ORLEANS — For years, town meetings have debated a sewer system in the abstract. When this year's session opens May 7, there will be facts on – make that in – the ground.
“Next week, we will finish the first piping for the downtown sewer system,” Selectman Alan McClennen told the Orleans Citizens Forum April 26 at the senior center. “The contractor has been spectacular. He'll be out of there hopefully by May 7.”
McClennen joined Finance Committee Chairwoman Lynn Bruneau for a review of several articles relating to water quality, beach facilities, and user fees at the Forum's annual pre-town meeting.
Article 14 seeks $4,223,600 to complete 100 percent of the design of the downtown sewer system, including a treatment facility and effluent disposal site, plus continued monitoring of non-traditional aquaculture and permeable reactive barrier demonstration projects as well as planning and implementation for fresh water ponds projects. Borrowing for the work will require a favorable debt exclusion vote on May 15.
“We have focused on trying to find alternatives to piping solutions,” McClennen said. “This is the first year where the amount of money in the budget for a traditional piping solution is larger than the amount for non-traditionals.” The latter efforts “are working,” the selectman said. “They will make a significant difference in the total cost of cleaning up our waters.”
McClennen stressed the importance of other articles meant to protect water quality: Article 16 ($178,287 for stormwater drainage work) and articles 17 (adopt the 2018 Pleasant Bay Alliance management plan update) and 18 (adopt the Alliance watershed permit plan).
If Brewster, Chatham, Harwich and Orleans agree to apply for a joint watershed permit, McClennen said, “we'll sign a formal agreement outlining how much each town contributes to impairments in Pleasant Bay. The town of Brewster has a stone bound on the western shore of Pleasant Bay; they don't have any frontage, but they contribute a significant amount to the degradation of Pleasant Bay. This permit will point out that they have to help us clean up Pleasant Bay.”
Article 11 lists capital improvements planned for five fiscal years from July 2019 through June 2024, including projected wastewater infrastructure construction funds. “Remember that the vast majority of projects in the capital plan are bonded and paid over five, 10, 20, or, in the case of wastewater, 30 years,” McClennen said. “Don't get shocked by the size of the project.”
The selectmen and finance committee voted unanimously to recommend the above articles (one fincom member abstained on Article 18). Bruneau said her board had been pleased with action on several fronts, including the town assuming responsibility for developing a management plan for the nitrogen-removal experiment in Lonnie's Pond and “good progress” on identifying and securing effluent disposal sites. Members noted that an independent peer review of AECOM's 25 percent design of the sewer system “came back with no show-stoppers,” she said. Nothing in the report “means we have to stop what we're doing and start over again.”
Projects concerning two town treasures, Nauset and Skaket beaches, are on the annual town meeting and special town meeting warrants (the latter to be held within the annual). Article 15 in the annual asks for $750,000 to demolish and replace the administration building and restrooms at Skaket. “We do not comply adequately with the Americans with Disabilities Act,” McClennen said. “We need to deal with this before someone deals with it for us.” Although the selectmen were unanimous in support, the finance committee's vote was 5-2-0 in favor. Bruneau said the two “nays” wanted to wait to see what lessons could be learned at Nauset Beach before moving forward on the Skaket project. The new building would require a favorable debt exclusion vote at the May 15 election.
The finance committee was united in recommending $175,000 in planning and design funds for the next stage of the Nauset Beach retreat plan (special town meeting Article 6), but the selectmen split 4-1 in favor. “We need to figure out what to do with the facilities we have there today, where to put them, the bathrooms and the administration building,” McClennen said. “This summer, we'll have mobile food establishments. Is that good policy for the future? We don't know.” Like the Skaket spending, the Nauset plan would need debt exclusion approval May 15.
One article (No. 4 on the special town meeting warrant) has relevance for projects on both beaches. It would petition the state legislature for an exemption of seasonal facilities at Nauset from certain plumbing codes, including the requirement that costly cast iron pipes be used.
Town meeting will be asked to require that, as part of the budget process, all town fees are reviewed annually to determine whether they should be increased to fully cover the cost of providing services. The change does not require boards to make increases but rather “to determine whether to increase the fees over a period of time as they deem appropriate,” according to the explanation printed in the warrant.
The finance committee voted unanimously for Article 39. At last week's forum, Bruneau said that, with “minor modifications,” it's the same article presented by petition by the former revenue committee at last year's meeting. “There's a potential disparity between the actual cost of delivering a service for a user fee and what that fee is,” she said. “The wording is flexible. It's not saying that by next Tuesday you have to catch up. There's no requirement to match user fees to all direct and indirect costs of providing services.”
The selectmen plan to make their recommendation on Article 39 at town meeting, but both boards are unanimously in favor of Article 40, a revision of the town's fee schedule that would increase certain fees and establish for the first time a resident taxpayer beach parking sticker ($25). Many, including the beach fee, would not take effect until the fall.
“The beach sticker is free. I think that's great,” Paul Cass said from the audience. “Let visitors pay for it. If we put everything into the tax for our homes, then we can deduct it. I like the idea of paying a little more on our real estate tax and keeping the beaches free. Let the outsiders pay.”
Last year, McClennen said, “the town raised about $24 million on the property tax out of a budget of $32 million. An additional $6.2 million came from revenues. Those are the fees we are talking about. If we put all of these on the property tax, the property tax goes from $24 million to $31 million.” He noted that changes in federal law recently capped the amount of taxes that can be deducted.
Another audience member was concerned that many of the town's fees “apply more to our younger families than to those of us who are older. Having these expenses on the tax base can help make things much more affordable for young people.”
Click here to see the warrant for both meetings with descriptions, costs, and recommendations from the selectmen and finance committee. Town meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 7, in the Nauset Regional Middle School gymnasium.