The Halifax Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator Charlie Seelig met in person on Friday, May 8 to discuss the town meeting warrant one final time before going to press. The Selectmen and Seelig were seated at a large table and were observing social distancing protocols.
As of right now, the town meeting is still scheduled for June 15. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will be possible both financially or logistically to hold the meeting on that date. According to Seelig, town meetings fall outside the scope of gatherings limited to 10 participants under Governor Baker’s directive. Seelig said that the hope was to have the warrant printed by Thursday, May 14 and mailed out a few weeks after that.
Seelig went through the articles one at a time with most requiring very little discussion. Article 1 is the report for town officials and committees. Article 2 is for wage and personnel matters including a possible grading of the lieutenant position for the Police Department as well as a possible re-grading for both the animal control officer as well as the director of building maintenance. There were several more routine articles involving revolving funds as well as an annual article for the reserve fund.
Seelig said that Articles 7-13 are intended to settle union contracts. According to Seelig there are no settlements as of right now and he is not sure if there will be any by June 15. If not, they will be passed over.
Seelig went on to go over the appropriation articles. A1 is a normal extension service article, A2 is a Chapter 90 article, A3 is the annual article for $150,000 toward the maintenance of town roads. Highway Surveyor Steve Hayward asked that Articles A4 and A5 be removed; both were large sums of money for street repairs. Other articles included $150,000 toward backhoes, money for a new copier for the Council on Aging, $600,000 for a fire engine for the Fire Department, $100,00 for two marked police vehicles and associated equipment, and money for radio systems for both officers and vehicles in the Police Department.
A11 is an article to allow Police Chief Joao Chaves to continue to lease or outright buy the motorcycle used by the department. Thus far the lease has been paid for by gift account money. Chaves believes that there may be enough gift money from Walmart and another business to continue paying for it with the intention to purchase the motorcycle next year. A12 is for 4 new patrol rifles and A13 is for $5000 for bullet resistant vests, both for the Police Department.
A14 would send money from the town to the Housing Authority. According to Seelig there was an employee who worked for both the town as well as the Housing Authority. Both entities were supposed to be contributing money to the employee’s retirement, but the Housing Authority was charged the full amount. Seelig said he is still trying to sort through the finances for this article.
A16 is for $36,000 to support a part time school resource officer at the middle school. This topic has been a point of contention for those in town. It was voted down at last year’s town meeting. Plympton did vote it through last year and have been supporting a very limited number of hours for the school resource officer. Currently, Kingston fully supports the school resource officer at the high school as it is a Kingston Police Officer and comes out of their police budget. The school resource officer at both the high school and middle school must be a Kingston officer as the schools are located there.
Seelig said the Halifax Finance Committee is not recommending the article. When Selectmen Chair Troy Garron asked why, he was told that the Finance Committee believes the expense belongs in the school budget. Selectman Gordon Andrews, who is also a member of both the Halifax School Committee and the Silver Lake Regional School Committee, said that adding the part time officer at the middle school into the school budget would also mean needing to add the high school resource officer. Andrews also reiterated that everyone is in agreement about the need for the part time officer but that the dispute is over the mechanism to fund that officer. Seelig said, “If it’s a priority and we have a limited amount of money, we have to make a choice… if the resource officer is more important than other expenditures for the school, they’ll leave it in and take something else out.” Selectman Tom Millias agreed saying, “I think philosophically, from the very beginning, the first time we heard about this, I was not in favor of the towns going about it separately.” He also called the school budget, “out of control, in my personal opinion.” Seelig went on to use Old Rochester Regional School district as a similar district that handles the school resource officers as part of the school budget. Andrews, however, was quick to point out that Old Rochester actually handles the school resource officers through the town budgets as is being proposed by the article. Andrews also told the other selectmen and Seelig that if the officers were put into the school budget, it would end up costing the town more than $36,000.
A17 is a petition article for $20,000 for a truck inspection program. Seelig said he believed it should be included in the police budget. A18 is a petition article for grading all the unpaved roads in Halifax including private and unaccepted roads. Seelig said that Hayward had been doing work on these roads the last few weeks and that they had received “satisfactory compliments” on the results. A19 was in regard to Pasture Lane which is currently an unaccepted road. Millias said, “I understand the frustrations of the residents on this road, but I don’t see that this is the year for the town to be doing this.” The Selectmen agreed to leave it on the warrant with the caveat that the Board of Selectmen do not recommend it.
There were several more articles that were taken off the warrant before moving on to A23. A23 is intended to deal with the trash that has been piling up at the boat ramp and fishing area on Rt. 58. Seelig said that because of the financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there just is not money to deal with the issue. Seelig also explained that the town doesn’t want to place barrels there as people often take it upon themselves to dump personal trash in them. He also said that this is the reason there are locks on the barrels at the townhouse. Despite calling trash on the roadway an important issue, Garron said, “My gut feeling is to take it off.”
A24 is for crosswalk control devices at various locations. A26 is a petition article for $3500 that is essentially a contract between the town of Halifax and South Coastal County Legal Services. A29 is the same article that appears each year in case at the end of the night there is money to put into the stabilization fund. A30, A31, and A32 were for folding chairs for the great hall and selectmen’s meeting room, insulation and vapor barriers at the old town barn, and soundproof panels at the Holmes Public Library, respectively. A34 is for the repair of overhead doors at the town barn.
A35 is for the replacement of the roof at Pope’s Tavern. The cost includes architectural, engineering, and repair. “We can’t let the building go and I don’t see a new Council on Aging anytime soon…I think it is one of the things we have to do,” Millias said. Garron agreed, saying, “We definitely need it. I mean that place is leaking like a sieve.”
A36 is the annual Uber/Lyft article that state law mandates be included. It is for a small amount of money from rides that originate in town. A37 is for a repair to the landfill cap.
The next several articles discussed pertain to moving the town toward a more electronic business model. A38 from the auditors asks for a fraud/risk assessment. Andrews suggested waiting a year since the hope is to move toward an online system and it wouldn’t make sense to do such an assessment on a program that wouldn’t be in existence much longer.
A39 would allow for e-permitting and A40 would allow for papers to be filed electronically and copies obtained without contacting town officials. Seelig said, “Conceptually, we understand what we are talking about, but we would have to have a firm proposal to go to town meeting.” A41 would establish an electronic payroll system.
Article F1 is a possible pilot agreement for the River Street Solar Farm. If everyone agrees to a pilot by the time of town meeting, the town can vote to approve it. If not, it will be passed over.
The zoning related articles will come before the Planning Board. The first is a change to floodplains to reflect what FEMA wants. There is also a multifamily bylaw revision. The last zoning article would allow for recreational marijuana establishments in the business or commercial district with a special permit.
Seelig also mentioned an article to increase the size of the Beautification Committee from 5 to 7 members. The increase needs to be an article as it requires a change to a town bylaw.
The selectmen and Seelig also discussed possible locations for the town meeting given social distancing restrictions. In closing, Andrews said that the town will need to come up with some sort of celebration once past this pandemic.