ORLEANS – They didn't pass quietly, but articles to secure construction funding for Meetinghouse Pond sewer work and adopt a new sewer assessment bylaw garnered voter approval during Monday night's annual town meeting.
The bylaw, which calls for sewer costs downtown and in the area of Meetinghouse Pond to be split between the tax rate (80 percent) and users who will tie into the new sewer system (20 percent), has been the subject of much debate in recent months. The 481 residents in the area of Meetinghouse Pond are looking at higher betterment costs than those downtown, where 1,100 residents and businesses will be required to tie into the sewer. Others have taken issue with helping subsidize the cost of sewering despite not being required to tie in themselves.
But despite these concerns, article 18 establishing the bylaw passed by a simple majority voice vote Monday. Lynn Bruneau, who chairs the town's finance committee, said the committee supported the article as well as related articles geared toward the replacement of water mains in both sewer areas.
"We need to be voting for water quality and clean water," she said.
Approval of the bylaw is critical, she said, especially given a June 30 state deadline the town is facing to secure funding for sewering in both areas. Missing that deadline, she said, would cause the town to fall off its "funding track" by a year or more.
"We too have been frustrated by the lack of timely communication regarding project funding and property owner costs, but we need to move forward now with these costs," Bruneau urged.
But the cost breakdown remained a sticking point for some voters. Susan Fleming called the article unfair, especially to residents who might be on fixed incomes.
"I'm willing to pay my fair share in support of these efforts," she said. "But article 18 is anything but fair in apportioning the burden."
Resident Brian Sosner moved to indefinitely postpone the article. Lawrence Diaz noted that the $32.9 million cost laid out in article 19 for funding sewer construction in Meetinghouse Pond could still pass without passage of the bylaw. Sosner's motion failed by a 235-184 vote.
Others in attendance Monday expressed frustration over not having an estimate of how much it will cost to hook up their homes to sewer. Alan McClennen, who chairs the board of water and sewer commissioners, said the cost varies from property to property. Factors including a home's distance from the sewer main and whether or not it can connect directly into the main or need to use a gravity pump to connect dictate the per-property cost, he said.
The cost breakdown aside, residents should instead zero in on the word "betterment," said Tom Daley, the town's public works director. The betterments ultimately add value to the homes that tie into sewer, he said.
"This article isn't so much about what it costs you to connect to the street from your house," he said. "This article has to do with what percentage you, being bettered, are paying toward the cost of the collection system."
Residents also passed article 19 by a two-thirds majority vote. With the article's passage, the $32.9 million cost for the Meetinghouse Pond sewer construction, which would be paid through an override of Proposition 2½, will go before voters for final approval on the ballot at next Tuesday's annual town election.
McClennen said an estimated $24 million in funding will be provided for sewer work in both areas through the Cape and Islands Water Protection Fund. An additional $1.5 million in annual revenue garnered through the town's short-term rental tax will also go toward the work. Those, combined with anticipated zero percent financing through the state, will help the town cover about 65 percent of the project cost, he said.
"That is the largest grant we have received in this town in many, many years," McClennen said.
But Orleans resident Clint Kanaga expressed concern that money for the sewering is coming at the expense of more immediate needs, namely the creation of more affordable housing.
"This clean water article does not need to be addressed this year," he said.
The article passed 281-114.
Voters Support $1 Million Request For 107 Main St.
An article seeking $1 million in community preservation funds to transform the site of the former Moose Lodge at 107 Main St. into affordable housing also passed, but it remains to be seen if the funding will ultimately be needed.
Housing Assistance Corporation, which plans to raze the lodge and redevelop the property into 14 units of affordable rental housing, is also waiting to see whether $1 million in state ARPA funding will be awarded to the project. If that funding comes through, the money approved through town meeting would be returned to the town.
The town is partnering with HAC to develop the property, with the town's share of the project cost anticipated to be $1.87 million. The town's affordable housing trust fund board has committed $875,000 of its own funding toward the effort.
But at 1.3 acres, the site is not well-suited to host the housing as planned, members of the finance committee argued. Committee member Tim Counihan said that the project is too dense for the site, and also raised issue with the "non-conforming" septic system on the property. Counihan said the Governor Prence Inn, which is also being considered as a site for future affordable housing, has the space to allow for as many as 75 units compared to the 14 planned at 107 Main St.
But advocates behind the project said the town can't afford to wait. Constance Kremer of the finance committee said that the Main Street project is on track to be permitted this summer and that construction could begin by the fall of next year. Other projects such as the Pennrose development planned for West Road and what might come of the Governor Prence Inn are on a much longer timetable, she said.
"We cannot afford to wait for affordable housing," echoed Orleans resident Ian Mack.
McClennen, who also chairs the affordable housing trust board, noted that HAC is putting $250,000 toward creating a new innovative-alternative septic system for the property.
Alisa Magnotta, an Orleans resident and CEO of HAC, said that the Main Street project will rent to residents who make up to 80 percent of the area median income in Barnstable County.
The article passed 328-102.
$40.7 Million Operating Budget Passes, Override Heading To Town Election
The town has its operating budget for fiscal 2023, but voters still have to approve a Proposition 2½ override next week to cover the town's share of the Nauset Regional School District budget.
The addition of 27 more Orleans students to the district, combined with other unanticipated costs, led to the town's portion of the Nauset budget being $627,032 higher than anticipated. Voters must approve a ballot question at the May 17 annual town election authorizing the override to cover the additional costs.
Select Board member Kevin Galligan said the additional funding is not needed to cover a one-off shortfall but to bring the town's school funding back into balance.
"We all know that education is a core value of this community," he said.
Bruneau criticized town officials for their handling of the school budget, noting that Nauset's enrollment numbers for the 2022-2023 school year were published as early as October. The town did not act on the impact the additional enrollment would have on the budget until February, she said.
Bruneau said the committee wants to see "greater financial transparency" in town hall moving forward.
Asked what would happen if voters didn't pass the $40.7 million operating budget, Town Administrator John Kelly didn't mince words.
"The town has to have an operating budget in effect by July 1 or the government shuts down," he said.
The operating budget also includes funding for new town positions including an assistant town planner, assistant DPW mechanic and an assistant facilities manager.
Proposed Quorum Change Voted Down
Voters said no Monday night to a proposed charter change that would reduce the town meeting quorum from 200 residents to 100, and down to zero after the biannual meetings are first called into session.
The charter review committee saw the change as a way to help improve the efficiency of town meeting and possibly save the town money. Members noted that it's not uncommon for voters to leave town meeting early, which can cause delays if additional calls for quorums aren't met.
But residents and town officials pushed back at the proposal, especially the thought of letting big ticket items such as the operating budget pass with fewer voters.
"With this amendment, town meeting could continue with virtually no voters," said Elaine Baid of the finance committee, which voted 6-0 in opposition to the article.
John Fuller, who chairs the charter review committee, said that the committee has found that lower quorums encourage more participation in town meetings, but the article failed by a voice vote.
Another charter amendment seeking to reduce the speaking time at town meeting from five minutes to two also failed to pass with voters.
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