Voters in Bourne on Monday rejected efforts to have the town withdraw from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
An attempt to have town officials investigate how the town could leave the MBTA was soundly defeated at Annual Town Meeting.
In other action, residents approved Article 2 of the Annual Town Meeting warrant, the proposed $70,373,266 Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget. The new fiscal year began Wednesday, July 1. The new budget is 2.47 percent higher than last year.
Bourne held its Annual/Special Town Meeting Monday, June 29, outdoors under a tent on Jackson Field at Bourne High School. The unique session was held outside rather than in its traditional venue of the high school’s auditorium due to COVID-19 concerns.
Residents and town officials who attended Town Meeting wore masks. Chairs were placed at least six feet apart to ensure social distancing.
The board of selectmen had approved a decrease in the quorum requirement to start the meeting from 125 to 15 attendees. However, 197 residents were in the audience when the session began.
Article 12 of the Annual Town Meeting warrant drew the most attention and debate. Members of the Bourne Republican Town Committee had drafted a citizens petition article calling for the town’s withdrawal from the MBTA.
The petition asked that residents vote on whether to have a question placed on the next town election ballot asking if the town should withdraw from the MBTA. The committee has argued that the $40,000 the town pays annually for membership is wasted.
Bourne residents approved membership in 2015, the committee said, based on the promise of commuter rail coming to Buzzards Bay. To date, there is no commuter rail service to Bourne.
Finance committee Chairwoman Mary Jane Mastrangelo said the committee did not have a positive motion on the article. Town Moderator Donald J. Pickard ruled that the article, as written, was out of order.
Mr. Pickard said town counsel Robert S. Troy had advised there is no legal mechanism for leaving the MBTA, only for joining. He said the language in the article was faulty because the town cannot vote to withdraw from the authority.
“There is no statutory authority for this town to put a question on the ballot to withdraw when the statute says you can only add,” Mr. Troy said.
Mr. Pickard suggested that he would entertain a revised motion. Republican Town Committee member Peter Fisher initially said he wanted to stay with his original motion, but Mr. Pickard reiterated that, as drafted, the article was out of order.
A revised motion was made, asking residents to vote on whether or not to have the selectmen explore means by which the town could legally withdraw from the authority.
More than an hour of debate ensued.
Mr. Fisher recalled that in 2015, town officials ignored the advice of state transportation officials who warned against joining the MBTA until commuter rail service was in place. He said that the MBTA’s own advisory board decided that extending commuter rail to Buzzards Bay was fiscally unfeasible. At a membership cost of $40,000 a year, Mr. Fisher said, town leaders “have wasted $200,000 of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars.”
“They should be 100 percent with us in this effort to withdraw from the MBTA,” he said. “Instead, they have tried to block, as you see tonight, our effort every step of the way.”
Ms. Mastrangelo said she took exception to the GOP committee’s stance that no progress was being made towards commuter rail being extended to Buzzards Bay. She said there is new leadership at the MBTA, including a new head of the MBTA Advisory Board, who has shown interest in Bourne.
A study of rail service to Cape Cod is scheduled to begin this fall, she said, and assistant town administrator Glenn D. Cannon is a member of the MBTA’s capital outlay committee. She also noted that the only town to have withdrawn from the MBTA was the Town of Maynard. That took four years and thousands of dollars in court costs, she said.
“This is the time to show the town supports commuter rail coming to town,” she said. "It is not the time to get into a court battle with the MBTA.”
Board of Selectmen chairwoman Judith M. Froman also spoke in favor of the town retaining its membership in the MBTA. Ms. Froman also mentioned Mr. Cannon’s seat on the MBTA capital committee. In addition, she noted that she is the district representative for the Cape Cod Metropolitan Planning Organization, and a member of the MBTA Advisory Board.
She pointed out that her fellow selectman George G. Slade serves on the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, Department of Public Works superintendent George M. Sala serves on the Cape Cod Joint Transportation Committee, and Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi has experience with transit-oriented development and funding.
“We have our place at these tables,” Ms. Froman said, “and we are going to try and make something happen because it benefits the town of Bourne for the future generations.”
Pocasset resident David J. McPherson argued that withdrawal would stymie the town’s efforts at revitalizing Buzzards Bay. He said that staying with the authority and working towards bringing commuter rail to Bourne is an investment in the town’s future. A vibrant economy, he said, needs young and old alike.
“One way to promote a healthy population mix,” he said, “is by giving young people in Bourne access to higher-paying jobs in the Boston area through commuter rail.”
Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority Administrator Thomas S. Cahir explained that Bourne’s membership fee in the MBTA is an assessment that appears on the town’s annual cherry sheet. The cherry sheet comes from the state and shows the town how much state aid it will be receiving.
“It’s not a check you pay to the state,” he said.
After more than an hour of discussion and debate, a motion was made, and approved, to move the question. Residents voted decidedly against the revised motion calling for the selectmen to explore legal means by which Bourne could withdraw from the MBTA.