CHATHAM – Since the 1940s, non-resident homeowners have gathered each summer to discuss local issues and learn more about the state of the town. In the early years it had the atmosphere of a cocktail party, but over the last two decades, the annual summer town meeting has taken on a bit more serious tenor.
A big reason for that is that the session is now sponsored by the town's summer residents advisory committee, an official group appointed by the select board to represent the interests of non-resident property owners. Chatham was the first Cape town to establish a committee for that purpose, and the group has taken its role seriously, researching and developing positions on a variety of issues, from affordable housing to finances and a new senior center.
“We really get involved in some of these issues,” said chair Jamie Meehan.
Next Tuesday, Aug. 9, the summer residents advisory committee will host the 76th annual summer town meeting at the town hall annex on George Ryder Road.
Although the meeting includes presentations by town officials and the committee, its chief purpose, Meehan said, is to provide a forum for summer residents.
“Everything that we do is geared around making sure that they have a voice,” he said. “We always try to keep in mind that summer residents don't vote, yet a majority of taxes are paid by summer residents, and they contribute time and money to Chatham's charitable organizations.” This year the group hopes to provide more time for questions. The agenda, Meehan said, is “a work in progress,” and will include a “state of the town” presentation by Town Manager Jill Goldsmith and Finance Director Alix Heilala, an update on potable water, conservation and waterways issues from Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson, and an update on affordable and attainable housing initiatives.
The annual “Chatham Scorecard,” which shows Chatham's status compared to other Cape towns on numerous metrics, will be scaled back, since some of the information will be included in Goldsmith and Heilala's presentation, Meehan said.
“Summer residents like to hear that the tax rate in Chatham is so much lower than the average Cape town, the property values are high,” he said. “They come away with the impression that the town runs a great financial show, our investment is in good hands.”
The committee meets most Fridays during the summer, with individual subcommittees taking a deep dive on certain issues, like affordable housing and water quality. Subcommittee reports are often approved by the full committee and passed along to the select board, which gives the board perspective on how summer residents feel about important matters.
Committee members bring skillsets to the work that are “off the charters,” said Meehan, who lives year-round in Parkland, Fla. and has been a member of the group for about eight years. Analytical, financial and legal experience allows the group to come at issues from a fresh perspective and extract insights that might be of assistance to town officials and residents, he said. Along with meeting with town officials and department heads, the group sometimes brings in outside organizations, like the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance, and even takes field trips to visit town facilities.
“That's the level of detail we get into,” Meehan said.
Still, “a lot of summer residents don't even know we exist,” he added. A communications subcommittee was recently established and has been working to take advantage of the town's social media presence to get the word out about the committee and the summer town meeting.
Although the meeting has no official status, it's served a useful purpose for three quarters of a century.
“It's a terrific way to find out what's going on,” said Meehan.