The Marion Board of Selectmen approved the FY21 budget to be carried to the Monday, June 22, town meeting, and gave Recreation Director Jody Dickerson a platform to explain the town’s cancellation of its summer programs.
According to Town Administrator Jay McGrail, the town’s operating budget for FY21 includes contractually obligated increases affecting only two of approximately 30 line items. Those are the only increases.
“We had a large deficit at the beginning of the discussion and we really wanted to get to black ink,” McGrail told the selectmen in their May 26, remote-access meeting.
He said that Assistant Town Administrator Judy Mooney, together with Becky Tilden, DPW Director David Willett and assistant Meghan Davis, were able to tackle the budget in house. “The hard part,” he said, “is today, putting it in action.”
“I think we’ve done the best we can to do what’s fiscally prudent for the Town of Marion and to keep our projects the lowest. I want to commend my team. … Every draft they put together required a ton of legwork. … Given the circumstances, I believe we have the best plan we possibly can.”
In her presentation, Mooney told the selectmen that Marion will see some water increases because of the debt. “The debt is driving the force,” she said.
Selectman John Waterman said he would like to see a five-year progression of the percentage of the overall budget dedicated to debt service. Mooney said that can be provided, but of more immediate relevance to the budget are revenues.
Mooney explained that the increase in FY20 water usage from $1,869,000 to $2,071,926 indicates a difference of approximately $202,000 that could grow to $300,000 if the water usage is not as high in FY21.
Mooney said FY21 will see budget increases for full-time salaries, three line-item increases, district assessments, engineering, and a water assessment.
She also indicated that the town has only done short-term borrowing for the Route 6 project. “Once we start long-term borrowing it, you’re going to see the principle go up,” she said.
In preparing the sewer budget, Mooney said she pulled out the costs of addressing infiltration and inflow to the town’s sewer system and put it in an article for the town-meeting warrant. The long-term effect, she said, will be in FY22’s budget.
“We’re still trying to meet our 2020 revenues on the sewer end. Water last time I looked was short only $60,000,” she said.
The average household in Marion is 2.5 people so, while water’s quarterly rate increase is proposed to be $7.12 or $28 annually, water/sewer in the same household is $64.38 quarterly or $257 annually.
Waterman noted that water usage drives sewer revenues, but the town puts water restructions in place. “We kind of tie one arm behind our back,” he said.
Waterman said that Marion should have been doing a little every year but is now playing a painful game of catch-up.
“It’s unfortunate but the numbers are there. I just cringe when I see these numbers, but … as far as I’m concerned, there’s not a lot we can do about it,” said Chairperson Randy Parker.
Waterman thought it opportune to turn the problem into a cautionary tale where it concerns the town’s other financial challenges and long-term outlook.
“The general message needs to be we really got behind in upgrading our water infrastructure,” he said. “If we put it off, the cost is just going to get worse. On the sewer, we have seen these increases coming … it hasn’t come as fast as we thought becuase of the delays in construction in the waste-treatment. … I think by year two, we’ll be seeing. We’ve seen this coming and we’ve talked about it for two years.”
Hills echoed the sentiment: “We don’t have much choice, we just haven’t been doing things we should have been doing. Sewer, we can’t get around this.”
It is hoped that the condominium development proposed by Henry DeJesus will produce more taxpayers to share the load of sewer costs and thereby drive down or at least stabilize the average cost per household in the town.
In the face of state-issued regulations including the wearing of masks at all times, 6 foot social distancing and no organized sports, the town chose to cancel Its 2020 summer recreations programs.
“This was not an easy decision for us,” said Recreation Director Jody Dickerson, who like many originally thought COVID-19 might last a few weeks or a couple of months. “As time went on we knew this was going to go on for a while. We really didn’t get the guidance from the state that I was hoping for to move forward.”
Dickerson reached out to Tabor Academy and other camps on Cape Cod and the south shore only to find that the majority were either cancelling for the season or waiting for the very last moment. Opening up on the state’s terms, he said, “would not resemble any of our summer programs.”
Dickerson did say Marion will keep the door open if something should change and, under more favorable circumstances, consider holding the golf camp or sailing or art programs.
“It’s with a horrible feeling, we have a lot of kids that work for us … far reaching implications,” said McGrail, who said he pulled his own children out of summer camp in his town of residence. “Due to the regulations it’s not a fun program for the kids, not a good way to spend your summer. I just don’t ever see them going back for the second day.
With the state’s cap on gatherings still set at a maximum of 10, the cost of achieving the prescribed teacher-student ratio would be prohibitive.
Parker asked about kayaking. Dickerson pointed to the challenge of shared equipment. “Even tennis, basketball, groups of 10 so triple or quadruple the equipment we need and then it’s constantly clean, clean, clean,” he said.
Facilities at the beach and on all school district campuses remain closed, further hampering any effort by the town to reopen for recreational activities.
Before the meeting had ended, building contractor Sherman Briggs voiced some concerns about several matters including safety at Point Road where he lives and Creek Road. “Somebody’s going to get killed over there. Those bumps are so dangerous. I hope somebody listens,” he said. “The road is falling apart, the sink holes are falling. The (Infiltration and Inflow) is what’s destroying the road. … There isn’t (any other) road that’s been paved three times since 1970 other than maybe Converse Road. It’s time to capitalize on these studies and not let them sit on the shelf.”
Barring an emergency, the next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen will be held on Tuesday, June 2.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Mick Colageo