TRURO — Late on election night, the “unofficial results” for Truro’s May 9 town balloting showed a perfectly tied vote on the Community Sustainability Package — a bundle of three child-care programs financed by a single Proposition 2½ override article. The measure had passed easily at town meeting on April 25, but it also needed to win a majority at the town election, which is defined in state law as 50 percent of the votes plus one. The 291-to-291 initial vote tally meant the measure had failed.
In small print at the bottom, the “unofficial results” also indicated that three provisional ballots had been cast that day. One of those ballots was later determined to be valid — and when the official results were released two days later, the $703,050 override measure had passed, 292 to 291.
The tie-breaking voter had used an auto-enrollment platform to fix a wrong address, Town Clerk Kaci Fullerton told the Independent afterwards, and wound up not on the voter roll. “There was some funky error, but their vote was able to be counted in the end because we did find that they were a legitimate registered voter,” Fullerton said, adding that “there is no reason why the individual shouldn’t have been on the list.”
The other two provisional ballots did not come from registered voters. “We never turn a voter away,” Fullerton said, “so in the case that they’re not on the voter list, we still have them cast a provisional ballot so we can do that investigation after the fact.”
Fullerton said that provisional ballots are not uncommon, but this one “definitely got a lot more attention” because it pushed the override measure across the finish line.
The three-pronged override measure will provide long-term funding for a child-care voucher program that has operated as a pilot for the last two years using free cash. The vouchers provide up to $7,500 in tuition assistance for eligible children up to four years old.
A preschool program at Truro Central School, which was formerly and impermanently funded by the school choice program, will also now be financed for the long term. The article’s third measure establishes an out-of-school-time program that will restore after-school care that existed before the pandemic while adding child-care services during summer break and school vacations.
The measure had received a sea of supportive pink voting cards at town meeting — so its near-miss at the town election surprised many voters.
“I definitely expected a wider margin at the ballot box based on historical voting patterns and just the general sense from proponents,” said Raphael Richter, who had brought the child-care measures forward as petitioned articles that the select board later “adopted” and packaged into its own override proposal.
“This was a lesson in not being complacent,” Richter said. “Elections are won by turnout.”
Almost 600 voters came to the polls on May 9 — but almost 400 came to town meeting.
“It’s sad to say, but people prefer the anonymity of the voting booth,” said select board member Sue Areson, who made an unsuccessful motion at town meeting to divide the community sustainability measure into separate votes.
“I am not against an out-of-school program,” she told the Independent regarding her motion to divide the article. “I’m not convinced that we need three and a half full-time employees year-round to provide that service.”
The two other Proposition 2½ overrides that passed at town meeting had divergent fates. The Emergency Medical Services provision, which permanently adds $601,122 to the town’s budget to finance more staff in the town’s fire and EMS dept., received nearly unanimous support at town meeting and passed at the ballot box, too, 356 to 223.
But the proposal to create a full-time housing coordinator position, which was to be funded by a $120,150 override, passed at town meeting and then failed at the ballot box.
“I think that sometimes people are reluctant to publicly oppose something that they know their friends or neighbors might be in favor of,” said Kevin Grunwald, chair of the Truro Housing Authority.
Grunwald was an outspoken proponent of the housing coordinator article, which received 242 votes in favor and 338 opposed at the town election.
“I think the impact is going to be pretty significant,” Grunwald said of the article’s defeat. “In order for Truro to move forward in terms of development of affordable housing, we really need to have somebody in place in town administration who’s responsible for this and has the expertise.”
Based on a regional housing strategy report by the Cape Cod Commission, Truro has both the fewest total housing units and the highest ratio of seasonal housing units of the 15 towns on Cape Cod. It also had the highest median sale price for single-family homes on Cape Cod last year — $1,387,500 — with the exception of Provincetown, where the majority of homes are condos, and the median single-family home now sells for over $2 million.
“We’re just talking about one person,” Grunwald said of the housing coordinator job, “but that’s the infrastructure that enables us to provide the services the town needs to provide.”
In Wellfleet, a similar override measure to fund a housing coordinator position also passed at town meeting and then failed at the polls, in that case by only 29 votes (431 in favor, 460 opposed). Weeks before the voting, Truro select board chair Kristen Reed had spoken with Wellfleet select board chair Ryan Curley about the two towns sharing a full-time housing coordinator — an arrangement that Wellfleet turned down, Reed said.
Areson said she could see the proposition resurfacing. “I don’t know this, but I think that Wellfleet rejecting the housing coordinator may have resurrected in people’s minds the possibility that we could spend a little less money and try once again to share the position,” she said.
Had the community sustainability override not passed, the immediate and long-term effects would have been serious, Richter said. “We’re seeing consistent enrollment pressures at the school because of the wraparound services that Provincetown is providing,” he said.
Truro resident Joan Holt was against the override because of its funding source. “I believe that most voters — of all ages — agree that children benefit from day care, preschool, and out-of-school programs,” she wrote in an email to the Independent. “The problem is that Truro voters were asked to fund these as an override that would increase Truro’s tax levy limit in perpetuity.”
Others saw the measure having greater urgency. At town meeting, Truro Central School parent and Family Group board member Mara Glatzel cited a recent after-school-care survey distributed to families of the roughly 100 students who attend TCS. Of the 45 responding households, she said, 71 percent reported a need for after-school programs, and 68 percent said the lack of such programming was affecting parents’ availability for work.
A January report from Cassie Boyd Marsh of Bailey Boyd Associates — a community development firm that helps operate Truro’s voucher program — showed 18 families benefiting from the phase of the program that ended on Feb. 28. Nine of those were town residents, eight were town employees, and one was employed in Truro.
Isadora Medley, who receives a voucher for her daughter Delia’s care, said at town meeting that the program “was part of the consideration that brought her back to this community” from Boston.
“I’m proud of our town for taking these measures so far,” Medley said. “We’re trying so hard to make it work with kids year-round here. It’s a godsend.”