Snow was falling as the meeting was in progress.) There have been two ambulance calls in town and not all vehicles are four-wheel drive, said McLean. Stowe Mountain Road, Jacksonville Stage, and Old County Road aren’t plowed. We’re not safe up here; when is the crew going to be told they can go out? We actually have guys out right now, plowing and salting blacktop, answered Rafus. That’s our first priority. You can’t expect us to plow all night and then all day tomorrow, we only have four guys. We’re actually short one employee now and we have no part-time help. McLean said Stowe Mountain is the main access for anyone in her area heading to Greenfield, and it’s a mountain.
Sumner made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 8:13 p.m. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.