There was a continuance of the Halifax town meeting held on the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 22 at the Halifax Elementary School. Back on Sept. 12, the Halifax Town Meeting had begun but needed to be recessed due to quorum being questioned several hours into the meeting as well as time constraints. As was the case in the previous meeting, residents were divided between the gym and the all-purpose room to ensure proper social distancing. While quorum had been reduced to 75 for Tuesday’s meeting, 110 voters were counted initially.
Article to Fund Part-Time School Resource Officer
With the exception of those articles grouped together into consent agendas, articles were voted upon using a lottery system. One of the more controversial articles of the night was Article 26 which asked for $36,000 to fund Halifax’s portion of a part-time school resource officer at Silver Lake Regional Middle School. The same article appeared on the warrant last year and was voted down. Since Plympton voted in favor of supporting their share of the officer, a part time school resource officer served the middle school for a limited number of hours this past year. Kingston fully funds the full-time school resource officer at the high school.
Melinda Tarsi spoke on behalf of the Finance Committee, who was not recommending the article. Tarsi said that as was the case last year, the Finance Committee’s objection to the article is not the concept of the school resource officer but rather the mechanism for funding the officer. “We don’t want to establish the precedent that any department can propose the addition of new personnel through an article brought to town meeting,” Tarsi explained. She said the committee also took issue with it having to be a Kingston officer and said she would like to see it more equitably distributed between the three towns.
Halifax Selectman and Chair of the Halifax School Committee Gordon Andrews spoke on the article explaining that under the current law, the position would have to be filled with a Kingston officer due to the school’s location. He also advised the gathered residents that, in his opinion, funding the officer through an article outside of the operating budget gave the town greater control over the position. In addition, he explained that funding the position through an article at town meeting would actually save the town money versus funding it as part of the school’s budget.
A resident questioned if the counselors at the school couldn’t fulfill the same need attempting to be filled by the school resource officer. Andrews told him that due to the nature of the issues that are being brought up in executive session, they would best be handled by law enforcement. Selectman Tom Millias shared his opinion saying, “There is no contest, we need a school resource officer… my problem has always been how it’s being funded… the problem is we can’t get a resource officer unless we do it this way and at the end of the day, we need a resource officer.” The article passed with a vote of 72-41.
Article to Grade Private and Unaccepted Roads
Article 28, which was brought forth by a resident who was not present at town meeting, was for $11,000 to grade all the unpaved roads in Halifax including private and unaccepted ones. The Finance Committee, who didn’t initially recommend it, said that after receiving the dollar amount, they were now in support of the article.
The article generated considerable discourse among those present. Amy Troup asked, “Shouldn’t we be spending money on the roads that the towns are actually responsible for before we take care of the roads that are private?” Troup went on to request a list of the specific roads that were to be worked on as a result of the proposed article. Town Administrator Charlie Seelig said they did not have a list like that with them.
Highway Surveyor Steve Hayward said that 22 of the 26 unpaved roads in town are already maintained twice a year. According to Seelig, the town’s bylaws allow for limited repairs such as grading to be made to private roads including unpaved ones. This article would include all unpaved roads.
Resident Jeff Bolger said, “It just seems to me instead of this hodge podge, hit or miss road repair that this town constantly goes through and in many cases it’s the squeaky wheel that gets taken care of, that we ought to have some master plan where there’s priorities drawn on what roads need to be taken care of.” Seelig replied that the Highway Department is working with an engineering firm on a Smart Streets program that includes a complete assessment of all of the roads in town. “The Highway Department is well aware of the idea of getting a Master Plan for the roads in town,” Seelig said. The town almost unanimously voted down the article. They did, however, approve the $150,000 requested by the Highway Surveyor for maintenance to town roads.
Proposition to Change Marijuana Zoning
Article 49, which sought to change the current zoning for marijuana establishments from industrial to industrial business, generated considerable debate amongst meeting goers. The article was not recommended by the Finance committee. Bob Maker, who proposed the article, said, “From everything that I’ve been hearing, we need money coming into this town… if we open up a dispensary in town we can get 3 percent of all sales… it just seems like a no brainer that we pass this today.” Someone pointed out that the business zones are also usually residential and such dispensaries, etc. are not allowed within 500 ft. of property lines or schools and other areas where children gather.
Selectman Andrews took a turn at the microphone saying, “I would ask that the town would vote in favor of this.” In the end, the town voted in favor of the zoning change with a required two-thirds vote of 83-23.
Article to Recodify Town’s Bylaws
Article 30, which was brought forth by the Finance Committee, also proved controversial. The article was for $65,000 to pay for a complete revision of the town’s zoning bylaws. Troup once again approached the microphone saying, “I don’t think that the town asked for our bylaws to be changed.” Tarsi said that the Finance Committee was proposing the revision in response to being asked to make recommendations on amendments to various bylaws. Tarsi said that rather than making changes in little bits, the committee felt that it would be better to do a complete recodification. She said they wanted to hire counsel to do that since it would be too big of an ask to place on elected and volunteer committees. The article passed after a recount was had with a vote of 64-41.
Police and Fire Articles
There were a number of articles voted on that pertained to either the police or fire departments. Article 22, which was moved by Selectman Troy Garron, was for $14,000 to buy a 2014 Harley Davidson that the Police Department has been leasing for $325 a month. Police Chief Joao Chaves spoke to the article telling residents that at the time of purchasing, the bike only had 18,000 miles on it and was like new. Up to this point, much of the leasing has been paid for through grant money. Tarsi said that while the Finance Committee is not against the idea of the motorcycle, they would prefer to see another year of leasing to bring down the cost of the bike. Chaves explained, however, that there would only be $2,000 of grant money available this coming year.
Chaves told the assembled residents that the motorcycle has been used for parades and traffic enforcement. He said it allows the police to efficiently respond to congested areas where it might be difficult for a cruiser to access. He also said that the motorcycle was used in assisting Brockton and Wareham during protests there. He said that should Halifax need to they can request up to 45 motorcycle officers for any event at no cost to the town. The article passed.
A number of other articles pertaining to the Police Department were also passed. Article 20 was for $100,000 to purchase and equip two police vehicles, Article 21 was for $20,000 to purchase or upgrade all existing cruiser radios to make them digitally compatible, and Article 23 was for $5,000 to purchase bullet resistant vests. Article 11 was for $4,386 to fund the collective bargaining agreement between the police chief and the town of Halifax. “This was negotiated in good faith and if anyone knows the chief they know that he’s done a great job in town here and he’s one of the lowest paid chiefs in the area; we’re just trying to bring him up to par,” Garron explained. The article passed with unanimous support.
Article 12, which was recommended by the Finance Committee, was for $2,000 to fund the bargaining agreement between Fire Chief Jason Viveiros and the town. “I think that everybody here would agree that Fire Chief Viveiros does a great job and this was the agreement that we came to with him,” Andrews explained. The article passed with unanimous support. Also passing was Article 7 for $10,440 to fund the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between the town and the local firefighters. The Finance Committee recommended the article which represented a 1.6 percent increase on the firefighters’ annual salaries.
Article 19 was for $600,000 to purchase and equip a fire engine for the Fire Department. Viveiros explained that it would be replacing a 25-year-old engine and said that if passed, the department wouldn’t need to ask for another vehicle for at least 10 years. Of the current engine, he said, “it most recently failed a pump test and is prone to unexpected breakdowns.” The article passed.
Several articles pertaining to improvements were passed. Article 39 moved $15,000 from undesignated funds for repairs on the landfill cap on Hemlock Lane. Article 29 was for $27,800 for the installation of crosswalk devices at Plymouth St. and Holmes St., Lydon Ln. and Monponsett St., and Plymouth St., and Hemlock Ln. Council on Aging (COA) Director Susan Lawless spoke to Article 18 which requested a transfer of $4,100 for a new copier for the COA. An article for $13,000 for insulation and a vapor barrier in the old section of the town barn also passed.
Other notable articles that passed Tuesday evening included Article 51 which proposed taxation to any solar powered device that generates greater than 0.1 megawatts of electricity. Millias said that it wouldn’t affect anyone’s rooftop solar installation. Article 32 was for $3500 to support the South Shore Women’s Resource Center in order to help prevent domestic violence. Article 31 was for $3500 to support South Coastal Counties Legal Services which provides legal services to elders and low-income families and their children.