Capital Plan Seeks $75 Million At Next Annual Town Meeting

By: William F. Galvin

The holiday market and open house drew a crowd to 204 Sisson on Saturday. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

Use Of Middle School Building Draws Debate

HARWICH – The town’s five-year capital plan calls for $75,469,424 in spending next year, driven primarily by wastewater and water projects, a figure called “eye popping” by Town Administrator Joseph Powers.

Three projects totaling $68,700,000 are listed for debt exclusion votes: expansion of the East Harwich wastewater collection system at $47,000,000; a water main replacement project along Route 28 for $14,700,000; and a Route 28 sewer main installation in West Harwich estimated at $7,000,000.

The water and wastewater costs are “the elephant in the room” for taxpayers, Capital Outlay Committee Chairman Richard Larios said. Much of the cost is driven by pressure from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to accelerate comprehensive wastewater management plan implementation, initially expected over a 40-year period but now proposed to take place in 20 years.

With the cost increases due to supply chain issues and the reduced time frame, town officials must be ready to discuss with taxpayers what is facing the community, Larios said. It’s not the capital outlay committee’s job to take a position for the town, he added.

We are just the bean counters,” he said.

There is some hopeful relief from the financial burdens, added Water/Wastewater Superintendent Dan Pelletier, with the potential for principal forgiveness through State Revolving Fund borrowing for the projects. That includes a 6.6 percent principal forgiveness under the disadvantages communities program and subsidies under the Cape and Islands Water Protection Program. The town will have to appropriate the full amount with the state and county contributions coming later, he added.

Selectmen, capital outlay committee and finance committee met in a joint session Monday as directed by the town charter to examine the five-year plan. The future use of the former Harwich Middle School — now dubbed 204 Sisson — for cultural, recreational and municipal uses was a major focus of discussion. The fiscal 2024 segment of the plan seeks $1,982,427 for maintenance and improvements to the building.

Finance Committee Chairman Peter Hughes was looking for a long-term vision for use of the building. He wanted to know if the cost analysis study released by Powers two weeks ago is the definitive document that will go to town meeting in the spring.

Powers said the document was a response to the board of selectmen’s request for a cost analysis. Hughes wanted to know what the selectmen’s plan is for the building moving forward.

This plan has no vision,” said Hughes, asserting that the maintenance and upgrade proposals in the capital plan are a “band aid.” He said he is looking for a floor plan defining the cultural, recreational and municipal uses in the building, and wanted to know if the selectmen are planning to move the town hall operations there.

Chairman of selectmen Michael MacAskill said he would argue that the present town hall is the worst building the town has except for the West Harwich schoolhouse, which has been sold, and the Bank Street fire station, which will be sold on Friday. The former middle school is an asset to the town, he said.

It has a lot of growth potential,” said MacAskill. “It makes sense to put money into it, in case we need it.”

If that’s the case, it’s time to start putting some meat and bones on a plan, Hughes said. He agreed the building has potential, but said a plan is necessary to get there.

How do we use it to the maximum for our citizens?” he asked.

Finance committee member Karen Doucette said the plan is “not fully baked” and there is a lot more work that needs to be done to it. She said more programs will require more people to run them. There is a lot of information missing from the plan, she said, pointing out that the proposal to improve the ballfields outside the school has no costs associated with it and will also require the addition of restrooms. She said in the long run it could cost $10 million to address the needs at the facility.

Richard Waystack said 204 Sisson was “rocking” during the holiday market and open house on Saturday. The town now has in place a director for the cultural center and a new town planner coming on board, both of whom would be instrumental in creating a comprehensive vision for the building, he said.

There was a consensus among the group that while the middle school building potential for use by the town, a plan is necessary before voters will buy into it at town meeting.