Town warnings come under public scrutiny
by Margo Avakian
Feb 28, 2013 | 2370 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- A small but keenly interested group of residents met to discuss the proposed municipal and school budgets and other issues on the warning for next week’s Town Meeting. The event was also billed as a chance to “meet the candidates,” but with all the candidates running unopposed, residents went directly to comments and questions both general and specific about a variety of issues, most related to spending.

Wayne Courser rose to reiterate his complaint that the selectboard erred in accepting the lowest bid for a gravel purchase. Courser also criticized the selection process for emergency management director, implying that more care should be taken to investigate candidates.

Finally, Courser declared himself firmly against article 16, a proposal to expand the selectboard from three to five members, warning that people might get on the board “that you wouldn’t want to be there!”

Selectboard member and candidate Edee Edwards told Courser that the board does consider factors other than price when evaluating bids, and that they take highway supervisor Bradley Rafus’ advice on such matters as quality, reliability, and haulage costs. Edwards also explained the selectboard’s reasons for wishing to expand; there really is too much work for three people to handle, she said, and it is currently impossible for one board member to inform, mentor, or collaborate with another without triggering the necessity for a warned meeting.

Linda Lyon defended the EMD selection process, describing the interviews and questioning of the candidates.

Merle Eggert criticized the practice of allowing service organizations to put their funding requests on the warning without requiring petitions. In general, Eggert pleaded passionately for restraint of spending, asserting that the town is “nearly bankrupt.”

Some had more specific questions. John LaFlamme and Norman Fajans queried a number of line items in the proposed budget. The budget was “a challenge,” as Edwards put it, and is full of apparent anomalies caused by the Irene recovery process. Large sums have been washing in and out of the town’s coffers, as the board must first pay for massive reconstruction projects and then await reimbursement from FEMA and the state. Ultimately, it balances out well, Edwards said, with the town being liable for about $40,000 to $50,000 of work costing about four and a half million, plus loan interest and the cost of a federally mandated audit. Meanwhile, the board must take care to track every dollar in and out of every account.

There will be other costs, Edwards warned. For example, much of the town’s budget goes for materials and equipment for road maintenance. The supply of gravel the town expected to use for three years was swallowed up by Irene repairs. The town must purchase gravel at substantially higher prices from now on.

Residents also discussed how to control school costs and what to do about Whitingham Ambulance Service’s woes. School board member and candidate Chum Sumner suggested ways of reducing the district’s supervisory union costs.

No one had a solution for how to ensure local ambulance service. Edwards related her efforts to interest state legislators in amending recent regulations that make it very difficult for small rural communities to maintain service. Numerous people asked why the town doesn’t contract with Rescue Inc.

EMS member Andy Rice and various present and past selectboard members replied numerous times that Rescue already provides service to the only part of town it wishes to serve.
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