EASTHAM — This year’s annual town meeting will be outdoors again, on the Nauset Regional High School athletic field at 100 Cable Road. The meeting is this Saturday, May 6 at 10 a.m., and although the weather forecast is good, Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe is advising voters to “dress in layers” to be ready for spring weather.
A lot is packed into only nine articles, which nearly all have subheadings. The top-line number for the town’s budget this year is $38 million. There are two debt exclusions and an override, and there is also an eight-part zoning bylaw article (see related story).
The debt exclusions and override each require special voter authorization to exceed the state’s Proposition 2½ limit on property tax increases. A two-thirds vote is required to pass a debt exclusion at town meeting, while only a simple majority is required to pass a permanent override — but both overrides and debt exclusions require a second approval from voters at the May 16 election to take effect.
Debt exclusions temporarily increase property tax rates, while overrides do so permanently.
The priciest of the three measures is a $5.9-million debt exclusion for the design and engineering of a wastewater system. While voters must authorize it, this measure, Article 3D, shouldn’t actually affect property tax bills, according to the select board and finance committee. Instead, the debt would be paid over five years with the town’s short-term rental tax revenue, which currently yields over $1 million per year.
The other debt exclusion appears in Article 3C: $1.8 million to cover the cost of dredging sediment from Rock Harbor, done in collaboration with Orleans about every 10 years.
The override is for $710,000 and is part of the town’s proposed operating budget of $38 million. It is broken into two pieces: $550,000 in Article 2C to fund the town’s recently negotiated employee contracts and the remaining $160,000 is in Article 2A, to fund increased educational costs due to a special needs placement, additional students attending Cape Cod Regional Technical High School, and students leaving the district for charter schools.
If the override doesn’t pass, officials would have to reduce the town’s operating budget by $710,000.
The override, the rest of the operating budget, and new school and water project debt service would combine to increase the town’s property tax rate by just over 10 percent on a median-assessed property, according to the finance committee’s report in the warrant.
The select board’s report estimated that increase as being about $461 on a $660,000 property.
Wastewater Gets Real
Plans for a wastewater treatment system have been a top priority in Eastham going back to 2008.
“We have been doing all kinds of smaller work leading up to this,” Beebe said at a pre-town meeting forum on April 24. “Most of it has been research on what exactly the impairment of the water bodies is and how best to address it.”
The town has paid two sets of consultants to look at local needs. Officials are now ready to submit a formal wastewater management plan to the state Dept. of Environmental Protection.
The May 6 town meeting will be asked to take the next step. “The article basically continues the process and actually designs a small wastewater system for a portion of the town in the Salt Pond watershed,” Beebe said. “It also provides a permanent permeable reactive barrier that will help block nitrogen from going into Salt Pond.”
The money will also fund continued pond remediation and stormwater upgrades to Salt Pond, Minister’s-Schoolhouse Pond, and Hemenway and Collins Landings.
Beebe said the time is right for taking this major water management step. “There are all kinds of monies available right now from the state, county, and federal government to help us pay for these things,” she said. “I’m afraid if we wait, those sources of revenue will dry up.”
Some of those sources include interest-free loans from the state revolving fund and money from the Cape and Islands water protection fund, which will cover 15 percent of the capital costs. The federal Dept. of Agriculture has also committed to help with stormwater management costs.
The best reason to move forward, Beebe said, may be that “the Mass. DEP has proposed new regulations that would require towns without wastewater management plans to require every resident in a nitrogen-sensitive area to upgrade to an innovative/alternative septic system.” Septic upgrades of that kind are expensive: around $30,000 for an average homeowner.
Finance Director Rich Bienvenue told the pre-town meeting forum that even though the debt will be paid with short-term rental tax revenue, securing voter authorization for a temporary tax increase for the wastewater management work provides a “backstop” should interest rates go up and short-term rental revenue fail to fully cover the payment. “We’re not anticipating that,” he added.
Among the requests for Community Preservation Act funding this year are $400,000 for the Eastham Affordable Housing Trust, a $100,000 contribution to a 14-unit affordable housing project in Orleans, $680,000 for exterior repairs to the historic town hall, and $100,000 toward the purchase of an acre of land at 100 Cole Road. The Eastham Conservation Foundation has already signed an agreement with the owner to pay $350,000 for the property.
Finally, town officials oppose Article 9 — a petitioned article for a ban on the use of plastic takeout containers and utensils by food establishments. In a section signed “town summary,” officials wrote that “the town would like to be able to support this ban on plastics, but can’t in its current form. … With more information in general and more discussions with our business community, we may be able to bring the article back in 2024.”
There will be 40 handicapped parking spaces and 300 other spaces at the Nauset athletic field, Beebe said, and there will be golf carts shuttling people who need it from the lot onto the field.
If it rains on Saturday, the moderator will decide that morning whether to move town meeting to later in the day, or shift it to Sunday, May 7, at the same time and location.