Warrant Takes Shape For 56-article Annual Town Meeting

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Town Meeting

Town Meeting.  FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — From forging a new wastewater partnership and purchasing fire apparatus to declaring a climate emergency, voters will be asked to consider a varied 56-article warrant at the May 4 annual town meeting.

Selectmen received the draft warrant last week and will review it and make recommendations on the articles before closing and signing the warrant on March 23.

In financial articles, voters will be asked to approve a town operating budget of around $39 million, along with about $27.3 million for Harwich’s share of the Monomoy Regional School District budget. That assessment is up around 2.62 percent this year, while most town departmental budgets are seeing drastic cuts. Voters will also consider a $1.77 million assessment for the Cape Tech regional schools.

Last year, voters authorized the town to pursue special legislation to create a Dennis-Harwich-Yarmouth regional wastewater district, and with the legislation now in place, the towns’ voters need to approve an agreement for the new partnership. To be known as the DHY Clean Waters Community Partnership, the district seeks to create a central wastewater treatment facility connected to new sewer systems in the three towns. Of the expected $120 million the district will need to build the plant, Harwich will likely be assessed around $18.25 million.

The warrant also asks voters for around $378,000 to purchase and equip a new ambulance for the fire department, and an estimated $1.1 million for a new “quint” fire truck. The vehicle combines the functions of a dedicated ladder truck and a pumper, and will require a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion vote at the polls. Voters will also be asked to spend about $250,000 for a new van and catch-basin cleaning truck for the DPW.

Article 20 will ask voters for around $700,000 to fund road maintenance projects for fiscal 2021, an amount that should be matched by a similar amount in state Chapter 90 highway funds.

If voters approve Article 21, a number of changes will be made to the town’s cemetery regulations, including rules about the maintenance of floral displays and plantings at grave sites. The town will remove funeral flowers within two weeks or when they become unsightly, and temporary displays marking holidays or birthdays may be removed after 30 days. Voters will also be asked to spend $20,000 to begin replacing the more than 400 trees lost in town cemeteries during the July 23 tornado. The funds will come from the cemeteries’ perpetual care fund.

The badly deteriorated boat ramp at Round Cove Landing would be replaced if voters approve Article 27. Each summer, several boat trailers are damaged after rolling off the end of the pavement. Voters approved $177,070 for the job in 2017, but the job is now expected to cost around $200,000, so this year’s article seeks an additional $23,000.

The years 2015 and 2016 saw the largest demand ever on the town’s water system, with customers using more than 6.5 million gallons on peak days. Voters this year are being asked to spend $250,000 to explore and install a new public water supply well in North Harwich to help meet the demand.

If Article 31 is approved, the board of selectmen will be a step closer to changing its name. The measure would amend the town charter to refer to the board of selectmen as the “select board,” to reflect the gender-neutrality of the office. If passed, the article would need to be approved by voters at the next annual town election.

The board of assessors has sponsored three articles on the draft warrant; one seeks to allow the town to grant hardship exemptions of up to $1,000 for needy taxpayers under the age of 60, another would allow the town to reduce from 8 to 5 percent the yearly interest on real estate tax deferrals for qualifying taxpayers who are 65 and older, and a third provides tax abatements for certain active-duty members of the military serving overseas.

Voters will also consider an article that would change the town’s conservation bylaw to decrease the size of a regulated wetland from 3,000 square feet to 500 square feet, a size consistent with those used in surrounding towns. The conservation commission says its goal is to provide stronger protections to small isolated wetlands like vernal pools.

Among the Community Preservation Act appropriations being sought this year is $75,000 to fund gravestone restoration at Pine Grove Cemetery, $250,000 for the affordable housing trust, $380,360 for new lights at Whitehouse Field, and around $500,000 for a new playground at Harwich Elementary School.

The warrant will also include several initiative petition articles brought by citizens. One seeks to have the town adopt a ban on the sale of commercial single-use plastic water bottles. Another seeks to rescind the approval of an article last year that prohibits town government from buying beverages in plastic bottles, and outlaws dispensing beverages in plastic containers on town property. This year’s article calls last year’s action discriminatory against non-profits that use town land like Little League and other sports programs, as well as craft fairs, farmers markets and beach vendors, and seeks to overturn the ban.

As part of a regional effort by the group Cape Cod Climate Emergency, a resolution has been included on the warrant to have the town declare a climate emergency to focus on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right away.

The annual town meeting happens on May 4 at 7 p.m. in the community center gymnasium. The annual town election is scheduled for May 19.