WELLFLEET — Voters in Wellfleet will have three candidates to choose from at the special election on Tuesday, June 21 to fill the select board seat of Helen Miranda Wilson, who retired one year into her fourth term on the board.
The Independent asked candidates Jude Ahern, Kathleen Bacon, and Tim Sayre for their positions on three issues: the Proposition 2½ overrides and debt exclusion that are also on the ballot; the proposed town purchase of Maurice’s Campground; and the increase in the residential tax exemption from 20 to 25 percent, which, according to select board chair Ryan Curley, shifts much of the cost of the override away from year-round residents.
At town meeting on June 11, voters approved four overrides totaling $1.59 million, which will permanently add $546 a year to the tax bill on a property of median assessed value, according to Curley.
Bacon and Sayre said they favored the overrides, while Ahern’s opinion is summed up by her campaign sign: “Vote No on Everything.”
She said she voted no on the budget at town meeting and added, “I’m going to vote no at the ballot. I think we need oversight, and we need to make sure that what caused us to be in that situation does not happen again.”
“That situation” is the financial mismanagement that has kept two interim accountants busy for more than a year and still unable to close the books for fiscal 2020 and 2021. Ahern said she wonders if others will express their skepticism at the ballot box. The overrides need both town meeting approval and a simple majority at the election.
Bacon, who is running as a write-in candidate, is the only one who has served on the board before — from 2017 to 2020. She said the overrides are necessary to fund government operations.
“The damage is done, and the community has come out of it stronger,” Bacon said. “We are much more aware about the intricacies of running the town. I am fully confident when the accountants finish up they will give us a blueprint of what we need to do for the next five years.”
In Bacon’s view, the accounting problems illustrate how threadbare Wellfleet’s budget has been.
Sayre agreed. “They should have done this a long time ago,” he said. “They were robbing Peter to pay Paul. As much as I don’t want to pay more taxes, it needed to happen. This town has zero dollars.”
When the state finally does certify the town’s free cash account, which has not happened since 2019, the money should be put in reserve to maintain the town’s AAA bond rating, Sayre said.
Sayre, 66, said the town should use revenue from the short-term rental tax to pay for Maurice’s Campground. The town will vote in the fall on buying the 21.25-acre property in South Wellfleet for $6.5 million. The $855,000 in annual rental tax revenue would pay off the purchase price, with interest, in 10 years without costing taxpayers anything, Sayre said.
Bacon said using the campground to provide workforce and affordable housing “is a game changer.” But, she added, “I would like to co-buy it with the town of Eastham. We should be approaching the housing thing on a much more regional basis. The housing issue is hurting the Lower Cape in general, and we need to be collaborative with the towns on either side of us.”
Ahern said, “I am open-minded, but it is a lot of money. I have confidence that there are a lot of smart people looking into it, but we have to be careful, because Wellfleet has not shown that we are capable of managing anything.”
Residential Tax Exemption
The select board voted last fall to raise the residential tax exemption from 20 to 25 percent for the next fiscal year. Bacon said those domiciled in Wellfleet deserve a break, and it makes sense to shift the burden of a tax increase to second-home owners. She said she was an early proponent of the residential tax exemption.
Ahern favors the tax exemption concept but opposed the select board’s move to raise it from 20 to 25 percent. The extra 5 percent, she said, “is just a way to push through these tax increases.” She added, however, that the second-home owners she has talked to from the window she has turned into her “headquarters” in the old Newsdealer building on Main Street do not seem to object to it.
Sayre, who moved to a family house in Wellfleet from Florida two years ago, said he would not mind the tax exemption rising to 30 percent. Towns may go as high as 35 percent under state law.
Sayre said shifting the tax burden makes sense: “It was the right thing to do.”