Harwich voters go to the polls Tuesday, May 16 to decide a three-person race for two three-year terms on the board of selectmen. Below, candidates Larry Ballantine, Don Howell and Rob Mador answer questions posted by The Chronicle. The polls at the community center will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Name: Larry Ballantine
Occupation: Semi-retired; own several rental properties
How long have you lived in Harwich? 17 years
Business or civic affiliations: Harwich Chamber of Commerce, Outer Cape Health Services Advisory Committee, Coast Guard Auxiliary, finance officer
Municipal service: Have served on the water quality management task force, Pleasant Bay Alliance Steering Committee, conservation commission, community preservation committee, board of selectmen (six years; chair twice), currently serve as vice-chair of the finance committee and a member of the Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative (chair last year).
Favorite scenic location in town: Wychmere Harbor
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the town? Protecting Harwich’s water resources. The approved comprehensive wastewater management plan is a good start as it takes advantage of the opportunity to work with Chatham to improve Muddy Creek and connect to their sewer plant to address the Pleasant Bay watershed with significant cost saving. The approach of addressing one watershed first rather than the entire town not only saves money but allows time to build on monitoring results to best address problems, study possible new technologies, explore adding open space, and develop regional agreements with Dennis and Yarmouth.
Harwich is best served when it carefully addresses the foundations of a successful community – education, economic development, workforce (affordable) housing with respectful discussion among all residents. We must recognize the needs of our youth, elderly and work-age residents. In that regard, we need to passionately support our schools, and at the same time recognize this financial support must balance with the needs of other residents. Affordable housing needs to be supported not only financially when possible but with zoning changes where appropriate to increase density which would allow builders to profitably construct smaller, affordable houses rather than rely totally on government programs. The elderly can be especially vulnerable and local safety nets need to be maintained and expanded where possible.
We operate in an open meeting environment in which advocates can garner significant support for an issue. The tough job of the BOS is to respectfully listen, discuss each topic and make decisions and recommendations to town meeting based on what is best for entire town. We need to always carefully consider expenditures to not only provide services mentioned above but to protect the tax payer.
Needless to say, careful economic development is necessary to generate additional tax revenues to minimize resident property tax increases.
Finally, governing Harwich works best when the board of selectmen consciously follows the town charter to fulfill its role to carry out its executive and policy-making authority while leaving the day-to-day management of the town to the town administer. The BOS should set clear, measurable goals for the town administrator then allow the TA to carry out his duties without interference.
What is the town's biggest asset and how would you protect it?
Our harbors are our greatest assets. Multiple actions are needed to protect them.
* Implement the comprehensive wastewater management plan to reverse the degraded status of each embayment due to excess nitrogen leaching into them, primarily from septic tanks.
* Continue to work with harbormaster to ensure he has the resources to promote safe boating.
* Move forward with the Saquatucket landside renovation project to replace the current harbormaster office with a functional office, a maintenance building, a boat ticket office and vendor shacks. Most importantly this project will provide access for the public to better take advantage of the great harbor views and provide pedestrian paths to increase safety.
* Lobby the state for a sidewalk on Route 28 from Harwich Port to the harbor, and hopefully beyond to provide a walkway to Red River Beach.
What will be your priorities as a selectman?
* Implement the wastewater plan with special attention to obtaining public comment and technical expertise to improve Harwich’s waters while controlling taxes.
* Affordable housing – encourage private workforce development where it makes sense for a higher density development. Also look toward town properties which may be usable for such housing. Continue the two- year middle school experiment to determine if use for recreation, artists, etc. is financially viable. If not, reopen discussion on use as housing, high tech businesses or possibly to use part of the building as the town hall.
* Use construction design information to bring an upgraded fire station to East Harwich to meet increasing demands in the area. Ensure the fire department as necessary work force to man the station.
* Encourage the planning board to update the town’s comprehensive plan to gain additional input and consensus on housing, open space, economic development and how residents view the future of Harwich.
* Help ensure the board of selectmen is following Harwich’s bylaws to set policy and allow the town administrator to manage the day-to-day operation by setting clear and measurable goals.
* Carefully monitor the town finances to protect services while ensuring efficient us to keep tax increases as close as possible to Proposition 2½ threshold. Manage capital expenditures to take on new debt as old debt is retired.
What are your positions on the following issues?
Wastewater improvements: It is imperative that we implement the approved CWMP. Note the CWMP itself expects alternatives to become feasible in outlying years but overall plan is phased in to remove nitrogen and improve water resources.
Saquatucket Harbor improvements: Redevelop the land side starting this fall; gain regulatory approvals and town approval for waterside (docks) next year to replace docks currently in bad shape and to bring the docks up to disability-rights standards.
Use of the former Harwich Middle School: Monitor cash flow and maintenance needs to determine if current exploratory uses are viable. At the same time continue to explore other uses of the building to relieve town on financial burden if experiment fails. Continue town-wide debate on potential uses.
Addressing affordable housing needs: Explore property (town owned or private) which may make sense as affordable housing. Also determine if there are sites where zoning should be changed to allow increased density for private developers to build work-force housing at a profit.
Establishing a historic district in West Harwich: Look for private and grant funds to save the West Harwich Route 28 historic corridor with special attention to economic development.
Name: Don Howell
Occupation: Retired, former local business owner, former program manager for federal government, former manager US. Marshals Service NASAF (seizures and forfeitures).
Education: BA Fordham University, semester London School of Economics
How long have you lived in Harwich? 27 years
Business or civic affiliations: VP HECH (board member 15 years); president, Sight Loss Services, Inc.; former president, current VP Chatham Drama Guild; nine year treasurer and trustee Harwich United Methodist Church; former board member and past president Harwich Junior Theatre
Municipal service: Present: chair, bylaw/charter review committee; former: six-year member Harwich Board of Selectmen (two as chair); town registrar; past president Cape Cod Selectmen and Counselors’ Association; two years member Massachusetts Municipal Association Board of Directors; two years member Governor’s Local Government Advisory Council; member, Boston Federal Reserve local aid task force.
Favorite scenic location in town: Hawksnest.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the town? I believe we need to maintain the balance among competing needs and promoting a sustainable economy. Harwich has, for many years, welcomed retirees who seek to enjoy all the town has to offer. However, we know that an older population requires many services such as skilled medical care, public safety and often assistance with day-to-day activities. So, we need to create an environment that is not only friendly to the retirement community, but also to the younger workers and caregivers who provide those services. This includes providing excellent education and training along with well-paying jobs and affordable housing opportunities for our younger generation to make it possible to stay here and put down roots.
We must also work to reconcile two potentially competing interests – keeping Harwich an affordable place in which to live while still maintaining its unique character. As a former selectman and former planning board member/vice chair, I worked to preserve important land (by helping to create the Six Ponds DCPC and by bonding to buy important parcels before they were lost forever). I have also been an active advocate for affordable housing (by voting to create the town’s first housing committee and co-authoring its charge) and have served for 15 years with HECH (Harwich Ecumenical Council for Housing) where I currently hold the position of vice president.
Even as dealing with wastewater issues has come to the forefront over the past decade (a process projected to run over the course of two generations), we must not lose sight of what makes Harwich special. To that point, as we move forward with sewering various areas of the town, we must make sure that the solutions to our wastewater issues do not pave the way for overdevelopment and commercial sprawl.
Finally, the people of this town have big hearts and will always support the right initiatives within their ability to afford them. What the board must do is listen carefully to the townspeople, present a unifying vision and work to implement needed advances. This would entail some creativity as we bring government, private businesses and our many non-profit organizations together. That is where my experience can be a help for this current board and the community at large.
What is the town's biggest asset and how would you protect it? I have always marveled at the civic spirit of this town. There are not too many places where so many people do so much volunteer work to help each other and the town. They are also fiercely protective of our town and its heritage.
On the government side I sense a rededication by the town leaders to nurture this by proactively seeking out qualified committee appointees, giving them the tools to succeed and supporting their efforts. As chair of the bylaw/charter review committee, I was pleased that this current board supported a charter amendment about the role of a liaison, making it clear that an individual board member is there to promote better communication between the board and the committee. Liaisons are not there to be an extra member of a committee. Committee members will know they are there to do an important job and will be allowed to do that job. The current board deserves great credit for clarifying the original intent of our charter.
We need to continue to encourage the good works of our the non-profit volunteers and the business community. For instance, almost all of our progress in meeting our affordable housing goal (set by the state) has been the direct result of partnerships with non-profit organizations.
The Fontaine Center was also the direct result of our town’s first comprehensive plan (which I was privileged to co-author). That planning board didn’t just hold a mandatory public hearing and call it a day. Rather, a lot of collaborative field work between the town and various stakeholders created the blueprint for that to happen. In the business arena, the Hot Stove has given charitable organizations direct support through the years. Brax Landing has served up Thanksgiving meals for years to those who would otherwise not have one. And, of course, the Cape Cod Five Foundation has supported our unsung nonprofits for a very long time. These are just a few examples out of many. The town government can’t do everything by itself and we are truly fortunate that we do not have to; we can also rely on each other.
What will be your priorities as a selectman? I have a record of accomplishment working for protection of the environment, achieving a healthy stock of affordable housing and working on youth issues. That will not change. Yet, as I stated previously, the townspeople vote to put selectmen on the board. The board works for them. My biggest priority is to add my experience to the current board in order to form a stronger team, to listen to what the public wants, to understand what the public needs, and to coalesce and move forward together as a team.
Wastewater improvements: I absolutely believe that we need to address this issue and we are doing so. But I have concerns, as we move forward, in its implementation. First, this process needs to proceed by balancing the EPA lawsuit with everyone’s ability to pay for each phase. Also, as I stressed earlier, all of the activity should be focused on fixing the existing problem. We need a mechanism to control growth in the areas proposed for sewering so that commercial land owners can build what they were eligible to build before the sewering and no more. There is a potential for an explosion of development in the designated areas. Currently development is restrained due to septic requirements and our Drinking Water Resource Protection District. If we are all paying for the wastewater treatment, it shouldn’t present an opportunity for a few land owners to build more than they were previously eligible to do. And again, we need to be very sure that we are getting "the best bang for the buck" so as to minimize the financial burdens imposed on our taxpayers.
Saquatucket Harbor improvements: The harbor is an important economic component of our town economy and should be improved and maintained in such as way as to continue to attract boaters and tourism. I would like to revisit where the funds generated by the harbors go (in the form of slip fees and boat excise taxes). They are designated by the state to remain with the harbors. I also feel the town should not be in the business of competing with the private sector. So it would be a mistake if current plans to include a snack bar eventually morph to accommodate a full-service restaurant. This would work to the detriment of already established businesses in the area.
Use of the Former Harwich Middle School: I think the previous ballot question was structured in such a way so as to confuse anyone filling out the ballot. As an election officer, I was approached by many people and other workers to explain what the ballot item meant and how to fill it out. As that is not permitted, many who voted were baffled. Personally I oppose the current housing options for the middle school. First, if either the town or a nonprofit manages such a project, there will be no real estate taxes generated. Second, the building shares an active wastewater treatment plant with the currently occupied elementary school. If that is compromised it will be very expensive to fix. Third, it is adjacent to the elementary school and its playground. Even pickups and dropoffs utilize the interior road in front of the middle school. But even more than that, this building is one of the last remaining "icons" of Harwich (having previously served as Harwich High School and later the middle school). If the economics are right, it should be retained and utilized by the town. Recent activities being hosted by that building demonstrate that there is a need for this space. I also am interested in the suggestion that ultimately the town hall and other town functions should consolidate in that building, creating a municipal center in that area. The current town hall (which is older than the middle school) is inadequate and has been inefficient almost from day one of its reconstruction 30 years ago. That and other buildings could be freed up by a move to the middle school, allowing us to explore a building sale or repurposing (including affordable housing) in the vacated buildings.
Addressing Affordable Housing Needs: Previous comments have clearly outlined my position regarding affordable housing in Harwich. Much of my volunteer service over the years has been directed towards finding solutions to that problem; and I would continue to be an active advocate for increasing our housing stock as a member of the board of selectmen.
Establishing a Historic District in West Harwich: West Harwich is home to a rich part of Harwich history, and I am in favor of exploring the notion of establishing a federal historic district along "Captains' Row." However, in full disclosure, I also support the currently proposed HECH plan for affordable housing in that neighborhood and hope that the district would not be a vehicle to foreclose the possibilities of this or other possible projects. As previously stated, I prefer to balance different objectives. I do not believe that these two goals are mutually exclusive and would like to continue working towards a win/win solution between the neighbors and HECH (or other future entities) on this plan. Let me be clear, however; this area holds our history and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. We must not fail in our response to this challenge.
Name: Robert Joseph Mador
Occupation: Owner of Escape Landscape and Founder and CEO of Bridges For The Fallen
How long have you lived in Harwich? My wife and I bought our house in March 2004, we lived in Chatham prior to that.
Municipal service: Board member, Harwich Conservation Commission
Business or civic affiliations: Coach of park and rec basketball; community organizer and fundraiser; national volunteer, working with all 50 states, in towns, counties and municipalities as part of my self-funded, all-volunteer organization Bridges For The Fallen. During my travels, I have the opportunity to look around and recognize what other towns have done well and what they have done to set themselves apart. We could apply some of those successful strategies here in Harwich. I also have the ability to work with State and Federal law makers that will allow the town of Harwich to take advantage of more state and federal resources that we need here.
Favorite scenic location in town: Hawksnest Pond, in Hawksnest State Forrest, is my favorite place to look around and take in nature’s beauty. I’ve spent countless hours hiking around the woods with our dogs and swimming in the pond with our kids.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the town? Spending more money than we are taking in, resulting in higher taxes and cost of living is our greatest challenge. Many people struggle to live here and most of our best friends have moved away. Seldom do young adults that leave here for higher education return back home. People say it is a lifestyle choice living here, but at a certain point, when you work full-time jobs and still struggle to pay your bills, you realize that the lifestyle choice is nothing more than a novelty that you can’t afford and reality says move to a place where you can afford to live. Also, while many don’t want to admit this, we are a community of “working poor” people and senior citizens, with some “out of town” homeowners mixed in. The people that we need to work here, volunteer here and live here struggle to stay here and many are being forced to leave here because of the ever rising cost of living and taxes here. Prospective home buyers are concerned about taxes in Harwich now and so are prospective businesses. Taxes keep going up, but revenue for the town is not and the citizens are being forced to pay more and more to live here. This is a major problem that we must face as a town, for the best interest of the entire town and for the future of Harwich. While many people work in Harwich, few prosper here and that is a major issue. Not only do we have to protect our small businesses, we must bring in other complimentary businesses that suit the needs of the people that actually live here and work here and we need to do this in a tasteful manner that suits the needs of the town as a whole, not just a few individuals or groups. We need to increase revenues in the town without using the wallets of the people that are already paying taxes and are struggling to live here. Having no economic growth and no effort to stimulate economic growth is the recipe for disaster and the results are right in front of you.
What is the town's biggest asset and how would you protect it? The town’s biggest asset is our citizens' pride in Harwich; we love living here. There is a tremendous feeling of community, dedication and pride that exists here in Harwich and I witnessed it in its truest form last October, at the bridge dedication for Ralph Wallace Burns. Seeing a huge portion of the town come out to honor one of their own that died fighting for our freedom in WW2 was simply amazing. It was a galvanizing event in the community that brought people from all walks of life together to celebrate a hero, his family and our awesome town. While many people have a different view of the future of Harwich, we can all agree on one thing: we are incredibly lucky to live in a place with such beauty and with such kind, like-minded people. Harwich has a long list of incredibly dedicated and talented town employees and committee members, as well as active citizens that make Harwich a better place to live every day. Our town needs to recognize excellence and duty and make it well known when one of our own is shining. The people are what makes our town the best, we have pride in what we have done and what we will do with it. We have a diverse population and we do a great job to balance the needs of all of our citizens, treating everyone involved as equals and we should be incredibly proud of that. Keeping the spirit of Harwich alive and well should be a top down philosophy that starts with our town administrator and selectmen’s office and trickles down through every person in every department. Individuals and organizations need to be recognized for their excellence and abilities to meet and exceed their goals. Small businesses also need to be recognized and protected. These businesses employ our own people, pay taxes and protect our little economy. These are the people keeping Harwich alive and well. I will continue to show my pride in Harwich by bringing people together to celebrate where we have been, where we are and where we are going. What we do here locally transcends nationally and if we want to fix our problems in big government, we must fix our problems in little government first, by working together and showing respect for each other.
What will be your priorities as a selectman? My first priority as a selectman is to listen to and work with all of the people, no matter the background, race, gender, religion or politics. I will act as a representative of all people, not just a few. We need to bring people together, establish common ground and work together to solve issues or we can never get better and move forward. Bringing people together improves motivation, efficiency, production and gives people a sense of ownership and pride. I want to make sure that the department heads that we hire are empowered to make positive and cost-effective changes within their department, within their budgets, possibly lowering their budgets and making services better. We have an incredible array of professionals working for the town, let’s not micromanage them, let’s give them the ability to use their expertise and talents, which is the reason why we hired them in the first place. Tasteful and necessary economic growth is the only thing we can do to keep our taxes and expenses low, like the working and retired people of Harwich need in order to live here. With economic growth, we also need to affix an affordable housing element and be able to provide incentives to businesses that will encourage them to come here and be successful. There should be no need to leave our town to find affordable goods and services and we can do this in a very effective, innovative and responsible manner by bringing all concerned parties together and collectively moving forward toward a common goal. We need to help our working poor be successful and stay here. We need to keep young people here by providing opportunity before they go away. We need to have outreach and encourage proper industrial and technological businesses to relocate here within our industrial zones; they too will help house people here, give people good year-round jobs and pay taxes. Higher taxes and cost of living are the direct results of our lack of economic development. A town should be reaching out to find businesses that suit the needs of the town. The town should consider hiring a town attorney to deal with legalities and consulting that currently is outsourced costing the town a small fortune. I would also strongly recommend that the town looking into grant writing.
What are your positions on the following issues:
Wastewater improvements: There is no question that we need to install a sewer system in the town of Harwich and I support its installation 100 percent. Our water quality and efforts to help protect our environment should be top priorities. We have been incredibly fortunate to have many dedicated town employees and volunteers helping and guiding this mandated process along. We all contributed to the problem, we all need to fix it.
The proposed sewer construction plan of approximately $22,280,000 will be brought to the town’s people for a vote at a future town meeting. The combination of entering into an agreement with Chatham without simultaneously securing the total commitment from Harwich’s May 1, 2017 town meeting, runs the risk of potentially “throwing away” an estimated $9,035,000 should construction requests in future town meetings fail. A much safer approach would be to seek the entire $31,315,000 and get that passed all at once, with the least amount of risk.
Should the town not vote for this project, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has indicated that they will require the town to implement a nitrogen removal system or enforce the upgrade of Title 5 septic systems to an expensive nitrogen removal system in order to meet the Total Maximum Daily Load. As with its neighbor Chatham, this will be done under an Administrative Consent Order (ACO) which comes with potential daily fines of up to $10,000 dollars as well as, disqualifying the town from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ zero percent interest revolving fund loan program. I am also very concerned with using Pleasant Bay as a flushing out area for the 230 houses not included in East Harwich sewering. Pleasant bay is where we swim, play, boat, fish and harvest shellfish. I do not approve of damaging one incredibly important resource to save another. The sewer mission is about water quality, let’s try to improve all waters, we eat and drink from both.
Saquatucket Harbor improvements: While I am a big fan of improving the Saquatucket Harbor area, I don’t want to see the project rushed or underfunded, especially now with so much spending going on all over town. I think we should do it once and do it right, but now is not the right time, especially since the harbor has not been dredged yet. Let’s keep the horse in front of the cart on this project and do it at the right time, do it right and do it when we can afford it. I am also in favor of a long-term lease of the property to suitable business/businesses that will use private money to do the construction and provide housing for Harwich workers at the same time.
Future of the former Harwich Middle School: The Harwich Middle School being leftover is really a byproduct of the regionalization our schools. It has left the town in an awkward position as to whether we should sell it, rent it, lease it or just knock it down. There is very little parking at the elementary school, getting rid of the middle school would cause a parking and parent drop off/pickup nightmare. I think we should be very careful not to rush this decision since grass roots efforts to utilize the building are showing some promise. Also, if there was ever a shakeup in the Monomoy school system, the town would need to fall back to using this building for the kids again.
Affordable housing: Affordable housing is a key element in the success of our small businesses and community as a whole. Without proper housing for our employees and their families, the businesses in our town have been crippled for over a decade. We have a housing crisis right here in Harwich, right now. While I do feel strongly that we need a large amount of additional affordable housing in the town, I feel that we should be asking new businesses that we invite into town to help share the housing burden by creating affordable housing in lieu of a tax breaks and incentives offered by the town. We should try to use as much outside money as possible to create the affordable housing through economic development. The housing should be for people working in Harwich and it should be leased at a discounted rate and half the rent is returned to the lessee upon completion of the lease. Hopefully this returned rent money would go for a deposit on a house.
West Harwich historic district: Regarding the establishment of the historic district in West Harwich, I would like more time to understand why the proponents wish to establish such a restrictive area for themselves. The Harwich library painting nightmare comes to mind immediately and I think properties lose value because of massive restrictions imposed on them. I need more info to make an informed decision on this particular issue and make sure that it’s in the town’s best interest to do this.