Weekend At The Beach Reserved For Special Town Meeting

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Town Meeting , COVID-19

“On the floor at town meeting” will look a little different on Oct. 31 when voters address the warrant at Nauset Beach. They’ll sit in their vehicles and face the front of the administration building, where town officials will be seated under a tent.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS The Saturday, Oct. 31, special town meeting will be no day at the beach — well, actually, that’s exactly what it will be.

Starting at 11 a.m., the Nauset Beach gathering will cover the waterfront of town needs with articles addressing the deteriorating fire station, dredging of Nauset Estuary and Pleasant Bay, retail marijuana sales, and even a resident parking sticker for the beach itself and other locations. A handful of articles, if passed, will be up for debt exclusion votes at a Dec. 1 special election.

The select board voted to approve the unusual venue last week and added a rain date of Nov. 1. With the pandemic making a traditional indoor meeting at Nauset Regional Middle School unlikely, the idea of another outdoor session at the school’s track or on the nearby ball field was passed over in favor of the beach. There, residents can sit in their vehicles and listen through open windows or over their radios, signaling for a portable microphone to speak on articles, and voting electronically via clickers.

Board member Andrea Reed noted that the Saturday meeting was a problem for those who observe the Sabbath, as the rain date of Sunday would be for others. “I only ask the public to bear with us,” she said, adding that even the regular Monday night meetings “make it hard for parents with young children” to attend.

“These are extraordinary circumstances we’re dealing with,” board chair Kevin Galligan said. “This should not be the norm, but we are not normal in this environment.”

Speaking of the environment, Galligan cautioned that “It could be 45 degrees out there.” Town Administrator John Kelly said it was 66 degrees last Oct. 31 and 71 on Nov. 1.

Last week, in separate meetings, the select board and the finance committee began voting recommendations on the warrant articles. Members continued doing so this week to meet Friday’s warrant publication deadline. Moving targets dotted the warrant given the need to make reductions in the current fiscal year’s budget, which was approved in June, to ride out shortfalls in anticipated revenue related to the pandemic.

Finance Director Cathy Doane said Kelly and she had identified about $860,000 in potential budget adjustments for voter approval next month, plus about $118,000 related to increases for items such as a parking enforcement officer. “That nets out to about $740,000 left as a cushion to protect and cover the deficit I mentioned (of) between $300,000 and $500,000,” she said, adding, “That should be enough to cover any shortfall through (the current fiscal year ending June 30).”

The proposed reductions are a response to anticipated drops in local receipts. Doane said that the numbers for July and August were about $138,000 lower than last year. Taking out seasonal items from those two months, she annualized others to come up with a possible drop of $300,000 to $500,000. The council on aging, she said, plans to reopen in January, “so we can count on maybe half the receipts we normally do.” She anticipated a significant reduction in funds from the meals tax as well.

To find those dollars within the budget, town meeting will be asked in separate articles to rescind $265,000 of the $570,000 appropriation for the motor vehicle and equipment stabilization fund and $250,000 of the $350,000 appropriation for the maintenance of buildings and facilities stabilization fund. A third article rolls up several reductions, including $49,740 from the council on aging budget (reduced operations), $55,000 from the amount budgeted to cover employee health plans (actual enrollment vs. projected), $154,000 from the DPW (retirements and freezing two positions), and $4,750 from the windmill budget (not open this summer).

The article isn’t just about cuts. It identifies revenue sources for a new year-round full-time natural resources officer-beach director (combines multiple seasonal positions), for $15,000 in outside consultant services to help regulatory boards in their technical review of development applications, and for $30,000 for a new seasonal parking enforcement program.

That last item would give some teeth to the proposed resident beach parking sticker, which along with other proposed increases was the subject of a public hearing at last week’s meeting and drew no public comment. The sticker has been free to residents, who have voted to keep it that way, but the need to continue to shore up beach operations with funds from the operating budget prompted the board to ask again this year. It’s estimate stickers could bring in $800,000.

Reflecting previous discussions with the board, Kelly said members might want to change the proposed $25 sticker from beach parking to a resident parking sticker. “If you want a uniform sticker as a resident to park at beaches, landings, conservation areas or on the streets, that’s different from someone only buying the privilege for two months’ use of Nauset or Skaket,” he said. Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears and Police Chief Scott MacDonald agreed that such an approach is worth exploring, but asked for time to address what Sears called “the subtleties.”

“We’ve gotta be straight up with people,” Galligan said. “You gotta pay to go to the beach whether you’re a resident or visitor, but we can develop a program to give residents additional benefits they’re boxed out of now.” Board member Mefford Runyon said there’s “still a fairly strong feeling in town that the beaches are cash cows (but) the revenue loss and expenses increase going on the last five or 10 years is substantial. The days where the beach parking paid for everything are gone.”

The warrant has several articles asking approval to set up enterprise funds for sewer, beach, mooring, transfer station, and Rock Harbor operations. Passage would allow the town to calculate the true cost of each, including indirect costs, and create self-supporting budgets based on revenues taken in, starting next July. The goal is to reduce subsidies from the general operating budget.