This is the second of a three-part series focusing on warrant articles for Chatham's May 14 annual town meeting.
CHATHAM – Every year, homeowners pay a 3 percent surcharge on their property taxes that's used to fund affordable housing, historic preservation, open space and recreation projects that would not usually be covered by the town's operating budget. The Community Preservation Act was signed into law in 2000 and adopted by Chatham in 2002; 172 communities across the state have done the same, raising nearly $2 billion for almost 10,000 projects.
The community preserve surcharge generates approximately $1 million a year in Chatham, including a $150,000 annual contribution from the state. This year there's another $1.5 million reserved from previous year's revenue. It's up to the community development committee to vet applications – which can come from town or regional agencies, nonprofit organizations and private groups – and recommend proposed projects to voters.
This year $1,861,075 worth of projects were proposed to the committee, which ended up recommending $1,551,075 in CPA spending. Voters will address the 16 separate CPA articles at the May 14 annual town meeting.
This year's community preservation proposals break down into the following categories: five affordable housing requests totaling $330,000; five historic preservation projects seeking $107,000; and four recreation proposals take up the lion's share of the funding requests at $784,075. There is also $15,000 in administrative funding and $315,000 reserved for future expenditures. The CPA law requires set-asides if there are no funding requests in specific categories – there are no open space projects this year – or if funding in any one category does not meet a specific threshold. Moderator William Litchfield said he plans to propose that the administrative funding and reserve be placed on a consent calendar; should any voter object, they can be removed and voted seperately.
The historical preservation articles include $20,000 to restore and preserve approximately 27 books of the town's vital records – birth, death and marriage information – by de-acidifying the pages, sealing them in mylar and re-binding the books. The Nickerson Family Association is seeking $48,000 to continue archaeological digs at the William and Anne Busby Nickerson homestead site, where the remains of the hearth of the home of Chatham's first European settler have been discovered. The Chatham Marconi Maritime Center is continuing its archive program and is asking for $16,000 to audit the collection, digitally catalogue items and train volunteers to continue the process. In another article related to the Marconi site, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the town is looking for $20,000 to evaluate the structural integrity of three historic antenna towers and develop a plan to protect and preserve them. A portion of the money will be used to install physical barriers to prevent vehicles from hitting the Marconi powerhouse and garage buildings located along Ryder's Cove Road.
The final historic preservation request is the smallest but may be the most visible. The town is seeking $3,000 to restore and preserve the Pioneer Memorial in front of the Eldredge Public Library. As part of a project to redo the landscaping along the Main Street side of the library, funded by a separate $483,000 capital request elsewhere in the warrant, the monument will be relocated farther back from the sidewalk.
Affordable housing projects begin with a $5,000 request from the town's affordable housing committee to add to $25,000 appropriated last year to share a housing consultant with Harwich. An update of town's affordable housing production plan would be one of the consultant's first tasks. A separate article seeks $10,000 in CPA funds to update the plan last done in 2013; the state department of housing and community development requires that the plan be updated every five years to help the community move closer to the goal of having 10 percent of its housing stock affordable.
Other affordable housing CPA articles include adding $100,000 to the town's affordable housing trust fund; $200,000 for an affordable housing “buy down” program which would allow the town to lower the resale cost of deed-restricted affordable units; and $15,000 for the Cape Housing Institute, which educates officials and community leaders about housing issues.
The big-ticket recreation request this year is $450,000 to replace the bleachers at Veterans Field. Last year $50,000 in CPA funds were used to redesign seating at the popular field, used by the Chatham Anglers and many others, and this year the replacement cost is being sought. The Chatham Athletic Association will pay 25 percent of the cost, up to $100,000. Along with being generally safer and more comfortable, the new bleachers will comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act; the project also includes new landscaping.
There was some disagreement over an article seeking $262,500 to purchase property at 45 Bridge St. that has been used as a town landing, primarily by shellfishermen, since the 1950s. The land on the Mitchell River covers 19,000 square feet with about 8,500 of it upland, with a boat ramp and space for eight vehicles. The town has leased the landing for years, but when the property changed hands recently the new owner agreed to sell it to the town for $227,500; the additional $35,000 included in the article will be used to stabilize the coastal bank. While the selectmen unanimously favored the purchase, the finance committee voted to support it 5-2, with some members questioning why the land wasn't being taken by eminent domain.
Because it involves land acquisition, the article requires a two-thirds majority to pass.
The final two recreation-related articles seek $6,575 and $65,000 to build new tees, replace artificial turf and a path at the town-owned Seaside Links Golf Course.
The annual town meeting begins at 6 p.m. at May 14 at the Monomoy Regional Middle School gymnasium on Crowell Road.