Things often don’t go as planned at Town Meeting, making for a predictably unpredictable experience. Last Monday night was a case in point. Over the course of 3.5 hours, Orleans voters considered the 66 articles in the Annual Town Meeting Warrant, along with 9 articles in the Special Town Meeting Warrant. The 450-ish residents in attendance often voted unanimously in a successful and orderly meeting that ran 30 minutes shorter than the Special Town Meeting in October. As usual, though, there were surprises.
For instance, the entire Orleans FY2024 budget of $44.5 million was approved in under 5 minutes, with zero comments from the audience, while the proposed rehabilitation of the old fish ladder at Pilgrim Lake provoked 22 minutes of passionate discussion.
OUR QUICK RECAP
Wastewater: All together, it took 8 minutes to approve Articles 16-18, three important measures spanning three phases of our sewering plan, suggesting that 1) the proposed spending was presented clearly and 2) Orleans voters who attended the meeting were knowledgeable about the Comprehensive Wastewater Master Plan, and prepared to move things along. As Lynn Bruneau of the Finance Committee pointed out in her introduction of the articles, sewering has been a mainstay of Town Meetings for years — there’s been at least one wastewater article on the Warrant at every meeting since 2008. As described in a Town video you can watch here, the survey and preliminary design of Phase 3 of our sewering plan, the “Lakes and Ponds Sewer Study Area” will be funded for $2.4 million and an additional $275,000 will be used to close out Phase 1, the downtown sewers. It turned out that we don’t need the funds initially proposed in Article 18, since bids for Phase 2 of the work, the Meetinghouse Pond Area, came in under the $33 million construction budget approved at the May 2022 Annual Town Meeting.
Housing: Housing should be the new wastewater, according to Constance Kremer of the Finance Committee in her introduction, referring to the size and scope of the current housing crisis and its troubling ripple effects. These include crippling labor shortages, massive housing insecurity, shrinking student enrollment, and widespread economic pain. The 8 articles on the Warrant pertaining to housing inspired a total of 28 speakers over the course of a 45-minute discussion. The most debated was Article 56, concerning the future of the Governor Prence Properties, now designated for affordable housing. Ed Mahoney, a member of the Finance Committee, voiced concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the potential long-term costs of this development, which has already set back the Town of Orleans more than $3 million. Should it be handed over to a developer for free? Who will pay for demolition? Orleans Finance Committee Chair Nick Athanassiou, Affordable Housing Trust Board Chair Alan McClennen, and Governor Prence Planning Committee Chair John Sargent provided more information on the article. One voter asked why Fire & Rescue couldn’t be located at the Governor Prence site. (Answer from Fire Chief Geof Deering: It’s too far from South and East Orleans.) Another voter expressed confusion over how the Article was written: “What does conveyance mean in this instance?” All 8 housing articles were ultimately approved, including Article 56, which required a two-thirds majority and passed easily, 298 to 73.
Fire & Rescue: Voters showed deep support for our first responders. After an introduction to the four articles by Lynn Bruneau — funding for new equipment, minor building renovations, and $100,000 in additional overtime to fund a fifth firefighter per shift for the summer season — there were several questions from the audience for Chief Deering. (For a video presentation from him about these articles, click here.) After 13 minutes of explanation and discussion, voters passed Articles 21, 41, 43 and 49 unanimously.
Snow Library: A feasibility study for Snow Library, a much-used facility that is “nearing the end of its useful life” according to experts, was approved in under two minutes by the required simple majority. The count was 246 to 158. To see a video explaining the study, and the educational campaign launched by the Trustees of Snow Library, “Building Our Future Together,” click here.
Rental Registration Bylaw: A proposed program requiring all rentals to be registered with the Town was met with questions, concerns, support, and some pushback. Concerns centered around whether requiring registration was an unnecessary intrusion and burden, since Orleans property owners have historically been free to rent at will, with no regulations or restrictions. Other skeptics pointed out that smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are already required in our homes — why do we need this new step? What will it lead to? Supporters of the registration program noted the importance of knowing how many people are using town resources and facilities. Some argued that ensuring the safety of renters and our neighborhoods is a necessity, not an intrusion. “What is the big deal?” one supporter asked. “Think of all the money and effort we’ve put into keeping our town and town waters clean.” Town Counsel Mike Ford clarified that the only “violation” would be a failure to register, nothing more. After 13 speakers and 16 minutes of discussion, there was a vote and Article 53 garnered the needed simple majority, passing 246 to 155.
Beach Budget: Eleven minutes of discussion were devoted to Article 8, the Beaches Enterprise Fund Budget, which is $2.04 million for FY24. The first speaker requested that the fee schedule exempt active military personnel from paying for beach parking, as is done at the National Seashore lots. A second speaker asked if the DPW had considered the revenue consequences if the outer spit does not open this summer due to bird nesting and storm erosion. A third speaker wondered if a closed outer beach would cause congested parking at the Nauset public lot. Orleans Harbormaster Nate Sears said he was “optimistic” that cars will be able to access both the north and south sections of the outer beach by July, after bird nesting season is over. But he suggested residents might consider waiting to obtain OSV stickers until the situation is clear. After a motion to call the question, the article easily met the simple majority threshold, with only one lone dissenting “no.”
Veterans Memorial Park: This was a bit of a doozy. After five minutes of discussion, Article 22, proposing to fund the rehabilitation of Veterans Memorial at Academy Place, across from the Village Green — electrical upgrades, irrigation, loam and seeding — failed to pass by the necessary three-quarters vote. The article’s rejection followed impassioned remarks by resident and Zoning Board member Bruce Taub, who objected to the park’s lack of acknowledgement of historical sacrifices made by Indigenous people. Later, Alisa Magnotta (a Finance Committee member, but speaking as a citizen) introduced a procedural motion to consider an amendment to Article 22 written by Finance Committee Member and lawyer Chris Kanaga, and vetted by Town Counsel Mike Ford — all while the meeting was proceeding — proposing that the $110,000 expenditure include a plaque recognizing “the sacrifice of native people who formerly lived on the land that comprises the Town of Orleans.” After 12 speakers and 15 minutes more of discussion, the amended article passed, 329 to 73.
The Pilgrim Lake Fish Ladder: “I’m not an engineer or prophet…” admitted a life-long Pilgrim Lake resident, who voiced concerns over the expense and potential disruption of rehabilitating the nearly hundred-year-old ladder. This provoked a chorus of support for Article 23, a $1.5 million project (Orleans would provide up to $450,000 with Massachusetts Natural Resources Conservation Service grant funds covering the rest). Long-time Orleans residents, natives and “lifers” spoke knowledgeably and passionately of the eel and herring populations in Pilgrim Lake, the encouraging recent uptick in their numbers, and the dire need to rehabilitate the old cement ladder. During the 22-minute discussion, Orleans Harbormaster Nate Sears explained that the State had informed him that grant money could be available, but Orleans had to pre-approve funding (whether needed or not) in order to apply. The grants would cover 100% of the study/design costs and 75% of the construction costs. The article garnered the required three-quarters majority, passing 433 to 28.
Desperate For More?
- For an in-depth look at Town Meeting — all motions, actions, and voting results — click here to see the 70-page Town Record, published by the Town Clerk’s office.
- To watch a video of the whole Town Meeting in its entirety, click here.
- For the Cape Cod Chronicle story on the new rental registration bylaw, click here.
VOTE ON MAY 16
This year’s ballot for the Annual Town Election asks us to vote for: two candidates for Select Board, a Constable, two candidates for the Board of Health, two candidates for the Orleans Elementary School Committee, two Snow Library Trustees, one candidate for the Housing Authority, and one candidate for the Nauset Regional School Committee. For Cape Cod Chronicle’s excellent overview of the ballot, click here.
And click here to see Select Board candidates, Andrea Reed and Mefford Runyon, delivering short statements about their priorities for their second terms and taking questions at an hour-long event hosted by the Orleans Citizens Forum.
In addition to candidates, there will be 27 Ballot Questions. Why?? Questions 1-11 are tax increases and Proposition 2 ½ overrides that require ballot approval. Questions 12-27 are Charter Amendments that were already approved at Town Meetings in 2022 and by the State — they just need a ballot vote at the annual Town Election on May 16, 9:00 AM - 7:00 PM at the Council on Aging Senior Center.
A sample ballot is right here.
EXIT 89 will be sending more information next week about Tuesday’s ballot, and a reminder to vote.
EXIT 89 is researched and written by journalists and authors Martha Sherrill and Emily Miller. Editing, tech support and infographics are provided by Kazmira Nedeau. The Advisory Board currently includes Lynn Bruneau and Elaine Baird. We are all residents of Orleans.
We have new subscribers every day and are thrilled to be meeting a need. Thank you for your support and feedback! Questions, concerns, suggestions, ideas? We’d love to hear from you at email@example.com