The Halifax Finance Committee met Monday, March 28, in preparation for a balanced budget to present to the Halifax Annual Town Meeting, which will be held May 9 at the Halifax Elementary School.
First on the agenda was the Park Commission budget. Speaking to the article was Michael Schleiff. Responding to a letter from the Board of Health, the Parks Commission is asking to put in a handicap accessible “porta potty” that would be rented in increments of 28 days. While the request had been for three portable toilets, the Park Commission is requesting one for the Lingan Street beach area at a cost of $1100. This will protect the beach, pond, and surrounding area from urination and defecation and help lessen the problems and answer the Board of Health concerns. This would bring the budget up to $1562. FinCom agreed and voted to approve that amount.
In an effort to bring in some money to help cover expenses, the parks department is considering offering out of town beach stickers for a fee. There are officers at the recreation locations monitoring the areas, and there is signage stating that parking is for Halifax residents only, but they can’t keep out of town vehicles from parking at the boat ramp.
“We’re going to get some help this year from the highway department with clearing the parking lot across the street from the Holmes Street beach,” Schleiff said.
Next project the Park Commission is looking at is some “beach nourishment” to alleviate the deep gullies at the beach formed by stormwater runoff. They have bids from local sand and gravel merchants and Schleiff explained they have to match the sand in size and texture to the current sand, and it has to be washed sand, with no sediment. The price for this is $14 a ton.
Schleiff said they would also like to continue the Holmes St. boat refurbishment. “We’re working on the drawings so we can get accurate prices. We know it’s going to be way over the $5,000 we have.” He told the committee that three tri-axels of sand will be about $1100.“ If we take out one truck it will be $800 or so,” Schleiff said, “It would be nice to have it in this budget so the work can be done this year.” Town Accountant Sandy Nolan pointed out that the boat ramp is a capital expenditure and the warrant for the spring town meeting closed last week. She encouraged Schleiff to get her the information and she will see what she can do, but most likely they will have to draw up an article for a special town meeting in the fall.
Pam Aducci, Town Treasurer/Collector, told FinCom she wants the assistant treasurer position raised from its current 32 hours to 40 hours. “ I’ve given my notice and will be leaving at the end of April. Whoever comes in will need training and that will need more hours.” Nolan said she knows how the asstant treasurer has been pushed – especially with the fraudulent unemployment claims that came in during the pandemic – and also just keeping up with all the day to day business in the treasurer’s office. “We’re going to need that person for 40 hours a week no matter what.” The increase was approved. Adducci said that she realizes the town needs to find new revenue sources and suggested Halifax raise its demand fees. Halifax charges $5 while surrounding towns charge $15. “Not a ton of money, but it needs to be approved by Town Meeting.”
FinCom went on to a general discussion of the budget.
Still faced with the Halifax Elementary School budget, the major issue is the special education transportation price increase. FinCom has made inquiries into utilizing one of the vans from the Council on Aging. They have three vans with three drivers. FinCom has asked the school committee to explore that. COA was quite amenable to sharing.
There has been no news on the Town Administrator’s salary line. If it is voted at $125,000 and the selected candidate requires more, then they might have to go to a special town meeting to fund that position.
• IT Expense budget at $110,191 was approved. Nolan said she thought it was a fair amount.
• Police and Fire budgets are complete.
• Building Inspector – Selectmen are aware that assistant building inspectors are being paid out of the building inspector’s expense budget as vendors. The building inspector asked that his assistant budget be transferred to the expense budget so he can use it to pay contractors. His assistant works as a contractor at this time. Voted unanimously.
• Animal Control Officer budget – $982. The budget is formulaic. Unanimous approval.
• School budget is waiting until next meeting. Halifax’s assessment went up, Kingston’s went up and Plympton’s assessment went down. Cheryl asked if the special ed transportation cost is fixed and was told that there are no companies willing to bid on the project.
• Reycling center wages were voted to cover the three people working there, the driver, center operator, and part time helper totaling $75,274. Sue Johnson communicated to FinCom that the hazardous waste collection line can be lowered from $14,560 to $5,950. They will do alternate years as there was a very low demand for the service. They are also looking at a regional option. Unanimously voted.
As for the trash collection, that department says they should be able to lower this amount but recommends putting this price into the town warrant and when prices come in, they can bring the cost down at Town Meeting. “Is this a straight pass through to the residents?” Chairman Connolly asked of Nolan. “We would have to increase the price of the bags. This is paid for by the bags and we would have to increase the price. That’s why we’re working hard not to have it that price because we do not want to have to increase the bags like that,” Nolan said.
• Council on Aging expense went up by $650 due to increases in electricity and dues. “I think they’re going to need it,” Nolan said. Voted unanimously.
• Parks expense – change from $450 to $1562. Voted unanimously.
• Fireworks committee is asking for $3300 to cover the cost of police and fire details. Unanimous approval..
• Debt service – all three items went down from last year. This is the last year for the landfill capping item. The principal is $90,000 and the interest for this year is $1,857. The other items are the elementary school roof and repairs and the fire suppression debt. “These will be with us for a while,” Nolan said.
• Plymouth County Retirement wants to be fully funded by 2030. This will keep increasing. We have no choice.
• Halifax group insurance. Expecting a significant drop due to people going from family plans onto Medex plans which saves significant sums – the difference of about $1400 per month down to about $400 per month. I would like you to vote $1,054,560, for total health group insurance. Voted unanimously.
• OPED trust – committee is asking for $1,000 again this year to bring the total to $39,000.
• Assistant Treasurer/Collector salary increase by $11,000 who is now at 32 hours. It is an additional 8 hours “and it is quite necessary,” Sandy Nolan said. From $141,854. Increase by $11,000 to make the department line $152,854. Voted unanimously.
• Article 6 Reserve Fund. $75,000 to raise and appropriate from the general fund, and also $50,000 from water retained earnings. “The same as last year,” Nolan told the group. Total $125,000 for the reserve fund. What was the total of all the reserve fund transfers for all of last year? “There was a $100,000 transfer from the reserve fund to the legal expense line last year but I’m not sure if that’s going to come up again.” Said Assistant treasurer Lind Cole. Nolan said “There’s a chance that it may come up again this year. Basically I think we’re doing OK with the amount.” Connolly asked, “Where does the unused money go at the end of the year?” Nolan answered that it goes back to the general fund as free cash.
• Plymouth County Extension Service – $150. This is the same every year. They help us with 4-H and other things. Unanimous approval.
• Road maintenance. Last year increased it was increased from $150,000 to $300,000. “Steve (Hayward) would like to keep the $300,000. And we can afford to.” Approved unanimously.
• Assessors recertification article for $18,600. “ It’s the annual fixed cost and we have to do it,” Connolly said. Unanimous.
• Police vehicles – one police cruiser and one chief’s vehicle for $110,000 as part of the annual rotation. Approved unanimously.
• Police Bulletproof vests for $5,000. “We do sometimes get refunds from the state, but that just replenishes the account.” Approved.
• Replacement of 20 station cell cameras at $7,379 was approved.
• Halifax Elementary School elevator. The current elevator is so old that they can’t get parts. They want to upgrade the control panel for $66,941. “This is a one-time expense and it should last quite a long time once we put it in. This is something that we would naturally fund through free cash,” Nolan told the board. Approved.
• Highway medium duty dump truck for plowing and sanding for $200,000. Can be more useful than the larger trucks. Approved.
• Highway 500 gallon double walled waste oil tank. $50,000. The one we have now is single walled and not in compliance with state standards. “This allows us to burn used oil for heating oil. She said the last heating oil bill they got was $5 per gallon so the ability to burn the waste oil is a huge savings.
Nolan asked the commission to go back to fixed costs. “ The gas line we have at $90,000 … I think we need to increase it by $20,000 to $110,000. For heating oil I think we need to increase it by $10,000 to $60,000.” If the money isn’t used it goes back into the general fund. Approved.
• Water recycling unit at the wash bay for the highway dept. We’re pumping the water out of the pipe tank which is not in compliance, Nolan said.. The cost will also add a roof over the wash bay. $75,000 total. Approved.
• South Shore Coastal Counties Legal Service and South Shore Resource and Advocacy for $3500. Same as last year.
• Town clerk needs a new time stamp for $850. The one they have is so old it can’t get parts for it. Approved
• Library computer – $1000 for a new computer at the library as part of a rotation replacement program. Approved.
• The request for three copy machines has been reduced to two. The water dept. doesn’t want to replace theirs at this time. This will cover highway and library. Nolan suggested purchase instead of lease. $4,000. Approved.
• Fire – new ambulance. $340,000. They are locking in a price, and not going to take delivery for two years. Have to commit the funds to the article. The money won’t all go at once. “ We pay a deposit to begin it, might have a payment halfway through, and then the balance when it’s delivered,” Nolan said.
• Security cameras for town buildings. Sixteen cameras on new buildings including the Town Hall, COA, Highway Dept. and Holmes Library for $36,800. These buildings don’t currently have security cameras, Caesar Coloruso, head of IT, explained. Approved.
• Middle School Resource officer – “Again this is a raise and appropriate because it is an operating item.” Really belongs in the school budget, it will be listed as a sub line under the school budget. This is Halifax’s share of the resource officer. Halifax pays 2/3 and Plympton pays 1/3. Kingston pays 100% of the resource officer at the High School. Approved.
• Council on Aging. There is a need for a new building for the Council on Aging. “We are looking at the Halifax Museum library to see if we can be rehab it with a small addition to the building. It would allow more space and all on one floor. The architect came in with a price – a very rough estimate of $1.2 million,” Nolan said. “We are looking for $1.5 million to cover everything. This will come from the school roof bond. Interest rates were very low and the school roof came in at less leaving an extra $1.5 million left over in that account. She would like to transfer the funds from school roof project to the Council on Aging project. The one catch is there would need to be an article on the warrant to do this because it was debt excluded. An article on town meeting to make the transfer as well as a question on the ballot to approve the COA project through debt exclusion is needed. This money is already debt excluded. If we do this, there is no increase to the levy at all. The state asks that we use the funds on another project of equal length… We cannot use it to pay down the bond,” Nolan said. Approved.
• Silver Lake Tennis courts repair $110,000 Funds were returned from Silver Lake. There were $312,000 in refunds from Silver Lake and they’re asking that we take $110,000 from that to repair the tennis courts. Being from the stabilization fund it needs a 2/3 vote. Approved.
• Police Body Worn Camera Program. They’ve been trying to get grants but haven’t gotten them. Not yet a requirement, but the chief would like to get them and have his officers get used to them. Chief Joao Chaves told the commission that it is prudent to get it now. Body cameras are probably going to be mandated and Police Chief Joao Chaves said it is a prudent program. The cameras themselves are $46,380 for the five year program and at three years they change out all the cameras. Approved.
Library /water department network refresh. $12,500 We do have the money to do it. Approved.