ORLEANS – The slate has been set for next month's special town meeting, including two overrides and one debt exclusion request.
The select board voted last week to place and support 33 articles on the warrant for the fall session, which is scheduled for Oct. 16.
Approximately $3.3 million in spending is up for a vote, including $1.15 million to fund eight new firefighter positions for the Orleans Fire Department. Of that figure, $925,000 to fund the positions over three years would be funded through a Proposition 2½ override. The remaining $231,000 for uniforms, equipment and other one-time expenses would come from free cash.
"[The article] does both of those things," Town Manager Kim Newman told the select board Sept. 6.
The override, which will appear on the warrant as Article 3, is one of three funding requests on the warrant that would need final approval at a Nov. 7 special town election. A second override seeks $168,000 to fund additional staffing and operational costs for the town's recreation department. There is also a request to authorize an additional $500,000 for the purchase of a new ladder truck for the fire department, which would be paid for through a debt exclusion.
Staffing A Matter Of Public Safety
The fire department has been pressing the town on the need for more staffing in recent years. With the new positions, staffing levels would increase from five firefighters to seven per shift.
Fire Chief Geof Deering told The Chronicle last week that the department was down six firefighters this summer, with three out of work on injury and another three undergoing training. Staffing issues have forced the department to rely more on mutual aid from surrounding Cape departments, Deering said.
"The ongoing challenge of increasing call volume, the complexity of calls, the regular occurrence of multiple, simultaneous calls along with the challenge of ensuring proper staffing (through callback) is problematic," language in the firefighter article reads. "The increase in staffing on duty would help ensure that when a citizen calls 911, a properly staffed resource responds immediately."
Hanging over the article is the status of a Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant that the fire department has applied for through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That grant, if awarded, would fund the cost of the eight positions for three years. But it is uncertain whether or not the town will know if the grant has been awarded by town meeting.
As written, the article would secure the funding needed to hire for the eight positions with or without the grant, Newman said. If approved and the grant is received, the funding would be put to use after the grant expires.
"When you need the funding related to those positions, it will fund $925,000 worth of positions," she said.
Mefford Runyon of the select board clarified that approval of the article and the subsequent ballot question does not make the money available, but rather creates room in the tax levy to accommodate the positions.
"We're not really appropriating that money, we're just creating that space," he said.
Newman said last week that with approval at town meeting and the election, the town hopefully could begin hiring for the positions in January. Deering said he's hopeful that the firefighters will be hired and trained to begin work next summer.
Time Is Money
Article 4 on the warrant seeks a debt exclusion to fund an additional $500,000 toward the cost of a new ladder truck. Voters at the annual town meeting in May authorized spending $1.6 million for the new truck in May, but the cost of the truck has since gone up.
Deering said if approved at town meeting and the election, the money will be enough to secure the new truck, which will have a longer ladder to better allow the fire department to reach buildings set further back from town roadways.
Rec Funding Would Add New Position
Staffing issues have also been plaguing the town's recreation department in recent years. If passed, Article 13 would put a third question on the November ballot seeking funding to create the equivalent of "one and a half" full-time positions in the department.
Last year, the town contracted with the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts-Boston for an organizational study looking at the department's issues and needs. One of the center's recommendations included boosting recreational staffing.
"This article is the first step in adopting those recommendations," according to language in the article.
The department currently has a 19-hour part time employee, while the search for a new recreation director is ongoing. Former director Alan Harrison resigned in February after being placed on paid leave in December, while Patricia MacDonald resigned within weeks of starting in the director job this spring.
The $168,000 sought through the article would also provide "funding for facility use and maintenance costs" in the department, according to the article.
Elsewhere On The Warrant...
While a petition seeking to allow Orleans to regulate the use of fertilizers locally is moving its way through the state legislature, Article 24 seeks authorization to submit a similar petition seeking to create a bylaw to reduce the use of pesticides in town.
Similar to the proposed fertilizer bylaw, town officials are pointing to studies that have shown the adverse impacts of pesticide use on water quality, as well as its links to asthma, cancer, developmental issues and liver and kidney damage.
The proposed bylaw "does not prohibit businesses from selling products containing pesticides to anyone," the article's language reads.
Article 6 seeks $200,000 for a series of "economic and environmental initiatives" being pursued by the town.Those include "funding electric vehicle charging stations, hydration stations, solar waste receptacles, and related initiatives...," according to the article.
The cost of installing four new EV stations in town is estimated to be $120,000.
"These costs will likely be offset by a utility company, but the exact amount of the offset versus cost to the town is unknown until the project completes the approval process," according to the warrant.
Article 7 seeks another $25,000 in free cash to fund the creation of a sustainability and energy manager position. The manager would be charged with spearheading green energy initiatives and applying for clean energy grants that can be put toward those projects.
Another $100,000 in water reserve funding is being requested for the town's water treatment plant. Article 8 seeks $25,000 to design a solar project at the plant, while Article 9 seeks $75,000 for facility improvements.
Article 15 seeks $120,000 to update the town's local comprehensive plan, which was last updated in 2006. Article 17 seeks the creation of a special education stabilization fund of the Orleans Elementary School Committee. The fund would be used to cover "unanticipated or unbudgeted costs of special education, out-of-district tuition, and related transportation expenses at the Orleans Elementary School." In concert with that article, Article 18 seeks $52,000 in free cash for the fund.
Articles 26 and 27 seek to expand the scope of work in the second and third phases of sewer work in town. Phase three is still in planning stages, but Article 26 seeks authorization to add 54 properties to the scope of work. Article 27 seeks to retroactively add 41 more properties to be serviced in the area of Meetinghouse Pond. No funding is attached to either article.
Special town meeting will start at 6 p.m. Oct. 16 from the gymnasium at Nauset Regional Middle School.
Email Ryan Bray at firstname.lastname@example.org