DPW & Fire Equipment Headed to the Ballot
During its second night of deliberations, Falmouth Town Meeting members spoke with a clear and united voice on most issues. They said "no" to rezoning, "yes" to maintaining the town's roads, bridges, and sidewalks, and shouted a resounding "yes" to improving and maintaining the equipment and readiness of the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department. On items of less consequence, they were not so sure.
A DPW proposal for $3.2 million and a Fire Department proposal for $1,850,000 were both approved by wide margins on a voice vote, easily satisfiying the required 2/3 to claim a place on the May 20 ballot.
When presenting the DPW capital program and its recommendation, the Finance Committee suggested a single year capital exclusion, while the Board of Selectmen offered a three year plan. Each would have a similar impact on the tax rate, with the Selectmen's plan offering a guarantee of three years of improvements while the FinCom plan would require the DPW to return to Town Meeting and the ballot every year.
After some debate, which included a detailed discussion and endorsement of the FinCom approach by former Town Administrator Peter Boyer, Town Meeting members chose the three-year option. The average homeowner will see taxes increase by roughly $11 per year under this plan, which will address road and bridge maintenance, heavy equipment purchases, and improvements to the town's waste management facility, all of which have been deferred in recent years due to to tight funding. DPW Director Ray Jack, still smarting from the previous night's rejection of his department's reorganization which was a priority of the Board of Selectmen for five years, then discared weeks ago, minced no words in his presentation supporting the capital program. "We don't have the money for basic maintenance," warned the department veteran, who oversaw water and sewer activities for the Town before becoming Director a little over a year ago. "The water main in front of Town Hall is from 1898. I guess we'll have to hope it lasts another 100 years," he quipped. Jack explained through photos and graphics how some roads could be failing within years from a lack maintenance.
Fire Chief Paul Brodeur did not have as tough a time. "I'm not frustrated like Ray Jack," said the veteran Chief, who offered sound effects and anecdotes to entertain and win over Town Meeting Members. In explaining technology for proposed defribilators which can detect an arterial blockage, Brodeur explaind that "eight years ago if you had this (form of blockage), you'd wind up at Chapman Cole & Gleason. Today, we'll take you to the jewel on the hill (Falmouth Hospital) for treatment." Voters endorsed the FinCom and Selectmen's plan to finance this major equipment upgrade, which will also put a 5th ambulance in service, replace two fire engines which are over 20 years old, and replace an outdated brush breaker. The proposition 2 1/2 debt exclusion will last 10 years.
The total cost for a homeowner with a $500,000 home for both initiatives will be approximately $57 in additional property taxes for the first year, with amounts declining annually until the debt is paid.
Before the entertainment began with the capital presentations, Town Meeting Members deliberated on and disposed of the fifteen article Speacial Town Meeting Warrant. Town Meeting Members:
- Rejected a proposal from the decades-old West Falmouth Market to expand the business zoning on their lot to allow for reconfigured parking as part of a renovation plan. Opponents were concerned with the amount of traffic generated with a newly expanded market and feared encroachment on residential properties in the area if other business owners with split-zoned lots attempted the same.
- Rejected a proposal from the CLSV Limited Partnership, developers of the Ballymeade subdivision, to create a new "B4" zone in Falmouth which would allow for retail space as well as senior care retirement facilities, the latter of which has been a stated objective of the Planning Board for some time. CLSV attorney Mark Gildea of Mashpee was unable to motivate Town Meeting Members to support the B4 proposal despite the fact that a 175 unit 40B project is winding its way through the state approval process.
- Debated for nearly an hour on a request for $5,000 to benefit the Town of Barnstable "In From the Streets" program. This initiative, managed jointly by town officials and volunteers works to provide temporary housing for people whose other option may be sleeping on the streets. Despite an objection then offer from Town Meeting Member and Selectman candidate Brent Putman to personally write a check for the requested amount, Town Meeting approved the request. It seems that every year, one article for a small amount of money gobbles up vast amounts of time. This was it.
- Approved a lease of up to 20 years for the cultivation of town-owned cranberry bogs. As the vote concluded with minimal discussion and no opposition, Town Meeting Members from all sides of this near-legendary conflict applauded. "I never thought I'd see the day," beamed Town Moderator David Vieira, surely encapsulating the sentiment of many who have followed this volatile and contentious issue for nearly 10 years. Indeed, it appears that an end to the cranberry wars is upon us.
Article 29, the request for nearly $19 million in additional funds to complete construction of the Falmouth High School, will be first on the agenda when Town Meeting reconvenes tonight at 7.