Orleans Town Meeting Warrant Offers Solutions To Pressing Problems

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Town Meeting

Revoli Construction equipment filled up Main Street in front of Ragg Time Ltd during sewer construction last week. Shops and restaurants remain open. The May town meeting warrant includes funding to complete the design of the full downtown sewer system. ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS Town meeting in May will weigh in on a variety of initiatives to address the community's needs, not least among them a commitment to continued wastewater and water quality efforts to the tune of $4.2 million.

Concerned about the lack of housing for all in Orleans? You can vote to fund an affordable housing trust. Worried that the town will otherwise take too long and incur greater costs to meet its OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits) obligations? You'll be asked to up the annual contribution to that goal to $450,000.

The warrant isn't all about spending tax dollars. It includes proposals to ban certain plastic bags and polystyrene containers to protect the environment, and to ask the state legislature to “exempt seasonal facilities from certain plumbing codes at Nauset Beach” in anticipation of moving facilities away from the eroding coastal dune.

As the deadline for printing the warrant nears, the selectmen and finance committee are reviewing articles and making recommendations. On March 21, selectmen voted to support a fiscal 2019 operating budget of $37,141,387.

When Town Administrator John Kelly submitted the proposed operating budget in January, he could not fit certain funding requests within the board's 4 percent increase cap. After actual costs came in lower for health insurance and retirement benefits, he asked the board to decide whether to include them.

Last week, the selectmen agreed to a new part-time (non-benefit) technology position to assist in maintaining and upgrading computer systems, a new full-time custodian job dedicated to the new police station and department of public works buildings (part-time custodian hours for the police station will be reduced), and a part-time board secretary for the historical commission, the only regulatory commission that does not have such assistance.

A proposal to spend $20,000 on electronic voting at town meeting was put on hold pending further research, and board members said they'd like to see how the recreation department performs under its new director before increasing his hours. The selectmen also want to confer again with Fire Chief Anthony Pike on his request for a full-time emergency medical services coordinator.

At the March 21 meeting, the board was unanimous (4-0) in supporting the water quality article, which will also require a debt exclusion vote at the May election, at $4,223,600. To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Selectman David Currier does not vote on most wastewater matters.

The previous week, selectmen received a report from Tighe and Bond on its independent evaluation of AECOM's 25 percent design plan for the downtown sewer collection, treatment, and disposal system. “Any time you hire somebody to do a review of somebody else's work, they're gonna find something,” said Tighe and Bond Vice President Ian Catlow. “I don't think we found an exceptionally high amount of issues with the work...I don't want to imply there's some fatal flaw in any of the parts we reviewed. We felt AECOM did a reasonable job in developing to the 25 percent design (stage).”

If voters agree at town meeting and the election, the major accomplishment of the next fiscal year's wastewater work will be preparation of contract documents for complete design of the downtown sewer collection system, wastewater treatment plant, and disposal facility. In addition, AECOM will wind up the third year of the nitrogen removal by oysters project at Lonnie's Pond and make a report that will be crucial to regulatory approval of this non-traditional approach, as well as work with the town to implement a follow-up program involving local growers. The company will continue to investigate the nitrogen-reducing effects of permeable reactive barriers at Eldredge Park. The $4.2 million of new funds also includes planning, design and implementation of nitrogen reduction efforts in the town's fresh water ponds,

On March 21, selectmen endorsed the recommendations of the community preservation committee to spend $1.3 million in Community Preservation Act funds on open space, historic preservation, housing, and recreation efforts. The largest amount, $490,800, would go toward continuing debt payments on open space acquired over the last decades with Land Bank funds. Next are $300,000 for a trust fund for affordable housing initiatives and $250,000 toward the multi-million-dollar restoration of the Academy Playhouse. An even $100,000 is slated for a 65-unit rental housing development being built in Eastham, among other spending to encourage additional housing options.

Other preservation projects include funds for plans and specifications ($75,000) to rehabilitate the Old Firehouse building in the village center and to repair a vault door in the Orleans Cemetery ($1,126). The Orleans Conservation Trust would receive $9,900 to install six information kiosks at its walking trails.

More votes on warrant articles were expected at last night's selectmen's meeting and on April 4. Town meeting will be held May 7, and the town election on May 15.