The Halifax Board of Selectmen met on Thursday, July 30 for their regular weekly meeting with the town’s public safety officials to discuss COVID or other emergency related items. Health agent Bob Valery said that there had been no new cases of COVID in Halifax telling the Board that he has seen “good discipline” and “lots of compliance” from residents. He did warn about the first confirmed human case of eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) in the state this year. It occurred in a Middleborough resident. Valery said that residents should be careful that they are following protocols for reducing standing water in their yards.
Town Administrator Charlie Seelig told those assembled that the state had voted a three-month budget for August to October. He said normally that would mean a state budget by Halloween but given the election in November he said he believes that is unlikely. “One way or another we’re not going to have a state budget and won’t know our local aid numbers for at least a couple more months,” Seelig explained.
Seelig said that the most likely scenario for Halifax will be an estimated tax bill for the first half of the year on Nov. 1; these will be a duplicate of what residents received in May with the old valuation and the old tax rate for fiscal 2020. Seelig said there would likely be a great deal of confusion over the estimated bills, “we know we’re going to get a lot of feedback because we haven’t done this in decades, but we’re prepared to deal with that.”
“We’re going to have to educate people so they won’t get particularly shocked, even though they will,” selectman chair Tom Millias agreed. Seelig said later in the year residents can expect to have a bill that states what their taxes should have been for fiscal year 2021, how much they were already billed in November, as well as the remaining total. Selectman Gordon Andrews recommended putting the word “estimate” directly on the bills going out in the fall. Seelig said that they will put an explanation of the process directly on the bill as well as publicizing the process in available media forums. The abatement period will be in the spring.
Seelig also addressed Governor Baker’s mandate that Massachusetts residents traveling to states outside of New England, New York, or New Jersey, quarantine themselves for 14 days upon return. A fine of $500 a day will be incurred if residents fail to comply. Another option would be to secure a negative COVID test. “There are a number of exceptions to that but that probably covers ninety-nine percent of it,” Seelig said.
Seelig said that as a subdivision of the state and as an employer, the town of Halifax needs to notify employees of how they will deal with employees returning from states outside of those specified. Seelig said if employees are able to work from home during the two-week quarantine period, that would be fine. Otherwise, they would likely be eligible for a federal COVID leave if they haven’t already used theirs. If already used, however, employees would have to take leave through the town in the form of vacation or sick time. If no leave remains, they will need to be unpaid for those two weeks. Seelig emphasized that no one would be fired as a result of their quarantine.
Seelig further said that the town would have an obligation to report if someone is knowingly violating the mandated quarantine. If someone traveled outside the designated area but claimed not to have traveled anywhere, they could be subject to discipline as they could have potentially endangered others’ safety. If employees choose to get tested upon return, the town will not cover the expense unless the travel was required for work-related purposes. The Board voted unanimously to approve the policy.
The final order of business was an open meeting law complaint that was received the week prior. Seelig told the Board they had two weeks to reply to the complaint. The complaint was filed by Amy Troup on July 23 regarding the June 23 Selectmen’s meeting. Seelig said he had received a letter from chair of the Conservation Commission Gerry Fitzgerald asking that certain actions be taken concerning Troup. Seelig said that he referred to Troup as “her” rather than by name when writing the agenda for that week’s meeting. “It was not meant to be derogatory, uninformative, or anything like that, it was a mishap on my end, and I take full responsibility,” Seelig said. Seelig said that he was in no way denying that an open meeting law violation did occur. He emphasized to the Board that the portion of the June 23 meeting referencing Troup was not a hearing. “I’ve read this twice now, I think it’s an adequate response and I wouldn’t have a problem signing this document,” Millias said. Andrews and selectman Troy Garron agreed.