On Monday Harwich voters will face a 69-article annual town meeting warrant containing a lot of weighty and, in some cases, costly articles. There are more than $30 million in debt and capital exclusion requests and the operating budgets for the town, Monomoy Regional School District and Cape Cod Tech push the number beyond $65 million.
There are several major issues on the minds of voters, foremost among them the cost of sewering infrastructure in East Harwich. Voters will be asked to approve a debt exclusion for $24.7 million to fund sewer infrastructure for approximately 640 residences in East Harwich and an interconnection with Chatham that will allow up to 300,000 gallons of sewerage per day to reach the Chatham treatment plant. There has been a lot of concern expressed about the project's cost, especially to those property owners who will be required to fund the hook up from the street to their homes. We understand that can be a major financial burden, but the cost of not addressing environmental conditions in the long run will be much greater. Studies have shown the need to remove 65 percent of the nitrogen, coming primarily from septic systems, in the Pleasant Bay Watershed to stabilize deteriorating marine waters. Continued degradation of our embayments and estuaries will lead to adverse economic impacts relating to tourism, fisheries, shellfisheries and property values. Litigation initiated by the Conservation Law Foundation and directives from federal and state agencies are partially driving the process, but it's also the right thing to do. Harwich has been working toward this goal for more than a decade and has a comprehensive wastewater management plan defining a 40-year initiative that could cost more than $200 million. Voters took the first step last year in approving the plan's $11 million first phase; they should support the second phase of the plan. We live here and are drawn here by the environment that surrounds us, and we have a commitment to assuring that attraction is extended to future generations.
Postpone The Crematorium Vote
The article and debt exclusion proposal seeking $577,950 for the construction of a crematorium at the Queen Anne Road pet burial ground has been contentious. There are a number of voters who do not want to see tax dollars used to create a service that will compete with private industry. But town officials have seen the potential for improved revenue generation from a crematorium on the site of the pet burial grounds. There has been much give and take on these discussions, but a legal opinion from town counsel ruling that revenues in the cemetery revolving fund cannot be used for the pet burial grounds project has further complicated matters. The town had entered into a contract to use those funds to install walkways in the burial grounds. There have been a lot of questions raised about the burial grounds and crematorium project and citizens have said they are not getting answers from town officials. On Monday night finance committee member Ed McManus said he would ask his committee to reconsider its vote in support of crematorium funding and recommend indefinite postponement of the article for this year, providing time to clarify issues and come back next year with a firm bid, if that is the chosen path. Selectmen have voted to terminate the walkway contract and will address the issue of funding the crematorium project in a session right before town meeting. We concur that the best action is indefinite postponement.