During the Halifax Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, April 28 town administrator Charlie Seelig said that as of right now, the town is operating under the assumption that there will be a town meeting on June 15. He noted, however, it is all subject to change due to COVID-19 restrictions. Based on that assumption, the town is required to get the warrant out to residents. Selectman Gordon Andrews asked if the town was bound by legislation to hold town meeting in June. Seelig said that they would need to do so as a starting point even if in June it is decided that it will need to be postponed another 30 days.
Seelig also questioned the need to spend several thousand dollars printing and distributing warrants to every household in Halifax. He suggested, instead, printing less copies and making them available at a few public locations throughout town in addition to posting it online. The bylaws regarding the requirements for the distribution of the warrant would need to be changed first.
Seelig pointed out that they are printing approximately 3,500 copies of the warrant yet only 100 or so households are usually represented at town meeting. He did, however, say that he was in no way trying to discourage participation.
Andrews suggested the possibility of sending a postcard to each household in town letting them know where they could pick up a copy of the warrant. Both Selectmen Chair Troy Garron and Selectman Tom Millias were on board with the idea.
Planning Board member Amy Troup was in attendance and made it known that she was adamantly opposed to the idea of not sending warrants to all individual households.
As of now, the town election is still scheduled for late June. Seelig said that they are currently reviewing the final proof of the election ballot.
Seelig said he would encourage as many people as possible to take advantage of early voting and mail-in voting.
Seelig relayed that town clerk Barbara Gaynor proposed reducing the number of hours that the polls are open from 10 am to 6 pm to 12 pm to 4 pm. Millias said, “I’m not sure I’m comfortable shortening the hours.”
He continued, “I want to be sure everyone gets their chance.”
Seelig and the selectmen were unsure whether shortening the hours would reduce or increase exposure for residents and poll workers. Shorter hours would mean less time being in contact with others, but it could also result in greater crowd size. Garron said, “I’m not sure. six of one, half a dozen of the other.” Seelig said he would speak to Gaynor about the Board’s concerns.
COVID Leave Policy Re-examined
Seelig said that back in March, the town had decided to continue paying those who weren’t allowed back in their places of work but were unable to work from home. A few of those employees have been temporarily transferred to a department that could utilize them. For others that are available to work but unable to be transferred or work from home, Seelig said they would have to either take a leave option or be furloughed until they can be put back to work. Millias said, “This whole thing has opened up a lot of inequities… I would like to give this a little more thought, myself.” Seelig said the Board could delay making a decision until their May 12 meeting.
Seelig said that himself and town accountant Sandra Nolan met with the Finance Committee on Monday, April 27 and made some progress regarding decisions about line items in the budget. Seelig also said that he was waiting to hear back from the schools regarding their budgets. He acknowledged that everyone was waiting to hear about changes to Chapter 70 funding and unrestricted local aid from the state. Andrews pointed out that were the state to change their numbers, it could potentially have a negative impact on Halifax’s assessment for Silver Lake.
Seelig said that there would be a possibility that they would have to do a 1/12 budget. Seelig also said that while there wasn’t money for general wage increases across the board, there would most likely be step increases for union/non-union and school and non-school employees. Troup, again, took issue with Seelig and the Board’s proposal saying, “Raises for people should not even be considered right now… taxpayers are losing their jobs…we need to unite and come together as a team like we used to.”
After what was, at times, a heated debate between some of the selectmen and Troup, Garron replied, “We do the best we can with what we have to work with.”
CARES Act Distribution
On March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, was signed into law, establishing a federal fund of $150 billion to help cities and towns cover costs related to the coronavirus pandemic. Plymouth County received $90 million from that fund which the Plymouth County Board of Commissioners elected to distribute to towns and cities within their jurisdiction themselves rather than having the state administer the money. Aside from the city of Boston, all other local governments opted to have the funds funneled through the commonwealth.
Seelig said that the three Halifax agencies that are in greatest need of the funds, including the Board of Health, have yet to receive any word from the County. Seelig also said that on April 30 a Plymouth County Commissioner’s meeting will be held via Zoom with one participant allowed per city and town. Garron volunteered to sit on the call saying, “I’m not too pleased about it that they didn’t notify anybody about this, especially the advisory board.” Andrews and Millias were also displeased with the County’s decision. The Selectmen voted to have Seelig draft a letter stating their preference that the state handle the allocation of the funds.
Suggestion to Honor Graduating Seniors
Seelig told the selectmen that a suggestion was sent to him to hang congratulations signs on the town utility poles for the individual graduating seniors from Halifax. Seelig said that doing so could be difficult as there are only 10 or 12 poles with the necessary clips. The Highway Department would have to be involved as well. Seelig proposed a logistically simpler idea of placing signs along the roadway, potentially on Plymouth St., to represent each of the roughly 90 students. The selectmen agreed that they would like to figure out some way of honoring those students. “I think if we could do something it would be a really nice gesture,” Millias said.
Official Declaration Made
Seelig also asked the selectmen for their opinion on declaring May 1 to May 7 Children’s Mental Health Week in Halifax per a request that had been received. Regarding making such declarations Andrews commented, “We don’t do this a lot.” Millias said, “It is a little odd, but I don’t see any harm to it.” The selectmen voted to approve the request.
Odds and Ends
A Planning Board hearing is scheduled for May 7 at 7:15 pm.
The three items on the agenda include updating the zoning bylaws regarding floodplains, allowing marijuana establishments in the commercial district, and potentially updating the multifamily bylaw.
The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a remand on May 4, 2020 at 7:30 pm for Amanda’s Estates. The Zoning Board of Appeals will also hold a public hearing on Country Club Estates on May 6 at 7 pm.
Seelig said that while it is too early to begin other mosquito control measures, the town has administered larvicide to swamplands, etc.
Memorial Day Parade
Assistant Veterans Agent for Halifax, Steven Littlefield, told Seelig that he couldn’t see how the Memorial Day Parade could be held given Governor Baker extending the stay-at-home order through May 18. The Board agreed to hold off on making a definitive decision regarding the parade though Andrews said, “I think, personally, we are going to have to cancel it.” The Selectmen had previously voted to allow flags to be placed on the town green several weeks in advance of Memorial Day.
Halifax Nova Scotia
The Selectmen voted to send a letter of condolences to Halifax, Nova Scotia following the mass shooting that took place near there on April 19. It was the worst in Canada’s history.
The selectmen voted to do so due to their shared name.