The Halifax Special Town Meeting was held on the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 21 at the Halifax Elementary School. Unlike the previous attempt to hold the meeting on Sept. 8, there was a quorum. Town Moderator Robert Gaynor reminded those in attendance to remain civil with one another throughout the meeting. The articles were discussed and voted on out of order.
Article 17 generated the most debate and discussion. A yes vote would remove the buffer restriction requiring marijuana dispensaries to be 500 ft. from establishments with an alcohol pouring license. Board of Selectmen Chair Gordon Andrews said the Selectmen recommended the article by a vote of 2-1. The Finance Committee also recommended the article as well. Chair of the Planning Board Gordon R. Andrews said the Planning Board also recommended.
A resident spoke saying, “I don’t believe this would be appropriate for our town; we took provisions years ago to put this by-law into effect to control these things and now if you got somebody from the outside that wants to come in, we have to change our by-laws to accommodate them.” He continued, “In my opinion, that’s putting the wolf in charge of the hen house.” Another resident, who said she was a bartender in town, said she was in agreement with the previous speaker.
Another resident spoke in favor of removing the buffer restriction stressing the importance of recognizing the ways in which these establishments help the town. Resident Summer Schmaling, who is on both the Silver Lake Regional School Committee as well as the Halifax Elementary School Committee, reminded those present that the town spent thousands of dollars a few years ago for a study focusing on how the town could bring in more businesses as the tax revenue was falling predominantly on the backs of residents. She said that the town should not push these businesses away.
Phil Tringali of Walnut St. took to the microphone saying that he would be meeting with the Board of Selectmen the following Tuesday to propose a retail marijuana store in Halifax. Tringali, who noted that he has used medical marijuana for cancer, said he has worked for months to open up a store within all of the town’s regulations. “The plan for a business doesn’t take place over night; this is a two-year business plan with a lot of money involved. Every time I look at the zoning, the guidelines you’ve given me in the town to do this, you change it,” Tringali said. “How do I do business if you change it every six months?,” Tringali asked. He was met with some applause as he took his seat.
Another resident spoke saying that while she previously voted against allowing retail marijuana facilities in town, she now feels differently. She said that seeing how well-run they are and how little traffic they generate has changed her mind. Another resident spoke saying that most people who purchase from these stores are not using the product at the store. He said he didn’t believe there would be an issue with people leaving the store impaired. Yet another resident said he was not ready for a marijuana establishment in the center of town. He recommended conducting a study on the impact such an establishment would have on the town as well as holding a public forum or people to speak on the matter. He was met with significant applause.
Town Administrator Charlie Seelig spoke saying, “the primary money that the town would receive would be from the sales tax; we would collect three percent on the gross revenues of any marijuana store here in Halifax but obviously that depends on their actual revenues.” He also mentioned the community impact fee saying, “it’s related to the cost the community incurs on having that store and that’s very difficult to prove in many cases.” He also said that there are currently many possible venues for these stores. The article failed to pass leaving the restriction in place.
Article 14, which was proposed by the Police Chief, would give the Board of Selectmen instruction to file proposed legislation with the Massachusetts State Legislature that would exempt all members of the Halifax Police Department from Chapter 31 of the General Laws. The Finance Committee agreed to give no recommendation on the article. Chapter 31 of the General Laws is Civil Service. Chief Joao Chaves spoke to the article explaining that it would rescind the vote from 1968 that placed the Halifax Police Department under Civil Service. He explained that the Civil Service system refers to two state agencies, the Human Resources Division (HRD) and the Civil Service Commission (CSC). He said that Civil Service was developed more than a century ago to protect against political influence in the hiring process. He continued, “Civil Service has evolved into a rigid, inflexible, and highly bureaucratic system that operates slowly at best.” He explained what he sees as other failings of the system including the ways in which it negatively impacts the Halifax Police Department’s ability to hire certain officers, including Halifax residents, over others. Chaves said it also impacts the ways in which officers are promoted and disciplined. He said it would not affect the Fire Department as they are not part of the Civil Service system.
Schmaling asked if keeping Civil Service would provide protection against nepotism. Chaves said, “We would be reaching out to get the best applicants.” Of Civil Service, he said that it forces him to hire whoever does best on the exam even if that person is right out of high school rather than someone who may have the necessary life experiences to succeed on the force. Another resident asked why now. “Again, the problem that every department is finding right now is finding good candidates,” Chaves said.
Resident and Planning Board member Amy L. Troup asked why the Finance Committee did not have a recommendation. The Committee explained that at the time they did not have access to the Chief’s presentation. “The Committee members generally felt that Civil Service was not the way to go but that we didn’t have a symmetric and complete picture because we didn’t know what was coming in its place,” Chair Thomas Connolly explained. Troup also said that while right now we have a “great chief,” someday we might not. The article passed by a smaller majority than the ones before it.
Several articles were voted on and easily passed to approve the bargaining agreements between the town and various agencies for fiscal year 2022. Article 2 funds the agreement between the town and AFSCME AFL-CIO Union Council 93, Local 1700 (Mixed Unit). Article 3 funds the agreement with the firefighters. Article 5 funds the agreement with the Massachusetts C.O.P. Local 459 (Sergeants). Article 6 funds the agreement between the town and the Halifax Association of Police Patrolmen. The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee recommended all of these articles.
Article 10 would authorize the Board of Selectmen to give the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game a parcel of town owned land located off Aldana Rd. The exchange is part of a larger, ongoing plan between the town and the Department of Fish and Game. Both the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen recommended the article and it passed with the necessary two-thirds vote.
Article 11 to raise and appropriate or transfer funds to purchase, equip, and install a public address (PA) system for the Great Hall in the Halifax Town Hall passed. Article 12 to raise and appropriate or transfer funds for the maintenance and other expenses related to the inspectional services vehicle also easily passed. Article 9 to transfer $26,608 from the Water Department Water Revenue Account to purchase and equip a new truck for the Water Superintendent was recommended by both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee. It passed easily. Article 13 was recommended by both the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen. The article would raise and appropriate or transfer funds distributed from the Commonwealth Transportation Infrastructure Fund to address the impact of transportation network services on municipal infrastructure such as roads and bridges. The article passed unanimously.
Article 15 to raise and appropriate or transfer funds in the amount of $130,980 to be added to the $4,725,192 appropriated at the Annual Town Meeting last May for the Silver Lake Assessment easily passed. The Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee both recommended the article.
Article 16, which would raise and appropriate or transfer funds in the amount of $12,000 to be added to the $19,000 appropriated at the Annual Town Meeting last May for Water – Retirement, easily passed. Article 19 to raise and appropriate or transfer funds in the amount of $12,000 to purchase and maintain electronic/solar traffic safety and signage easily passed with the recommendation of both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee.
Articles 1, 4, 8 and 18 were passed over.