Harwich Moves Annual Town Meeting To September

By: William F. Galvin

Interim Harwich Town Administrator Joseph Powers. FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — Selectmen voted Tuesday night to postpone the June 22 annual town meeting to Monday, Sept. 28.

Under the town’s home rule charter, the annual town meeting is supposed to take place on the first Monday in May. After a state of emergency was declared by Gov. Charlie Baker in March — including a restriction limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people — selectmen voted to move the annual town meeting to Monday, June 22. But with continuing concerns about the spread of COVID-19, selectmen decided it was safest to put off the session until the fall.

Selectmen also voted to instruct Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers to initiate a one-twelfth budget under special state provisions, which allow the town to continue municipal funding after June 30 if there is a delay in adopting the FY2021 budget.

The state provision allows the director of accounts in the Division of Local Services to approve an expenditure from any appropriate fund or account of an amount necessary to continue uninterrupted government operations of not less than one-twelfth of the town’s FY2020 budget. Once the FY2021 budget is adopted, the deficit expenditure authority ends.

Establishing the required one-twelfth budgeting for the months of July, August and September is not a simple process and requires immediate attention, Powers said. The town will have to file a spending plan with the state each month until the FY2021 budget is approved.

Powers recommended selectmen, Moderator Michael D. Ford and Town Clerk Anita Doucette take the necessary steps to postpone the annual town meeting to the September date, “given the ongoing uncertainty on when groups larger than 10 or more can safely congregate and understanding that special legislation for a reduction in warrant articles may not be enacted into law in a timely manner.”

Powers said it is his hope the meeting can occur with a full warrant and robust participation and discussion. With the potential need for a special election, to confirm sewer borrowing or any Proposition 2½ overrides or debt exclusions, he also recommended a special election be scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Selectmen also voted to move forward with the annual town election on Tuesday, June 30. The board previously had changed the date from the third Tuesday in May to June 30, with polling hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. This year’s ballot has no contested races and will include two charter amendment provisions. One would alter the charter to allow a new water and wastewater commission to be formed with a five-member board elected for three-year terms, and the instructs the capital outlay committee to adopt or amend the plan each year at the annual town meeting. It further provides that any warrant articles, with the exception of petitioned articles and Community Preservation Act articles, which are not on the current year of the capital plan be approved by the capital outlay committee, finance committee, and board of selectmen, along with a two-thirds vote of town meeting, before taking effect.

Two ballot questions that had previously been proposed will be removed. One was a debt exclusion question for a new quint fire truck, the other a $700,000 debt exclusion for the DPW road maintenance program, both of which will be put off until the fall.