ORLEANS — The unanimous opposition of the finance committee at town meeting last week helped scuttle a $510,000 appropriation for the vehicle and equipment maintenance stabilization fund, which fell 12 votes short of the two-thirds majority required. Voters rejected the committee's unanimous opposition to buying a new ambulance on a replacement schedule that's been followed for years.
“I think town meeting saved money where it thought it could,” selectmen chair Sims McGrath said at the board's May 10 meeting, which addressed the consequences.
“It's not just vehicles,” Town Administrator John Kelly said. “It was the wheelchair for the beach, turnout gear for the fire department. Right now, we have nothing for July (when the new fiscal year starts). We don't have the ability to take a year off and not replace anything.”
The stabilization fund is tied to a 10-year motor vehicle inventory and durable equipment replacement schedule.
At town meeting, member George Malloy said the finance committee “is not objecting to replacing vehicles.” He said some vehicles that were replaced wound up being used by other departments and could have continued in their original role. “We have no control over the funding of vehicles,” he said.
Responding at town meeting, Kelly cited the 10-year plan and noted that the selectmen review and decide on the disposition of such property.
“The lack of specificity in that article turned off town meeting,” McGrath said at last week's selectmen's meeting. Selectman Alan McClennen said he was “very much opposed to putting capital assets (from the schedule) back into individual articles.”
Admitting he was “shocked at what happened,” McClennen said, “We have cut out things that relate to safety: use of force (equipment) for the police department, portable radios, fire stuff. These are the people protecting us.” Selectman Mark Mathison later added park and beach vehicles and buoys for channel markers to that list.
Turning to Kelly, McClennen said, “John, you should tell us the things that must be done. We should ask the finance committee for a reserve fund transfer.” Another option raised was bringing an article with greater detail to the fall town meeting.
There was general agreement that better communication between the board and committee was essential.
Deciding the discussion was for another time, the board briefly reviewed town meeting's vote to eliminate funding for 25 percent design work for a Meeting House Pond sewer system. That decision may affect the town's pursuit of a design-build-operate option to offer bidders.