Halifax Annual Town Meeting adjourned at 11 p.m. Monday night, May 10, with less than half of the 59 articles voted on. Left for Tuesday were two of the most contentious articles – the ban for the sale of nips, sponsored by Shirley Graf and enlarging the board of selectmen from three members to five, sponsored by Selectman Gordon Andrews. However, even those articles couldn’t bring Halifax townspeople out a second night in a row and Tuesday’s assemblage was dismissed at 8:05 for lack of a quorum. It was 13 voters short of the needed 100, according to Town Clerk Barbara Gaynor. This is Gaynor’s last Town Meeting as she is retiring May 22, and then the new town clerk, elected on May 15, will take over.
The Halifax Elementary School budget was voted with little discussion, after the finance committee requested the school committee to hold to a 2% increase.
Paula Hatch, chairman of the Silver Lake Regional School Committee asked the town to put back the funds that were deleted in order to keep to the 2% increase that the elementary school had abided by. This would have put back $130,890 into the Silver Lake District budget. Regional Halifax Elementary School Committee chairman Gordon Andrews defended the Silver Lake budget and the request for the deleted funds saying that some of the issues are reduction of state reimbursement with a number of students going to Charter Schools, taking those state education dollars with them. “We need to fund the schools,” he said. The townspeople did not agree, and the amendment failed.
A young man came to the microphone to say, that if the town keeps turning down Silver Lake budget items, they won’t want Halifax to be part of the region.
Salaries were reclassified for several Halifax employees, including the Fire Chief, Police Chief, and Town Administrator, so their salaries would be greater than those who work for them. This was recommended by the Finance Committee.
Item 6 in the General Government budget had $124,500 for Law. Selectman Andrews asked that it be reduced to $74,500, saying that the town spends too much money on legal fees. It was pointed out that much of the legal fees are spent defending the town against suits by Selectman Andrews and that reducing the law category would hamper the town’s defense. One resident stood to say that if the town would just do what the judge said (and not appeal the decision) the town wouldn’t incur extra costs. Town Administrator Charlie Seelig pointed out that the first suit that was successful gave Andrews only $200 in damages. It was Andrews who appealed, “seeking greater relief”, Seelig said. The amendment failed and the Law line of the warrant article was voted at $124,500.
Also questioned in the General Government budget was the total Town Clerk salary of $57,062. Town Clerk Barbara Gaynor pointed out that the total town clerk salary included the $1,000 reward for her certification. The total was reduced by that $1,000 and the General Government budget passed.
Amy L. Troup questioned the Animal Control Officer salary that increased from $18,105 budgeted for FY21 to $21,619 for FY22. She was told that it was a step increase for that contract approved by Wage & Personnel. Also questioned was the wages increase for the Building Inspector, that was also the result of a step increase. Jeff Bolger said he thought that step increases needed to be voted on in order to make that change. Town Administrator Charlie Seelig said that the change was voted on in the previous year.
The Public Safety budgets were approved, as well as the Public Works, and Highway budgets.
Public Works Cemetery, Walter, and Solid Waste Management budgets were all approved unanimously.
Health and Human Services budget, the Culture and Recreation budget, the Debt Service budget, and Fixed Costs all passed unanimously.
Jeff Bolger asked for an explanation as to how the Gas and Oil and the Heating Oil prices could be the same from last year to this year. “Can you share the secret?” noting the rising oil prices. The Finance Committee answered that there is a buffer amount to address fluctuations in oil prices, and if the true total, at the end of the fiscal year, is much more than the budgeted amount, that can be dealt with by a transfer from the reserve fund or free cash. The FinCom member said that last year only 80% of the budgeted amount was used.
Article 5, dealing with all of the various Revolving Funds, were consistent with what has been done in the past and passed unanimously.
Articles 11 and 12 asked the town to fund the provisions of collective bargaining agreements between the town and the Police Chief Joao Chaves and Fire Chief Jason Viveiros. They passed unanimously.
Highway Surveyor Steve Hayward asked the town to approve Article 15 for $300,000 to maintain town roads. Hayward told the group that the $150,000 that has been allocated in past years, “just doesn’t go very far anymore.” The town agreed and approved the article.
Article 16 to fund the purchase of parcels of land between Carver Street, South Street, and Plymouth Street was passed over.
Article 17 to transfer from available funds $18,500 for the Assessors’ Recertification Account passed.
Article 19 voted $5,000 for the purchase, installation,, and implementation of a new copy machine for the Police Department.
Article 23 was voted by the town to replace hallway flooring at the Halifax Elementary School as part of ongoing maintenance.
Summer Schmaling, Halifax Elementary School Committee member spoke to Article 25 which would use $18,600 to install central air conditioning in the Tech Lab and Art room to keep the school’s computer networks cool. The article passed.
Article 27 saw the town vote $5,400 for the repair, reconstruction, and replacement of the fences at the Vaughn Fields at the Police Station. Dick Steele spoke to the article.
Article 28 asked the town for $3,500 to support South Coastal Counties Legal Services, Inc.’s continued free legal services in civil matters to elders, low-income families and their children. FinCom recommended; the article passed.
Town meeting voted to pass over Article 32 that would purchase a work order/asset management system. The finance committee did not recommend it and it was passed over.
Highway Surveyor Steve Hayward asked the town to approve $71,000 for a new F550 gasoline powered truck with a dump body, sander, and plow for the Highway Department. The guys in the room picked over the requirements, whether it should be gas or diesel, and how many plows does the department need, should we spend more to save in the long run… In all, they settled down and the town voted to pass Article 34.
Director of Building Maintenance Scott Materna answered questions about his Article 37 that asked the town for $81,000 to be combined with the $35,000 already voted for the same purpose at the Special Town Meeting of August 2018, to repair and replace the handicapped ramp and portico at the Town Hall. When asked why it costs so much, Materna answered, “We tried to fix it in house, but found it needs to be re-engineered.” He told the townspeople that the proposed ramp, for which he is still receiving bids, will be concrete, not wooden, and will be maintenance-free for a long time. Questions arose as to whether a concrete ramp can be attached to an historic building and how would it look? Materna said that the ramp needs to be ADA compliant and the proposals he has will be so. The FinCom recommended the project and the article passed.
Article 38 asked the town to transfer from undesignated fund balances the sum of $10,000 to repair the roof at the Holmes Public Library. The article passed with the Finance Committee recommendation.
Article 40 was passed over. It asked the town to fund a new Council on Aging van.
Article 41 asked the town for $10,000 to hold a series of workshops for department heads concerning personnel practices including recruitment and hiring, and proper procedures relating to discipline and termination. The article passed.
The town voted to approve spending $21,500 to purchase and install overhead doors at the Highway Barn in Article 45.
The town voted to support a part-time school resource officer for the Silver Lake Middle School at a cost of $36,000 for Halifax’s share in Article 48. Plympton’s share of $14,000 will be voted at their town meeting later this week. The position has been totally funded by Kingston for the past two years. The town voted to approve the article.
The town passed over Article 50, which would fund a new portable PA system.
Article 56 asked the town to vote to allow the Silver Lake Regional School District to establish a stabilization fund. The Finance Committee spoke against the article saying that there would be no control over how the money is spent once it is funded. Paula Hatch, chairman of the Silver Lake Regional School Committee said that the money would have already been voted by the towns to add to the stabilization fund. Some likened it to giving the schools a blank check. The article failed.
Next Monday night, May 17, the town will once again attempt to get a quorum to discuss several items that could change the face of Halifax, from how many selectmen will be on your board, how the planning board changes in flood plain maps can affect your properties, or whether or not you can buy a sleeve of nips at your local liquor store, drink them on the way home and throw the empties out the window. There is a lot to talk about and if you don’t take part in the decisions you can’t complain if they don’t go the way you wanted.