Wastewater, turf fields and strategic town planning generated the most discussion Wednesday evening as selectman candidates faced off in a forum hosted by the Falmouth Democratic Town Committee.
Five of the six candidates answered questions posed by the audience during the two-hour event at the Gus Canty Community Center.
The candidates vying for two seats are Bertha C. Manson of Pershing Drive, Seacoast Shores; Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, Teaticket; Samuel H. Patterson Jr. of Grasmere Drive, Falmouth; Susan Lynn Moran of West Falmouth Highway; David Braga of Nancy Avenue, East Falmouth and Rebecca A. Putnam of John Parker Road, East Falmouth. Ms. Putnam was unable to attend due to a prior engagement.
Audience member Peter J. Hargraves of Southview Way, East Falmouth, asked the candidates to name a strategic or organizational change that would make a difference in Falmouth.
Mr. Braga, who sat on the board from 2010 to 2013, pointed to the hiring of a town finance director as a positive organizational change.
“The town budget had grown so much we really needed professional management. She [Jennifer Petit] helped tremendously during the budget process. She’s a wealth of knowledge,” he said.
Mr. Braga noted the merger of the department of natural resources and harbormaster has saved the town $40,000.
“If you ask them, they will say they are operating much more efficiently now,” he said.
Ms. Manson is concerned about what she sees as a lack of common sense in the budget process.
“We really need to ask ourselves, can we afford it?” she said.
Consolidation efforts top Ms. Moran’s list of strategies to improve Falmouth.
“I’m interested in looking for more ways to shrink the expenses very practically. I would ask the people in the departments for their suggestions and ideas on how to consolidate,” she said.
As a lawyer and a trained moderator, Ms. Moran said she can bring her positive problem-solving skills to the board.
“Insanity is doing things over and over again and expecting a different outcome. I think we’re guilty of that insanity,” Mr. Finneran said.
He called the Falmouth High School renovation and wind turbine II capital projects “boondoggles” and said the town is about to repeat those mistakes, referring to the wastewater and water filtration capital projects heading to the May 20 ballot.
Mr. Patterson compared town government to a large ship, and long-term strategic planning is its keel.
“Neither is easy to change direction, so you’ve got to have a long-range view of where you want to go,” he said. Mr. Patterson, a teacher and engineer, serves on the Falmouth School Committee. He would step down if elected selectman.
The topic turned to wastewater when Hilde M. Maingay of Common Way, Hatchville, asked the candidates if ballot Question 1 reflects the goals of the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan.
The plan, developed over many years by the water quality management committee, is a four-pronged capital project with a $50 million price tag. Question 1 includes widening the inlet to Bournes Pond, installing sewers to houses surrounding Little Pond, upgrading the current wastewater treatment plant, and making improvements to the sewer mains in Woods Hole.
“The short answer is no. “We’re not following our own advice. The comprehensive plan recommends sewering as a last resort. We should concentrate on capturing road water runoff,” Mr. Finneran said.
“The big sales pitch is that it won’t raise taxes. But that’s because homeowners are paying for it with a $600-a-year betterment,” he added.
Ms. Moran supports the wastewater project, calling it a “multi-faceted approach.”
“We looked at the issue long enough and it’s time,” she added.
Although homeowners around Little Pond would pay for 70 percent of the sewer project through betterments, she said they would benefit from increased property values.
Mr. Patterson echoed Mr. Finneran’s desire to see stormwater captured on the Maravista peninsula, but said the project is well worth the investment.
“I think convincing residents of the merits of the eco-alternatives would be challenging right now, but we should continue looking at them,” he said.
Ms. Mason wanted more options.
“I heard a plan A. I did not hear a plan B. I do not agree with the plan now because people can’t afford it,” she said.
Although Mr. Braga thanked Ms. Maingay for her work and research on alternative ways to mitigate nitrogen, he ultimately agrees with adding sewers to the Little Pond neighborhood.
“We need to continue looking at all solutions and continue with the compost toilet and aquaculture pilot projects,” he said.
All the candidates said they support the building of an artificial turf field with bleachers and concessions. The capital project would raise the tax levy for one year.
“It sounds like wonderful opportunity for Falmouth to have such an unbelievable field,” said Mr. Braga. But he followed up by stating that he would like all capital projects to “come through the normal process.”
The turf field project was placed on the Town Meeting warrant by a petitioner, which only requires 10 signatures.
Mr. Finneran said the town is at a disadvantage to other nearby towns that have turf fields, and Ms. Mason said she “has no problem with it.”
Ms. Moran said she initially thought it was too extravagant, but now she fully supports the project. She cited the cost of upgrading and renovating the current field and the benefit of having a field at the high school for her change of heart.
“I think it can pay for itself, and that makes it more attractive,” Mr. Patterson said. He said money collected from adult leagues could be placed in a revolving fund for maintenance.