Earl Holtz, a candidate for the selectboard, gave a brief review of his qualifications for the position, including his career experience in management and budgeting. Holtz has been actively involved in town matters since becoming a full-time resident of Halifax. He has attended and participated in almost every selectboard meeting, including budget preparation sessions. Holtz indicated that he thinks his knowledge and experience would be helpful in improving the budgeting process and helping to keep taxes down.
Holtz also serves on the broadband committee and is actively committed to bringing up-to-date communications services to the town. He has volunteered repeatedly to help improve the town’s official website. The selectboard has not taken him up on those offers.
Holtz declared his firm support for establishing unified purchasing, ethics, and conflict of interest policies. Although Holtz had begun by stating that he and his wife Pat have owned property in Halifax since 1996, built their house in 2005, and have lived here for two years, Wayne Courser asked him, “How many years have you lived in town?”
“Two years,” Holtz replied. “But I have,” he added, drawing chuckles from the audience, “been a citizen of the United States for 65 years, and my ancestors have been here since 1620. They came over on the Mayflower. Both sides of the family.”
Audience amusement notwithstanding, selectboard member and candidate Lewis Sumner was careful to open by stating his “local” credentials. “I’ve lived here in town all my life,” Sumner said, adding that his family has farmed in Halifax since the 18th century. Sumner said that his local knowledge and long experience in town government make him well qualified to serve another term.
Maggie Bartenhagen asked Sumner for his thoughts on whether the board should adopt ethics and purchasing policies. Sumner said he is “not against” an ethics policy, but pointed out that selectboards are not legally required to adopt such policies. “I think we should maybe look into it.” He noted that he and other board members have recused
themselves in the past when matters that might lead to a conflict of interest have arisen.
As for a purchasing policy, Sumner said that the town already puts large projects out to bid and does not need to do that with small projects.
Howard Alboum pointed out that the planning and zoning boards “have a comprehensive ethics policy” that the selectboard could easily adopt.
Linda Lyon expressed concern over the continuing inadequacy of the town’s website. Lyon said that she is a member of the Halifax Emergency Medical Service and thus has little “time after work to attend meetings.” Lyon wants to be able to access meeting minutes on the website. The most recent minutes posted date to last summer. “I
don’t want to rely on the filter of The Deerfield Valley News,” she added.
Selectboard chair John LaFlamme told Lyon that “only two people” can upload data onto the website. He said there have been a lot of problems with the site, which is not owned or operated by the town, and that “it’s an ongoing process.” Lyon, not impressed, pointed out that LaFlamme had given the same answer to the same question at last year’s town meeting.
Phyllis Evanuk, secretary to the selectboard and the planning and zoning boards, told Lyon that the long delay in posting minutes is due to her having to rely on a slow dial-up connection at her home. She cannot use her laptop at the town office, which has satellite service, because “the process is not working properly on my laptop” there. Evanuk said she has just gotten DSL service and is “trying to get it up and running to update the site.”
LaFlamme noted that the town office’s satellite service is sometimes down all day. Rebecca Stone said that if people want more service from the town government, they should pay for proper staffing.
Craig Stone asked about the prospects of getting high speed service in town. Pusey read out the article asking for $1,000 to support the efforts of the broadband committee to accomplish that, and Holtz explained the necessity of a survey to establish the potential market and thus attract a provider. Stone said he is “glad to hear that
you’re looking for an outside vendor” rather than trying to set up a tax-funded system.
Merle Eggert objected to asking citizens without computers or any interest in them to help pay to attract a service provider. Eggert mistakenly thought that satellite service is the equivalent of what is being sought; many attendees were prompt to correct him.
Alboum observed that the lack of efficient communications services discouraged potential residents. The new chair of the Windham Regional Commission, Alboum related, is just one of a number of people who have decided against buying in Halifax because of that lack.
Eggert also said he could find no clear indication in the town report that the town owes a considerable sum in long-term debt. Rebecca Stone, who is running for reelection as an auditor, said all the figures were present in the report and that anyone who wanted more information should direct their questions to the auditors, who are happy to answer them.
Courser complained that residents “should have a little more trust” in their officials. “I trust the people we elect.”
Constable Andy Rice, running for reelection, echoed Courser’s theme, stating that “trust is what the state police have for me.” He gave examples of the ways he cooperates closely with the state police.
Rice described the training now required to certify elected constables. Almost everything a constable does in the way of law enforcement, up to turning on the radar to clock speeders, requires certification. Rice suggested that the town, at some point, may wish to consider a longer term for its constable in order to protect the investment in training.
Leonard Derby, also running for constable, emphasized the need for visible patrols in a marked cruiser to discourage speeders. Derby is not certified, but is willing to take any training necessary. Constable candidate William Butler was not present at the meeting.
The single lister’s seat open attracted four candidates, Roberta Dunphy, Phyllis Evanuk, Greg Marguet, and William Moore, who is currently a lister. Each spoke briefly. A flurry of sometimes acrimonious discussion of the recent reevaluation produced more heat than light, but made it clear that the current “open door” policy of the listers is both useful to and appreciated by a number of townspeople.
There were a few questions for the school board. For the first time in three years, the board has proposed a slightly increased budget.
Eggert asked about dropping enrollment. Board chair Homer Sumner said that the next two kindergarten classes will be larger than recent entering classes, but that he cannot predict any long-term trend. Eggert also asked about teacher retirement. “We don’t pay into that,” Sumner replied.
Lister Joseph Tamburino complained about leaks in the roof of the building, which houses both the school and the town offices. Alfred Corey told Tamburino that ice dams are causing the problems, which would not necessarily be solved by replacing the roof. Tamburino also complained about inadequate heat. Corey said he would call the relevant technician to get that problem fixed.
Sumner related some efforts by the state to push districts toward consolidation, including cuts in small school grants and a probable future move to supervisory union-wide contracts, which would be pegged to salary levels obtaining in larger districts, a material disadvantage for small towns.