Rain Would Delay, Not Cancel, Outdoor Town Meeting

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Town Meeting , COVID-19

The planned set-up for an out-of-doors town meeting to be held June 20 at 10 a.m. at the middle school.

ORLEANS — Rain is predicted for the morning of Saturday, June 20. So is an outdoor town meeting. That long-range forecast is just one view; another prediction shows a string of rainy days leading up to a cloudy but dry June 20.

“If possible, we’ll just postpone it to the next day,” Moderator David Lyttle told selectmen at their pre-town meeting session June 3. “These are remarkable times that call for remarkable measures. I don’t see that we have an option not to continue until Sunday.”

Town counsel Michael Ford, the dean of Cape moderators, said the meeting on the outdoor track at Nauset Regional Middle School could be opened on the 20th by a handful of officials at the appointed hour of 10 a.m. and adjourned to the afternoon if it appears the weather will improve. He confirmed that a Sunday session would be allowed as well.

The stripped-down town meeting will not include audiovisual presentations, and it will not be possible to hold secret ballots. Copies of the warrant will be available, although it’s hoped people will pick them up outside town hall or view them online at the town website before the meeting. Everyone’s asked to bring a mask or other face covering, but masks will be available as will sanitizer. It’s expected there will be 10 portable toilets with sanitizing stations outside.

There will be about 550 seats in pairs spaced apart on the grass inside the track. Mobile microphones will be used for questions and statements from the floor and wiped down after each use. Voters are encouraged to bring water and sun protection. “Unlike the former moderator,” Lyttle quipped, “I will not ask people to remove their hats if it’s a sunny day.”

The out-of-doors town meeting, prompted by the global pandemic, will allow passage of a nearly $40 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Other towns, such as Eastham, have chosen to wait until the fall for their annual meetings, but they will be required to limit spending to one-twelfth of the current fiscal year’s budget each month.

By acting now, Orleans is keeping pace with a deadline to qualify for tens of millions of dollars in State Revolving Fund zero-interest loans to build the rest of the downtown sewer collection system as well as a treatment plant and effluent disposal system. Town meeting will be asked to approve an additional $12,218,000 for that purpose, and borrowing must be OK’d by voters at the June 23 election.

(The board of water and sewer commissioners will hold a virtual public forum on this article June 15 at 4 p.m. and will accept questions sent to sbrown@town.orleans.ma.us beforehand. The forum will be shown live on Channel 18 and may be joined via Zoom by going to https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85942285507/)

Town meeting will be asked to take two other actions that will also wind up on the ballot as debt exclusion questions: $400,000 for interim improvements to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems at the fire station; and $1,700,500 for further work on the town’s comprehensive water resources management plan, including a utility survey and preliminary design of the Meetinghouse Pond area wastewater system, continued monitoring of the nitrogen-altering performance of the permeable reactive barrier at the middle school, and planning for PRBs in the Pleasant Bay, Nauset Harbor, and Rock Harbor watersheds.

In all, there are 47 articles on the annual warrant and eight on the special town meeting warrant.

“This is a unique situation,” Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison said. “It’s not one we ever envisioned we would be in. This might not be perfect, but it certainly should serve the purpose and do the job that needs to be done.”