ORLEANS — After hearing the three hopefuls running for two seats on the board of selectmen discuss the hard choices facing the town, Orleans Citizens Forum moderator David Lyttle said the electorate will have “a really tough choice” among them June 23.
“I commend all of you,” he said during the virtual public forum Tuesday night. “I think you are all excellent candidates.”
Incumbents David Currier and Mefford Runyon joined planning board chairman Andrea Shaw Reed to talk about their priorities and field questions from viewers. These ranged from how to help local businesses recover from the pandemic to dealing with the possibility of an operating budget override to maintain town services.
In opening statements, Currier, the youngest member of the board, said that “seeing young families leave Cape Cod and Orleans is nothing short of frustrating… Young people in this town deserve a say… You can help give them a voice. Elect one of their own.” Runyon spoke of the town’s slow transformation over the decades “from rural seaside village to a more suburban town. We can’t go back to what it was, but we can help shape what Orleans will be like when buildout is complete,” he said. “My bias is for the rural end of the spectrum.” After nine years on the planning board, Reed said, “I would like a seat at the table where policy and pocketbook come together… I think I bring skills that compliment and enhance the capacity of the select board to solve the historically challenging problems ahead of us.”
All three believe the town has a part to play in helping businesses bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis. Currier, who’s been part of a group of business owners putting together a reopening plan, said he “pushed pretty hard” recently for more frequent selectmen meetings to deal with necessary approvals. Reed said the town’s health agent was a real partner in helping to get the hair salon where she works reopened and urged business people to tap the resources of the health department. Runyon said the town could partner with the chamber of commerce on a creative marketing program to attract tourists again.
As a downtown business owner, Currier has to pass on most questions related to the wastewater project there, but both Reed and Runyon advocated for town meeting approval of an additional $12 million for the sewer collection system, treatment plant, and effluent disposal area.
“I think that most of the wastewater project in general is going to be paid by people outside the town of Orleans,” Runyon said, estimating that 80 percent of the cost will be covered in that fashion. “We need to grab this,” Reed said of the favorable funding arrangement. “If we do not clean up our own waters, the federal government will come in and do it for us and we will not have control over how we do it.”
Asked about issues they would stress, Currier mentioned “more access to our waterways, more access to the bike path, affordable housing.” Runyon said he’s spent part of his first term “trying to get traction on the whole idea of enforcing the regulations that the town has on its books... around signs, parking, zoning, and dogs.” Faced with a potential operating budget override, Reed said, the town needs “public conversations about what we subsidize and don’t subsidize” through the tax base versus fees.
Currier and Runyon said the board’s planned fiscal stability work sessions, which it was to discuss last night (June 17), should be educational not just for the selectmen but for the public. “I think there’s been forgetfulness about Proposition 2½ and what it means for the way town budgets are put together,” Runyon said.
The three candidates disagreed on the town meeting proposal to purchase the Peck property on Arey’s Pond. “It’s an intelligent use of Community Preservation funds,” Reed said, but Currier said he would rather the town itself buy such properties to avoid restrictions that come with CP support. “There’s 2,400 acres of open space already in town,” he said. “That CPC money could go toward affordable housing and maintain the (open space) properties we have that are far behind on maintenance.”
That 2,400 number includes municipal properties such as cemeteries and the landfill as well as privately owned open space bought by the Orleans Conservation Trust, Runyon noted. “The town has purchased 278 acres of open space,” he said. “I don’t think the town has overdone it… I think the town should continue to protect and preserve what is the look and feel of Orleans. The entire economic engine that runs in this town rests on the natural environment.”
The selectmen contest is the only race on the June 23 ballot. Although board of health incumbent John Kanaga’s name will not be on the ballot, he is conducting a write-in campaign. No one is on the ballot for the housing authority opening. There will also be five questions, including two for debt exclusions related to town meeting articles regarding wastewater projects and one for proposed HVAC improvements at the fire station. There’s also an advisory question instructing town officials to press the governor and Legislature to seek better storage and security for spent fuel at the decommissioned nuclear power plant in Plymouth. The fifth question is the final step in changing the board of selectmen to a select board.
Voting will be from noon to 7 p.m. at the senior center on Rock Harbor Road. Staff will be wearing masks and voters are asked to do likewise. New ballot pens will be given to voters with their ballots, to be returned at the ballot box.