Fall Spending Requests Top $4 Million In Orleans

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Drinking Water , Town Meeting , Orleans news , short-term rentals

Funding to improve filtration at the water treatment facility and revamp HVAC units at Orleans Elementary School are among the high ticket items set to go before voters at special town meeting on Oct. 17. FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS – Approximately $4.1 million in spending requests are set to go before voters at next month's special town meeting.

This year's fall session is set for Oct. 17 in the Nauset Regional Middle School auditorium. The select board on Sept. 7 made their recommendations on articles to be included on the town meeting warrant, which went to press last Friday.

The largest expenditure being put before voters is a request for $2.25 million to upgrade the lagoons at the town's water treatment plant, which the select board voted 5-0 to support. Susan Brown, the town's assistant water superintendent, showed a picture of the existing lagoons filled with water.

"It is not supposed to look like a pond," she said.

Brown said the initial plan was to "rehab" the area, which is designed to filter iron and solid materials out of the water. But further study found that if rehabbed "it would just break again in another year or two," she said.

Steve Olson, the engineer working with the town's department of public works on the project, said the lagoons are "undersized." According to language in the town meeting warrant article, the lagoons surpassed their filtration and infiltration capacity with the addition of Well 7 to the water treatment system.

The project will double the size of the lagoon's existing filters, and provide 10 times the amount of water infiltration. A second standby system will also be built to support the one that is online, Olson said.

"Every year you'll alternate, and you'll be able to dry and dewater the filters and replace the sand," he said. "You won't have everything online all the time."

Unlike the existing lagoon system, which is underground and serviced by catch basins, Olson said the new system will be aboveground. He said the open air exposure will help the system avoid clogging.

Brown said bids for a project contractor will be opened Sept. 22. The $2.25 million figure is a high number that takes into account contingency spending and the cost of engineering services on top of the estimated cost of construction, she said.

The project will be funded annually through the town's water special revenue fund.

"There's no debt service question involved with this," Town Administrator John Kelly told the select board.

The select board also voted in support of spending $1.4 million in free cash to update heating, ventilation and air conditioning for sections of the Orleans Elementary School. The project calls for aging outside HVAC units to be replaced with unit ventilators inside the building.

An article is also heading to the fall session seeking a $30,000 free cash transfer to cover design and permitting costs for removing the existing underground fuel tanks at Rock Harbor. Kelly said the tanks will be replaced with aboveground ones that are more environmentally friendly.

"People are really getting away from underground fuel storage, especially in an area that's prone to high water table," he said.

The town has applied for a $600,000 grant from the state's Office of Coastal Zone Management that if received would be put toward the estimated $800,000 cost of the project. The grant would lower the funding request at annual town meeting in the spring to about $175,000, according to Tom Daley, the town's public works director.

The select board voted 5-0 in support of the article. Daley said the town should know before the special town meeting whether or not it received the grant.

A request to use $30,000 from the town's water improvement and maintenance account to pay for final design and permitting for the Goose Hummock, or Town Cove, bulkhead also won select board support last week. The board also recommended in favor of funding $31,250 from the vehicle and equipment stabilization fund for the traffic signal remodification outside the fire station on Eldredge Park Way.

Other proposed expenditures that won select board approval last week include articles to insure and maintain the existing Governor Prence Inn buildings until they are demolished ($75,000), fund an economic value study of Rock Harbor and Nauset Harbor ($15,000), pay for the process of searching for a new town manager ($25,000) and pay for a new paid parking program at Rock Harbor ($32,500).

Select Board member Mark Mathison said the paid parking proposal has drawn concerns from local charter boat captains who fear people won't use the booth at the harbor to make reservations if they have to pay to park.

"People may not want to come in and pay the daily fee of $15 just to go in and say 'Hey, is there a trip available next Tuesday?'" Mathison said.

But Michael Herman of the select board said there should be no impacts to charter fishing businesses through the proposed plan.

"How this is going to work from my understanding is they can still come into the parking lot, park their car, stand by their car," he said. "There isn't going to be someone at the gate not letting them in." Select board members stressed the need to better educate voters about how the parking plan will work ahead of the special town meeting.

In non-spending articles, voters will be asked to weigh in on a proposed short-term rental bylaw that if approved will set up the town to begin registering rental properties. Mathison said long term, he would like to see that registration program evolve into a system that can track all rentals in town, not just seasonal ones.

"I just think that's something we need to be looking at in the future that goes along with this," he said.

The finance committee voted 0-3-3 against the article on Aug. 26, citing existing bylaws guiding short-term rentals that are already on record in the town. But Kevin Galligan of the select board said the new bylaw is designed to set the town up to better manage short-term rental activity in Orleans.

"We don't know this data today," he said. "This collects data."

The warrant also includes 11 articles related to recommended charter changes. The select board voted against two, including one to establish a code of conduct for town employees, committee members and residents.

"We're all adults here, and I really don't think we need some enforceable code of conduct enforced on everyone in the town in order to do things to run the town business appropriately," Mathison said.

"I think it's the right idea, just the wrong execution," added Select Board Chair Andrea Reed.

The board also voted against another proposed charter change to give the town manager hiring and reporting authority over the town's finance director. The town is set to begin the process of searching for a new town manager as Kelly plans to retire in March. Herman said at least during the transition, the town shouldn't look to make any organizational changes.

"For now, I think we should keep it in house with the select board at this time," he said.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com