Marion Election and Meeting Results
Marion Annual Town Meeting
By Mick Colageo
While the FY24 Operating Budget and Water and Sewer Enterprise funds garnered relatively routine voter approval, projects recommended by the Community Preservation Committee drew the lion's share of citizen commentary extending Marion's Annual Town Meeting to nearly two hours.
The spring-season meeting, held on Monday night at Sippican Elementary School, saw all 34 articles of the Warrant carry, albeit some only after substantial discussion.
Articles 8-21 were all related to Community Preservation Act funding as recommended by Marion's CPC, which met on several occasions to vet, sift and otherwise shape and condition proposals in accordance with its mission.
Resident Jonathan Henry, who has a long-standing involvement in Marion's municipal government, took issue with the Finance Committee's abiding stance of "no recommendation" on CPC articles, especially as they cite "no financial impact."
Henry's emerging question was where does the money come from? He knew the answer but insisted taxpayers attending Town Meeting have it spelled out for them. In Marion, CPA funds are generated by a 2% surcharge on property tax after the first $100,000 of valuation. The state matches 25% of the funding.
Finance Committee Chairman Shay Assad explained that CPC articles, being general appropriations made on an annual basis as dictated by law, pose no financial impact in the context of one year versus another.
"This is all very murky," said Henry. "We're appropriating money, and we're entitled to know where it's coming from."
Marion Finance Director Judy Mooney said the only way to change the impact is to vote to wipe out the CPC, something that was not on Town Meeting floor.
"It's not carte blanche ... without the deliberation or exposition ... it's not clear. ... It needs to be improved," argued Henry.
Resident Andrew Santos asked for the fund's balance prior to FY24 appropriations and asked if the plan is to use it all. According to Select Board Chairman Randy Parker, the CPC has never emptied the account which, at one point, had $1,000,000 in it.
Finance Committee member Peter Winters noted that he was among those who at one point attempted to institute a "sunset" plan, but the measure failed.
"If we want to cease the fund or change the amount of the surtax, we should take action to do that. That's why there's no financial impact, because we made that decision long ago," said Assad.
More CPC-related articles, including $26,928 to enhance school-based gardens featuring the one at Sippican School and $75,000 for four pickleball courts on a Point Road tennis court that has fallen into disrepair, received comments but carried.
The FY24 operating budget of $27,516,635 (Article 2), a 4.6% increase over FY23, was approved without dissent, as were Water ($2,494,655, a 2.83% increase) and Sewer ($3,620,404, a 2.79% increase) Enterprise funds (Articles 3 and 4.)
Mooney explained that public safety went up 5.5%, due in part to Sippican School's new patrol and the effects of statewide police reform the Harbormaster Department.
Developer Sherman Briggs asked how the town plans to make up the deficit from Marion Village Estates. Town Administrator Geoff Gorman said the town has started the next round of discussion of Water/Sewer rates with the Select Board and that the Capital Improvements Planning Committee would be the next step. Briggs noted that the town just lost an appeal case that will allow Steen Realty to install 60 water meters at Marion Village Estates. He projected the outcome will result in a shortfall between $120,000 and $160,000 in lost revenue per year.
Asked to explain Item 210 Police Cruiser, Chief of Police Richard Nighelli told the meeting that historically, the Police Department purchased a cruiser annually or, in some cases, two cruisers every three years, triggered by a mileage threshold when it becomes cost effective to trade it in or declare it surplus equipment.
Asked if the department was considering an electric-powered cruiser, Nighelli said, "No."
Alanna Nelson, a member of Marion's Energy Management Committee, went to the microphone and simply asked, "Why not?"
Nighelli said the department has ordered two hybrid cruisers within the past three years. "It worked out well, but I don't know if we want to go any further with the hybrid," he said, citing complications with the retrofitting of aftermarket equipment. "We're not totally opposed, but don't have equipment." Nighelli also noted that when he had looked into a solar-powered carport, he was told that was not an "advantageous" project.
Included was Marion's acceptance of the Old Rochester Regional FY24 $5,274,891 assessment, ORR's capital stabilization fund, Upper Cape Tech's $466,078 assessment and capital stabilization fund. Mooney explained the 28% increase in the FY24 UCT assessment is mainly driven by five additional students enrolled.
Article 7 Capital projects at $2,879,536 ($2,042,536 from Free Cash, $287,000 from Water retained earnings and $550,000 from Sewer retained earnings) were scrutinized by residents, but the article carried.
Briggs revisited his long-held argument for better oversight of the Creek Road Water main Replacement, for which $120,000 has been budgeted for FY24. He also addressed the Infiltration and Inflow (I/I) project, comparing Marion's FY24 investment of $200,000 to using a paint brush to tackle the Bourne Bridge. "The system is over 50 years old ... we've already had a scare with the force main that let go. ... We really have to step up the process to maintain this system," he said.
Resident Manny DeCosta said he sought out Department of Public Works engineer Meghan Davis to discuss Point Road drainage issues and insisted he has ideas for solutions that "are extremely less costly."
Gorman clarified that the $111,600 in the FY24 budget is earmarked for engineering estimates. "When going to bid, the price we don't know. We wanted to make sure we had enough money to do it," he said. "Kicking the can down the road is going to make things more expensive next year."
Addressing the $1,200,000 Fire Ladder Truck, resident William Washburn asked if anybody has approached Tabor Academy "to see if they were willing to throw a little in." Gorman said no but that he would be "more than happy to have that conversation."
Article 28 applies the Mullin Rule to all boards, commissions and committees, whereas up until now, only the Planning Board had afforded its members the latitude to miss a single session of a public hearing and not lose their eligibility to deliberate and vote on such a case.
Requiring a two-thirds majority vote, Article 32 easily passed but with a few nays after residents commented on the authority the Select Board now has "to sell or transfer any taxation possession property held by the Town."
The Marion Town Election will be held on Friday, May 12, from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at the Cushing Community Center on Route 6.