5/16/08

Voters approve mini Davis-Bacon Act suspension

Cost savings a concern at annual town meeting

Chatham (MA) oters gave the final go-ahead to a new, $16.6 million police station and town hall annex building during Monday night’s annual town meeting.

The meeting concluded action on the 36-article warrant during the four-and-a-half-hour session, approving a $31 million town operating budget, $1.7 million in capital expenditures, almost half a million dollars in community preservation projects, and funds to rebuild the runway at Chatham Municipal Airport and dredge the mouth of Mill Creek.

Voters decided not to spend $300,000 on a half-acre lot off Barn Hill Road, and failed to approve a suite of zoning bylaw amendments designed to encourage construction of affordable housing (see separate story).

Last May, voters at first rejected a combined police department-annex building at the current site of the annex on George Ryder Road. The proposal was reconsidered, however, and passed with the caveat that the design of the structure be reviewed. In the subsequent months, a design review task force came up with three recommendations, according to vice chairman Donald Poyant. Because a large connector between the two wings of the building was seen as a reason for its initial defeat, it was eliminated and the project split into two separate buildings to house functions that are essentially unrelated Parking, which was at the front of the parcel, was moved to the rear. And the size of the buildings was reduced by 3,613 square feet over the combined design.

He noted that the current police station, which is nearly 50 years old, is in “deplorable condition.” The annex buildings are also in poor condition and overcrowded.

“Both facilities have been neglected for extended periods of time,” he said. “The committee strongly believes these buildings as designed are appropriate at this time.”

The difference in cost between the original single-building design and the two building plan is approximately $100,000, Poyant said. The one-year delay added $700,000 to the original $15.5 million price tag for the complex. Citing Harwich’s recent experience in obtaining bids for a new police station that were $1 million below estimates, he said the timing is right to pursue this project.

Voters turned back an amendment offered by Earl Hubbard to delete the annex portion of the project. Selectman candidate Michael Onnembo criticized the size of the buildings as “excessive,” and said the designs are “not in keeping with the uniqueness and character of Chatham.”

“I believe we should start from scratch,” he said.

But voters clearly were not buying that line of reasoning. Resident Robert Dubis, who served on a building committee in the 1970s that expanded the current police station on Depot Road, said the structure is no longer adequate. “The time has come for a new building,” he said. John Bain echoed Poyant’s remarks about the current construction climate and urged officials to put the project out to bid as soon as possible.

Voters approved three articles related to the project. The first accepted the new design. The second appropriated an additional $1,140,051 above the $15.5 million authorized last year, which includes the higher costs due to the delay, as well as relocation costs for the annex offices during the construction period. Finally, the third article included an additional $276,000, primarily for high-density filing systems for the buildings, Poyant said. All three passed on voice votes.

The two appropriation are contingent on Proposition 2½ debt exclusion ballot questions voters will act on in today’s annual town meeting.

Final designs and construction documents must now be prepared prior to putting the project out to bid. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring 2009.

The $31,418,512 operating budget, a 3.38 percent increase over current spending, includes only three new initiatives due to increased fixed costs, such as employee insurance, and uncertainty about the economy, said Town Manager William Hinchey. The new initiatives are $55,000 for increased staffing at the community center, $20,000 for an emergency notification system, and $10,000 for next year’s Maritime Festival. The budget maintains all town service at current levels and does not require a Proposition 2½ override, he added.

The Maritime Festival funding drew opposition from the finance committee, as did the level-funded contribution to the chamber of commerce. Member Coleman Yeaw moved to cut chamber funding by more than half, from $64,000 to $30,000. Other towns on the Cape do not make such substantial contributions to their chambers of commerce, he said.

“Why should we spend $64,000 when other towns spend a lot less?” he said.

“The reason we do it in Chatham is because we’re Chatham,” said Chamber board member Scott Hamilton. The funding pays for staffing at the downtown information booth and the Bassett House, and accounts for a third of the chamber’s budget. The motel tax brings in between $800,000 to $1 million annually to town coffers, he added.

“That money is coming into the town because of tourists coming to Chatham,” Hamilton said. “Doesn’t it make sense to take a small amount of money to make sure it continues?” Chamber president Robert Franz noted the agency fielded 26,000 inquiries and visits at the information centers last year. Without the information booths, staff at town hall would likely be fielding those questions. “We believe the chamber provides the most cost-effective service possible,” he said.

While the chamber has had a rocky time during the past few months, this is not the time to cut its funding, said Dan Meservey, because of the uncertain economy. “If there’s any year to support the business community, it’s this year,” he said.

Yeaw’s amendment failed, and voters approved the full operating budget, including the Maritime Festival funds.

Voters also approved the $1.7 million capital budget that for the first time included school department capital expenditures, a $2.8 million water department operating budget, and $250,000 for cost of living increases for town employees.

Dredging the mouth of Mill Creek received an affirmative vote from the meeting. The $125,000 appropriation is subject to approval of a capital exemption question on Thursday’s ballot.

A request for $180,000 to pay the town’s share of the $3.6 million reconstruction of the runway at Chatham Municipal Airport was approved, but not without opposition from several residents who questioned using taxpayers money to fund work that only benefited the few people who use the facility. Airport commission chairman Richard Hunter acknowledged that perhaps half of the 36 planes kept year-round at the airport belong to Chatham residents, but said the facility is responsible for generating substantial economic activity in town.

“These people flying into Chatham in many cases are staying here. They’re spending money here just like someone who drives into town,” he said.

Voters rejected a $125,000 request from the land bank and open space committee to use land bank funds to buy a half-acre buildable lot off Barn Hill Road. Committee member Jack Farrell said the land would serve as a gateway to the so-called Valley Farm Estates property, six parcels to the east purchased for open space by the town in 2006. The proposal called for the town to contribute $250,000 to the purchase, through land bank and community preservation funds, with the Chatham Conservation Foundation kicking in the additional $50,000 to meet the $300,000 asking price.

Several people cited the price for the land as too high, especially if the land is to be used for parking so people can access the adjacent land.

“Why do we have to access this property?” said Meservey. “Why can’t we leave it for whatever’s there now?”

Community preservation fund expenditures approved included $35,000 to digitize historical documents, including past issues of The Chronicle, at the Eldredge Public Library; $45,450 so the historical commission can continue its survey of historical properties in town; and $25,000 for administration costs. Voters also approved CPA funds for technical assistance for affordable accessory apartments and for the town’s affordable housing trust (see separate story).

A light moment came when one resident urged voters to approve $54,000 in community preservation funds for an emergency generator at the congregate housing facility on Crowell Road. His 90-year-old mother-in-law lives at the facility and has a bedroom on the second floor. When the power goes out, many of the elderly residents panic.

“Please keep my mother-in-law living there, and not with me,” he said. Voters complied, approving the expenditure.

Voters also authorized officials to submit special legislation to exempt private groups from prevailing wage laws for work at the MCI-Marconi Wireless Receiving Station.

A general bylaw allowing the outdoor display of goods by special permit along Main Street narrowly passed. Antique store owner Cynthia Demos stressed the importance of displaying merchandise outside for shops set back from the sidewalk. Merchants depend on the character of the town to draw people here, and won’t abuse the privilege, she said. Spencer Gray warned that the measure “has the real potential to change the way Main Street looks today.”

The article squeaked by on a voice vote, 108 to 100.

With no discussion, the meeting approved reauthorization of the Pleasant Bay Resource Management Plan, changes to the waterways bylaw to address concerns about how boatyards control moorings, and revised sewer regulations.

Voters supported a petition article for $80,000 to treat phosphorus pollution in Stillwater Pond. The capital budget includes $100,000 to carry out a consultant’s recommendation for alum treatment of Lovers Lake and Stillwater Pond. But because some 30 percent of the phosphorus in Stillwater Pond comes from Lovers Lake, leading the consultant to recommend treating that water body first and monitoring Stillwater Pond for a few years to determine if its water quality improves. But neighborhood residents felt both ponds should be treated concurrently, and waiting would only cost more and leave Stillwater Pond polluted. The ponds host the town’s only herring run, and treatment would improve conditions for the fish, few of which have returned this year, said Herring Warden Donald St. Pierre. The petition article passed on a voice vote.

Finally, voters stood and applauded at the close of the meeting in tribute to retiring Selectman Douglas Ann Bohman. Twenty-five years ago, “a lady golfer with a funny name took a seat on the finance committee,” Jack Farrell said, and has since served the town with distinction.

“She’s one of the finest public servants this community has benefited from,” Farrell said.

(capecodchronicle.com)

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