WELLFLEET — The town’s budgeting process this year has been anything but easy, says Town Administrator Rich Waldo.
“With not having support from a permanent town accountant and assistant town accountant, having to manage the unresolved financial issues involving free cash certification as well as collective bargaining with five separate unions,” Waldo said at the Feb. 28 select board meeting, “to say the least it has been challenging.”
The town warrant could be challenging, too, at the annual town meeting on April 29. The budget currently contains seven permanent Proposition 2½ tax levy overrides and 13 debt exclusion requests.
The general operating override is for $728,617, and six additional override articles total $756,964, for a total of $1,485,581 in permanent upward adjustments to the total tax levy.
And $3 million of the $4.5-million capital budget would be funded through 13 debt- or capital-exclusion requests, which are added to the tax levy to fund specific projects, usually for 20 or 30 years.
Both tax levy overrides and debt- and capital-exclusions require a two-thirds vote of town meeting and a subsequent majority vote at the annual town election — so despite their differences, they are often referred to collectively as Proposition 2½ overrides.
In total, the annual town meeting warrant will have more than $4 million in override requests.
The Dept. of Revenue’s recent financial management review states that Wellfleet’s “growing dependence on overrides, as well as debt exclusions for capital purchases, is a cause for financial concern.”
It noted that taxpayers have approved 15 of 19 override requests in the last 12 years. State officials told the select board that this reliance on overrides could become financially risky if voters become unwilling to support them.
“It’s not totally unexpected to see this,” Waldo said during the select board meeting. “We’ve been backlogged quite a bit. A lot of things haven’t moved forward because of the financial situation we are in, so we have a lot of queuing on projects.”
Among the 13 debt exclusions, the largest is $850,000 for a water main extension from Eastham into Maurice’s Campground. The town will also be requesting $150,000 for wastewater system design and construction at Maurice’s, where there are currently 35 cesspools.
The town is also seeking $275,000 for its water meter replacement program. The Dept. of Public Works will request $350,000 for the fire station’s garage door replacement and $350,000 for upgrades to the restrooms at Newcomb Hollow Beach.
The Health and Conservation Dept. will ask for $250,000 for wastewater planning and permitting and $200,000 for the “innovative and alternative” septic system subsidy program, which awards up to $12,500 for property owners in Wellfleet to upgrade their septic systems to the best available technology.
The marina is also requesting $200,000 for its master plan.
Smaller asks will include a building addition feasibility study for the Council on Aging, equipment replacement and maintenance dredging for the marina, equipment additions for the DPW, and American with Disabilities Act improvements at the elementary school.
There are six financial articles that ask voters for a permanent increase to the town’s tax levy.
The creation of a new staff position — housing specialist and community preservation committee coordinator — will require a $115,000 override vote.
Mary Rogers is retiring from her job as CPC coordinator in June. Wellfleet is currently the only town on the Cape without a housing coordinator or planner, according to a letter sent to Waldo by housing authority member Richard Ciotti.
“This would obviously fill a longstanding gap,” said affordable housing trust member Gary Sorkin at the trust’s Feb. 27 meeting.
A wastewater and water superintendent position will also go to voters for approval. The new role will cost $145,000, including salary and benefits, and will oversee the expansion of both water and wastewater systems and the Targeted Watershed Management Plan currently under review by the Dept. of Environmental Protection.
The fire dept. is seeking approval for two new staff members for a total of $206,964, including salaries, benefits, training, and uniforms. Chief Richard Pauley noted that the additional personnel would mean that the department would have five staff members in each of its three subdivisions: firefighting, EMT, and paramedic duties.
An extension of the preschool voucher program to children under age three and to the children of town employees would cost $175,000. The current voucher program subsidizes tuition of up to $7,000 for the three- and four-year-old children of Wellfleet residents — but not of town staff.
“I really support this,” said select board Vice Chair Michael DeVasto at the board’s March 9 meeting. “It’s a difficult time to do it with all the overrides, but I think we need to do it.”
Chair Ryan Curley noted that the program would make the town more attractive to employees at a time when Wellfleet is struggling to attract and retain personnel.
Town residents will vote on $100,500 for a school meals program that would permanently provide free breakfast and lunch for all Wellfleet students at the elementary school and Nauset Regional middle and high schools regardless of income.
Students are currently receiving free meals from the schools funded by Gov. Charlie Baker’s one-year extension of a pandemic-era federal free school lunch program. That extension is set to expire in June. State legislators are also considering bills that would make free school lunch permanent statewide, however, which would eliminate Wellfleet’s need to subsidize the meals if they were to pass.
Finally, a change to the stipends for select board members — from $2,500 for each member to $5,000 per member and $7,000 for the chair — will go to the voters as a $14,500 override.
Community Preservation Grants
Community preservation grants come from a separate pot of money than the town’s regular budget and must be used for either housing, historical preservation, or open space. The largest grant this year is for housing — $1 million for the Juniper Hill project at 95 Lawrence Road, where the nonprofit Community Development Partnership and Preservation of Affordable Housing are building 46 units.
Another $100,000 would go to the town’s down payment assistance program, and $20,000 would become Wellfleet’s contribution to the 62-unit affordable housing project at the old Cape Cod Five building in Orleans.
Rounding out the community preservation grants are $32,760 for blue “mobility mats” at four beaches; $63,843 for a pavilion-style cover for the bandstand at the Wellfleet marina; and a $150,000 transfer of community preservation funds into a new open space fund, which would be easier for the open space committee to access during the year (with the approval of the conservation commission and select board) for smaller projects such as removal of invasive plants, securing easements, and installing benches.