ORLEANS – Days before its mandate expired, the town's revenue committee urged the board of selectmen and finance committee to face facts and do something to avert a steep property tax increase over the next four years.
At a joint meeting, committee chair John Laurino said the town must establish a policy to pursue grant opportunities aggressively, thereby reducing the cost of borrowing for long-term projects in its capital improvement plan. “Over a six-year period, we've just not participated in federal grants,” he said. “You can have your own opinions of what we say, but you can't have your own facts. We've triple-checked this.”
Comparing the town to Brewster, Chatham, Dennis and Provincetown, the committee found that Orleans did not “(participate) in significant federal grant opportunities” from fiscal year 2010 to 2015. The committee said it appears that Orleans could be eligible for millions in state grants for projects in the town's capital improvement plan through fiscal year 2023, but cannot accept such funds for its beaches and town landings until it requires residents to pay for a beach parking sticker.
“If we're not charging a nominal fee, we forgo $6,380,000,” Laurino said. “That's a terrible trade-off.”
The committee found that Orleans was the only Cape town not to have received trash-related grants from the state Department of Environmental Protection. In a proactive step, the committee worked with DPW and Natural Resources Director Tom Daley and his staff to submit a grant for $6,000.
The revenue board said it's imperative that the town qualify as a green community and unlock state funds from the Department of Energy Resources (see related story, page 13).
A finding that Orleans was lagging against comparable towns in receiving Assistance to Firefighters grants brought Fire Chief Anthony Pike to the lectern to say that his department had brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants in recent years. “We cast our line for every grant that's available,” he said. “I don't see a deficiency.” Pike cited a recent letter from U.S. Rep. Bill Keating's office that the town's application for a $336,000 grant for radios is under consideration.
Selectman Alan McClennen pointed to the town's success in receiving matching grants from the state for open space acquisitions and its effort to maintain eligibility for zero percent interest wastewater funding. “I hope everybody understands we have not been sitting here sleeping,” he said. “We look at grants, and we've been quite successful.”
Laurino encouraged the boards to revisit the hot issue of paid beach stickers for residents, not only to satisfy state grant-makers but as another source of revenue other than property taxes to pay for services. The committee wants the town to give a clearer picture of how taxes support services such as the beaches and the transfer station, with an eye to recovering more of the full costs through user fees.
That ball was batted back by Selectmen chair Jon Fuller, who abstained at town meeting when the rest of his board voted against a proposed beach sticker fee (the finance committee was in favor, 5-1); the majority of selectmen then moved to indefinitely postpone the measure. “Whether I personally think what you're doing is right, it's what town meeting says,” Fuller told Laurino. “The last town meeting said, 'We don't want a beach fee.' That's not going to happen right away, if at all. Town meeting is the bosses, not us and not you. We're supposed to carry out what town meeting wants.”
Revenue committee vice chair Bob Renn said town meeting “does need to understand the implications and ramifications of not having beach sticker fees. I don't think that came through necessarily as clearly as it could. In a public hearing, a public forum, that dialog can take place.”
Selectmen vice chair Mark Mathison, who earlier said the committee had “given us a great deal of information that's useful to the town...I appreciate all your efforts,” said “there needs to be a discussion. There needs to be input from all sides and a clear understanding on this. It's not going to happen here tonight, and it wasn't going to happen at town meeting.”
Extension of the committee's ad hoc status through the fall town meeting, which had been proposed by several revenue board members, was not on the selectmen's agenda. They voted to “receive” the report, and took no action on the extension request.