HALIFAX — The people of Halifax held a two-night, 63-article Annual Town Meeting and 12-article Special Town Meeting Monday and Tuesday, May 13 and May 14. Most articles passed without much discussion, including a $24 million operating budget, but a “ban” on single-use plastic bags led to a standing vote because of a vocal minority of 18 who yelled their “no” votes.
Several hawk-eyed voters frequently came to the microphone to question increases in budget line items, or expenditures in articles they said were unusual or unnecessary, even veterans’ benefits.
Retiring Selectman Kim Roy received a lengthy standing ovation at the beginning of the meeting the first night, after she gave an emotional speech thanking the town for allowing her to serve. She was in tears.
The meeting was lengthy, but efficient. The moderator, Dennis Carman, was new to the job, as it was his first Annual Town Meeting and second Special Town Meeting.
A single-use plastic bag “ban” was adopted by the body, 84-18. Candy Kniffen, of the Beautification Committee and the former first female selectman in town, presented the article to Town Meeting.
She cited many governments at the local and state level, even entire countries that have enacted such laws. While the majority of Town Meeting supported the ban, the moderator required a standing vote to determine which side had won because the 18 voters opposed to the law yelled “no” so loudly he called for a standing vote to be certain.
Resident Jeffrey Bulger, of Brandeis Circle, spoke frequently against town expenditures of all sorts. At one point, he called the Veterans’ Benefits line item, 123, which had increased by $5,500 from last year a fund for town officials to play with. Kimberly King, a voter loudly opposed to Bulger’s position, moved the vote after a short clarification of how exactly that money is spent – it goes to veterans’ and their families – and the line item passed. Bulger was also one of the 18 voters most vocal in opposing the “bag ban,” and brought a lengthy handout for voters to read explaining his opposition to “bag bans.”
The Highway Surveyor, Steve Hayward, whose late father Ralph held the same position, was wearing his father’s suspenders as he asked the town for several pieces of equipment, including a truck he said he needs for himself for $30,000 and a Kubota-brand tractor or equivalent for $45,000, which was less than the amount asked for in the article.
He did not receive a $168,129 street sweeper that he requested, although he seemed in good spirits after the meeting. He said that he was pleased with how things went and thought he might get a street sweeper next year as the Finance Committee indicated in they may be more receptive in the future.
The Elementary School line item, 71, was amended up by $30,700 to $6,659,147 by Summer Schmaling, of the Halifax Elementary School Committee, because the school committee wanted a new bus. King spoke in support of the article, although the Finance Committee was not unanimous in its recommendation of the amendment. The article passed.
The future of the recycling center was discussed, with the costs of recycling soaring because China no longer buys our waste and state laws mandating recycling mean it costs more money each year to recycle. Some asked whether the Recycling Center should continue to be repaired at all and possibly eliminated. All items for the recycling center, including a new rug and cement slabs for roll-off containers at the center passed, though, as the items were necessary now, according to Hayward. As he put it simply, “If people want to keep walking around in mud, don’t vote for the article.”
The town’s soaring legal bills prompted Special Town Meeting Article 2, which proposed moving $20,000 from last year’s snow and ice budget into the Law Account. The number of lawsuits the town is defending itself against has ballooned and were listed for the voters on a handout.
At about $30,000, Andrews v. Town of Halifax, a zoning dispute between Selectman-candidate Gordon Andrews regarding a development known as Amanda Estates abuting him on Elm Street, tops the list of the town’s legal expenses.
Andrews said on Town Meeting floor that the town does not need to be defending his suit and that the developer of the property in dispute should be defending it.
Town Administrator Charlie Seelig said that the town will have to find money to pay legal bills elsewhere, from line item transfers or the relatively depleted reserve fund as a last resort because the article failed.
Seelig’s contract was set for the next three years, raising it and bringing it more into line, but still significantly under, the salaries of Town Administrators with his skills, experience and qualifications nearby, according to Roy at the meeting.
A contract with the firefighter’s union with a $68,340 increase was passed, without discussion, representing a significant change in paramedic stipends and an overall 2% raise for the union personnel. Roy said this was an attempt to fight the 80% turnover at the department and retain and attract seasoned firefighters to Halifax.
A similar contract with the police officer’s union passed as well.
A number of upgrades to the town’s servers, backup batteries, telephones and other IT infrastructure also passed.
All zoning articles in the warrant were not addressed because the planning board didn’t hold a legally required hearing for the articles, Friday, and Monday shortly before Town Meeting. The board failed to get a quorum both times. Therefore, several articles were not considered by Town Meeting. They were not passed over; they were simply not addressed at all. They included such possibly controversial articles as those addressing multifamily dwellings and several marijuana articles, including a citizens’ petition on the location of marijuana establishments.