Town Meeting Update
Town moderator Dennis Carman and town counsel Larry Mayo attended the Tuesday, June 9 remote meeting of the Halifax Board of Selectmen in order to recess town meeting until July 11. Under Chapter 53 of the Acts of 2020, towns can recess their town meetings for up to 30 days if there is a declaration of a public health emergency. Town moderators wield the power to do just that after consultation with the Board of Selectmen and Board of Health. Halifax health agent Cathy Drinan sent correspondence to Attorney Mayo stating that it would be ill advised to hold the meeting particularly with 150 people or more in an enclosed environment.
Town Administrator Charlie Seelig recommended that the meeting be moved to 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 11 in order to have another month to work out logistics, hygiene protocols, and other social distancing requirements. Seelig said that he selected morning rather than evening in order to avoid mosquitos. Seelig also said that an additional benefit of waiting a month would be seeing how other communities are handling their meetings and borrowing best practices from them. According to Seelig the meeting would most likely be held at the Halifax Elementary School though whether it would be held indoors or outdoors remains to be seen.
Carman agreed with the delay saying, “people’s safety and well-being is of paramount concern to us.” He also said that he feels the delay will maximize residents’ ability to participate in town government and the budget process as an earlier date may lead to people not coming due to safety concerns.
COVID Policies and Reopening
The Board approved a new Halifax COVID leave policy during their last meeting that required all town employees to be paid only for the hours worked. The new policy took effect on Sunday, June 7. Next on the agenda was establishing a policy for returning to the workplace. The state currently recommends that employees continue to work remotely wherever feasible.
Selectmen Troy Garron and Tom Millias agreed that in order to preserve equity among employees, all town employees in all departments should be asked to return to their workplaces with exceptions made only for those with medical conditions preventing them from doing so safely. Selectman Gordon Andrews was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting due to personal reasons. Seelig agreed saying that while many essential functions can be performed remotely, many of the town positions do include some element of interacting with either other town employees or the public. According to Millias, Maintenance Director Scott Materna will have all protective barriers in place at the town hall by this Friday, June 12. The Board voted June 22 as the date that all town employees should be returning to their places of work. Employees unable to return to work due to health concerns will need to provide a certified doctor’s note. There currently is no date set for opening the town hall to the public.
All employees must perform a self-certification daily which includes signing off that they are not currently experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 nor have they knowingly been in close contact with an infected person. Regarding the state guidance that residents traveling out of state self-quarantine for 14 days, Garron said, “I think we ought to treat it as a recommendation and not a policy.” The selectmen and Seelig agreed that employees would need to use their best judgement should the situation arise.
Signage will be used to indicate to employees and eventually members of the public what safety protocols must be practiced when inside municipal buildings including the town hall. Employees will be expected to wear face coverings in common areas and whenever social distancing cannot be adhered to inside individual offices. Seelig also said that he would recommend that windows be left open whenever feasible and said that he would speak to Materna about installing screens.
Once opened to the public, visitors to town hall will not be by appointment as some other communities have done. Instead, visitors will be asked to leave if experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. Seelig said that in the event that someone cannot come into the building, employees would be available to help them via email or phone.
Seelig and the Board also addressed how best to handle residents that refuse to comply with safety protocols such as wearing a mask. “We should let people know what our expectations are,” Millias said. He continued, “Our obligation is to keep everyone safe, including the public.” Garron said that he would never want to see any employee or anyone for that matter abused because they ask another individual to wear a mask or practice social distancing. The Board agreed that if patrons become abusive while refusing to follow safety protocols, the police will have to be called.
The Holmes Public Library will begin opening to the public in early July. There is no set date for the Council on Aging to resume programming and activities. Seelig noted that much of the clientele for those services are part of the vulnerable population. The Board plans to talk to Council on Aging Director Susan Lawless about how to best phase in programming.
The HOPS playground is currently open since it fell under phase 2 of the state’s plan for reopening. Seelig said that there is temporary signage indicating that the town will not accept any liability for injury or sickness resulting from the use of the playground. Seelig also said that the town does not have the capacity to monitor the number of people using it at any one time. Similarly, he said they will not be able to sanitize it regularly. Garron said, “I just hope that we do have reasonable adults on the playground and that they try to limit the contact between their kids and other kids as much as possible.”
The state is now allowing outdoor dining at restaurants and other similar establishments. Seelig said the process for amending liquor licenses to reflect that change has been simplified. He did note that to date, no establishment had approached the Board to make such a change.
FY21 Town Budget
Seelig said that himself and town accountant Sandra Nolan did work out a one-twelfth budget for submission to the state based on a number of recommendations from the Finance Committee. Both Garron and Millias voted to approve the one-twelfth budget as outlined by Seelig.
Beach Stickers for Non-Residents
The Board voted during Tuesday’s meeting to allow access to Halifax beaches to non-resident taxpayers using a placard system and a $25 fee. The issue was first brought to the Board’s attention over the winter by a resident who lives on Waltham St. in Hanson but pays taxes on a portion of her land that is in Halifax.
Finance Committee member Bill McAvoy’s term ends on June 15 so the Board of Selectmen and Melinda Tarsi of the Finance Committee voted to approve having McAvoy extend his term through the FY21 budget process. McAvoy intends on resigning once the budget process is complete due to work commitments. This will leave the committee looking for three new members.