The Tale of Two Town Meetings

There was no question as to the presence of a quorum for Marion’s Monday, May 14 Annual Town Meeting, but Tuesday’s ATM 2.0 was a relative trickle compared to the crowd that cascaded into the Sippican School multi-purpose room the previous night.

Monday’s highlight was indeed Article 14, the nearly $7.9 million Town House renovation project (see the article titled “Voters Reject Town House Renovation Article”), but there was plenty of discussion on other articles, especially if they pertained to the wastewater treatment conundrum.

Article 15 was for $2,500,000 for wastewater treatment plant improvements, including a new impermeable liner for sludge lagoon No. 1, drainage of the lagoon, removal and disposal of the settlement material, re-grading and repair, and the improvement of pumping capacity to the lagoon.

Discussion was robust and reminiscent of past town meetings that consistently featured wastewater articles, and there are few things more contentious to Marion Town Meeting voters than sewer and water rates.

The Town faces a December 1, 2019 completion date for certain remediation actions mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Town’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems permit (NPDES).

Some residents wondered why, if the cost was to come from sewer ratepayers, was the entire town voting on the matter, a question asked in town meetings past.

“Because it’s a requirement of the law,” said Town Administrator Paul Dawson, explaining that town meeting voters years ago adopted the “enterprise accounting” system, which means “…Sewer funds sewer, water funds water, and taxes fund the general budget,” said Dawson.

But water and sewer rates are “through the roof,” residents complained, and when asked how much rates would be going up next year, Finance Director Judith Mooney said at least 3 to 10 percent. “It all depends on how we structure the base, look at base charges, and the three tiers,” said Mooney. The increase for the average single-person home would be about $28.64 and as high as $214 for a family of five, Mooney said.

Board of Selectmen candidate (and consistent voice on the town meeting floor) Joseph Zora recalled last year’s article to fund a study of sewer connection viability to Aucoot Cove that was rejected by voters, but was undergone anyway through grant funding from the Buzzards Bay Coalition.

“Right now, the cheapest option they have is $6.8 million,” said Zora. And now the BBC is suing the Town, Zora said. Thus began his first memorable diatribe of the evening.

Town Moderator Brad Gordon interrupted Zora and granted him one last minute to opine, which didn’t please Zora one bit. After exceeding that minute, Gordon told Zora, “Mr. Zora, if you could please take your seat.”

“If this article is not approved,” Dawson said, “…the Town will be in violation of its [NPDES permit].” If that happens, he said, he would anticipate daily fines that could total $35,000 per day.

Dawson said future costs are difficult to predict, but it could top an additional $7 million over time.

Resident Lee Vulgaris reluctantly suggested adopting the article, adding, “Every time that we’ve put something off, it has cost us more and more money down the road.”

Voters raised their orange voter cards, which indicated a visible two-thirds majority, but Gordon called for a hand count nonetheless. The count was in favor, 206-20.

Voters did approve the Town’s $22,877,298 operating budget, up 4.18% from fiscal year 2018 (supplemented by transfers, indirect costs, and free cash) with $21,417,958 to be raised and appropriated. Three items were held for question. Line item 151 (Legal Expenses) was questioned by Zora who asked about the prior year’s spending on legal defense against the Buzzards Bay Coalition ($341,728 to date). Line item 301 (town’s assessment towards Upper Cape Tech Operations) was held with one resident asking why. The answer was that there was an increase in Marion students, up from 18 to 23. Line item 420 (Public Works) was questioned, with one resident asking if funds to reopen the leaf dump were included. Dawson clarified that the transfer station is under the Carver, Marion, Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District and not the DPW.

Other articles that passed on Monday: Article 1 to set the annual salaries for the following elected officials – Board of Selectmen $4,902, Board of Assessors $4,839, Board of Health $1,866, Town Clerk for $19,493, Town Moderator for $245 for annual town meeting and $81 for special town meeting; Article 3 to appropriate $2,123,021 to operate the Water Enterprise Fund; Article 4 to appropriate $3,069,526 to the Sewer Enterprise Fund; Article 5 for $25,000 for revaluation of real and personal property by the Board of Assessors; Article 6 for $120,000 to fund accrued benefits for retiring employees; Article 7 for $240,000 for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) with some discussion; Article 8 for $50,000 to the Stabilization Fund; Article 9 to appropriate $75,000 to the Capital Improvement Projects Stabilization Fund; Article 10 for $75,000 to the School Department Stabilization Fund; Article 11 for $38,000 for a new police cruiser; Article 13 for $115,000 to fund the engineering and design for the Mill Street water main replacement to be transferred from the Water Enterprise retained earnings.

During the Special Town Meeting, Article S1 passed for the transfer of $150,000 to supplement the FY18 snow and ice removal. Article S2 passed, with some discussion, for the appropriation of $817,105 for 2,700 feet of 12-inch water main on County Road from Point Road to Blackmore Pond Road including engineering costs. Article S3 passed, which will supplement Article S2 with the authorization to borrow the money for that capital project.

Onto Tuesday, the main event was by far the Sippican Historical Society’s proposed “Demolition Delay” Bylaw, Article 35, which failed to pass after a lengthy discussion.

Many perceived flaws in the language that appeared to grant too much authority to the Historic Commission and create more red tape for residents of older homes affected by a bylaw.

The Planning Board supported the article, Chairman Eileen Marum stated, but two-thirds of the voters present ultimately did not.

“This bylaw buys time to seek alternative methods that might save these places,” said Historical Society President Frank McNamee. “It’s the charm of these [historical structures] that have drawn people to the Town of Marion…”

Christine Winters wondered about homeowners facing financial hardships a result of the bylaw that proposed a delay period of up to one year before a home 75 years or older could be torn down, “…and limiting the detrimental effect of demolition on the character of the town,” as the article stated.

The Historical Commission would assess possible historic elements to the house and if the commission deemed the structure “significant,” the property owner would have to either find someone to purchase the house for preservation, or demonstrate that during the course of a year the owner attempted “reasonable” efforts to find a purchaser to preserve the house. Furthermore, the enforcement section of the bylaw would impose a two-year moratorium on building permits for that property after a demolition, and section 5.4 would have authorized the commission to “institute any and all actions proceedings, in law or equity … to obtain compliance…”

John Howard, who is on the Board of Health and owns a 330-year-old house, said he opposed the article because someone struggling to remain in the house might be at a disadvantage. And what if somebody got sick, he asked.

“This is not a friendly article,” Howard said.

Cynthia Callow who sits on the Conservation Commission concurred.

“Has [the Historical Society] ever considered what it costs for us to maintain the houses that we live in?” Callow asked, who herself lives in a historical building and sees neighbors dealing with that issue.

Judith Rosbe of the Society said she thinks the commission would consider all reasonable angles and not act as a “Gestapo.”

But most voters thought the article went too far and was unfair to property owners, and even went as far as to call it unnecessary added bureaucracy. One resident pointed out, “People own these properties. They’re not just historical sites; they’re their homes,” and people applauded.

“The intent of this is honorable,” said Vulgaris, “but we are taking away the rights of the homeowner however you look at it.”

Furthermore, currently only three people sit on the Historic Commission, a concern to voters who think that’s too much power for three people.

Other flaws pointed out pertained to the arbitrary “75 years old,” which someone pointed out that today an affected home would be built in 1943. And who wants to save that, he asked. And every year after that, the 75 years would keep rolling forward to the next year – 1944, 1945, etc.

After significant debate, Christopher Washburn moved the question onto the next article.

The Planning Board’s Article 33 to re-zone lots owned by Sherman Briggs on Spring Street passed, although it was shot down several times in prior town meetings.

With only 0.03% of Marion zoning considered Residence E, allowing for cluster multi-family developments, Planning Board Chairman Eileen Marum said Marion needed this zoning to allow for potential housing for those wanting to downsize, a priority in the new Master Plan.

There was some opposition and concerns about traffic and what an ensuing project would look like. Zora thought the re-zoning was a “horse before the cart” scenario, and he focused much of his debate on potential projects, which prompted the moderator to remind him that this was a re-zoning article and not an article for a particular project.

“It’s perfect, the location,” said Vulgaris. “There’s no one there to complain except the guys who come out of the bar.” And no developer would buy the land unless they were certain they had the zoning, he added.

It was clearly a two-thirds vote, but Zora motioned for a hand count resulting in a 129-37 adoption of the article.

“I guess my ear is validated,” Gordon said.

The Planning Board’s Article 34 appeared to be a simple housekeeping to amend the Code of the Town of Marion as the board undertakes codifying the bylaws, until John Rockwell brought to voters’ attention that there was actually some new language added to those bylaws that weren’t there before, specifically referring to “a part about use of town water” versus potable water, Rockwell said, an issue that came up before the Planning Board earlier this year.

“It was so hidden I didn’t know it was there,” said Rockwell. “There should be a separate article that should be published,” he added. “As far as process and open government, this really fails.”

Selectman and Planning Board member Norm Hills said the article was viewed by town counsel, but Zora contested the article and suggested tabling it “until everyone gets a copy.” At that, the article was tabled.

Susannah Davis’ Article 39 to allow dogs on Silvershell Beach from October 1 to June 1 was passed over after failing to convince anyone that allowing dogs on the beach was a good idea.

All three of resident Ted North’s citizen petitions failed to pass, with Article 37 prohibiting any individuals from sitting on more than one elected board, and also limiting selectmen from assuming other elected positions or employment by the town being tabled.

North’s Article 36 to prohibit selectmen from placing any Town House spending articles on the warrant, and Article 38 to make public hearings on warrant recommendations mandatory, were both passed over, with town counsel advising that both articles were unlawful because they “interfered with the selectmen’s authority with preparing the warrant.”

Articles that passed on Tuesday: Article 15 for $320,000 to replace about 770 feet of 6-inch diameter sewer pipe in Mill Street between Route 6 and Wells Road; Article 16 to appropriate $50,357 for the Fire Department to upgrade the department’s newly acquired SAFE boat; Article 17 for $31,290 for the Police Department to replace laptops (and mountings, roof antennas, etc.) in five cruisers; Article 18 to appropriate $83,000 (less than stated in the warrant at $109,500), for a used 72-foot telescopic boom lift and trailer; Article 19 to transfer $62,000 from the Waterways Account for the harbormaster to buy one SUV-type vehicle for the Marine Department passed with some discussion; Article 20 for $34,200 for the Fire Department to resurface the apparatus bay floor at the fire headquarters on Spring Street; Article 21 for the School Department to spend $20,000 to continue the next phase of VTC flooring replacement at Sippican School; Article 23 for $32,500 for the facilities manager to purchase and install generators for various town-owned buildings; Article 24 to appropriate $2,000 for the Community Preservation Committee administrative expenses; Article 25 for $88,500 from annual estimated revenues to meet the Community Preservation Act requirements for the purpose of funding open space, community housing, and historic reserves for fiscal year 2019, and $204,500 to the CPA Budgeted Reserves; Article 30 for $2,000 from the Chester A. Vose Fund to the Assessors for the reduction of taxes; Article 31 to authorize a Recreation Revolving Fund to accept fees from recreation participants, not to exceed $150,000; Article 32 for a revolving fund not to exceed $17,500 for purchasing public health-related items; Article 40 authorizing the Board of Selectmen to appropriate grant money and other private foundation funds to various town programs; Article 41 to authorize the BOS to “institute, defend, or compromise suits of law”; Article 42 to authorize the BOS to sell articles belonging to the Town; Article 43 authorizing the BOS to sell or transfer any taxation possession of property held by the Town, after some discussion; and Article 44 to consider reports of the Town officers and committees.

Article 22 was passed over, which was to transfer $45,000 from the Water Enterprise Fund for the Water Department to buy one 4×4 pick-up truck with plow.

For Tuesday’s Community Preservation Act articles: Article 26 for $50,000 from the Historic Reserves to the Sippican Historical Society to catalog historical documents and artifacts and organize the 1998 Architectural Survey; Article 27 for $15,000 from Historic Reserves, $10,000 from CPA undesignated funds to the Marion Firefighters’ Association to restore its Maxim 1937 Ford fire truck; Article 28 for $29,328 from Open Space/Recreation Reserves for the Marion Recreation Department to replace an aging playground at Silvershell Beach; Article 29 for $35,000 from Open Space/Recreation Reserves to the Charles R. Washburn Memorial trust for electrical upgrades to meet code at Washburn Park Lane.

Marion Annual Town Meeting

By Jean Perry


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