Sandwich Annual Town Meeting Backs Stadium Improvements, Beach Work

GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - Mary and Ted Mullin of East Sandwich hold up their voting cards during the counted vote on the high school artificial turf article during Annual Town Meeting. The turf generated the most discussion of any article on the warrant Monday night.GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - Sandwich Principal Assessor Edward Childs talks about the newtax valuation agreement the town was able to negotiate with the owners of the canal plant.GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - Sandwich High School senior and football player Glenn Tenney speaks in favor of an article that sought to install artificial turn on the schoolâs football field.GENE M. MARCHAND/ENTERPRISE - Selectman James Pierce (center) presents at Town Meeting. He is flanked by the town clerks and finance committee members (left) and town council, town manager, and fellow selectmen (right).

A proposal to spend $500,000 on a synthetic turf surface for the main athletic field at Sandwich High School turned into the battleground of Monday’s Annual Town Meeting.

Voters spent about one hour of the 3 1/2-hour meeting on the proposal by the board of selectmen debating the question.

By the time the proposal was approved on a vote of 219 to146, voters had brought in topics ranging from high property taxes to honoring a fallen veteran to grass versus synthetic turf to competing on a muddy field.

On a majority voice vote, residents also backed a proposal by the selectmen to spend $1.3 million in the coming fiscal year on road and municipal infrastructure repairs.

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The selectmen proposed funding both the synthetic turf field and the road repairs through one-year capital expenditure exclusions. Each would be paid off by taxpayers in the coming fiscal year without accruing interest.

Town officials estimate that the synthetic field would cost the average Sandwich home $47 in additional property taxes in the next fiscal year, while the road and infrastructure repairs would cost that home about $123 in added taxes in the next year.

At present, the average Sandwich residential property owner pays about $5,000 a year in property taxes.

Moving forward on either proposal required a majority vote at the ballot in yesterday’s town election.

In contrast to the synthetic field and road repair proposals, both of which drew extended discussions, the proposal to spend $66.9 million toward the town’s overall Fiscal Year 2015 operating budget of $70.1 million passed on a majority voice vote with no discussion at all.

Town manager George H. Dunham said the budget essentially provides service by town departments level with this year’s. The budget also funds the start-up of a special academy at the high school for all 7th and 8th public school students in Sandwich.

In additional action at Monday’s Town Meeting, voters approved $1.3 million in community preservation funds for a companion proposal to the synthetic field, the construction of bleachers and new lights at the field; approved using $1 million in community preservation funds as a contingent match to a possible $5 million federal beach restoration grant; and approved a valuation agreement for NRG Energy’s Canal Electric Plant, which will reduce the plant’s assessed value by 37 percent over the coming four fiscal years.

Voters also approved a capital improvements budget totaling $932,495. That sum includes $325,000 in existing funds.

The capital budget will fund work including a “re-lifing” study of the Henry T. Wing School; replacing a dump truck at the highway department and a tractor at the sanitation department; and upgrading financial software and hardware for data processing.

Meeting participants also rejected a petition article that called for placing a question on a town election ballot about whether Sandwich should withdraw from the Cape Cod Commission.

The meeting, which began shortly after 7 PM in the high school auditorium, concluded at 10:23 PM. A total of 416 voters, or 2.6 percent of the electorate, turned out for the meeting.

The Sandwich Sports Complex Committee, a nonprofit organization, backed the proposal to replace the main grass athletic field at the high school with synthetic turf. The field would be the centerpiece of what is known as the Captain Gerald F. DeConto Veterans Memorial Stadium at the school.

Capt. DeConto, a 1979 Sandwich High graduate and a naval captain, was killed on September 11, 2001, when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

Committee treasurer Timothy W. Paul of Fairway Circle said heavy athletic use consistently churns up the existing grass field. Hence the committee’s interest in installing synthetic turf at the field.

But the proposal quickly ran into opposition.

Sandwich resident Dan Miller said the town in recent years has been spending money foolishly on special interest proposals, such as the synthetic turf field—one that he said would benefit a very small part of the town’s population.

“People have become selfish and self-serving, disregarding what is best for the common good,” Mr. Miller said.

R. Patrick Ellis of Spring Hill Road, who ran for selectman in Thursday’s town election, said a grass field that was properly cared for was superior to a synthetic field. Mr. Ellis said the town lacked good grass field management.

“Don’t reward the people who’ve given us lousy turf,” he said.

Mr. Paul replied that the problem was that the grass field lacked adequate time to rest between athletic contests.

He also challenged the characterization of the project as selfish.

“Was Gerald DeConto selfish on 9/11?” Mr. Paul asked. “Are our veterans selfish, putting their lives on the line?” He called on the town to finish the DeConto stadium project.

Patricia DeConto of Water Street, the mother of Capt. DeConto, said that while it was important to her and her family to have a living memorial to her son, the stadium has been designed to fill a very big need in Sandwich.

A Sandwich high school student said that he “likes playing in the mud as much as the next guy,” but that the playing field often is in bad shape, especially after heavy rains.

But Joanne L. Crompton of Holly Ridge Drive said spending on town projects is driving up property taxes in the town.

“My pay is not keeping pace.,” she said. “It has to stop.”

Voters at Town Meeting proceeded to approve the proposed synthetic field.

On the proposed $1.3 million to fund road and infrastructure repairs, the gist of voter comments was not that the town was spending too much on the repairs, but not enough.

“It should be a road bond, and it should be for a much larger sum,” said Jonathan A. Shaw of Jarves Street. He called the proposed level of funding “an embarrassment.”

The voters approved using $1 million of community preservation funds as a match for a potential $5 million federal grant to help restore Town Neck Beach, which has been eaten away over the decades by erosion.

Mr. Dunham said the town also may land a further $4.8 million federal grant keyed to coastal communities damaged by the Sandy and Nemo storms, thus possibly giving the town about $11 million to put toward restoration of Town Neck Beach.

Voters unanimously approved a new valuation agreement with NRG Energy, the town’s largest taxpayer, for its Canal Electric plant.

The agreement called for reducing the plant’s assessed value over four years by 37 percent to $100 million. Mr. Dunham said the decreased assessment reflects the falling value of aging equipment inside the plant, and the falling demand in the power grid for its oil-fueled power.

The proposal to place a question on a town election ballot, asking whether the voters wished Sandwich to withdraw from the authority of the Cape Cod Commission, was defeated by a majority voice vote.

Even had the voters approved the proposal, moderator Garry N. Blank said, it would not have been legally binding.

Tara Nye of Lake Shore Drive and Harold W. Mitchell of Settlers Path, Sandwich’s current representative on the commission, defended the regional planning and regulatory agency.

Both Ms. Nye and Mr. Mitchell said the commission provides the town with extensive planning assistance.

But Daryl A. Crossman of Telegraph Hill Road said the commission was not responsive to Sandwich residents’ concerns about the installation of a natural gas line along Service Road.

“There are good parts to the Cape Cod Commission, but are they here for the citizens?” Mr. Crossman asked.

In further action at Monday’s meeting, voters:

—Approved a series of initiatives that will tap community preservation funding.

These include $100,000 to assess the condition of the Lower Shawme Pond Dam and the Dexter Grist Mill; $51,000 to acquire a 5.6-acre off Holway’s Road designed to help fill a gap in the town’s extensive holdings in the Maple Swamp area; $20,000 for a restoration and preservation assessment of burial stones at the Cedarville Cemetery on Route 6A; and $19,281 to help preserve and protect the town archives at the Sandwich Public Library.

—Approved a proposal to extend the town’s moratorium on medical marijuana facilities for another year.

—Approved adoption of the new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood plain maps into the town’s zoning bylaw. 

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