The Halifax Board of Selectmen met on Sept. 3 in preparation of the town meeting to be held Saturday, September 12 at Halifax Elementary School at 9 a.m. Town Administrator Charlie Seelig said that town meetings are exempt from the Governor’s limit of 25 persons per room. Seelig said that seats would be kept to about 7 feet apart and people would be divided between the gym and the multi-purpose room. The quorum remains at 100. Screens, cameras, and microphones will be setup in each room to keep everyone connected. People from the same household will be allowed to sit together. Town Moderator Dennis Carman will be in the gym, where 100 people are estimated to fit, and an assistant town moderator will likely be needed for the multi-purpose room. Masks will be mandated, and microphones will be wiped down between uses.
Seelig recommended that the town distribute placards with a red side and a green side for residents to use to indicate their vote. Carman expressed concern about his vision and shared concern over a third party helping to indicate to him the outcome of the vote. Seelig said if it isn’t easily discernible if there are more green or more red, counters would be available to tally the total.
Ways to move the meeting along as quickly as possible while still allowing voters an opportunity to speak to or debate articles as needed, were discussed. The idea to vote on a consent agenda was proposed. This would allow multiple articles to be voted on together as a group with a hold being placed on individual topics should someone wish to speak on them.
“There are two extremes for the town meeting,” Seelig said. The first of which occurs if there aren’t enough people for a quorum. If that happens, town meeting will have to once again be rescheduled. The Board opted to keep the quorum at 100 despite having the ability to temporarily lower it with advanced notice. Seelig said the other end of the spectrum is if too many people turn out and there isn’t enough room to socially distance between the two rooms. If that happens, town meeting would have to be postponed and moved to another, larger location. A possible option could be the Kingston Collection. Carman said, “I hate the optics of having to close down a town meeting because there are too many people who want to go… people may misunderstand that.”
Seelig said he could contact the Kingston Collection and find out if they could book the venue for town meeting on Monday, Sept. 14 at 7:30 p.m. to serve as plan B should they be over capacity on Saturday. The Board voted to ask Seelig to reserve the location with the understanding that they may have to pay for the deposit even if it ends up not being needed.
Following the discussion on logistics, they turned their attention to the warrant beginning with the special town meeting. The first article is for $6000 for HVAC work to the town hall. The second is for $30,000 for unemployment. Seelig said they would likely pass over Article 3 which is for $30,000 for a Council on Aging van. According to Seelig the town is looking into the possibility of getting CARES Act money to fund it. Article 4 is the result of a petition article and is for $20,000 for truck traffic reinforcement. The money would go to the police department to be used for that purpose. Article 5 is for a crosswalk extension between the two roads of Cranberry Dr. and Plymouth St. The town has applied for a state grant to fund it but have not received word yet as to whether they will be granted the money. Seelig said they may know by the date of the town meeting whether the town will have to fund the project, should the town vote to proceed with it.
Selectman Gordon Andrews asked if the Finance Committee had made recommendations on the five articles. Finance Committee member Melinda Tarsi said they had made recommendations for all but Article 3 as they were waiting to see if it could be covered through the CARES Act. Articles 1 and 2 received the Finance Committee’s recommendation while Articles 4 and 5 did not.
Article 1 in the annual is the normal report for town officers and committees. Seelig told Carman that as much as he appreciates their ability to do that, he would like to keep it brief in the interest of time. Article 2 is a series of amendments from the Wage and Personnel Board. Article 3 is a Finance Committee article on the salaries set for the town officials. Article 4 is the budget. Article 5 is the revolving accounts. Seelig said there are no appropriations necessary and the article simply sets the revolving funds and the limits to which they can be spent. Article 6 is the reserve fund. Articles 7-13 are union and personnel contracts. Article 14 is an article for becoming co-opt. Article 15 is Chapter 90 and according to Seelig the state has changed things so that this article won’t be necessary in the future. Article 16 is a traditional article on the roads.
The next several articles are for the capital budget. Seelig said that some of them will be passed over. Article 17 is for $150 for a backhoe, 18 is for a copier for the COA, and 19 is for a fire engine. Articles 20 through 23 are all for the Police Department and are for police vehicles, radio systems, a motorcycle, and bullet resistant vests, respectively. Article 24 is regarding an error made by the retirement system where a town employee was charged to the housing authority rather than the town. Seelig said he was unsure if the correct amount could be ascertained prior to town meeting. Article 25 is the assessor’s recertification account.
Article 26 is to fund Halifax’s share of the part time school resource officer at Silver Lake Regional Middle School. The same article appeared on last year’s warrant and the town voted it down. Plympton voted in favor of it, however, meaning that the part time officer could serve the middle school for just a few hours per week. Kingston already funds the school resource officer at the high school.
Article 27 is for a truck inspection program. Article 28 is to grade all unpaved roads in Halifax including private roads. Article 29 is for $33,500 for crosswalk devices. There was some mention that the expense may be eligible for CARES Act funding if touchless devices were installed.
Article 30 is a revision of zoning bylaws and is recommended by the Finance Committee. Articles 31 and 32 are traditional, annual articles. Articles 33, 34, and 36 will likely be passed over. Article 35 is for insulation at the town barn. Article 37 is to fund repairs to the roof at Pope’s Tavern. Article 38 is an annual article to appropriate money received from Lyft and Uber for the town in the amount of $857.60. The state requires the money to go toward the highway maintenance account.
Articles 40-44 will likely be passed over. The Selectmen are also recommending that Article 45 is passed over. Article 46 is for the next phase of the stormwater protection bylaw. Article 47 will be passed over per the direction of FEMA. Of Article 47, Seelig said “I’m sure it will be highly divisive.” It concerns multi-family housing and needs a two-thirds majority to pass.
Article 49 would allow marijuana facilities in the commercial district by special permit. Article 50 would change the bylaw to allow the Beautification Committee to increase their membership. Article 51 is being proposed by the selectmen and involves taxes on solar fields. Article 52 will likely be passed over and Article 53 is the election article.