The Council on Aging (COA) as well as multiple concerned residents congregated at the Halifax Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday, August 27 to review options for an alternative location. The three options that had been explored in the past were to build a new center on Route 105, purchase All Seasons Restaurant, and renovate and expand Pope’s Tavern. Everything is back on the table as residents denied the appropriation of funds for all previous options.
Regionalization was one of the two main options discussed Tuesday night. Selectmen from both Carver and Plympton have expressed an interest in collaborating with Halifax on such an endeavor and Halifax town administrator Charlie Seelig is set to meet with representatives from those neighboring communities in early September. Vice Chair of the Plympton selectmen Mark Russo mentioned a Plympton owned plot of land measuring five acres that could potentially serve as a site for a regionalized Council on Aging. Plympton would be an ideal location for a regionalized building as it is centrally located. The Council on Aging pointed out the success of the regionalized cable access channel Area 58. Selectmen Tom Millias said, “It is certainly worth going down that road and investigating; we’d be remiss not to look into it.”
Council on Aging member Dick Wright also suggested the creation of a regionalized community center. In addition to housing the Council on Aging, such a center could be used for a variety of other purposes. The possibility of renting out such a place on weekends, using it for cub scout meetings, and holding movie nights for a small fee per resident were discussed. Wright said that a facilities manager would be necessary to schedule events, ensure that the building was cleaned properly, etc. Wright asked the Board for permission to form a committee to work with Plympton and Carver on researching how to implement such a plan.
Director of Building Maintenance Scott Materna presented a plan to build a new combined fire and police station and use the current police station for the Council on Aging. The current police station has many of the amenities needed for the Council on Aging including an ADA compliant elevator and a kitchen. While this would be costlier than regionalization, there are more grants available for the fire department and the Board noted that the fire chief is particularly good at securing grants. Regarding this plan, Materna did point out, “It doesn’t give them a single floor option which is a big one on their list.”
A concerned resident said, “Right now we’re talking about long term; we also have to talk about short term. It’s getting to the point where some of us cannot get to the upper floor because of the stairs and all.” Other residents told the Board that there is a painting class that cannot be attended by some participants as they can no longer climb the stairs to the room where the class is held. Yet another resident expressed concern that as other communities open newer senior centers, many of Halifax’s seniors are heading there instead to attend events despite preferring to stay in their own community. Interim Director of the Council on Aging Brenda Fitzgerald said, “I want to thank everyone for all the work they’ve put into the ideas. I want to also advocate as an outreach worker… for the seniors that have sacrificed. You know they’re not able to do the programs upstairs and we do need to find something for them now and not have those programs fall apart.”
An area of dispute between residents and the Board came when one resident accused the various committees in town of not working together and failing to inform the town of a specific dollar amount needed to fix or build the Council on Aging prior to it being voted upon at town meeting. That resident said, “The committees within the town, five minutes before town meeting, are telling us how they want to fund it completely different in the back room.” He continued, “That’s not the way it should be done.” Millias responded, “I just take exception to the fact that it makes it sound like we weren’t supporting of those numbers but those numbers were so fluid that nobody knew what they were until we got to town meeting.” Chair Troy Garron argued that previous initiatives had failed in the past because those that would be most affected by the vote failed to show up to town meeting. All parties at Tuesday’s meeting were in agreement, however, that the goal would best be pursued if there was more involvement from the various committees in town. Millias suggested that any committee dedicated to the Council on Aging cause include at least one member from most of the other committees in town. Garron also stressed the importance of the community as a whole understanding that this initiative is meant to benefit more than just the seniors in town. Garron explained, “I think that’s the one issue that we didn’t get across because people kept saying senior citizens, senior citizens. It’s a community center; there’s help for anyone who walks into that building whether they be 20 years old, 50 years old, 80 years old. I talk to people and they’ve never even been in the building.”
The residents and Board agreed that the next best step, prior to forming a committee, would be for Seelig to meet with representatives from both Carver and Plympton. “We need to have a good front and have everyone on the same page,” Garron said.
Seelig updated the Board regarding the search for a new Council on Aging director. The search committee met Monday night to select six candidates to be interviewed. The screening committee will conduct the first round of interviews next week hopefully whittling the field to four potential candidates.
The Halifax Solar Committee also met with the Board for the first time in three years to present options for putting a solar field on the capped landfill in town.
The committee said that a new program known as the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) Program was established in late 2018 to support the development of solar in Massachusetts. The committee was told that they would need a 1-megawatt (MW) system, up from the 0.8 MW used now which would allow for expansion. One company was brought in to do a walkthrough of the landfill with Highway Surveyor Steven Hayward and said the site is a perfect location. The committee recommended a lease to buy option. Current estimates for the cost of the site are between $2,500,000 and $3,000,000. By year seven, however, the builder should recoup the cost of building the site and will likely be looking to sell at market rate. The committee expects that by year seven or year eight, the town could buy the system for around a million dollars and more or less have free electricity for life. Garron inquired as to the life expectancy of the panels and was told they typically last at least 30 years and are warrantied for 25. Maintenance for such a system would be minimal and would likely be limited to monthly checks. It would likely take 3-4 months to get approval from National Grid and another 3-4 months for building time. The committee said that they would have to go out to bid by the end of September or early October, bringing it before the town at the annual town meeting. The Board approved the committee’s request for a proposal to be sent out for a solar panel to be put on the capped landfill.
A tax classification hearing was held at Tuesday’s meeting with Holly Merry, the principal assessor/appraiser for the town of Halifax, asking for approval to create one tax rate for commercial, industrial, residential, and personal property. Merry said there is less than ten percent of commercial, industrial, and personal property in the town of Halifax. Merry also recommended that the town not adopt an open space lease discount for land that’s not developed. It was also recommended that they not adopt a residential exemption commonly used for cities and towns with large numbers of rental properties.
The Board of Selectmen approved Merry’s requests with Millias recusing himself as he serves on the Board of Assesors. Bills will go out on October 1 and will be due by November 1.