Cashing Out

Editorial.

Cash figures in two stories in this week's paper.

First, the town of Chatham has backed away from a plan to accept only credit and debit cards and checks for payments at the transfer station. There was an undercurrent of unhappiness about the idea that cash wouldn't be accepted to pay for disposal of items like mattresses and electronics. We understand the town's position – the transfer station handles more than $100,000 in cash annually, and from an accounting and auditing standpoint, that's not the best situation. Eventually, cash will have to be phased out, just like it's being phased out in our everyday purchases, hastened by new forms of payment such as Apple Pay, Google Pay and other forms of electronic payment; most credit cards now also have chips, which will eventually allow consumers to simply wave the card at a scanner to make a payment. There will always be some who want to pay in cash, but the town could hasten the move to electronic payments by offering slight discounts as an incentive, maybe $1 off disposal of items costing $10 or more.

The town of Chatham is, in fact, flush with cash. Free cash, that is. Finance Director Alix Heilala reported Monday that although the state has not yet certified the town's free cash – a pool of unexpended funds that can be used for any purpose with town meeting's approval – she estimates there's about $4 million available. That includes more than $2.2 million paid to the town by Harwich under the wastewater intermunicipal agreement; Harwich will pay a total of $6.7 million over seven years, as well as covering 25 percent of the operating cost of Chatham's wastewater treatment plant, in exchange for treatment of sewage from the East Harwich area. Selectmen and finance committee members discussed how to spend the money during Monday's budget summit; most agreed they'd like to use it to pay down some of the town's $89 million in debt, which costs taxpayers $6 to 7 million a year to service. Those payments are built into the town's already low tax rate and will drop off even more in the coming years. Perhaps it's best to hold on to some, or all, of that cash, to help cover both anticipated costs – like a new council on aging building or major shoreline protect project – and unanticipated costs. Money in the bank, as it were. As Finance Committee Chairman Stephen Daniel warned Monday, the possibility of an economic downturn in the near future is very real, and having additional reserves will help buffer taxpayers from a sudden hike in property taxes should the economy tank. Some officials suggested using some of the funds to pay down debt and some for other purposes, but as Finance Committee member Norma Avellar said, the Harwich payments may seem like a lot of money, but using a bit for debt and a bit for this and that won't make much of a difference. Officials need to determine where the money can make the most impact and apply it thusly.