At the first session of the Annual Town Meeting on Monday night, representatives discussed, debated, and voted on several key articles, including the budget for the 2012 fiscal year. Clearly central to many members' thinking were the ongoing financial difficulties Falmouth faces.
After much discussion, members voted to accept the nearly $109 million budget as written. Though some expressed concern with the cuts to many town departments and services, and several members proposed amendments that would have shifted the distribution of available funds, the budget was eventually passed by an overwhelming majority.
Acting Town Manager called her attitude toward Falmouth's financial position “positive and pragmatic,” and said that the budget represented a series of “strategic choices.”
Also indicative of the that cost-cutting approach was the unanimous passage of Article 6, which will fix the salaries of elected town officials at their current levels.
Article 15, which covers several one-time capital improvement projects, provoked further questions from Town Meeting members, particularly the recommendation by the Board of Selectmen that the plan include an additional $70,000 for preliminary designs of the proposed refurbishing of the Ellen T. Mitchell Bathhouse at Surf Drive Beach.
The Finance Committee recommended that the bathhouse plan be sidelined for the time being. After hearing presentations from both bodies, the Town Meeting members agreed, voting to leave the amendment out of the proposal.
Beach Superintendent Donald Hoffer, who originally proposed the renovations—estimated to cost around half a million dollars—said “the building is in tough shape,” and expressed concern that summer visitors to Falmouth, disappointed with the facility, could choose to vacation elsewhere on the Cape.
Town Meeting also voted to put a one-year freeze on the permitting of new windmills in Falmouth, due to health concerns—and pending litigation—stemming from the at the Wastewater Treatment Facility. The moratorium will give the Cape Cod Commission and state lawmakers time to complete new sets of regulations currently in the works.
After nearly four hours of discussion and debate, the meeting was adjourned. The Annual Town Meeting will reconvene to discuss and vote on the remaining articles under consideration following the Special Town Meeting, which will be held on Tuesday night.
Among the major questions still to be discussed are Article 17, which addresses the town's plans for dealing with high nitrogen in local waters, and Article 20, which was postponed until the resolution of Article 6 of the Special Town Meeting. Article 20 would set aside $77,000 for the design of a temporary disinfection plan for Long Pond, a major source of the town's drinking water. Article 6 of the Special Meeting would devote $800,000 to the same issue, for the design of a new filtration plant, a more costly but longer lasting solution to the water pollution problems facing the town.