Spring Town Meeting got off to a slow start on Monday with voters approving a reduced contribution to Upper Cape Tech, repealing the town’s bylaw governing wind energy, and nixing an effort to pay Board of Selectmen members a $500 annual stipend.
The Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School district School Committee had requested $2,595,519 from the town for its portion of the school’s budget for next year (fiscal year 2013).
The regional school accepts students from Wareham, Marion, Bourne, Sandwich, and Falmouth, with each town paying a portion of the budget based on how many students attend the school. Four towns must approve their portions of the budget in order for the school’s overall budget to be passed.
Falmouth voters have already accepted that town’s portion of the budget, with Bourne and Sandwich scheduled to vote on May 7 and Marion weighing in later next month, said Upper Cape Tech Superintendent Kevin Farr.
But Cliff Sylvia, a member of the Wareham Public Schools School Committee, cited the dire financial situation that the town and the School Department faces and argued that now is not the time to approve an increase to the Upper Cape budget.
“I have mixed emotions about this because I am a believer in education. I am a believer in vocational education … but for me, it’s a matter of equity,” Sylvia explained, proposing to reduce Wareham’s portion of the Upper Cape budget to $2,375,173 – the amount that Wareham funded the school last year. “We continue to make cuts. We continue to have to function in a School Department without the basic tools to do the job.”
Next year’s Wareham Public Schools proposed budget, which is coming before Town Meeting for approval in the coming days, was reduced below last year’s funding level due to the town’s financial situation. To avoid layoffs of more than 20 teachers and to fund materials such as textbooks, administrators are seeking a Proposition 2½ override and several debt exclusions – unpopular measures which would raise property taxes above the annual 2½ percent cap for different periods of time. (For more on the budget and the upcoming articles, click here.)
Sylvia further argued that the enrollment of Wareham’s students at the school is decreasing as the school’s funding increases.
“From where I sit, and being on the Wareham School Committee for as long as I’ve been, there hasn’t been equity,” Sylvia said. “A level-funded budget for Upper Cape is not unreasonable.”
Upper Cape Tech assistant superintendent/principal Robert Dutch said he understood Wareham’s position.
“I understand and appreciate the plight of the Wareham schools,” Dutch said. “I know that we don’t need to sell you on the quality of education that we provide. … We ask that you support your students who are at Upper Cape Tech.”
Town Meeting voters ultimately agreed with Sylvia, passing the amended Upper Cape budget with 308 voters in-favor and 181 opposed.
Wind energy bylaw repealed
Town Meeting voters on Monday again voted to repeal the town’s bylaw governing wind energy.
Town Meeting voters first OK’d the repeal of the bylaw – filed by former-Selectman Brenda Eckstrom via citizen’s petition – last spring. All neighboring towns were not notified of the bylaw change as required, however, and the state Attorney General’s office ultimately rejected the repeal.
Though Monday’s repeal was technically a repeat of last year’s article, the discussion was not without debate.
An amendment to the existing bylaw was proposed by Guy Campinha, director of the Water Pollution Control Facility. Campinha suggested that wind turbines be allowed on town property that is five acres large or greater. Campinha has been working on bringing “green” energy, such as wind turbines and solar energy, to the sewer plant.
Voters ultimately struck down the amendment, citing concerns that it should have been vetted through a public hearing with the Zoning Board of Appeals. Voters also noted that they wanted to allow the Wind Power Study Committee – formed last year as part of the repeal of the bylaw – to continue its work in determining what should be included in an updated wind energy bylaw.
Earlier in the meeting, Town Planner John Charbonneau, a member of the study committee, updated voters on the committee’s research in the areas of health, environmental, visual, public safety, aesthetic, and fiscal impacts.
Elsewhere at Town Meeting
A routine article setting the annual salary of the Town Clerk at $62,428 and allowing a $700 stipend for the town registrar and $118 per-diem stipend to the moderator prompted much debate, as former-Selectman Brenda Eckstrom proposed nixing the moderator’s stipend and adding a $500 annual stipend for each member of the Board of Selectmen. A later amendment added the $500 annual Selectmen stipend while keeping the moderator stipend. Both proposals failed.
Town Meeting voters packed the Wareham High School auditorium, many likely in anticipation of the controversial Proposition 2½ override and debt exclusion proposals. The auditorium was over-capacity by 7:45 p.m., forcing the move of some participants to a satellite location in the school’s cafeteria. Deputy Moderator Joseph Ashley announced vote-counts from the handful of those voters via microphone.
Town Meeting will reconvene on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Wareham High School auditorium. High school students have volunteered to provide babysitting services at the school free-of-charge for parents in need of childcare.
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