WELLFLEET — Voters at the June 26 annual town meeting must prepare for a 53-article warrant that includes $3.3 million in Proposition 2½ overrides and debt exclusions. If all of the spending articles on the warrant are approved with those overrides and exclusions, the annual tax bill on a property of median value would increase by an estimated $173.
The largest debt exclusion is Article 19, requesting $1.9 million for a wastewater treatment system for a potential 46-unit affordable housing complex at 95 Lawrence Road. The wastewater system for the yet-to-be-designed-or-approved development would reduce nitrogen from effluent more effectively than a traditional Title 5 system and is like the one that was approved for the Truro affordable housing development called the Cloverleaf, said Curt Felix, chair of the comprehensive wastewater management planning committee. By adding the elementary school and the fire and police stations, as well as a small number of homes to that system, it would further reduce nitrogen loading in groundwater, Felix said.
The town meeting begins at 10 a.m., outdoors at the Wellfleet Elementary School playing field, where the last annual meeting was held in September. The annual town election follows on Wednesday, June 30.
Among the technical terms voters will be faced with is the “debt exclusion,” which authorizes borrowing so that the town can levy taxes above the 2.5 percent legal limit, but only for the life of the loan. A Proposition 2½ override, of which there will be just one on the warrant, to hire two more firefighters, permanently raises the levy limit beyond the 2.5 percent cap.
The three wastewater-related debt exclusion questions on the warrant come after 10 years of Wellfleet’s attempting to develop a comprehensive wastewater plan to bring the town into compliance with a court-ordered mandate. Every town on Cape Cod is under this court order, and several have had their plans approved by the state Dept. of Environmental Protection, including Orleans, Provincetown, Falmouth, Chatham, and Harwich, said Andrew Gottlieb, executive director of the Association to Preserve Cape Cod.
Wellfleet’s plan, however, is not approved. State officials say that the town’s plan to use lots of alternative treatment systems is not good enough because it lacks a “plan B,” that is, sewering the town if the alternative systems don’t improve water quality enough.
Gottlieb said Wellfleet voters need to know that, by approving the articles on the warrant, they are not necessarily protecting themselves from further legal action from the Conservation Law Foundation or from having to build a town sewer system anyway.
Gottlieb noted that Felix is enthusiastic about alternative treatments, but “when people are more passionate about the technology than meeting the water quality goal, you’ve lost your way as an advocate,” Gottlieb said.
But, Felix said, each of the wastewater articles on the warrant will reduce nitrogen going into the Wellfleet Harbor watershed.
Article 19 asks for $250,000, which would give anyone who must replace or build a new septic system $12,500 to make that system an enhanced or “innovative alternative” system, which increases nitrogen removal.
Article 20 asks for $50,000 for an engineering and hydrogeological assessment of a permeable reactive barrier along Commercial Street. This technology would use filters to remove nitrogen and other pollutants from groundwater. Commercial Street wraps around Duck Creek, which is among the most impaired water bodies in town. The wastewater committee will seek grants to repay the costs for the system, Felix said.
Wellfleet’s overall plan can “meet the goal with alternatives that will provide a faster approach that’s one-fifth less costly than sewers,” Felix said.
John Cumbler, also a member of the comprehensive wastewater management planning committee, said the alternative systems could work. And the one at 95 Lawrence Road is important, because it provides treatment for an affordable housing development.
But, Cumbler added, the short-term goal of saving money may not solve the problem and could ultimately cost the town even more.
“I don’t think Curt is wrong, but I do think we have to be very careful,” Cumbler said.
Two New Firefighters
If Article 9, asking for $168,000 for two new firefighters, looks familiar, it’s because this is the fourth time that Wellfleet Fire Chief Rich Pauley has asked to increase his staff. Each time voters have approved the appropriations. One firefighter costs the town about $80,000, Pauley said. In the last six years, the fire department’s roster has gone from nine full-time staff to 16 full-time staff. The loss of “call” or part-time firefighters who answer the bell in emergencies has made it necessary to get each shift covered with full-time people, Pauley said.
Only three of the current fire dept. staff live in town — including Pauley — and most others live south of Orleans, the chief said.
Each ambulance run to Cape Cod Hospital occupies a minimum of two staff for three hours, and currently two shifts have only two full-time people, Pauley said. Each shift should really have four people, though five is ideal, Pauley said.
Eastham, which has 4,901 year-round residents compared to Wellfleet’s 3,617, has five per shift, Pauley said. Truro operates with back-up from the nonprofit Lower Cape Ambulance service, which the town pays through a contract. Pauley said he doesn’t think a regional model such as Lower Cape Ambulance is workable, at least not without a serious discussion about how to fairly divide the financial burden.
“Everyone has to bring the exact same resources to the table,” he said.