CHATHAM – A stripped-down annual town meeting warrant, reduced from 39 to 14 or 15 articles, should significantly shorten the session scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. next Monday, June 22, outdoors at Veterans Field.
Voters will be seated in the baseball outfield in pairs of socially distanced chairs facing the left field baseline, where Moderator William Litchfield, Chairman of Selectmen Shareen Davis, Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and Finance Committee Chairman Stephen Daniel will be seated (or standing, in Litchfield's case). The selectmen and finance committee will be seated in the front row. About 500 seats will be set up, with an overflow area in centerfield, more than enough to accommodate the 100-voter quorum.
Everyone will be asked to wear masks, and extras will be available at the meeting. Microphones will be disinfected between speakers, and wipes and hand sanitizer will also be available. All the safety precautions necessary to protect the health of both staff and voters will be taken, officials said. Tellers checking in voters will have face shields, according to Town Clerk Julie Smith.
Litchfield said he wasn't sure what to expect. “This is all new. I've never done one of these, the voters haven't done one of these. People may come for the novelty of the whole thing.”
Voters should not attend if they feel uncomfortable or have any health concerns, he added.
The main focus of the meeting — and the main reason for holding it prior to the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1 — is the $31,826,211 town budget, a 2.85 percent increase over this year. The $9,019,089 Monomoy Regional School District budget, $3,341,617 water department budget and $2,324,145 in capital spending round out the main financial articles.
Litchfield is proposing a consent calendar containing 13 or 14 articles which would be addressed in a single vote. It includes the Cape Cod Tech budget, OPEB funding, an increase in the childcare voucher program, and six community preservation articles. All were endorsed by selectmen and the finance committee. Other articles may also be folded into the consent calendar.
There will be no motion on three articles, and seven petition articles — articles 21 to 27, including zoning changes and use of Stepping Stones Road property as a senior center — will be postponed to a planned Sept. 19 special town meeting. Also postponed will be the proposal to build a senior center at property at 1610 Main St., and a general bylaw amendment to change the name of the board of selectmen to the select board.
“We've put off everything that can be put off,” Litchfield said.
Other articles that will be addressed include two water capital projects, improvements to the transfer station, repairs to the Eldredge Public Library and funds for dredging. Voters will be asked to address about 14 articles, depending on whether more are added to the consent calendar, Litchfield said. He expects the meeting to last an hour or so, but lights will be available should it go longer.
“I don't think there will be a lot of discussion,” he said. “But I don't know.”
Litchfield said he planned to attend the Orleans town meeting this Saturday, which will be held on the track field behind the Nauset Middle School, to observe how that goes. He's been in touch with other Massachusetts moderators who have presided over recent outdoor meetings who had good experiences. “In a couple of towns they want to do it in the future,” he commented.
Town Clerk Julie Smith said tellers will be ready at two check-in locations, at the Veterans Field parking lot and on the community center side of the field, log in voters by 5:15 p.m. Voters should arrive early to avoid waiting in socially-distanced lines, Litchfield recommended, and should bring the warrant mailed to them, although copies will be available at the meeting.
“If it's a nice evening, it will be nice to sit out under the sun,” he said. He urged residents to dress for the weather and said should rain threaten, officials will endeavor to announce a postponement as early as possible. Rain date is Tuesday, June 23.
Those with mobility problems can be dropped off at the Veterans Field Road parking area, where there will also be handicapped parking spaces available.
Voters should use parking at the community center, Chatham Elementary School, Stage Harbor Road lot (behind the Orpheum Theater) and Oyster Pond. Parking restrictions in the area will go into effect Monday afternoon. Parking will be prohibited on Depot Road from the traffic lights to Hitching Post Road in order to provide for emergency vehicle passage, according to police. Parking will only be allowed on the east side of Hitching Post Road and Tip Cart Drive. There will be no parking on Main Street and Old Harbor Road. Police officers will be available to help with parking.
“It'll be an historic event,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens said Tuesday. “I look forward to it.”