Dennis voters again give green light for de-regionalization

Voters tackle de-regionalization, solar power and Melpet repairs Tuesday night

By Gerald Rogovin

J ust 36 days ago, in a Special Town Meeting that conveyed to some observers frustration and anger, Dennis residents sent what Selectman Wayne Bergeron described as a "strong message" to its Yarmouth partners in the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District.

By a vote of 111-100, the October 11 meeting authorized Dennis Selectmen to take whatever action necessary under the Regional Agreement to complete the process of withdrawing grades K-8 from the regional school district.

At last night's meeting at the Nathaniel H. Wixon Middle School, voters were again asked to rule on the matter.  Residents voted 144-90 on petition Article 12 which asked voters to "rescind the vote made on Article 2 of the Special Town Meeting held on Tuesday, October 11, 2011".  Last night's voters stuck with the earlier decided upon plan which called for Dennis Selectmen to begin the process of researching a K-8 withdrawal from the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School District. 

Discussion prior to the vote was just as lengthy and contentious as it was in October. But the speakers seemed to be more moderate last night. Jim Plath, Finance Committee chairman, a minority in the committee's vote to deny recommendation of Article 12, said, "It's time to stop this kick ball game between the towns. We should continue to negotiate a financial solution to the question." He and others cited potential costs ranging beyond $1.8 million for Dennis to have its own K-8 program.

Dennis-Yarmouth School Committee member Jim Dykeman called for the vote reversal. He said that "from the standpoint of cost, this will require an override for Dennis."

Speakers at both the October and November meetings expressed their frustration with the change in the Chapter 70 of the General Laws funding process by Yarmouth Town Meeting. That change allocated town expenses to be determined by a state aggregate funding formula, as opposed to the Regional Agreement. In the latter, each town's fiscal responsibility is based on the number of students it has in the school district.

The new state formula initially favored Yarmouth, and cost Dennis taxpayers an additional $2.2 million over the district formula. Today Dennis is favored by the formula. But it makes Yarmouth's funding of its district assessment more difficult. According to Bergeron, in the next five years, Yarmouth will face an increased assessment of $2.5 million.

A unanimous vote gave the town the go-ahead to enter into a lease and power purchase agreement with American Capital Energy for up to 20 years to build and operate a net-metered solar voltaic facility. It will be built on 30 acres of capped landfill on Theophilus F. Smith Road. Bergeron said that the town can save as much as $400,000 a year in electricity once operations begin, which is expected in 12 months after construction begins.

Because the town does not need all the power the solar field is expected to produce, some of it will be sold to the Water and Regional School Districts, adding more revenue to the town's treasury.

Funding to upgrade the barn at Melpet Farm and repair its roof and electrical elements was approved for up to $50,500. Paired with that, a separate article that will establish a Melpet Farm Stable Operations Improvement Fund was voted. The two votes set up the long-awaited development of affordable rental housing on the Route 134 property. A grant of $470,000 was voted to begin work on the 10-year-long effort. It will include 27 units with 52 bedrooms when completed.

Requests to spend $685,000 in Community Preservation projects were approved by a large margin. They will continue digital archiving of historical documents and artifacts; restore a historic fence at the South Dennis Congregational Church cemetery that may be the last of its type on the Cape; and buy a pocket park property in Dennisport Village that is expected to enhance its appearance.

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