The Halifax Board of Selectmen met in-person on Tuesday evening, Jan. 11. The bulk of the meeting was spent discussing COVID related policies for employees.
Fire Chief Jason Viveiros, Library Director Jean Gallant, Highway Surveyor Steve Hayward, and IT Department Head Cesar Calouro were all in attendance for the discussion. Specific cases were discussed including a library technician who only works 11 hours per week and therefore does not receive benefits. Said employee had a close contact in their immediate family and then later tested positive themselves. Gallant said she wished to pay the employee for the missed week’s salary as they were a good and long-time employee. “I realize that she doesn’t have benefits and you would be making an exception for her,” Gallant told the Board.
The Board was in agreement that if someone is symptomatic but has not yet received a test, they would need to provide documentation of a positive test result. The employee would need to take sick time but would be reimbursed by the town for the time out assuming they had a positive test result. In the case presented by Gallant, it was agreed that despite the employee not having benefits, the town would still reimburse the employee for the missed pay. Selectmen Chair Gordon Andrews said that they wanted to encourage sick employees to stay home so as to not risk exposing others out of fear of lost wages. “I think we need to look out for the employee’s health and for the town’s health,” Andrews explained.
The Fire Department is providing free testing for town employees. Asked how they were doing on tests, Viveiros said they still have a few hundred tests to be used on town employees.
Another case specific question was asked which prompted Selectman Ashley DiSesa to joke about the myriad of gray areas surrounding COVID. Gallant said she had an employee who tested negative but is quarantining while caring for a positive dependent. It was agreed that sick time would also be reimbursed in that instance. Viveiros and Hayward said that in the interest of consistency, they have been forwarding questions to Halifax Health Agent Bob Valery for guidance on case specific questions.
Other questions regarding the recent CDC guidance updates were also asked. Recent guidance states that COVID positive individuals can end quarantine after five days as long as their symptoms were resolving and they continued to wear a mask for 10-14 days. “I think what everyone needs to know is, they are still symptomatic after day 5, they need to stay out,” Andrews said. Selectman Troy Garron asked whether the town should require proof of a negative test to return, but DiSesa pointed out that the town would likely run out of tests if they did that.
Calouro questioned whether employees who have the ability to work from home should be working while in quarantine. The Selectmen seemed in agreement that they should not be expected to work which prompted Calouro to question why they spent so much money on laptops for town employees.
After much discussion, DiSesa attempted to summarize the policy saying, “So, the policy is, if an employee feels under the weather… they can go to the Fire Station or go to their doctor and get a valid test from a medical professional – not an at-home test. If that test is positive, we will pay them from the day that they tested from their five days out or however many days if they’re still symptomatic. Or God forbid somebody gets a really bad case of it, we will pay them out until they can come back. If somebody refuses to wear a mask after five days, they can’t come back; they don’t get paid. And if somebody refuses a test and is saying they have COVID, they don’t get paid; they have to take the test.”
Andrews provided an update on the budget, telling the other Selectmen that Town Accountant Sandra Nolan had provided the numbers. He said that the numbers for Silver Lake and veteran’s benefits were not included. “We are negative $127,157.65,” Andrews said. He also pointed out that the figure did not include Halifax’s share of the Middle School resource officer that is roughly $36,000. Andrews said that the largest increase for the schools was in special needs tuition and transportation. He said that those two line items plus the elementary school amounted to a $150,000 increase. “I’m estimating that Silver Lake will be at least a $220,000, if not 300,000, increase for just their annual increases that take place within their budget. He pointed out that special education tuition and transportation was out of the town’s as well as the School Committee’s control.
The Board also discussed an update to the process for applying for Host Community Agreements (HCAs). The Board voted to require that companies wishing to apply for an HCA go through the Planning Board first to receive a special permit. The change was made in order to avoid spending unnecessary legal fees.
On the subject of marijuana establishments, Andrews told the Board that Green Earth Cannabis notified the town that due to “unforeseen circumstances” they would no longer be seeking an HCA with Halifax.
Another marijuana establishment, Flower and Soul, was requesting the installation of lights and a pole at 182 and 183 Plymouth St. DiSesa said that as long as the town would be reimbursed for the cost through the community impact fee, she would be in agreement. The lights are being requested for security reasons. The Board voted to approve the request.
The Selectmen met with two applicants who were seeking the two open spots on the Traffic Safety Committee. Both John Sullivan and Steve Littlefield were voted unanimously onto the Committee by the Selectmen.
Interim Town Administrator Ed Thorne said he had a successful meeting with the Chair of the Solar Committee regarding capping the landfill and placing a solar array on it. He said that he had success in doing this during his previous employment. He said that every town in the Commonwealth is moving toward this step and noted that it should provide electrical savings for all town departments including the school. Thorne told the Selectmen that they would be looking to get the RFP completed in order to “get the ball rolling.”
The Board addressed a request to make a proclamation for a specific citizen. Andrews said that while exceptions were made for pancreatic cancer and suicide awareness month, the town doesn’t usually make proclamations. Garron said that while it was a noble cause, it wouldn’t be practical. DiSesa agreed saying that it would set a precedent that could result in many more requests.
The Board discussed two articles for town meeting pertaining to the Water Department. They would be seeking to transfer approximately $53,000 to purchase a new water truck and to transfer $5,520 to fund phase 2 of upgrades at a treatment plant and chemical facility. The Fire Department is also seeking to raise or appropriate funds to purchase a new ambulance.
Before adjourning for the evening, the Board voted to use $16,000 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) funds to buy ADA compliant levers and box sets in compliance with the Building Inspector’s requirements for emergency egress.