OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
May 4, 2021
(Link to audio recording of this meeting can be found below the text.)
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:05 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Peter Silverberg, and Bradley Rafus, and Moderator Paul Blais were in the Town Office conference room. Peggy Rafus, Tina Blais, Linda Lyon, Everett Wilson, Stephan Chait, David Jones, Scott Ashcraft, Matt Hardgrove, Rhonda Ashcraft, Tristan Roberts, Chris Parkins, Janice Bliss, Donna Silverberg, and Robbin Gabriel attended remotely, through phone or video. Cara Cheyette joined the meeting at 7:26 p.m.
Paul Blais reviewed conference call features and meeting protocol.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Brad Rafus added a discussion of grants under new business. Pete Silverberg and Lewis Sumner briefly discussed how to share citizen queries in open meeting when questions have been posed privately to Board members.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve the 4/6/21 meeting minutes as written. Peter Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Truck bids were opened and reviewed at the Selectboard’s April 6th meeting, but no decision was made, pending further research to calculate the cost of installing currently town-owned equipment on a new truck chassis. Brad Rafus has obtained a re-chassis quote from Viking Cives for $28,600. The original quote for new equipment was $72,300, so this would be a savings of $43,800. The Town’s problem truck, which is to be replaced, is still in the repair shop in Jericho, and both International and the dealership have washed their hands of it; they have given up attempts to repair and have told the Town to come get the vehicle, therefore the truck no longer has the trade-in value anticipated by bidders. Rafus told Paul Blais the vehicle is not leased; the town owns it. Matt Hardgrove asked if, in the future, we could have sand and gravel delivered to lessen wear and tear on our trucks. Rafus said that option had been calculated into this year’s budget, with the town trucking one-half our sand, one-third of the gravel, and the remainder hired out. Blais brought the discussion back to the truck bid question, and Hardgrove said he would like to hear figures on trucking materials at a future meeting. Is our trade-in truck now a zero value, asked Pete Silverberg? If we re-chassis, the old chassis will still have some value, but not much, responded Rafus. The body is only two years old, and hasn’t seen much use because it has spent most of its time in the repair shop. The Board reviewed the details of submitted bids again, and noted that Advantage Truck Group has a Western Star on their lot in Westminster, and also has an open slot for the re-chassis process, so the Town could take possession of that vehicle by winter. The other vehicles on offer would not be available for a year to a year and a half. Silverberg said he would be reluctant to purchase another International, but Western Star has performed well for the town. The vendor offering that truck is only 40 minutes away, while the others are two to three hours away. The Board agreed the Western Star was the best all-around option. Lewis Sumner made a motion to approve Advantage Truck Group’s bid of $71,894 for a 2022 Western Star, to be re-chassied by Viking Cives for $28,600. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining. In discussion prior to the vote, Chris Parkins asked if there were a written summary outlining the history of the problem truck the town is retiring. There is documentation, but no written summary, replied Rafus. The truck is a 2014; we started having trouble with emission components about three years ago. Last year the truck was in the shop most of the winter. We put $42,000 into it last year, and about $18.000 this year. Virtually the entire emissions system has been replaced, but the dealership cannot solve the problem, and they don’t know what else to try. Parkins asked if we would get money back. Rafus thought the town should go after International, and Silverberg suggested consulting the Town Attorney. Sumner said Rafus and Keith Stone, who are knowledgeable about the details, should talk to the Town Attorney. Silverberg made a motion to have Brad Rafus confer with the Town Attorney about recovering some of the costs of the failed truck repairs. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining.
Sand, Gravel, Heating Fuel and Diesel Fuel RFQs
Sumner made a motion to send sand, gravel, heating fuel, and diesel fuel quote requests to the appropriate companies on the town’s vendor list, with a bid submission deadline of June 1, 2021. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Rafus advised the Town asks two prices on sand gravel, one with the materials trucked to Halifax and the second with the Town picking up at the vendor’s pit. Silverberg asked if we should submit requests to vendors other than those on our list, aand also if there was gravel quality variance among the vendors. We send requests to all suppliers in our area, answered Rafus. Most of the gravel banks are near the Connecticut River, so quality is pretty much the same. Cersosimo’s has a little more stone in it, and has a tendency to be a bit cleaner, but it’s all State spec. Sumner said the Town also gets two prices on diesel fuel; a summer rate, and a price for winter fuel, which has some kerosene in it to prevent gelling.
Rafus said the Town is requesting quotes for a half-mile reclaim project on Green River Road (eastern end). Depending on the quotes we receive, we may later request a quote for paving a portion of Brook Road. Rafus expects the price per ton to be higher this year because oil prices have climbed. Sumner made a motion to send out paving RFQs to vendors. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Post Office Closure
Paul Blais read a letter from Tyson Dix, Postmaster, into the meeting record. The letter explained that on April 22, 2021, patrons had received notice of a property lease termination that would close the West Halifax Post Office on April 30, but a subsequent renegotiation of the lease will permit the Post Office to continue operations uninterrupted. (Note: To read the full text of this letter, see “Post Office to Remain Open” item on the halifaxvt.com Home page.) While there is no official information about the length of the lease extension, Sumner has heard the new lease may be 18 a term of months, and the USPS may be searching for an alternate location in Halifax. Silverberg asked about options to assure the Town could retain the Post Office in the future. David Jones suggested the Town could query the Postmaster about the status of the situation and also investigate other locations. Could the Town-owned parcel on Brook Road, the former Town Garage location, be leased to the Post Office? It is a small lot with no septic and no water, replied Sumner; there might not be enough room to put in a well and septic system. Tina Blais wondered if the Town could purchase a small building, like the property for sale next to Mirucki’s, and lease it to the Post Office. Matt Hardgrove supported these suggestions, which might give the Town a future return on their investment. Tristan Roberts suggested the Town Garage property might be a potential location. There is septic and water on-site, said Rafus, and if we did that and down the road the lease got terminated, the Town could use it for office space. We need to know what the Post Office would commit to, said Silverberg. Sumner said he would talk to Tyson Dix. Rafus noted the Halifax Post Office hours were reduced a few years ago, and might be further curtailed in the future. Paul Blais recalled mention, in the original Post Office letter, that the USPS was interested in other locations and would be willing to cover renovation costs. We should find out what the Post Office is looking for; what their requirements are, said Silverberg.
Certified Public Accountant RFQ Discussion
Board members worked through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ model quote request for certified public account services, reviewing previous edits and marking changes necessary to meet the Town’s specific needs. Sumner told Paul Blais the initial contract should be for FY20 and FY21, as the Town voted in March to eliminate the elected auditors. By law, the Town must have its financial records audited every year. Silverberg made a motion to have the amended version of the CPA audit RFQ reviewed by Treasurer Patty Dow, and then submit it to a list of Vermont-certified public accounting firms. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
American Recovery Plan Act Funding
Selectboard Secretary/Administrative Assistant Applications
Sumner advised the Board has received two applications, and should set a date to hold interviews. The secretary will speak to the applicants and arrange interview dates.
Highway Department Work Schedule Communication
Rafus summarized past attempts to communicate Highway Department activities to the public. At one point the Department had a Facebook page, and while it was initially successful, negative comments eventually prompted Rafus to remove the page. Posting notices of the Department’s proposed monthly work schedule was also unsatisfactory; weather often means altering that schedule, and citizens expecting to find crews doing maintenance on a particular road on a certain date are disappointed when the schedule changed. Rafus suggested a recurring Selectboard meeting agenda item as a way of communicating Highway Department activity. We could discuss and answer questions, he added. Silverberg presented a written list of general priorities to post on the website. Rafus will review the list for the next meeting. Stephan Chait said the highway crew faces difficult circumstances with lots of variables. He thanked them for their efforts, noted there was a tendency to think that everything the road crew does is not quite right, and said a factor in the effort to improve communication should be an appreciation of their work, rather than skepticism about how they are doing their job. Chait cautioned against creating more paperwork, which could detract from the actual road work. Cara Cheyette made a similar comment about paperwork, and suggested a message on the Town Garage answering machine each week, outlining the projected, weather-dependent, schedule. She pointed out that a lot of people don’t attend Selectboard meetings, and a weekly message would be more timely than a once-a-month open meeting discussion. Updating an answering machine message could work if you had a desk job, said Paul Blais, but you don’t. Blais described a Twitter feature on our website host’s server (GoDaddy), that would automatically populate to the town website. It would be a one-way communication, he told Silverberg. Stephan Chait said people need to have a sense of trust in Brad’s and the road crew’s judgment. Tina Blais agreed with Chait, and pointed out that Town Clerk Patty Dow gets many phoned complaints, especially during mud season. People need to calm down and have trust, she added. No one should be yelling at Patty, said Silverberg; that’s inappropriate. He advocated a better job of communication as a way of alleviating that problem. Rafus described some of the unacceptable behavior he and his crew members have been subject to through the years, such as abusive messages on his home phone, and highway employees cornered at local public events. He spoke of losing a $1,000 deposit on a vacation rental house during Irene, and the 24/7 on-call nature of the road crew’s job during the winter months. Stephan Chait said we need to find a way to communicate the need for treating town employees with respect. Sumner shared that on more than one occasion he has received an abusive phone call and has gone to meet with the caller. They are completely different in person, he said.
Set Date for Meet the Candidates Night
Sumner proposed May 18th as a date for Meet the Candidates night. Rafus suggested an open meeting at the Town Garage, with phone-in option, so people could speak with candidates face-to-face. Blais and the Board discussed the technological aspects of the proposal; the Internet connection may not be strong enough at that location. We need to find out what the State will allow for in-person gatherings, said Silverberg. Blais said that as of May 1st, an outdoor gathering of 300 people, plus any number of vaccinated people, is permitted. Sumner made a motion to schedule Meet the Candidates Night for Tuesday, May 18, 2021, outdoors at the Town Garage, with a rain date of May 19, 2021. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Prior to the vote, Cara Cheyette asked that the Board commit to meeting entirely outdoors (no one in the open bays), and social distancing and masking enforced. Blais advised step 2 of Governor Scott’s guidance says masks and physical distancing are required when in the presence of others outside of one’s household. Chris Parkins thought the outside venue would mean the technology could be tricky; he advocated for an all virtual meeting. David Jones said the Internet connection should be tested prior to the meeting; Blais will test.
Rafus has had notice from Windham Regional Commission that Act 64 grants for ditch work are in process, with Halifax eligible for a maximum of $25,600. The Town match of 20% would be covered by equipment and man hours. Two years ago, the first section of Pennel Hill was done, then the work was put on hold through the pandemic year. Rafus plans to use the grant monies to continue the culvert and ditch work on Pennel Hill this year; there is possibly enough funding to complete two sections.
Alternate Agenda Discussion
Stephan Chait noted this item had been skipped during discussion under new business. Blais, who introduced this topic last meeting, said it was restrictive to confine visitor commentary to the beginning and/or end of meetings. He did recommend considering a discussion time limit on each agenda item, for a more efficient meeting process. We are adding two people to the Board before next meeting, said Silverberg. He suggested waiting for the new members’ input.
Board members agreed this topic had been adequately covered earlier, under “Highway Department Work Schedule Communication.”
Hearing of Visitors
Blais had two EMD updates. The Local Emergency Management Plan has been submitted to Windham Regional Commission, and Alyssa Sabetto is reviewing it. WRC will submit to the State before the end of May. Department of Health covid data from yesterday: 34 new cases, 17 people hospitalized, 6 in ICU, 2 cases under investigation, positive seven-day rolling average 1.1%, total number of people receiving one vaccine dose, 161,369, or 64.3% of the 16 and older population, total number of people completely vaccinated, 247,336, or 43.5% of the 16 and older population.
Chris Parkins encouraged the Board to prepare documents and materials in advance of meetings so data can be shared on-screen. Blais said he had truck bid documentation, but there were far too many pages to present on-screen. Parkins’ idea is that the secretary could review documentation in advance, and prepare a summary with pertinent details. Rafus explained that bids submitted to the Board are sealed, and no one sees them until they are opened in meeting. The data from the truck bids opened last meeting was recorded in the meeting minutes online after the last meeting, he added. Silverberg said he would attempt to pull something together for the upcoming CPA audit bids. But it’s just data, he added; it shouldn’t be a basis for our decisions. Parkins thought that someone taking minutes during a meeting could type information into a word document as bids were opened, and share that immediately on the screen; he offered his services for the process. Silverberg said the Board would give it additional thought.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The Treasurer’s order was reviewed and signed.
Two overweight permits were signed.
Silverberg made a motion to adjourn at 9:16 p.m. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.