HALIFAX — “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer,” joked Town Moderator Dennis Carmen, quoting President Abraham Lincoln, as the February 2019 Halifax Special Town Meeting reached a quorum of 100 registered voters needed to begin and kicked-off 52 minutes late at 8:22 p.m. He apologized for not being able to provide free beer to those that had waited almost an hour for the STM to start.
Only 104 residents attended the meeting, according to Town Clerk Barbara Gaynor, or less than 2 percent of the town’s registered voters.
All six of the articles, which were pulled in a random order, passed with near unanimity on voice votes, and only the first article pulled, article one, generated much discussion. That article took up more than half of the hourlong STM. The finance committee recommended all six articles at the meeting.
Article one was the most discussed article as it involved the most spending. It asked the voters to appropriate an additional $1,056,056.26 for the fire suppression (sprinkler) system project at the Halifax Elementary School, which is in addition to $977,000 voters already approved at the May 2017 Annual Town Meeting.
The town went out to bid in May 2018 for the project but no bids were received, due to the timing the project was put out to bid, officials said. The town went out to bid a second time, and according to Town Administrator Charlie Seelig, the low bid came in at $1,731,687.
The article needed a two-thirds vote to pass, and town officials were both careful to answer questions from the voters and appeared defensive regarding alleged mistakes made with the building’s circa-1993 sprinkler system, which only covers part of the building and is leaking air, failing earlier than anticipated.
Seelig stated that the town could vote to approve the project now, or not, but that if they delayed it would likely cost much more in the future.
One voter, Timothy Kundzicz, of Elm Street, who said he was new to Halifax, was particularly vocal in his opposition to the article, insisting that those responsible for the failing system had to be held accountable and that those responsible for the new system be held accountable as well if the system doesn’t hold up as expected. Kundzicz spoke several times with his questions and comments regarding the article, some of which were technical in nature.
In response, Seelig, in apparent frustration, said, “You want to berate someone … you want someone to take responsibility for [the old sprinkler system] … but I suspect some of the people are dead.”
In addition to Seelig and Board of Selectmen members, Fire Chief Jason Viveiros, Building Inspector Robert Piccirilli and the new sprinkler system’s architect, of Habeeb & Associates Architects in Norwell, all answered voter questions regarding the project.
Eventually, after all discussion was exhausted, a resident moved the vote, and the article passed with a two-thirds majority. Only a few voices were heard voting in opposition.
Article six was pulled next, but because articles five and six were related, article five was discussed first. Both involved Payment in Lieu of Taxes (or PILOT) agreements for solar energy developments. Selectman Tom Millias presented the articles, stating that they were a “win-win” for both the town and the solar developer.
Article five asked voters to approve an agreement negotiated by the Board of Assessors on behalf of the Selectmen with the solar energy generation company Green Apple Farms, IV, LLC, for its proposed facility on Franklin Street.
Article six asked voters to authorize the Selectmen and, on their behalf, the Board of Assessors to negotiate a PILOT agreement with the solar energy generation company Halifax Solar, LLC, for its proposed facility on River Street.
The agreements, Millias said, will see the town receive payments much higher than the town would otherwise receive through taxes. The PILOT agreements stipulate fixed-rate payments over the course of 20 years.
Both articles passed unanimously.
Article four was pulled next. It asked voters to transfer $10,000 from the undesignated fund balance to be added to the Monponsett Pond account for studies of the Monponsett Ponds and projects to improve water quality.
At this point in the meeting, voters were yawning as the time grew later. The article passed unanimously and was not controversial.
Article two was pulled second to last and asked voters to transfer $7,300 from Article 32 of the ATM of May 14, 2018 (Repair and Replace Police Station HVAC units) to Article 30 of the ATM of May 14, 2018 (Repair and Replace Highway Barn Garage Doors) to be added to the $21,700 previously appropriated for a total of $29,000.
The article asked voters to move money that they had already approved on spending for one project (to repair and replace police HVAC units) which had come in underbudget to be added to a project that had become more expensive (to repair and replace the highway barn garage doors).
This, too, was uncontroversial and passed unanimously.
Finally, the voters unanimously voted to transfer $4,500 from the undesignated fund balance to upgrade the town’s website – $3,000 less than originally printed in the warrant.
Seelig said this was necessary because the current version of the town’s website will no longer be supported beginning this spring and that the commonwealth requires the town to have a website, legally.
The meeting was over about an hour after it had started.