HALIFAX – Article 1 of the Halifax Special Town Meeting asked residents to allow the town to borrow an additional $1.5 million for repairs, renovations, and an expansion of Pope’s Tavern, the Halifax Senior Center.
These additional costs failed to gain two-thirds of the necessary town meeting support, so the article failed. There were strong opinions on both sides.
Linda Laskey, who has lived in Halifax for 42 years said, “We have a ramp but that’s not enough. I can’t even open the door myself.”
She said most handicapped buildings have a door that will open for them. She can’t do quilting upstairs because she can’t climb stairs.
Resident Amy Troupe wanted to know why the architect didn’t make the project within the budget and why did we not tell him to stay in budget.
Roy explained that there’s a bidding process in place and that is limited by the laws of the state when it comes to public building projects.
Another concerned resident asked for an Australian ballot, a written ballot rather than a standing vote or a voice vote due to the sensitivity of the issue. This was not granted.
The entire project was originally estimated at $1.7 million. According to Selectmen Chair Kim Roy, the architect said that amount would work. He completed construction drawings and then ran estimates on the drawings.
Estimated costs increased so much that the Board was shocked. There was an option to cut, but the project according to the Board of Selectmen was supposed to be drafted in a conservative way. According to Roy, to spend $2 million and still have a senior center with poor roofing, electrical issues, etc. doesn’t make sense.
Selectmen said they were told by the architect that the reason for the drastic price increase was the economic conditions. Selectman Thomas Millias said the materials went up in cost about 25 to 30 percent in the last five months.
He anticipates those costs going up. “Today is the least expensive this project is going to cost us,” Millias said.
Because the project involved borrowing money it required a two-thirds vote instead of a majority. The two-thirds failed on standing vote getting 103 of the 127 required votes.
Raise for Fire Chief Approved
Article 9 asked to raise Fire Chief Jason Viveiros salary from $110,000 to $119,000. There is also a scheduled raise to $125,000 in fiscal year 2020. The article was approved by majority on a vote of 144-47.
Despite the large majority, there was a lot of heated procedural debate prior to the vote. Because seven people moved for a motion on an Australian-style secret ballot, a vote on whether or not to have a secret written ballot needed to occur before voting for the fire chief’s raise.
The Australian ballot was defeated with 65 people voting for it and 136 voting against it.
According to Roy, giving Viveiros a raise is an investment in the town. She said Viveiros improved response times by more than a minute without increasing taxes for residents. Roy added that Viveiros is an excellent grant writer and said the town has received more fire department related grants than before he was fire chief.
According to Roy, Viveiros is currently the lowest paid Fire Chief in Plymouth County. One resident said, “We can’t compare ourselves to certain towns in Plymouth County…The chief knew that when he came in.”
Speaking as a resident and university professor, Finance Committee Chair Melinda Tarsi gave her support to Viveiros. She said, “I don’t recommend my students intern with anyone, but I recommend many of my best students to him.”
Raise for Town Administrator Passed Over
Article 10, which would have raised Town Administrator Charles Seelig’s salary from $95,434 to $110,000 was passed over with a two-thirds vote.
This raise would not raise Seelig to the average of the ten towns Halifax uses as benchmarks, but would bring him closer to the average of $125,360.
There was once again, heated debate on both sides of the issue. Roy spent a significant amount of time praising Seelig for his 22 years as town administrator.
“Charlie Seelig has become the heart of this community, but I should really say he’s the brain,” Roy said.
Roy added that Seelig needs to be an expert on a “vast” number of things. She said he has an unprecedented knowledge on town laws, grants, and countless other things. “Charlie does all of this in a humble and kind demeanor,” Roy said.
School Committee member and Former Finance Committee Member Gordon Andrews said that this vote is about more than adjusting an amount.
“It’s not about adjusting the amount, it’s about doing it mid-year when not looking at the budget…I think it’s wrong,” Andrews said.
Resident Marie Coady wanted this passed over as well because a Wage and Personnel study will be completed in the spring in time for Annual Town Meeting.
Troupe who was against the raise said, “I think that there needs to be a balance in the town.” She wanted a secret vote to protect identities because she’s afraid of people being ridiculed.
She said, “There’s budgets in every single household…We aren’t getting raises, we’re working doubles seven days a week…I haven’t had a vacation in 4 years.”
Roy said she respects people who may not be able to afford this, but said we are volunteers as well and we don’t benefit by raising taxes.
“If Charlie Seelig ever left, we’d be looking for someone qualified and we’d want to be competitive,” Roy said.
Town-wide Speed Limits Fail
Article 8 would have petitioned general courts to allow Halifax to set a 30 miles-per-hour town-wide speed limit. There would be areas with higher speed limits, but if approved, anything not marked would be 30 miles-per-hour.
“I understand some people might think this is overly restrictive,” Seelig said. However, Seelig said he sees a lot of complaints about speed on Facebook.
According to Seelig, without commissioning a study that automatically sets an area’s speed limit at the 85th fastest out of 100, the only thing allowed is a town-wide speed limit.
Article 8 failed by majority.
Regional Dispatch Center Will Continue After Appropriation
Article 3 was for the appropriation of $20,000 to go towards paying for the regional emergency dispatch service at the Regional Old Colony Communications Center in Duxbury.
Previously, that $20,000 was paid for with a grant, but the grant was a startup grant for regional services, so Halifax no longer qualifies. Roy said the Board of Selectmen didn’t find out about the grant’s expiration until after Annual Town Meeting otherwise, it would have been brought forward as a warrant article then.
Some residents wanted to know if the dispatch service could be brought back to town questioning the speed in which calls are answered. Roy and Viveiros said this was the first they’ve heard of these issues and urged those with concerns to talk about them.
Viveiros said response times have improved. He added the dispatchers are talking to people longer because R.O.C.C. has the resources to do that. “We didn’t have the resources to handle that effectively,” Viveiros said.
Article 3 passed unanimously.
Do We Have a Quorum?
Article 11 was a vote to increase fees in the schedule for the Department of Weights and Measures. Selectman Troy Garron voiced his support. He said, “it’s revenue going back to the town.
The vote passed by majority, but not without procedural interference first. This vote occurred directly after the vote for the senior center renovations failed, so many people left. One resident questioned if the meeting still had a quorum. After a count to check, it was confirmed the meeting still had a quorum of at least 100 people.
• Article 6 was approved unanimously. It asked for a transfer of available funds, $202.90 from the Commonwealth Transportation Infrastructure Fund. Roy said doing so authorizes the town to collect its portion of fees from services like Uber.
•Article 12 asked for a transfer of $4,750 from Water Department revenues to repair the HVAC unit at the recycling center and the heating unit in the water department section of the town barn. The article passed by majority.
•Article 4 was passed over unanimously. It asked for the appropriation of funds to relocate the computer room in the Town Hall from the first floor to the basement.
•Article 2 passed by majority. The article appropriates an additional $27,000 to outsource ambulance billing. According to Viveiros, outsourcing will increase revenue for the fire department.
•Residents voted unanimously to pass over Article 7. The article would have raised and appropriated funds to replace the “rules sign” at Wheels Park.
•Article 5 asked for a stabilization fund transfer of $35,000 to pay for a new handicapped access ramp at the Town Hall. Selectman Thomas Millias said there was an incident where the rail failed. After speaking with the building inspector, he said this might be able to be put off until next year, but there would be a liability risk if something were to happen. Article 5 passed with the required two-thirds vote.