Irene recovery project manager Christina Moore told the board she has worked with the low bidder (at $6,000), Sullivan and Powers. “I would recommend them, based on past experience with them,” Moore said. The board voted to award the bid to Sullivan and Powers, contingent on approval from town treasurer Patricia Dow. Dow will critique the firm’s technical proposal and let the board know if she has any questions or reservations.
Halifax is now eligible for participation in the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Four projects have been proposed, for Winchester Road, Reed Hill Road, Pennel Hill Road, and Hall Road. The board voted to send a letter of intent to apply for funds for those projects. Part of the 25% town match can be in-kind, including town labor. Tracking procedures now in place for road crew work will help document the town’s contribution, should the grant be awarded.
The construction bid for replacement of the Hale Road bridge is still up in the bureaucratic air, despite the board’s firm intention to award it to Renaud Brothers. Permits for the work are now in place, but FEMA approval for the improved project has not yet come through. Moore attributed the delay to a labor bottleneck; most of the FEMA workers who were in the state have now been assigned elsewhere to handle the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. “I have absolute verbal assurance ... that we’re good,” Moore told the board, adding that the town should only be at risk for $2,000 out of the approximately $200,000 project. But Edwards pointed out that FEMA could in fact refuse to fund the project at all, leaving the town with a massive debt.
The town’s deadline for awarding the bid is rapidly approaching. It is possible for the contractors to give the town an extension, which they might be willing to do, as no construction can begin before late spring. But before requesting an extension, Edwards wants the board to send a direct request to the FEMA official in charge for “an understanding of the time frame for approval.” The board voted to send the letter.
The first regular meeting of the New Year was rescheduled for January 3. The last details of the budget for fiscal year 2014 will be completed at that meeting. Edwards noted that the budget process has taken 14 hours of meeting time to date.
In other business, Laura Sibilia, of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, gave a brief presentation outlining her organization’s efforts to create formal plans for the regional economy, including “work force development.” Sibilia noted that there is a need to boost the 20- to 40-year-old population and to redress the “mismatch” between the skills of current residents and the specific skills sought by potential employers. She strongly urged the town to consider both financial “investment” and active participation in the program.
Sibilia said that her group had originally sought to get broadband service for the region, but concluded that the real problem was to develop an economy that would support broadband. Edwards told her that Halifax, which has “zero retail” and lacks broadband or reliable cell phone service, actually needs up-to-date communications infrastructure to support the development of locally based businesses.
The board will review materials left by Sibilia before discussing what the town can do in the way of investment and participation.