Approximately 100 people on Thursday last week, January 7, attended Falmouth’s first precinct meeting since November 2019. Town Meeting members and Town Moderator David T. Vieira ironed out procedural issues on Zoom before taking up the warrant, of which articles calling for a new fire truck and siting the Carousel of Light next to Shivericks Pond drew the most discussion.
Before the meeting got underway Mr. Vieira conducted test votes, including a quorum count, to confirm all was working properly.
Thomas W. Moakley, Precinct Six, asked if Town Meeting members will be able to view voting results in real time, and if the votes of individual members would be posted on the town website. Mr. Vieira said real-time results cannot be shown during the meeting, but the votes would be recorded and posted afterward.
“Once the polls have been closed and the meeting is completed, we will download all of the polls and then they have to be uploaded onto the town website for any town that has had a remote Town Meeting,” he said. “Those will be public record.”
Nicholas S. Lowell, Precinct Five, said this effectively turns every vote into a roll call vote. Mr. Vieira agreed and said it is a statutory requirement for holding the meeting remotely.
Mr. Vieira outlined how members can participate in Town Meeting discussion by using Zoom’s “raise hand” function.
Robert W. Boettger, Precinct Four, experienced some technical difficulties with this process, finding his hand raised several times during the meeting without his input. “I don’t know what is going on with my system, but my hand keeps being raised and I’m not raising it,” Mr. Boettger said.
Mr. Vieira requested the IT support staff to review the matter prior to the actual Town Meeting.
Though Zoom has a question-and-answer function, Mr. Vieira said it would be used by members to raise a point of order, not ask questions.
“The only time you will use the question-and-answer function during the Town Meeting is to interrupt for a point of order,” Mr. Vieira said. “If you have a real question, then you should raise, and just like at a normal, in-person Town Meeting, I will recognize you.”
Getting down to Town Meeting business, Margaret S. Szuplat, Precinct Seven, commented on Article 3, a petition article asking to transfer a parcel of land at the southwestern corner of the Mullen-Hall School from the school committee to the select board for the relocation of the Carousel of Light.
“I believe this is the first time I’ve had people call me, in all my years, that they are concerned about this,” Ms. Szuplat said. “They don’t like the location.”
She said she did not like the location either, and recommended postponing the article indefinitely until it is reviewed by the transportation management committee, which is examining parking in downtown Falmouth.
Charles M. Rader, Precinct Two, asked how the Carousel of Light will affect parking at Falmouth Public Library.
“I know that the present location of the carousel is much closer to a basically empty parking lot, and if that parking lot is farther away, it won’t be used as much,” Mr. Rader said. “There will be at least some increase in traffic that we should be thinking about.”
The petitioners for Article 3 were not present, so select board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga offered a response.
“I think Mr. Rader raises a good point; however, I would note in those summertime months, when that carousel really will be in use, that downtown area really is just an ebb and flow of that parking being used for a number of things,” Ms. English Braga said. “Often what you will see at the carousel is folks have parked somewhere else in town, maybe to get lunch, and then walk from there to use the carousel.”
While parking needs to be addressed, she said that because of how the Carousel of Light is used, it should not constrain parking for those seeking to visit the library.
Town Meeting members also had questions relating to Article 1, which seeks $5,702,500 for capital projects, including $870,000 for a new fire engine for the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department.
“I’m not against this investment, but it would be nice to have a report every few years about how the fire engine is used, how many times it has responded and is needed,” said Victoria H. Lowell, Precinct One. “We all know the fire department is more and more an EMT organization, and because all of the sprinklers and safety equipment, we don’t have as many fires as we used to. It is just a thought, when we spend that much money we get a follow-up as to how it is used.”
Ms. Lowell added that she asked the question as a test, to see if the videoconferencing application worked. It did, and Fire Chief Timothy R. Smith explained the need for a new vehicle.
“The apparatus itself is a very large platform,” Chief Smith said. “Not only is it responsible for pumping water and allowing our firefighters to conduct firefighting operations, there is a lighting tower, it carries medical equipment, it carries all the associated tools that are necessary for extrication at motor vehicle crashes and it safely carries our personnel.”
Martha M. Asendorf, Precinct Six, asked about the future of the West Falmouth fire station.
“With regards to the station, disposition of the station is pending on the building of a new station and following the town manager and selectmen’s ongoing oversight moving forward,” Chief Smith said. “It is not in any position right now to be closed. It is going to be remaining open until that disposition is made.”
Town Meeting members asked about a few other capital purchases.
Noting the increase in mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Rader asked if town administration should reevaluate spending $40,000 on election booths. In addition to being a statutory requirement, Town Clerk Michael C. Palmer said, the wooden voting booths are more than 50 years old.
“They have become damaged,” Mr. Palmer said. “Over time, we have combined booths, taking a panel off one booth and putting it on another. That continually reduces the number of booths we are using.”
William P. Dynan, Precinct Five, asked for clarification of a $90,000 purchase listed in the warrant as “emergency generators,” but the capital improvement request form describes it as a single emergency generator. Chief Smith said the $90,000 is to purchase a single emergency generator for the Main Street fire station.
Mr. Dynan also pointed out that Zoom works for Town Meeting members currently out of state.
“I’m in Apollo Beach, Florida, visiting my son,” he said. “I can tell you, this works. This is great.”
There were no questions regarding Article 2, which seeks $832,280 for noncapital requests, including athletic field maintenance, inlet dredging and the purchase of new dinghy racks.
Robert V. Antonucci, Precinct Six, praised town staff for the level of detail supporting the proposed capital purchases.
“I think, as we review this warrant, that I cannot commend the department heads enough,” he said.
Members in attendance did not have any questions regarding the five amendments to the Falmouth Town Charter or the authorization of a payment in lieu of taxes agreement for a solar array project at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds.
Charter review committee chairman Peter L. Clark used the precinct meeting to test if his PowerPoint Presentation could be shared. Precinct Eight Town Meeting member Jay Zavala, petitioner for the PILOT agreement article, did the same. In both cases, information technology support specialist Thomas Cox was able to screen-share the presentations with those in attendance.
A second virtual precinct meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, January 13, at 7 PM.