HARWICH – Wastewater and taxes will be the weighty issues facing voters in Monday’s special town meeting. Several articles seek funds for wastewater design and engineering projects and to make changes to the town’s comprehensive wastewater management plan.
Another article seeks to increase the short-term rental tax from 4 to 6 percent. Two additional articles would direct 25 percent of the short- term rental taxes into special account for wastewater and affordable housing.
The biggest issue at the Oct. 18 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at the community center at 100 Oak St, could be the $2.1 million for design and engineering for the phase three wastewater collection system in East Harwich.
“There is a small group of people who think we’re over-sewering,” said Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill.
The funds are for design and permitting for sewers in sections of East Harwich and to address nitrogen issues in the Round Cove watershed. Sewering done to date in East Harwich does not touch the Round Cove watershed, MacAskill said, and nitrogen has to be removed.
“I’d call it responsible planning, the smart thing to do,” MacAskill said.
The town is working with a new consulting firm, GHD, Inc., and MacAskill said the town is trying to get projects ready should federal infrastructure funding become available.
Selectmen are also looking at updating the wastewater plan. An article seeks $250,000 for engineering services and addressing project change approvals if they are required by the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act. GHD is expected to provide those services. Because these are engineering services, the town does not have to go out to bid, MacAskill said.
The tasks the company would tackle include project review of growth assumptions in the CWMP, evolution of the impact of enhanced innovative alternative (I/A) systems, updates of project costs, and continued public presentation and findings, GHD Principal Marc Drainville said recently.
Another wastewater collection article seeks $200,000 for engineering, design, and permitting services to install a dry wastewater collection system along Route 28 in West Harwich.
“It’s a no-brainer,” MacAskill said, adding that Water/Wastewater Superintendent Dan Pelletier strongly recommends the installation. Massachusetts Department of Transportation is planning roadway improvements along that section of Route 28 in 2024, and the town would be faced with a five-year moratorium on any wastewater construction once the MassDOT work is done. It's another project where the town might be able to benefit from federal infrastructure funds, MacAskill said.
An article seeking $400,000 for engineering services for a wastewater collection system of approximately 5,500 feet along Continental Drive and Whidah Drive in East Harwich will be indefinitely postponed. The town obtained the engineering plans for that project from the former consulting engineers CDM Smith, Inc. so the funds are no longer needed.
None of the articles require debt exclusion votes. The majority of the articles will be funded from free cash, which has been certified at nearly $6.3 million.
There may be some battles over the article seeking to increase the short-term rental tax from 4 to 6 percent, MacAskill said. Every other town on the Cape, except Chatham, has gone to 6 percent, he said.
Chamber of commerce member Tony Guthrie took issue with the proposal several weeks ago, arguing the increase would impact the hospitality members of the chamber and that selectmen should direct some of the revenues to the chamber, since its members would be shouldering the tax increase impact.
MacAskill said the board did not pursue the tax increase over the past three years because the funds went into the town’s general fund. There are two additional articles in the warrant seeking to set up a wastewater special purpose stabilization fund and an affordable housing special purpose stabilization fund, each of which would receive 25 percent of the short-term rental tax revenues collected by the town for those specific expenditures.
“We’re making a responsible decision to create these funds,” MacAskill said. “This provides for a reduction in resident taxes. We won’t be hammering them for wastewater funds.”
The town is also seeking to take a 2.1-acre parcel off Bassett Lane, adjacent to the former 13.3-acre James Marceline cowyard property purchased earlier this year by the town’s affordable housing trust. The property would be taken by eminent domain to clear the title and the land transferred to the affordable housing trust (See related story).
Other articles in the warrant include purchasing and equipping an ambulance for the fire department for $378,676, and the redistribution of $217,894 in surplus bond proceeds to offset the cost of the quint fire truck purchased by the department.
There are three articles seeking funds to meet cost of living adjustments in non-union and union contract agreements and an article to fund payment of prior unpaid bills.