Sandwich Town Meeting Monday

Decisions involving millions of dollars for capital spending and beach restoration await voters at Sandwich’s Annual Town Meeting, which is scheduled to begin 7 PM Monday, May 5, at the high school.

The 24-article meeting warrant also includes a proposed agreement that would cut the assessed value of NRG Energy’s canal electric power plant by $60 million, or 37 percent, over four years. NRG is by far the town’s largest taxpayer.

Voters further will determine whether to approve the town operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget represents an increase of $1.7 million, or 1.9 percent, over the current operating budget.

Town moderator Garry N. Blank has said he anticipates that voters will conclude the meeting in one night.

At the meeting, the board of selectmen will propose a $1.3 million capital outlay expenditure exclusion for road and infrastructure repairs.

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At present, the outlay represents a cost of 36 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation. For the average Sandwich home, the outlay by itself would increase the property tax bill by $122.88.

But because money for the outlay would be raised and spent in the same year, the town would not have to pay interest.

The same approach goes for the other capital outlay on the warrant, this one for $500,000 to install a synthetic surface on the field at the Captain Gerald F. DeConto Veterans Memorial Stadium at the high school.

This proposal would increase the tax bill on the average Sandwich residence by $48 for one year. Again, because the money would be raised and spent in the same year, no interest would be paid.

To go forward, either proposal would need to gain a majority vote at Town Meeting and again in the town election next Thursday.

Another chunk of capital spending—$1.3 million for the installation of bleachers and new lighting at the DeConto stadium— also will go before Annual Town Meeting voters.

This project, however, would be paid through Community Preservation Act funds, which are funded through a continuing 3 percent surtax on property taxes in Sandwich.

Accordingly, no capital outlay expenditure or debt exclusion would be required to fund the project.

Voters also will be asked to approve $1 million in community preservation funds as a matching contribution to a $5 million competitive federal grant being sought by the town to help restore Town Neck Beach.

But the $1 million will not be spent unless and until the town learns that it has received the federal grant.

As for the town’s proposed annual operating budget, its increase might have been even less were it not for the school committee’s decision to create a school for all 7th and 8th grade public school students in the town.

The school, known as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Academy, or STEM, is slated to open in September in the “A” wing of the high school.

Estimated startup costs for STEM pushed the school section of the overall town budget 3.78 percent higher, compared with a 2.5 percent increase on the municipal side.

But superintendent of schools C. Richard Canfield has told the board of selectmen and the finance committee that the school district will be able to save up to $1 million a year in coming years, given a plan to close the Henry T. Wing Elementary School and reallocate its students to the town’s other two elementary schools.

Still, the higher costs entailed by the STEM startup might have required putting an operating override before the voters.

Yet a combination of tighter-than-usual budgeting on some items outside the town’s control, such as state aid, and lower costs for several large line items, such as insurance, allowed the budget to go forward without the necessity of an operating override.

In regard to the canal electric power plant, town manager George H. Dunham has said that most of the value of the plant is contained in its equipment, which is aging and hence decreasing in value.

NRG and the selectmen accordingly negotiated an agreement under which the value of the property will fall.

As a result, other property owners in Sandwich would pay more. Edward L. Childs, the town’s director of assessing, estimates that the new valuation will add about $12 to the annual property tax bill of the average Sandwich home.

Other matters slated to come before voters at Monday’s Annual Town Meeting include:

• A proposal to extend the town’s existing temporary moratorium on medical marijuana treatment centers for another year.
Town Planner Nathan D. Jones said the planning board needs more time to study the issue.

• A proposal to incorporate the new Federal Emergency Management Agency’s floodplain maps into the town’s zoning bylaw.
If the town does not do so, building inspector Paul Spiro has said, residents who have mortgages on their properties no longer will qualify for subsidized federal flood insurance, but will have to buy that insurance on the private market.

• A petition article asking the board of selectmen to place a question on a town election ballot, asking whether the town should petition the state Legislature to release Sandwich from the authority of the Cape Cod Commission and the Cape Cod Commission Act.

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