Chatham Selectmen Lean Toward Postponing COA Vote

By: Alan Pollock

For the first time ever, voters met at an outdoor town meeting on June 22. Much of the business of that meeting was postponed until the fall, but selectmen are considering carrying those measures over to next May's annual meeting. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM Selectmen Tuesday said they prefer voting on a new council on aging project at next spring’s annual town meeting rather than at a special town meeting in September.

The board took no official vote on the matter, but individual members said they would prefer to have voters act on the big-ticket project at the town’s main legislative session in May. In fact, the board is considering whether any of the articles held for the planned Sept. 19 special town meeting actually require action before the springtime.

After voters acted on a stripped-down warrant on June 22 in an unprecedented outdoor annual town meeting, the plan was to defer all items that did not need immediate attention until the fall. That included a number of petition articles, Community Preservation Act projects, and the $8.2 million senior center project, which were all postponed in the interest of keeping citizens safe from COVID-19.

“The thought was that the COVID situation might have, by then, cleared up,” Selectman Dean Nicastro said. Now, with the fall special town meeting just two months away, “I think it’s very clear to everyone that the circumstances are not going to be any better. They’re possibly going to be worse,” he said.

“I don’t think we really need a special town meeting,” board member Peter Cocolis said. “COVID-19 is going to be with us for a considerable amount of time,” he said, and any session in September would also likely need to be held outdoors with only essential items on the warrant. But there’s another reason to postpone action: postponing any unnecessary spending, he said.

“I believe we need to maintain our free cash levels consistent with the unknowns and the risks” associated with the pandemic, Cocolis said.

Other board members concurred, though it was possible that one or two items might actually need to be acted upon this fall, including a borrowing authorization for the town’s wastewater project, which may need to be issued soon in order to qualify for a low-interest loan from the State Revolving Fund. Another might be a petition article to create a Main Street Theater overlay district, which would facilitate a plan for the redevelopment and preservation of the historic Monomoy Theater.

Selectman Cory Metters said town staff should contact the developer of that project to find out if a delay until the springtime would harm their timeline.

“I would hate to have something stumble” because the town delayed the vote, Metters said.

The board is expected to take up further discussion of the special town meeting when it next meets. Should they decide to proceed, they will likely need to choose another date, since Sept. 19 falls within the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.