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Falmouth Town Meeting approved an override to fund firefighters, backed the select board’s decision to deny an offshore wind developer access to town property, and created three new town staff positions. It wrangled through the first 15 articles of the 43 article warrant on Monday, April 10, at the Lawrence School auditorium, adjourning at approximately 11:15 PM.
Town Meeting members also showed strong support for Interim Town Manager Peter Johnson-Staub, planting signs of thanks on the school’s front lawn and standing for an ovation after he presented the operating budget.
The select board proposed a $950,000 override of Proposition 2½, which raises property taxes above the levy limit to fund 14 new firefighters. Town Meeting approved the override, which will now go on the town-wide election ballot on May 16 for final approval, but not before an extensive conversation on its impact on tax payers.
“The last thing we want to do is come to voters and ask for a tax increase,” Interim Town Manager Peter K. Johnson-Staub said. He stressed that staff did not take the request lightly.
Falmouth Fire/Rescue Department is currently funded for 78 personnel, but will need 92 to staff all six fire stations when the new Hatchville station opens in early 2025.
Some meeting members were concerned about the additional $45.71 the average Falmouth family will see on their property tax bill. They argued that Falmouth is already an expensive place to live. Town Meeting member Richard K. Latimer, Precinct One, said while taxes and other local costs are going up, the override is necessary.
“The select board did their due diligence,” Mr. Latimer said. “They’re meeting a need.”
Wind Developer Denied
Town Meeting voted down citizen petition Article 15, which would have reversed a select board vote to deny offshore wind developer SouthCoast Wind Energy LLC access to public lands in Falmouth Heights for further soil testing and engineering studies.
Members who supported the article argued that the data from testing potential cable landfall sites would be helpful for the town. Most of them stressed that approving Article 15 would not necessitate approving SouthCoast’s proposed project. Opponents begged to differ, saying even one small step in favor of the project would lead down a slippery slope.
Daniel H. Shearer, Precinct Six, referred to his experience in public meetings with SouthCoast representatives, in which those representatives did not answer questions from locals, either sufficiently, or at all. He said the select board voted to deny SouthCoast Wind local property access, in part, to strong-arm the company into improving its relationship with the town.
“We simply want them to partner with us,” select board chair Nancy R. Taylor said.
New Town Staff
Town Meeting also approved the lone article on a special town meeting warrant, which created three management level positions in town hall. A sustainability coordinator will take the lead on energy conservation and securing grants for clean energy projects. An assistant parks superintendent will relieve the overburdened current parks superintendent. A Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer will now work full time to lead the town in systemic DEI related changes.
About half the auditorium stood for a sustained round of applause for Mr. Johnson-Staub after he presented the operating budget for Fiscal Year 2024.
Mr. Johnson-Staub withdrew his candidacy for the permanent town manager position as a solution to a select board stalemate. Only three out of five members of the board supported Mr. Johnson-Staub during their meeting on Monday, April 3, but the four positive votes were needed. The board then appointed Michael Renshaw of Georgia as town manager.
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