CHATHAM — Seeking to boost turnout from young people and senior citizens, selectmen have chosen a new date and time—Saturday, Jan. 4 at 1 p.m.—for a special town meeting laying the groundwork for a new senior center.
Holding town meetings on a weekend is a recommendation of the Chatham 365 Task Force, which seeks to make it easier for young, working families to take part in town government. And having a session in the afternoon instead of the evening aims to encourage attendance by seniors who might be uncomfortable driving at night. The meeting was originally scheduled for the evening of Monday, Jan. 13.
Selectman Cory Metters said he believes there will be time for voters to conduct all the business at hand and be home before dark.
“I think those who attend this meeting are probably going to be very focused,” he said.
The warrant, which will be finalized on Dec. 16, includes two articles that would pave the way for a new senior center. One seeks $750,000 from free cash to purchase the land at 1610 Main St., West Chatham, the site chosen by selectmen for the new council on aging. The second asks voters to spend another $130,000 from free cash to draft detailed plans for the building on that site, including a feasibility study and the hiring of an owner’s project manager.
While those votes must pass, by majority, for the project to go forward, voters must also approve funds for the actual building project at the May annual town meeting.
“If you like this project, you should show up in January,” Selectman Dean Nicastro said. Voters who oppose the project have two chances to vote it down. “You can kill it in January and you can kill it in May,” he said.
The land purchase will only proceed if voters in May authorize the full senior center project. The seller of the property has indicated that he will not go through with the sale if the town seeks to use the land for any other purpose.
Earlier this year, voters rejected a $6.6 million proposal to build a senior center on town-owned land on Middle Road, with many saying the location was too remote. The senior center construction is now expected to cost around $8 million. There appears to be broad support for replacing the existing council on aging building, which is too small and was never designed for use by senior citizens.
Selectmen last week rejected a potential special town meeting article which would have provided contingency funds for finding a new building site, should voters reject the 1610 Main St. purchase. Board members unanimously indicated that they would step back from the project entirely if that happens.
The board unanimously approved the change in meeting date.
Resident Elaine Gibbs, who opposed having the land purchase decided at a winter special town meeting, said poor weather could lead to low voter turnout. And while the previous meeting date was already made public, “now we’re changing the date to accommodate certain demographics,” she said. “A lot of people work on Saturday,” Gibbs noted.
In case of snow, the Jan. 4 special town meeting will be held on Monday, Jan. 6. In either case, the meeting will be held in the Monomoy Regional Middle School gymnasium.
Town Clerk Julie Smith estimated that the cost of the special town meeting would be just over $6,000, not including the cost of printing the warrant and the additional hours for Channel 18 staff to televise the meeting.