Selectmen placed a question on next month’s election ballot that asks voters to approve funding the removal of two town-owned wind turbines.
The question asks if Falmouth can levy taxes beyond the limits of Proposition 2½ – which sets Massachusetts’ communities uppermost tax threshold at 2.5 percent – to pay costs associated with decommissioning and removing the turbines, repaying grants received for the machines and other costs associated with the dismantling of the 1.65-megawatt Wind 1 and Wind 2 turbines from the wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road.
The measure passed with unanimous approval after little discussion at the selectmen’s meeting Thursday night. The question will appear on Falmouth’s May 21 ballot.
Selectmen placed the question on the ballot after a week marked by contentious debate over town meeting warrant articles associated with funding the turbines’ removal.
On Tuesday night, town meeting members defeated a selectmen-sponsored initiative to authorize spending nearly $14 million – with $8.2 million of it borrowed – to remove Wind 1 and Wind 2.
The next night, the legislative body approved a measure that appropriates $100,000 from the town’s free cash account to research the actual cost of taking the turbines down.
Selectman Kevin Murphy, board chairman, said Wednesday night that the money would be used to put out requests for proposals to gauge prices and get bond counsel to seek special legislation that would allow the town to borrow money to take down the turbines.
With the addition of an amendment proposed by Selectman Doug Jones, selectmen will only be able to use this money if voters favor the ballot question next month.
Before town meeting selectmen said they had already planned to put the question on the ballot regardless of how town meeting voted on articles associated with the turbines’ removal.
During Thursday night’s selectmen meeting, Selectman Brent Putnam asked board members if it would be prudent for them to place a nonbinding opinion question on the ballot rather than the binding one they ultimately favored.
An opinion article could take the voters’ pulse on how they felt about the idea of removing the turbines, rather than how they felt about paying for the removal.
He also said the state, which has told Falmouth it will not forgive nearly $6 million in grants and prepaid renewable energy credits, could come around.
“If the state hadn’t been so adamant in their point of view, I could see leaning in that direction,” said Jones. “But they were crystal clear.”
Selectman Mary Pat Flynn also pointed out that if voters passed a nonbinding referendum to remove the turbines, the funding question would have to go before them again.
“I think it would make the process that much longer,” Flynn said.
Saying he felt it would be “disingenuous” of the board to place a nonbinding article on the ballot, Murphy said selectmen have made their support of removing the turbines known, and the voters should get a chance to vote on a binding measure.
“I think we have been loud and clear as a board,” Murphy said.