Halifax selectmen met Tuesday night, March 23, in the Great Hall of the Halifax Town Hall to deal with a busy agenda.
As usual, COVID-19 took up much of the evening. Town Administrator Charlie Seelig told the board that as of March 23 the active cases in Halifax were up to 31, “so I would expect that in a matter of days we will be back into the ‘red zone’”.
Seelig told the board that the state has relaxed restrictions on indoor gatherings, saying that the allowable limits in the All Purpose Room is 10, but the state says it can go to as much as 100. Fourteen persons are the limit in the Great Hall, with one person on the landing. Due to the increases in Covid cases in Halifax and the increases in Massachusetts, Seelig and selectmen didn’t think that many people would be a good idea.
While the current state of emergency remains in effect, Seelig told selectmen that Halifax has a protocol in place for outdoor dining. While the state of emergency lasts, restaurants can obtain temporary permits after working with the Board of Health and the Fire Chief, but if they want to offer outside dining on a permanent basis, they’ll have to go through the regular zoning process for outdoor businesses. Selectman Gordon Andrews asked if Halifax allows outdoor dining within the current by-laws. Seelig answered that restaurants with indoor dining are allowed outside dining by right. Food vendors without indoor dining who wish to offer outdoor dining are covered under the outdoor business and sales and need a special permit.
Selectman Tom Millias said that some of this was covered under the emergency acts and Seelig agreed, “You can do it on a temporary basis.” Andrews asked, but if they wanted to do long-term, moving forward, we’d have to change … Seelig interjected that no, they just need to go through the process. Seelig said that he has notified Grille 58, Lakeside Villa, and Rodney’s Kitchen, the three places in town that have any sort of outdoor dining. Seelig told the board that if the state of emergency ends tomorrow, or next week, or next month, he wanted all to have a process in place.
Noting that he didn’t know if it was Spring, the warmer weather, or what, but he had a number of complaints about properties in town, only one of which came under the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectmen, including
• 0 Monponsett Street A resident was concerned about traffic safety, the use of the property without proper zoning, earth removal, health safety issues, and conservation/wetlands/endangered species issues.
• 105 Crystal Lake Road. An unpermitted home business is alleged.
• 70 Oak Street. An unpermitted logging business is alleged.
• Villiard Tree Service on Carver Street is alleged to be running an unpermitted logging business.
• Cled’s Tree Service, 450 Industrial Drive – an alleged logging business. Seelig told the board that Cled’s has been contacted and is working on this, and that the Chief had some concerns.
The only item that falls under the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectmen is the earth removal item. Seelig said that he had referred all other concerns to the appropriate boards.
Selectmen Andrews recused himself from the discussion of earth removal because his mother lodged that complaint. Andrews left the table and sat in the audience for that part of the meeting. Millias commented that it was difficult to unravel all of the suits and cross/suits involved in this – everybody has got a conflict of interest if you say anything. “So I’m going to defer – perhaps it’s under investigation – maybe we can get some information. I was going to suggest that maybe Mr. Garron could review some of that but the Board of Selectmen is being sued, too.” Seelig responded that he had no problem, it’s fact material, simply sending a fact sheet and a copy of the bylaw to the property owner, then they would have to apply to the Board of Selectmen for a special permit.” Off-camera, Andrews said, “I can do that.” Millias said that he didn’t see how the board can retroactively prove how much material has been removed from the site. “I think going forward with what you’ve just suggested is the most obvious thing to do,” Millias continued. Andrews re-joined the board.
Seelig said he is still gathering information on the financial end for the American Rescue Plan. There are two checks going directly to the town, however there are some restrictions as to how the money can be spent. Seelig said he will be getting more information from the US Treasury as it becomes available. He also said that Plymouth County is receiving a substantial amount of money and “I hope the intention is that the money will be passed along to the 27 communities in Plymouth County. We’ll see how that works out.”
Working from Home
Seelig told the board that at some point selectmen will have to assess the work from home situation. With the vaccination program well underway, not next week or next month, but sometime before the end of the year between the state of emergency ending and vaccinations being available, the board will have to work out how they want to handle people working from home during the past year who want to continue. There aren’t many, but we still have them in a couple of departments.
Seelig recommended the selectmen approve the proposed Field of Flags on the Town Green similar to the display put on by the Halifax VFW Post last year. The board unanimously approved the project. Seelig said he had spoken with David Walsh, VFW Post Commander, about the possibility of a Memorial Day Parade. Right now, even under the current Phase IV, Seelig said they both agreed that unfortunately “it’s just a little bit too soon to do something like that. Balancing everybody’s desire to get back to normal and to have events like that, there are also safety precautions for everybody.” Seelig said they had discussed a similar Memorial Day observance as the one last year with 10 to 20 attendees, with the color guard, and people can drive by and see the observance.
Seelig said he had a visit from Highway Surveyor Steve Hayward with some possible projects that can be sent to Boston as part of the Complete Streets Program. There are two projects not included in the list as all the engineering work, for the most part, has been done. These are the sidewalks between the two lobes of Cranberry Drive along Plymouth Street and Monponsett Street from the Housing Aurhority property north up to the shopping area. “Those appear to be the easiest to get done at this point,” Seelig said.
“The others on the list do not require engineering to be submitted and so probably in the next week or so we’ll have them sent up to Boston.“ He said he would get the projects list to the board for their comments to relay to Seelig or the Highway Surveyor including the priorities of what order the work should be done. Andrews commented that he would like to see the sidewalk outside the Town Hall done.
Seelig said he has contacted the highway surveyor and the Buildings and Facilities Needs Committee to see if they wish to pursue bonding for any major projects. While it appears that there is unlikely to be any request from the Buildings and Facilities Needs Committee, Hayward will be looking for a $4 million bond. In terms of debt exclusion, Hayward said he would be meeting with the Finance Committee. Seelig reminded the board that it needed to vote on it in order for it to get onto the ballot.
Andrews asked if Hayward was looking to hire a crew for the large project. Seelig said he didn’t know what the Highway Surveyor’s plans entailed but for $4 million “we won’t have the money available unless we go to debt exclusion. So this is more of a financial issue than a fiscal one.
Andrews said that at a meeting of the Buildings an Facilities Committee the previous week they had discussed whether or not they could hire a crew to do the work on town buildings rather than hire an outside contractor to do the work. “Somebody should be talking to Town Counsel about that because there are definitely some issues that could arise from that,” Millias said.
The board will meet Tuesday, March 30, at 6 p.m. to review Town Meeting articles.
Seelig spoke about the One Stop Grant Program. Letters of interest have to be submitted by April 2. They are looking for large municipal projects, Seelig said, and the redevelopment of properties including the Council on Aging, Municipal Broadband for the town. Millias added that they had talked about some kind of filtration or pump house for the Monponsett ponds. “My recollection was that it would be a constant pump that would aerate the water and then perhaps medicate the ponds. Andrews suggested that they could alternate the ponds year to year.
Mosquito spraying opt out
Seelig told the Board that Halifax can elect to opt out of aerial mosquito spraying. They would have to give the public notice. “I wish we didn’t have to spray at all. If you want to enjoy the outside, put on some sunscreen and go outside,” Selectman Garron said. Andrews said he thinks the town should have a public hearing on whether the Town of Halifax should opt out of the spraying noting that people with bees and other concerns also don’t want the spraying. The members of the board agreed.
There is a host community agreement (HCA) for the 301 Holmes St. Cannabis Green Earth being ironed out with Town Counsel Mayo. Flower and Soul, LLc, is proposing a Plymouth Street retail store and delivery service. They will host a community outreach meeting on April 22. Seelig clarified that the host community agreement does not need to be approved before the outreach meeting. Flower and Soul, LLc, will contact Atty. Mayo about the HCA.
Selectmen two weeks ago voted to allow up to 80 hours of vacation carryover from FY21 to FY22 for nine union employees. There is a request to expand that to all other wage earners who may not have had that available to them. The board agreed that if you allow it for one employee it should be allowed for all.
In other business
• Town Clerk Barbara Gaynor will have mail-in voting but not early in-person voting through June 30.
• As for the Comcast performance review hearing that was planned for the 13th, the board was notified that Michael Power of Comcast is not going to in-person meetings so the meeting will now be held on ZOOM.
• The Aldana Road land swap that is in progress with the Commonwealth. is on its way to completion; there is just some more paperwork and deed work that needs to be done.
• As for Halifax Solar v. Halifax, this is a property tax abatement and there are legal papers being filed.
• The board had an appointment with Alan Dias representing the Board of Health. Selectmen had requested his presence to ask if his board had any concerns with having their meeting taped by Area 58. Dias told selectmen that he had discussed it with his members and staff and they have no problems with their meetings being taped.
• Discussions and work continue with National Grid to site one or more charging stations at the Town Hall. Andrews asked that the placement be discussed with the Highway Surveyor to avoid problems with snow removal.
• Two complaints have been filed against the Halifax School Committee citing them in violation of the Open Meeting Law. The complaints are in the file and available to the public.
• Selectmen unanimously approved the request of the Council on Aging to place a tent on the Town Hall Green for activities this spring. Millias said he would ask them to follow proper procedure and let people know when they are planning an event.
• Selectmen voted unanimously to write a letter of condolence to the family of Martha Smith who was active in town affairs, having worked for the Police department and the Council on Aging as well as being an active volunteer,