EASTHAM — The select board has unanimously recommended Article 8 on the June 12 annual town meeting warrant, which would increase the short-term rental excise tax from 4 to 6 percent. According to the draft warrant, the approximately $300,000 of additional revenue generated annually by the increase would be used for community support programs for residents in need.
“The specific programs to be funded by this revenue are yet to be determined but will be modeled after our very successful Family Support Package that provides funding for housing, food security, and day care for Eastham residents,” the article states.
Program ideas under consideration include “affordable and attainable housing assistance; town fee waivers; property tax payment assistance; and creation of an Eastham Community Fund,” the article summary states in part.
While the finance committee also voted 6-0 to support Article 8, committee members advocated for the additional revenue to be used for rental housing.
“I think that the select board feels very strongly that this additional revenue should be used for housing — not for affordable housing with a capital A, but for workforce housing and for people that are already living here and struggling to stay,” Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe told the finance committee at its April 14 meeting. “They have a priority to keep families and children here and that is part of what they believe is their strategic plan and they want to do that by assisting them to purchase homes.”
Beebe noted that there were already subsidies and other programs available for rental assistance.
“There’s almost nothing in the town to rent,” replied finance committee member Steve Cole, who is also a board member and treasurer of the Community Development Partnership. “To really change the situation, the housing production plan makes rental housing a priority, and I think it’s building we’re talking about.”
At Beebe’s suggestion, Cole brought his concerns to the select board before the final warrant was printed.
“I urge the board to include affordable and workforce rental housing as an important use for the new revenue,” Cole wrote in an April 21 email to the select board.
Cole’s email addressed the board’s idea to help families with down payments, arguing that financial assistance would “benefit only a handful of families. And this assumes that the anticipated high carrying charges on homes in Eastham could be met by these families.”
Rather than using the short-term rental revenue as grants or loans to individuals, Cole suggested using the funds for payment on debt service for town borrowing. “The loan proceeds could result in significant support for partnerships with interested developers,” he wrote.
Leases for Solar Projects
The select board at its May 3 meeting also recommended Article 10, which seeks authorization for long-term leases with developers for potential solar projects at the town hall campus, the DPW facility and transfer station, and the District G wellhouse site. Board member Jared Collins, while voting to recommend the article, questioned whether the wellhouse site should be included.
“The more I hear back from people and the more I think about and research this myself, the less I’m liking the idea of doing it at the wellhouse,” said Collins. “It appears to me, with this article, that it’s confining it to those three sites. I would like to take a longer, harder look at where we could do this.”
He suggested expanding the areas covered at the town hall campus, DPW, and transfer station as a better alternative to clearcutting open space at the wellsite.
“We put town water in for a reason, because of the transfer station and the dump,” said Collins. “We didn’t know what we were dumping into that landfill in previous decades or what would happen. In that same vein, we don’t know what’s going to leach out of these solar panels over the coming decades right next to the wellhouse.”
Assistant Town Administrator Rich Bienvenue assured him that developers submitting proposals would need to comply with permitting requirements for a water protection district, including those of the Mass. Dept. of Energy Resources and Dept. of Environmental Protection.
The board would be involved in the RFP process, and would have the “ability to reject any and all proposals” said Bienvenue. “Nothing says you have to do anything.”
Town meeting voters will have a similar ability to choose which sites to approve, as the locations are identified separately in the article. “So, if somebody at town meeting wants to hold one piece of it aside, they have the ability to do that,” said Bienvenue.
Water Skiing Rules
Select board member Art Autorino voted against recommending article 13A, which would amend the freshwater boating bylaws. One change would be in the start time for water skiing on Great Pond, from 7 to 10 a.m.
“I am still not comfortable changing those hours without the data relative to what’s really happening out there,” said Autorino. He suggested decisions on changes at the pond be delayed until the effectiveness of improved signage and increased enforcement could be measured.
The less controversial Article 13B, requesting approval to amend the saltwater boating bylaws to create no wake zones, received unanimous support from the board.
The town’s 2022 operating budget of $32,807,105 (Article 2) represents a 4.49-percent increase over 2021. The budget is composed of $9,651,071 in salaries, $18,173,770 in other expenses, and $4,982,264 in debt service. Those three components represent 7.01-, 2.48-, and 7.28-percent increases over 2021, respectively.
The 2022 capital budget of $1,576,500 (Article 3A, B, C, and D) includes a $150,000 request from the public works department for a Rock Harbor response boat. Two-thirds majority votes would be needed to authorize lease purchase articles (3C and 3D) to acquire a Quint fire engine-ladder truck through a 10-year financing agreement at $114,766 per year and two ambulances under five-year leases with annual payments of $118,420.