Chatham's outstanding and committed debt has exploded over the past five years from about $29 million to some $120 million or so if the fire station is approved at the special town meeting on October 7th and confirmed at the election on October 10th.
Most of this quadrupling of debt is because of the expensive upgrading and expansion of the existing sewer system. Some $75 million of taxpayer money has been spent so far. The plan being pursued by Health and Environment Director Duncanson calls for spending an additional $265 million or so to extend the sewer system throughout the entire town, even though only about 2/3rds of the town's properties are said to be important for water quality remediation purposes.
Of the 14 Cape towns with water quality problems attributed to septic nitrogen, only Chatham has adopted the most expensive method for addressing the problems, a traditional big city sewer system.
Barnstable County officials declared in 2011 that doing what Chatham is doing is "unaffordable" for Cape towns, but it apparently is not for Chatham property taxpayers, in the view of Chatham officials.
This change in the county's position is welcome. In fact, county officials are now taking the position that Chatham Concerned Taxpayers advocated in 2009 when town officials were moving ahead with the most expensive solution possible, a centralized sewer system.
The Board of Selectmen and Town Manager rejected CCT's plea to consider alternatives that could result in significant savings for taxpayers.
In early 2012 county executives recommended principles calling for minimizing infrastructure and taxpayer cost as much as possible. county recommendations final_report 01.02.13.pdf
All other Cape towns with septic nitrogen problems are now working to solve their water quality problems at the least possible taxpayer cost consistent with meeting environmental goals.
A process run by the county is ongoing right now to develop alternatives to sewering for Cape towns that taxpayers can afford. A key to the county plan is that the state and federal governments contribute half the cost, which they hope they will if those governments can be convinced that all towns have done everything they can to lower their remedial costs. The county process has scheduled meetings across the Cape at the end of October to consider the full range of alternatives to full sewering. Chatham has opted out of those meetings on alternatives except for Muddy River, which will have a bridge to replace the narrow culvert under Route 28.
The county's plan assumes that most septic systems will stay in place, that fertilizer and storm water controls will be worked into the solution matrix first along with other less expensive alternatives, such as cluster or mini-sewer systems, natural attenuation,channel widening, permeable reactive barriers and nitrogen capturing toilets.
In August county representatives held an Affordability session at the Town Hall Annex in Chatham. The meeting was poorly noticed and poorly attended. However, the county representatives were quite blunt in their statements about the need to minimize costs. One said it would be incumbent upon every town official to do his utmost to lower costs for taxpayers.
Another pointed out that if federal and state officials determined that the towns of the Cape had not worked hard and successfully to get costs down it would be unlikely that the desired federal or state assistance would be forthcoming.
Posters displaying goals, methods and possible funding sources were displayed around the meeting room. CCT was able to obtain a set and they can be viewed by clicking on the link below. Use the enlargement features to view the slides; in their entirety each is too big (and the text is too small) to be read easily.
The goal is to spend the least possible amount on new infrastructure and to keep traditional sewering to a minimum. (Chatham's wastewater treatment plant has far more capacity than Chatham will ever need and the excess capacity can be shared with other towns if needed. More capacity could be made available for other towns to keep everyone's costs down if Chatham were to incorporate alternatives into its plan instead of continuing to pursue full sewering.)
If each town did what Chatham is doing, the Capewide cost would be about $10-$12 billion. (Chatham is about 2.5%-3% of the Cape's land area and population.) The county is aiming at getting water quality remediation costs down closer to $5 billion. The county also is proposing that spending be spread over 40 years instead of 20 years to lighten the taxpayer burden even more. The indication is that Chatham plans to keep to its 20-year schedule.
Should lightning strike and the federal and state governments decide to reimburse Cape towns up to half their costs, it is difficult to see how Chatham would qualify for any aid since it will be near impossible to demonstrate it has done its best to keep costs low for Chatham taxpayers as well as for state and federal taxpayers.
The numbers used here for the cost of Chatham's sewer system are taken from the Chatham Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP). ($240 million for Phase 1; $100 million for Phase 2. $75 million has been spent, $55 million borne by Chatham taxpayers. $265 million to go. These are 2007 numbers and have not been updated. Borrowing costs and construction period inflation are not included.)
Of course, this is not all the problem. Unfunded liabilities for public employees' health benefits are over $50 million and pensions are only about 50% funded. One way of the other, taxpayers are on the hook. It's up to town leaders to bail out the ship before it's taking on water. At some point would-be property buyers are going to wonder why they should take on such a spending load and decide to look elsewhere.
Notes. It should be noted that the CWMP calling for an expensive centralized sewer system -- with no alternatives offered -- was never put before town meeting for a vote. The decision not to do so was made by town officials in 2007.
The first $60 million of implementation spending was rushed through the 2009 annual town meeting in 15 minutes with all the presentation and discussion being about possible stimulus money from the federal government and the need for quick approval to become eligible. Unfortunately, the material in the Warrant with respect to the article (Article 14) was later found on examination to be incomplete, misleading and in significant part false.
About $2 million in stimulus funds was obtained. Subsequently, under an unrelated U.S. Department of Agriculture program intended for poor rural communities, Chatham obtained about $17 million in grant money for the building of the new treatment plant, reportedly the largest such grant in the history of the program. Certainly, qualifying as an eligible poor rural community was an historic achievement for triple-A rated Chatham with the 7th highest equalized property valuation of all 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.)
Chatham's selectmen and bureaucrats are determined to push forward with a centralized sewer system that every other town on Cape Cod has rejected as unaffordable. We are wasting tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.
MUSHROOMING CHATHAM DEBT (IN MILLIONS)
HOW CHATHAM DEBT GROWS AND GROWS
In 2009 just $32 million in debt
2013 Debt shot up to 121 million
$118 MILLION = $83 OUTSTANDING
$ 15 ARTICLE 10, 2013 TM, BIG SEWER PIPE EXTENSIONS
$ 10 FIRE STATION COMMITTED
$ 7 REGIONAL HIGH SCHOOL SHARE -- COMMITTED
$ 6 IRON REMOVAL – COMMITTED
YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING YET!=$270 MILLION
$121 OUTSTANDING, COMMITTED AND APPROVED
$149 TO COMPLETE PHASE 1 PLANNED BIG SEWER PIPE EXTENSIONS
ADD ANOTHER $100 MILLION FOR PHASE 2.
Whimper and lie down or fight back.
This wasteful spending is not necessary to have clean waters. Even the EPA says so.
There are many stories today about the City of Detroit filing for bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. As hard as it is to believe, 60 years ago, in the aftermath of World War II, Detroit was the wealthiest city in the United States and therefore in the world. In the Wall Street Journal report, one paragraph deep in the article, really tells the story of what went wrong:
"I was planning on retiring in October, but now I'm not sure. I have a lot of questions," said Herbert Jenkins, 50, who has spent the last quarter century working for the city and repairing its potholes. It's such a sad day for Detroit."
That a Detroit employee can retire after 25 years at age 50 to live comfortably thereafter on his pension illustrates how promises made by politicians to public unions, without regard to their costs, eventually did the city in. (Such irresponsible commitments to unions were made in the automobile industry, driving GM into bankruptcy court and a federal taxpayer bailout in 2008-2009.),
Of the $11 billion in unsecured debt for which there is no money, $9 billion is for pensions for city employees. Total debt is about $18 billion, so half of all debt is for pensions for which the city put no funds aside.
Unfunded pension -- and healthcare -- promises, in both cases usually for life, are threats to most every city and town and many states.
In Massachusetts a study by the Pioneer Institute was released last week dealing with the 100 largest pension systems for public employees. Among the worst, rated "D," was the Barnstable County retirement system of which Chatham is a part. The accumulated liabilities for Chatham public employees are only 55.5% unfunded. (Contrast that with Berkshire County, rated "A" which is 83.5% funded.)
Not only that, Barnstable County (and Chatham) get an "F" for pushing the deadline for full funding out to 2038! Again, by contrast, Berkshire County is aiming to be fully funded by 2022.
What this means is that the towns of Barnstable County, including Chatham, are not putting into their budgets each year the amounts necessary to fund these pensions.
The same goes for healthcare liabilities for Chatham, except the situation is worse. There is no funding system in place at all. Other Post-Employment Benefits or OPEB (mostly healthcare liabilities) are 100% unfunded and growing every year. The most recent actuarial report by Barnstable County actuaries estimated Chatham's unfunded OPEB liabilities at $55 million as of this fiscal year. The estimate for FY 2016 is $61 million.
Public employees in Chatham have annual compensations that is substantially higher than the median household income of resident Chatham taxpayers who pay the town's bills through their property taxes.
While the town's annual reports contain details about public employees' wages, including overtime, there is no information about the value of benefits accrued each year for each employee or the payments made each year to retirees and the families of retirees for pensions and OPEB. See, for example, The Chatham Annual Report for 2012.
Furthermore, since most town employees are represented by public unions, the terms of union contracts negotiated by the Selectmen should be published in each annual report.
Chatham must either squeeze more funding for pensions and OPEB into its budgets or renegotiate benefit packages for public employees that are more realistic and not so generous with taxpayer money.
Chatham taxpayers don't have the option of saying "NO" on paying the Community Preservation Act assessments. Those are as much taxes as what are called property taxes.
Yet town officials treat these monies as something to pay for things which are "nice to have," but not essential. It's close to $1 million a year being taken away from taxpayers involuntarily.
Article 27 is a good example: It asks for over $100,000 for a skateboard park. How many towns have taxpayer funded skateboard parks?
In this competitive era we should be encouraging young people to spend their extra time on educating themselves or on recreation that will advance their capabilities for their future benefit.
Even though the Warrant doesn't say anything about the location of the new skateboard park, late information says the people in charge are going to put it on the Grange property, despite all of the objections that have been voiced to that.
That includes objections from MonomoyTheatre people concerned about disturbance of their rehearsals and, who knows, possibly their performances. Unless the Grange property is specifically excluded as a site, Vote NO on Article 27.
And maybe it's time to get rid of the Community Preservation Act to give some relief to suffering taxpayers. Let them decide how to spend their own money.
Elaine Gibbs has been closely following the capital spending that has been exploding in Chatham. She is concerned that taxpayers and other citizens are not being adequately informed about the possible consequences of spending they are being asked to approve and that they are being bypassed on vital decisions they should have the right to approve or disapprove. She asks whether we are properly prepared to deal with the surge in development that too often follows centralized sewering.
She sets forth her views below.
TO CHATHAM TAXPAYERS
FROM ELAINE GIBBS
May 8, 2013
VOTE "NO" ON Article 10--Wastewater
It is crucial that everyone who has concerns about Chatham's rate of spending attend Town Meeting on Monday May 13.
There are many significant Warrant Articles that will affect our taxes and Chatham's future.
An inherent problem with Town Meeting is that only 5 minutes are allocated for both a $50,000 and $15,000,000 Article -far too little time to present the far reaching implications of Article 10. Thus the reason for this letter.
Phase 1B ($5 million) and 1 C ($10 million) should have been separate articles, giving taxpayers the flexibility to vote up or down on each. Phase 1C is actually a $27 million 3 year project , the balance of which will be asked for next year. Clearly the argument next year will be that we have to complete what we started.
For both economic and environmental reasons I urge taxpayers to vote "NO" on Article 10.
While $15,000,000 is being requested in Article 10, this phase will actually cost $32 million over the next 3 years. This is equivalent to the cost of the Police/Annex, High School and Fire Station combined. Yet there has been virtually no public discussion about the spending implications.
Chatham's direct debt in 2008 was $32 million. By 2012 it was $92 million. After crediting the $18 mil grant we received for the WWTF, adding the Fire Station ($7 mil), High School ($7 mil), Iron Removal Plant ($6 mil), water meter replacement($2.25 mil) this sewer phase ($32 Mil) , and deferred Capital Improvements ($10 mil), our direct debt will increase to almost $140 mil within 3 years.
Not included in this number, is $80- $100 million in unfunded health and pension liabilities we owe to our town employees and additional scheduled Capital Improvements ($5 mil).
With $150-$180 million or more still to be spent to sewer 70% of the town, the debt climbs to over $400 million, in today's dollars over the next 17 years. That assumes we never have need of another capital project.
IMPACT OF SPENDING ON TAXPAYERS
We have all just received our long overdue tax bills for FY 13, and the increases are nothing short of astounding. However, this increase will PALE in comparison to what is ahead if we do not begin exercising fiscal restraint, and directing elected officials to get on the same page.
Totally disregarded by "spending progressives" is the fact that taxpayers are also going to be hit with huge increases at the state and federal levels. That may be out of our control, but what we do in Chatham is not.
Spending in large part has been driven by the perception that summer residents have an unlimited ability to pay, yet are not allowed to vote.
Ignored since the 2008 economic collapse is the fact that almost 40% of our 6125 full time residents are over 65, many on limited incomes. 1200 are over 75. Many have been here for generations, and would like to die here, but cannot afford to. If forced to sell, their homes are renovated as part- time residences. While this may help with tax revenue, I would ask at what huge cost? Young families and those crucial to tourism-landscapers, construction workers, fishermen, can no longer afford to live in Chatham. I have spoken to many and they are scared.
The "low tax rate" argument is a red herring. A $300,000 home elsewhere is assessed at $1,000,000 in Chatham, if it happens to have a water view from the second floor, in the dead of winter, when the leaves are off the trees.
We are driving out the very people who have made Chatham who we are for generations. We've ignored their plight as we've gone forward with massive spending, during the most significant financial crisis of our lifetime. As a consequence, we are seeing a rapid gentrification of Chatham, fast becoming an un-gated part-time community of second homes.
I find the opinion of the majority of Selectmen, that if you want to stay you have to pay, more than a little offensive and short sighted.
We are hearing less and less about nitrogen reduction and more about "economic development" as a reason to sewer. Review of zoning by-laws and a Water & Sewer Policy that protects Chatham against unwanted and unintended growth-a very real consequence of centralized sewering-is long overdue.
SEWER CONNECTION COSTS
Increased taxes are far from our only problem. The 2007 sewer connection cost estimates of $3-10,000 need to be updated. Costs will be far higher for homeowners, who require deep trenches, require landscape and driveway repair, have long setbacks, and may need to re-plumb their homes.
The 5% County Loan Program is no bargain. A 10 year loan for $15,000 at 5% will coat $161/month for 10 years. This program does not permit subordination to mortgages, which will disqualify many. We should be negotiating a more flexible program with more competitive interest rates for those required to connect.
We also need to determine how many homes can reasonably be connected in a year by existing contractors. To continue to lay pipe with no expectation of connection for years generating revenue is not a good business plan.
BRIDGE STREET WORK
This next phase of sewering will be undertaken concurrent with the Bridge Street construction. While it will not impact most of Chatham, those who live in and around downtown, along with the business community, will be greatly impacted by disruption and detours for at least 2 years. Quality of life for full time residents should be a consideration.
HARWICH'S WASTEWATER PLAN IS "CHATHAM"
With the left hand we are being asked for $32 mil over the next 3 years for this phase of sewering, while with the right hand officials are negotiating to hand over 1/3 of our newly acquired 1 million gal/day capacity to Harwich (with their treated effluent discharged into Chatham waters), effectively regionalizing Chatham by default. Harwich's draft wastewater plan, as submitted to the state in February, is CHATHAM for at least the next 13 years.
In return, the draft plan only provides for Harwich to pay Chatham $260,000 a year for operation and maintenance costs. That's it. A fraction of our O&M costs. No upfront reimbursement for 1/3 of our $40 million facility construction costs, no premium for using our waters for discharge. It was never a question that we would send our children to Harwich without paying a commensurate percentage of HS construction costs upfront. This should be no different.
There has been no public disclosure on details, and no plan to have any, with an agreement scheduled to be signed with Harwich by June 30-6 weeks from now. It is the position of town officials that, under the Town Charter, they have the unilateral authority to enter into "inter-municipal agreements," without public hearings or Town Meeting approval.
I have asked that Town Counsel issue a legal opinion regarding this broad interpretation of powers, and asked that negotiations with Harwich be placed on a Board of Selectmen agenda. So far, those requests have been met with silence.
I contend that no 3 members of any Board, or any town employees, have authority to turn over 1/3 of our $40 mil town asset/property to another town, permitting its treated effluent to be discharged into our fragile waters, without taxpayer advice and consent, public hearings and Town Meeting approval. If the Box Office Café needs our approval, how can anyone argue this doesn't? There should be no further sewer expansion unless and until taxpayers weigh in, as it directly impacts OUR long term wastewater plan.
COUNTY REGIONAL PLAN
There is no question that protecting our waters is a priority, but we are way ahead of every other Cape town, with the upgrade of the WWTF and Rte 28 completed.
The Cape Cod Commission is on record that centralized sewering is prohibitively expensive and unaffordable for individual towns. Their draft regional plan, funded by the state, should be available within a year. They believe that the county has far more leverage to negotiate for state and federal funding to clean up our waters than individual towns.
If there is any possibility Chatham could receive up to 50% from the state and feds, as the County is attempting to get, we should wait. While it's the County's desire and plan to request reimbursement for work already completed by towns like Chatham, there are absolutely no guaranties that the state and feds will agree.
The Commission has also urged less infrastructure, maintaining as many on-site systems as possible. Many of the homes in this 1C phase are second residences, contributing proportionately less to nitrogen, yet will cost $1-2 million per mile to sewer. Now is a perfect time to step back and revisit far less disruptive alternative 21st century technologies, as Falmouth is doing, that can target hot spots at far less cost, with less potential damage to our most fragile habitats and coastline.
If centralized sewering is prohibitively expensive for EVERY other Cape town, it is for Chatham, too. We need to dispel the misconception, once and for all, that Chatham taxpayers have unlimited financial resources, that we exist in part to reduce other towns' costs, and we have money to burn. It is simply not true.
Chatham is at a financial crossroads and we need to triage spending. I urge all of us to become ruthlessly objective on where our tax dollars will go from now on. We need to prioritize, separating the "needs" from the "nice to haves." No project or town purchase can again be based on parochial wishes alone or even individual merit. It must be weighed against long term needs of the entire community and ability to pay. This Town Meeting is the time to begin, and EVERYTHING should be on the table.
I again urge you to vote "No" on Article 10:
-UNTIL we get 15 to 20-year projections with EVERY capital project on the horizon included, WITH tax impacts disclosed,
-UNTIL we get updated connection cost estimates that could be the financial last straw for many, and more competitive loan programs in place,
-UNTIL we are permitted to weigh in on Harwich negotiations with a vote up or down at Town Meeting,
-UNTIL we get agreement to review zoning by-laws to protect against unwanted development,
-UNTIL we have benefit of the County Regional Draft Plan, and
-UNTIL we revisit the possibility of using 21st Century alternatives that are far less expensive and disruptive to our fragile watersheds, living spaces and coastline than will be in this phase.
What is the point of forcing out or potentially bankrupting our neighbors, propping up budgets of surrounding towns, saddling future generations with hundreds of millions of debt, while leaving Chatham a winter ghost town of only summer homes, with beautiful empty town buildings, and a town with no children or fisherman, and a place we no longer recognize because of overdevelopment?
I have no idea.
PUBLICATION OF THIS LETTER IS A SERVICE OF CHATHAM CONCERNED TAXPAYERS
Dedicated to ending overspending and overtaxing in Chatham and preserving the character and environmental attractiveness of Chatham.
Proposition 2 ½ was supposed to restrain property tax increases to no more than 2.5% a year. Yet in the past four years Chatham’s property taxes have jumped 26%. No surprise, the tax rate has leaped even more, 35%, since property values have sunk. Why? In those four years our debt has soared from about $30 million to more than $125 million – that’s up four times, 400%! Has your income gone up that much in four years?
$60 million in property taxes and federal taxes have been spent upgrading the existing sewer system serving the downtown shopping that the federal government gave us in the 1970s. It’s working fine, cost-effectively and efficiently.
But now town officials want to spend $150-$200 million and more – starting with this $32 million project described in Article 10 of the Warrant – to make it bigger, saying it’s essential to keep our bay waters healthy. Not true. That can be can be done at far less cost.
Other Cape Towns such as Falmouth, Mashpee and Orleans are already working to improve their waters at a fraction of the cost of Chatham’s outmoded townwide centralized sewering plan, which has been called “unaffordable” for Cape towns by Barnstable County officials. Chatham's plan dates back to 2006 and a lot has happened since then that other towns are taking into account. Why should Chatham not be as interested as other towns in saving taxpayer money?
County officials are working with Cape towns on a flexible plan funded by the state to the tune of $3.35 million which will set forth various options to tackle the nitrogen problem far less expensively and in a more environmentally friendly way. Adaptive Management is at the core of the county's approach. Chatham's approach, so far, is 180° out of kilter.
Let’s learn what other towns such as Falmouth and Mashpee are doing that they believe will save them tens of millions of dollars and more over the cost of a total centralized sewer plan.
Let's find out what the County proposes (it's looking for half the cost from the state and federal governments) before we spend another dime on laying sewer pipes in streets all over town.
Let's give the taxpayer a break.
Note: Article 10 is in two parts: Part 1b is for $5 million and deals with repairing and making modest adjustments to the existing system. CCT has no objection to Part 1b.
Part 1c is the slippery slope ($10 million of a $27 million sub-phase) on the way to spending $180 million and more on vastly expanding the centralized sewer, the most expensive way to address the nitrogen problem. 90 miles of streets torn up.
The Board of Selectmen was asked to split Article 10 into two votes, It declined, therefore, CCT is forced to urge a NO vote for the entire article so we can get some new thinking and to keep away from the slippery slope. We need a modern approach.
We have plenty of other problems that are much more urgent to address, such as beginning to pay towards the town's unfunded healthcare obligation to our town employees, which already totals more than $50 million in red ink.
VOTE NO ON QUESTION 1 ON ELECTION DAY.
PROTECT YOUR HOME.
I endorse the moratorium which Mrs. Gibbs is proposing, except I believe it should be for three years for the reasons I will be stating. However the repair work for the pump station in Phase 1b should go forward.
I have asked the Board many times to explore ways to consider seeking out less expensive ways to address the problem of excess nitrogen many times to no avail beginning in 2009.
Since 2009 other Cape towns faced with dealing with the excess nitrogen problem have focused on the huge expense of centralized sewering and all have rejected that solution. Only Chatham adopted that solution in a rushed ten minute town meeting vote propelled by excitement about possible federal stimulus money in May 2009.
There has never been a discussion of Chatham’s Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan. It was finished in May, 2009. Rather than provide an opportunity for full discussion of the most expensive project in town history by all taxpayers of the town, the former town manager immediately sought implementation money at town meeting.
The plan should have been put to a town meeting vote. It still can be and that should be considered. Taxpayers should be able to evaluate what alternatives might be available that are less expensive and perhaps even better environmentally with less community disruption.
At the time Chatham was rushing ahead with its $240 million centralized sewer plan, Falmouth was faced with a similar recommendation from its sewer consultant, the same one Chatham had, for a centralized sewer solution costing about $600 million. Falmouth is six times larger in population than Chatham, so the figure did not seem out of line. But Falmouth citizens and selectmen were concerned that it was unaffordable for many longtime residents, families and those on modest income who would be forced out of their homes and even off the Cape. They even cited Chatham as the kind of “gated community” they didn’t want to become.
So they appropriated some money at town meeting, about $2 million, to look into alternatives for at least some parts of the targeted sewersheds and asked their consultant, now GHD, the large company which bought Stearns & Wheler, to work with them, along with the EPA. Their draft plan sent off to the state with the county’s blessing a few months ago calls for running 11 or so demonstrations of alternatives up to 2020 to see what will work better, cheaper and faster to help reduce the nitrogen problem. (In an appendix to this document is the County’s statement of some of the demonstrations it will be coordinating with the Town of Falmouth.) Some extension of the existing WWTF and related piping will take place in areas close to the existing central system and very dense areas, but other areas may well be properly served by the alternatives they are testing out. Members of the Water Quality Management Committee are optimistic they will save many tens of millions of dollars and hopefully more than that.
Why can’t Chatham take some time to do the same thing before rushing once more ahead with the same plan developed in 2007? We have completed the upgrade of the sewer system the feds paid for in the 1970s and, as Director Duncanson has publicly reported, the updated system is doing fine. Before starting out on laying big pipes in 90 miles of Chatham streets at a cost of an additional $150 million (in 2007 dollars before consideration of construction period inflation or interest), why not ask our consultant GHD and the EPA to work with us as they did with Falmouth to see if substantial taxpayer savings can be achieved? Our excess nitrogen problem is not as severe as Falmouth’s; if there is optimism there, there should be optimism here.
We also must mention how the county officials have done a complete turnaround. After coming to a BOS meeting and urging roaring ahead with a centralized sewer solution, they came back a year later and said what Chatham was doing, and what other Cape towns should not do, was “unaffordable.” They left it to us to figure out what to do next. The county people then convened a panel of national environmental experts to weigh in on the Cape’s nitrogen problems. That panel agreed there was a problem, that the experts’ identification of where the problems were was sufficient to start attacking the problem. It said the attack should not be done on an all-at-once townwide basis, but in a step by step, piece by piece, hot spot by hot spot, way, because models are models and the situations are fraught with uncertainty and unpredictability. Towns should start by employing the least expensive methods first, such as fertilizer control, do constant monitoring and see what works before moving on. Adaptive management, it's called, be flexible, adjust to what the results show. What is being done is in fact experimental. The federal government has poured six billion dollars into the nitrogen problems of Chesapeake Bay and admits failure. Maybe the EPA can join with us here on the Cape to find better solutions that will work in the Chesapeake as well
In addition, the county’s principles issued in early January of this year make perfect sense. Let me highlight some especially important parts of the statement of principles:
January 2, 2013
Andrew Gottlieb, Executive Director, Cape Cod Water Protection Collaborative
Paul Niedzwiecki, Executive Director, Cape Cod Commission
1. Based on our findings and formal input from the majority
of Cape towns we have determined that the
appropriate role for the County and the Commission is
one that builds upon, but does not supplant, the
important and ongoing local initiatives. County and
Commission should assist towns with adjustments to
local plans to account for regulatory flexibility, financing
options and the need for increased local cooperation.
2. Stay local. The logical planning and management scale
for the most economical and logical solutions is at the
3. County and the Commission role should facilitate
watershed level local discussions to identify appropriate
solutions for increased environmental protection and
appropriate infrastructure, that minimizes the overall
cost of management and lowers the impact on
individual rate payers.
4. The County and the Cape Cod Commission can and
• Provide planning and engineering assistance,
• Provide guidance to enhance the local planning process,
• Advocate on behalf of the region for the type of
regulatory reform and innovation that would enable the
Cape to devise and implement solutions over a time
period that meets our needs, and
• Advocate on behalf of a Cape-wide contribution from the
state and federal governments of half the overall capital
cost of all management solutions.
5. Focus on the creation and deployment of analytical
tools that enable local decision makers to assess and
analyze most realistic and viable options.
6. The County Commissioners should resolve and forward
to the Collaborative and the Commission the following
Seek to solve the wastewater problem:
1. With the least amount of infrastructure possible.
2. Retaining as many onsite systems as possible while
meeting water quality standards.
3. Utilizing adaptive management techniques to assess the
impact of initial measures on water quality and make
changes as needed.
4. Commit to the use of alternative, technologies and
enhanced natural attenuation as meaningful part of
5. Support the development and implementation of intermunicipal agreements to manage wastewater.
7. The County should assume the role of being a taxpayer advocate to develop strategies to lower the cost and impact of the protecting water resources on the taxpayers and residents of Cape Cod.
8. No new Cape wide entity is recommended to implement wastewater management improvements.
9. MWRA style, reliance on large treatment plants for the Cape is not recommended.
The state agreed with this approach and awarded the county $3.35 million to work up a plan of guidance. The county said it would have a draft outline in a year and a detailed plan of guidance in three years. We should coordinate our efforts to find better and cheaper alternatives with the development of the county's plan of guidance, hence my support for a three-year moratorium on centralized sewer implementation spending, except for Phase 1b in Article 10.
I have emailed copies of the panel’s recommendations of December 30 2011 to each of you as well as the recommendations for the county to help Cape towns deal with the wastewater problem and the Cape Cod Times article detailing this award and the county’s response.
Let’s find out how much money the Chatham Board of Selectmen can save taxpayers by examining cheaper and environmentally better ways to solve the excess nitrogen problem.
Francis X Meaney
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers
April 23, 2013 Meeting of the Chatham Board of Selectmen
Falmouth Demonstration Project Coordination with the Cape Cod Commission
The Falmouth DCWMP/DEIR proposes to implement eleven different projects over the next several years to 2020. Keeping track of the progress and setting reasonable milestones will be components of the Commission’s DRI review and approval. Commission staff has identified the following projects for coordination with Commission staff:
1. Engineering Design Consultant scope and implementation
2. Fertilizer Bylaw
3. Zero Percent Loan Bylaws
4. Baseline Water Quality Monitoring
5. Shellfish Aquaculture Project
6. Inlet Widening
8. On-Site Denitrifying Systems
9. Permeable Reactive Barrier
10. Sewer for Little Pond Watershed
11. Little Pond Storm Water Control
Oh, my. Property taxes will be soaring and the Sewer Man Bob Duncanson (otherwise known as the Director of Health and Environment) is just getting started.
With Chatham's outstanding debt edging towards $100 million (up from $29 million just two years ago), Duncanson wants to get going on sewering all of the town. What was proposed as a solution to water quality problems in coastal embayments is now a public works project to provide urban sewering to rural Chatham. Bait and switch. What was sold as an environmental necessity has morphed into just another monument to bureaucratic empire building.
$60 million has been spent to upgrade the small sewer system the federal government paid for in the 1970s for Chatham's downtown. To expand that sewer townwide is fiscal insanity.
All other Cape towns are looking at reasonable ways to address the excess nitrogen problem in coastal waters. Falmouth and Orleans are leading the way, horrified by what Chatham is doing that inevitably will drive families out of town if not off the Cape.
Chatham is the only one proposing to burden its taxpayers with what county officials call "unaffordable" costs.
With Sewer Man Duncanson now talking about starting his $150 - $250 million spending plan on centralized sewering for all of Chatham, it's time for Chatham taxpayers to wake up -- or move out, if they can sell.
There is no guaranty that spending half a billion dollars -- and more -- to sewer all of Chatham will make any appreciable difference in the water quality of Chatham's embayments. And we won't even know for 25 years if it has done any good. For example, studies show that septic tanks contribute less than 1% of the nitrogen in Pleasant Bay
Indeed, what can be guaranteed is that Cockle Cove Creek and its marshes will be environmentally destroyed by 2 milllion gallons of water pouring down from the treatment plant.
Since the treatment plant is also large enough to service neighboring towns with their septage disposal needs, one will soon be seeing thousands of trucks yearly coming to Chatham to dump septic tank residues Orleans' ancient Tri-Town septage disposal plant can no longer take.
And other sources of nitrogen pollution are being ignored. For example, thousands of seals weighing 400 pounds and up pee far more nitrogen into coastal waters than what seeps in from household septic tanks.
It's a complicated scientific subject that has frustrated the EPA for years. The EPA has spent six billion dollars on the nitrogen problem in Chesapeake Bay and now admits failure. Most of the nitrogen in coastal waters gets there naturally, from farther out in the ocean and from rain. Nitrogen buried in bay bottoms has been there for centuries.
What's needed is an intelligent and affordable approach to lessen what man contributes to coastal pollution. Eco-toilets, mostly unheard of in the States, are common in Europe, particularly in northern countries. Cluster systems with mini-treatment plants clean wastewater and return it to the water table. Massachusetts state authorities have predicted that the Cape sooner or later will have a water shortage. Better to recycle wastewater than dump it in the ocean. And cluster systems are far less expensive.
The time for drastic revision of the Duncanson plan has arrived. It's the Board of Selectmen that got us on this unaffordable path. It's up to them to say we need an independent review before we spend another dime.
Voters in both Chatham and Harwich approved spending $65 million for a new regional high school in Harwich, ignoring the possibility of using existing facilities in both towns at far less cost to taxpayers.
Chatham's outstanding debt has jumped from $29 million to over $80 million for the upgrade of the existing sewer with another $9 or $10 million coming soon for a new fire station. With about $90 million in debt, Chatham ranks first on the Cape in debt per capita. Debt service as a percentage of the operating budget has leaped and will put pressure on other expenses in the budget and on the property tax, since debt service is mostly outside of the restraints of Proposition 2 1/2.
Cape towns, Cape citizens and scientists have been frustrated trying to get to see the science behind the state's "recommendations" about what's needed to be done to attack the problem of excess nitrogen in the Cape's embayments. The state has refused to release the data for independent peer review even though the state's methodology was developed with taxpayer money.
Before taxpayers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on expensive new sewer systems, they should have some confidence spending all that money will make a difference. Most Cape towns, such as Chatham, don't have a sewage disposal problem as a big, densely populated city would have. There is no raw sewage floating in the bays, as was the case with Boston Harbor. This multi-billion dollar program is solely to deal with nitrogen in the wastewater coming out of septic systems which is said to be the prime culprit in adding the "excess" nitrogen to the Cape's embayments. Is this so? And will spending all that money make a difference?
So far, only in one Cape town, Chatham, have town officials rushed ahead to build a centralized sewer system solely because of the excess nitrogen problem without even wondering whether what the state says will in the end make a difference in the water quality of Chatham's bays.
Chatham taxpayers will soon start paying the early installments of more than $450 million in property taxes to find out -- 20 or more years from now -- whether the state's experiemental program in fact works. Some might say Chatham's selectmen are being irresponsible in refusing to join the nine Cape towns demanding an independent peer review to see if the taxpayer dollars they are being asked or forced to spend will be wasted or not. Some, including CCT, also say that town officials were irresponsible in not putting their entire costly and disruptive centralized sewer plan to a town meeting vote with all of the questions, costs, alternative solutions and other relevant facts laid out.
An eminent hydrogeologist Jesse Schwalbaum, who has worked on the Cape for many years as well as elsewhere in Massachusetts and the rest of the country, has had it with the state's arrogant refusal to subject its science and methodology to independent peer review. Having Barnstable County do a "peer review," as it proposes to do, is nonsense, since its officials have been willing accomplices of the state in pushing ahead without requiring independent verification. Another rubber stamp is not what's needed.
Schwalbaum warns: "As long as accountability, transparency and good science aren't a priority in this process, the Cape's estuaries will remain in peril no matter how many billions are spent."
"In light of what is at stake and the enormous cost, why isn't scientific confirmation and public buy-in a higher priority?"
Instead, taxpayers are being told to take what the state tells them on faith. "Shut up," the state explained.
CONGRESSMAN KEATING SAYS NO MONEY FOR CAPE SEWER WORK; EASTHAM ADMINISTRATOR SAYS LET'S TEST THE SCIENCE FIRST
The Cape Cod Times reported today (August 8, 2011) that new money for sewer work on the Cape may not be forthcoming from Washington. Indeed, there may be even less money for low cost wastewater loans because halting the funding of those programs is on the table.
Congressman Keating will try to get money added and to prevent cuts in wastewater loan funding.
At the press conference Eastham administrator Sheila Vanderhoef reminded those assembled that before money from whatever source is spent on tackling the so-called excess nitrogen problem citizens must be satisfied that the science dictating what they should do is sound."It's not delay for delay's sake," she said.
Citizens across the Cape are trying to obtain $650,000 in funding for the National Academy of Sciences to conduct an independent peer review and analysis of the science and methodology behind the recommendations for curtailing septic nitrogen flows. Whie Barnstable County has offered to conduct such a review, its personnel has been so involved in the development of the program that its independence is seen as compromised by some. There is so many billions of dollars at stake nothing less than an impartial review is needed.
To put the $650,000 in perspective, that investment could save billions.
For the Cape Cod Times report, click here.
45 Bittersweet Lane, North Chatham, MA 02650
August 7, 2011
CHATHAM TO BE REGIONAL WASTEWATER TREATMENT HUB
When Barnstable County executive Paul Niedzwiecki reported to the Chatham Board of Selectmen that centralized sewering was simply “unaffordable” for Cape Cod towns and they would have to turn to innovative methods and adaptive management practices to get costs way down, we have since learned that he had much more in mind than just the alternative and innovative technologies that would greatly reduce the cost of wastewater treatment that CCT has advocated and the Cape Cod Times (June 26, 2011) has editorialized in favor of – environmentally beneficial solutions such as neighborhood cluster systems that would return treated effluent to the water table while removing nutrients as well as any large wastewater treatment plant.
Just 14 months after appearing in Chatham praising the former town manager’s financing plan for Chatham’s centralized sewer, county executive Paul Niedzwiecki appeared before the selectmen and pronounced centralized sewering dead: it’s “unaffordable.”
Niedzwiecki said, Chatham, which like Provincetown “did the right thing,” might be able to recoup some costs by selling spare WWTF capacity to nearby towns. He suggested adaptive management could also help bring costs down for towns, including Chatham. The Commision's new "vision" will include centralized sewering, satellites, cluster systems and onsite treatment. Centralized sewering for all is and "old, unsustaiable" approach and simply "unaffordable."
Certainly, integrating alternatives such as cluster systems with the existing centralized system will not just save money and be friendlier to the environment, but, ironically, it will create even more spare capacity in the WWTF for regional use. The Cape Commission accepts that view since clusters are part of their Capewide plan, as shown in the graphic below.
Niedzwiecki was not sympathizing with Chatham for its taking on such an expensive project as we had originally thought. No, instead, he was delighted that the huge Chatham WWTF is on the way to completion in mid-2012. How that was engineered by Chatham town officials is not his concern. The main point for him is that the county is now positioning Chatham’s very large, new treatment plant as a super-regional wastewater disposal node high above Cockle Cove Creek and its marshes.
What CCT charged in 2009 and 2010 now appears to be confirmed: Chatham was building a regional wastewater treatment facility to serve several towns, not just Chatham. In light of Chatham’s declining population over the past two decades, the WWTF seemed to CCT to be substantially overbuilt. Our rough calculation was that the WWTF at full capacity could accommodate between 50,000 and 60,000 active water users at the very same instant, a highly unlikely event.
Indeed, at the February 2, 2010 selectmen’s meeting, Director Duncanson remarked that the new WWTF could handle wastewater from Orleans, Brewster and Harwich as well as Chatham’s.
However, the former town manager promptly disowned any inferences that might be drawn from the Duncanson remarks. He and Director Duncanson thereafter denied ever discussing regionalization with anyone besides Harwich and then only with respect to the Muddy River watershed. They also consistently denied the WWTF was overbuilt. Allow us to be skeptical.
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Chatham town officials were building a WWTF – at Chatham taxpayers’ expense -- to be part of a regional system despite their protestations to the contrary.
From the county’s perspective, the more spare capacity the WWTF has the better. Therefore, integrating alternatives such as cluster systems and permeable reactive barriers works in favor of the county’s plan while saving Chatham taxpayers property tax dollars. There is no conflict between the county's overall plan and the use of alternative and innovative technologies within Chatham to bring taxpayer costs down.
CCT has only recently gained access to the county’s map of projected regional hubs with Chatham prominently identified. Add to that the language in the FY12 state budget and the words of the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs described below and the picture becomes clear.
The map below is from a Cape Cod Commission presentation in April, 2011. Will sewage from parts or all of Harwich, Brewster and Orleans be fed into Chatham? Will Cockle Cove Creek and its marshes be able to absorb all that effluent and fresh water draining from the water table into the deeply laid sewer pipes? DEP has yet to prove they can. The same questions are being raised in Orleans, another proposed regional wastewater treatment supersite, where residents are concerned about the future of Namskatet Marsh that straddles Orleans and Brewster.
Note that the map legend refers to a variety of approaches to wastewater treatment, including satellites, clusters and onsite treatment.
The county’s wording of its request for $150,000 in seed money in the state budget is instructive as to its plans. Outside section 187 to the FY12 budget is all about Cape Cod regional wastewater planning across town lines and cutting costs through sharing facilities and approaches. At the recent Cape Cod Commission press conference, the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced that priority for state low cost loans for Cape wastewater projects would go to those that are part of the regional plan.
Regionalization now appears to be the state and county goal for the Cape. It is likely that control over wastewater planning and implementation will be shifted from Cape towns to the county or some new or old Capewide body. In the negotiation with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in its EPA law suit, one can expect that result to be written in.
Within towns there will be room for alternative and innovative technologies to keep costs down but the linked regional WWTFs will be under the control of the county or some Capewide authority which will be setting policy for all Cape towns. The goal of saving $2 billion by regionalizing treatment plants is certainly commendable, but experts tell us that 70% of a sewer system is in the piping. The county does anticipate use of clusters and other innovations within watersheds since integrating small pipes and other innovations where appropriate can play a role in saving costs. Niedzwiecki has admitted that with all the interest CLF and the EPA have in seeing the Cape’s nutrient problem addressed, there is no money on the horizon to help Cape taxpayers.
CCT’s goal has always been to bring costs down for taxpayers and avoid waste and unnecessary expense. As the county’s wastewater expert Robert Ciolek emphasizes, Chatham’s project is “expensive,” whether it’s $330 million plus inflation, $450 million or more. CCT is not opposed to regionalization as such if cost savings can be realized and the environment is better for it.
Whether Chatham voters would favor regionalization or not is not known, since it has never been put forward as an issue for discussion. Having sewage shipped in from other towns could be an emotional issue for some. It may be an environmental issue as well, since the pressure on Cockle Cove Creek and its marshes is bound to increase.
CCT believes that alternative and innovative technologies within towns can save as much as $200 million for Chatham taxpayers over the financing period. Perhaps connecting all towns regionally and running the operation centrally can save even more. The worst case sketched by the Commission would have just about every Cape town building out its own WWTF. If Chatham, just 3% of the Cape Cod land mass, has a cost of close to a half billion dollars for a centralized wastewater system, Capewide the number has to be $12-$15 billion in property taxes and fees during the financing periods if every town were to install centralized sewering. However viewed, the costs are staggering.
Centralized control worked for Greater Boston in the form of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. However, even there, a high CLF official has said (Cape Codder, May 8, 2009), in retrospect, it would have been better to have integrated some cost-saving neighborhood systems into the plan, since MWRA pumps so much water into the bay it is draining the area water table. He noted that the Cape should be especially conducive to the use of decentralized systems.
Whether centralizing will work as well for the Cape remains to be seen. Drawing up the plans will be a $500,000, two-year task, according to the FY12 budget and the Commission's press conference. But a lot more than $2 billion (the stated goal in the state budget) needs to be saved to get to an “affordable” level. (Mashpee already is planning a group of clusters instead of centralized sewering to save money and water for the water table. We do not know Mashpee’s current estimate, but, before its serious planning got underway, Mashpee was looking at the possibility of saving $300 million, before interest charges and inflation, over a centralized system.)
Having fewer WWTFs should indeed save a great deal of money, but they may increase local environmentatl concerns. Since most sewering costs are in sewer piping, CCT believes using small pipe cluster systems and permeable reactive barriers and other environmentally preferable and less expensive alternatives wherever possible can do more to help bring costs down. Even so, Cape taxpayers face daunting costs that will burden their properties for decades.
See the Cape Regionalization Plan accompanying this report for the state budget material and the Cape Cod Times article concerning the state/county press conference.
For the county regionalization presentation, see the PowerPoint Cape Regional WW Plan below, which should also be available on the Cape Cod Commission website.
Also. one can view the Cape Regional WW Plan showing Chatham as a super-regional wastewater treatment plant in pdf format, since not all viewers have PowerPoint viewers installed.
TO THE CONCERNED TAXPAYERS OF CHATHAM --
1. Barnstable County has made a dramatic turnabout on how to solve the problem of excess nitrogen in Cape Cod coastal embayments. Centralized sewering is out, it's simply "unaffordable." Other approaches are part of the answer, such as decentralized or cluster systems, which cost far less and are preferred by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for less densely populated areas such as Cape Cod towns.
2. The county has requested funds in the FY12 state budget to develop a Capewide plan utilizing centralized, satellite, cluster and onsite treatment to attack the nutrient problem troubling the Cape's embayments. .
3, Falmouth, a town of 30,000, has just voted $2.7 million to examine a very wide range of American, Canadian and European technologies from cluster systems to permeable reactive barriers to composting toilets. Town meeting feared the cost of a centralized sewer would drive families and long-time residents out of town. As one town meeting member said, "We don't want to become a gated community like Chatham."
4. Mashpee, more than twice the population of Chatham, is designing its wastewater treatment and disposal system around eight decentralized/cluster systems. It hopes it can save more than $100-$200 million by not doing a centralized system.
5. Orleans town meeting has also voted money to examine such alternatives. In fact, there will be a public forum on alternative and innovative technologies in Orleans this Saturday at the Old Jailhouse Tavern from 9 to noon. (See notice attached.) Experts from the West Coast and the East Coast will make presentations and field questions on why these alternatives make sense on Cape Cod.
6. What does all this mean for Chatham? A great deal. As county executive Paul Niedzwiecki told the Chatham Board of Selectmen, integrating alternative and innovative technologies into Chatham's wastewater plan could save property tax dollars. We believe savings could be as much as much as 25-40%.
7. What caused the county to drop its insistence that centralized sewering was the wastewater solution for Cape towns? We believe we know of one contributing factor. A knowledgeable and experienced consultant was brought on to analyze potential costs for the towns. The consultant had had significant involvement in the financial aspects of the Boston Harbor clean-up. The project cost billions and created a fierce and bitter fight in all the affected communities that was only resolved when the state legislature agreed to chip in. Even so, the per capita costs on the Cape would be five to six times what
they were for the Greater Boston communities. To get a sense of what numbers might be for Cape towns, the county made the consultant available to Chatham (and to other Cape towns) free of charge.
What the consultant found was that Chatham town officials had vastly understated likely costs. For a 20-year project like this, the consultant said the interest rate assumed was unrealistically low. In making any appraisal of costs, inflation is a factor to be taken into account. Also, the former town manager had not satisfactorily provided for operational and maintenance expenses during the 20 years of construction (estimated by Stearns & Wheler to be $30 million (before any allowance for inflation or borrowing costs).
The estimates produced by Chatham Concerned Taxpayers in 2009 and 2010 because town officials had failed to provide a realistic one took all these factors into account (even using an interest rate lower than the “optimistic” one suggested by the consultant) and derived a projected minimum cost to all property owners of more than $400 million in debt service charges on the property tax.
Not included is the estimated collective cost to those property owners forced to connect to the system, about $29 million. The total cost to taxpayers of about $430 million was almost triple the "full cost" estimate shown in the Warrant for Article 14 of the May 11, 2009 town meeting and about $160 million more than the costs presented by the former town manager at the selectmen's meeting of February 23, 2010.
An updated CCT estimate using the consultant's "optimistic" 3% interest rate and a 3.18% inflation factor derived from an EPA suggested approach for wastewater projects and borrowing construction period O&M along with borrowings for labor and materials costs produced a estimate of total debt service of approximately $460 million. As mentioned individual property owners will have additional costs to connect to the system. Approximately 2/3rds of Chatham's properties will be required to connect because they are in watersheds whose drainage has said to deposit nutrients in potentially vulnerable waters.
Both the consultant and Chatham Concerned Taxpayers used the same 2007 cost estimates prepared by Stearns &Wheler as the starting point. CCT calculated the inflation effect and the cost of construction period O&M as well as the estimated interest cost. The consultant only added his interest factor to the S&W starting costs and derived a cost incluidng interest but not inflation or O&M of $330 million, up 24% from the town official's estimate of $266 million in February, 2010. Although the town official did include a slide in his presentation showing 3% as an inflation factor, he did not take inflation into account in developing his estimate of taxpayer cost in debt service charges over the 50 year financing period.
8. With other Cape towns and the county now looking to cost-saving and environmentally preferable alternatives, Chatham taxpayers no doubt will also be interested in finding out how much can be saved on their property taxes. Clearly, the county has concluded that decentralized/cluster systems can do just as good a job of nitrogen removal as the best centralized systems (as has the EPA). Their new approach includes some centralized sewering and some cluster systems and some onsite systems.
Use of other innovative technologies can increase savings and even do a superior job of nitrogen removal with far less community disruption in a much shorter time period. And more good news is that Stearns & Wheler (now a unit of Australian-based conglomerate GHD) has just recently confirmed that it supports the position expressed by Director of Health and Environment Duncanson and the former town manager that there will be no adverse operational or financial effects if the expansion of the centralized sewer is limited to that which was authorized by the May 11, 2009 vote on Article 14. This means that in reworking the wastewater plan pursuant to the engineering principle of adaptive management the town has complete flexibility to redesign for a less costly and environmentally better result.
The recent forum in Orleans detailed why savings can be achieved in a more environmentally friendly manner. It was open to all residents of the Cape. Links to the presentations will be posted.
We have a chance to elect as selectman a person who understands the concerns of the working family, the average people in town. Bob Long is employed full-time supporting his family yet is committed to doing all he can as a selectman to ensure that taxpayers get value for their tax dollars and don't get lured into grandiose projects that are too big and too expensive.
If it's possible you will be out of town on May 12th, you can vote absentee. There are two links below: One is for an individual to apply for an absentee ballot. The other is for a person to apply for a family member.
Every vote is important. Strike a blow for fiscal restraint and relief for the taxpayer.
Elaine Gibbs was placed on the agenda for a recent meeting of the Board of Selectmen to report on her investigation into the failed Recall process that sought to remove and replace three of the five selectmen. Recall is a seldom used device provided for in the town charter for voters to voice their objection to actions or inactions of their elected officials. It is a very serious matter so the town charter prescribes an exact procedure that must be followed. No one questions the right of voters to seek recall. However, the recall must be conducted in accordance with the law. This was not done in this case.
What Ms. Gibbs found was that the recall process was void from the beginning. It did not follow the procedure required by the town charter which calls for sworn statements by 100 voters stating their grounds for the recall. In addition to a lack of sworn statements, the grounds stated for the recall were clearly false, as was known by those initiating and in charge of the process.
Ms. Gibbs presented her detailed, well researched report to the board and was heckled and harrassed throughout by some in the audience, without being reprimanded by the Chairman Leonard Sussuman.
Because of the importance of the issue, the Cape Cod Chronicle decided to publish the highlights of Ms. Gibbs' report and her comments on the the disgraceful way in which the Board of Selectmen hearing was conducted by Chairman Sussman. It appeared as a "You Guest It" article on April 14, 2011. Ms. Gibbs' letter follows:
RECALL FLAWED BECAUSE IT VIOLATED THE LAWHeckling and snickering during Selectmen’s meetings, affectionately referring to me as “that B…” to anyone who’ll listen, doesn’t change “fact” to “opinion. Sometimes a fact is just a fact- despite the Chair allowing them free rein until finally ruling “One at a time please.”
As the first step to Recall, Chatham’s Charter requires an Affidavit signed by 100 voters. An Affidavit is a sworn statement of fact signed by Affiants to the truth, under penalty of perjury. It’s not an Affidavit unless a Sworn Declaration is made. That’s fact, not opinion, Stuart.
An Affidavit is the safeguard against false statements. Onus rests with the 100 signatories under the penalty of perjury. It vets “grounds” so that Petition signers are confident of the truth of the grounds. No such Declaration was made. Therefore this was not an Affidavit and should not have been accepted by the Town Clerk, whose duty is to assure compliance with Town Charter law. Because it did not, the Recall was invalid and Petitions should not have been distributed.
The first “Ground: Selectmen “did not have sufficient/just cause to terminate the contract.” The TM contract was not “terminated”. Employment/Contract law definition of “non-renewal” is significantly different from “termination. At the November 29 meeting it was clearly pointed out that the TM contract was a “non-renewal.” People lined up to sign the Affidavit anyway. Had there been a Sworn Declaration, they may have thought twice.
The second “Ground”: Selectmen “failed to provide sufficient and factual basis for their action.” The BOS is constrained by statute from discussing personnel matters in a public forum. To appease those who demanded the Recall, Selectmen would have been required to break the law, exposing the town to serious liability. The Ground is materially false because it’s impossible to legally comply with the demand. The “Ground” gave the false impression it was within the selectmen’s power to do so, but instead, for nefarious/secretive reasons they refused to disclose information.
The Petition was incomplete. Chatham’s Charter requires the petition “demand the election of a successor in said office.” Within 60-90 days of certification, election of successors must occur concurrent with the town Recall vote. (March) Thus the “demand” must be made. Unfortunately no candidates were willing to step up to fill the void were the Recall successful.
Voter regulations apply, following election law of “One Man- One Vote.” Signatures must be certified. Even to the untrained eye, with selectmen not disagreeing, dozens signed not only their names, but names of spouses and sometimes other family members. It’s in violation of election law to sign other than one’s own name. Petitioners can not ask or permit anyone to sign for others. Signatures must be in person; not over the phone. Consequently it’s impossible to determine how many individuals actually signed petitions. All fact.
It’s disturbing that something as serious as the potential unseating of duly elected officials was handled in such a sloppy manner, with such lack of preparation, care, and attention- a rush to judgment, sacrificing basic principles and violating laws. Recall is a right under Town Charter. With that right comes responsibility. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. It was irresponsible to not give one thought to the consequences had the Recall been successful and we were left with only 2 selectmen. An opinion.
We have a right to expect basic laws are followed, with safeguards in place to preserve the integrity of elections -- a basic duty of government. I vehemently disagree with Town Attorney Gilmore that freedom of speech and “right to petition” trumps a requirement to be accurate and truthful; that it was “no harm; no foul” because the Recall was unsuccessful; that it’s “Buyer Beware;” it’s no big deal to violate the Town Charter; that our Charter is just a suggestion; that Burden of Proof falls to the accused rather than the accusers; and to have laws enforced we must hire attorneys and/or file complaints with the state.
Mr. Gilmore never saw the Affidavit or Petitions, yet he determined there was no “need for investigation.” Because he represents Town government (Mr. Hinchey et al) and not the people, by his own admission he should not have offered any opinion, yet he offered many. I don’t understand why Mr. Whitcomb and Mr. Sussmann are remarkably uninquisitive about what transpired.
The Board has the duty to prevent Conflicts of Interest, authority to conduct investigations, and the duty to “cause laws to be enforced.” This isn’t just about Recalls. It’s a symptom that has to be diagnosed and treated. Erosion of trust and loss of faith in government is a downward spiral. If this is ignored and we don’t determine how and why this could possibly happen, it will result in further loss of trust and faith. That is an opinion which may end up becoming fact.
The new budget going to town meeting seems set to drive up property taxes for FY12 by $1.5 million, almost 6% for all property owners. Is your income going up 6% to pay for that?
Chatham has been spending way beyond Proposition 2 1/2 for years and piling on debt so that property tax increases loom ahead for decades. How can this be stopped?
Despite our pleas for fiscal sanity going back before the FY10 budget, spending continues to grow and property taxes continue to rise.
The problem begins with the Board of Selectmen, which routinely rubberstamps the proposals of the town manager. In the first budget after the market collapse of October, 2008, Selectmen Sussman, Bergstrom and Whitcomb okayed a three-year union contract calling for 7, 5, and 5% increases in salary while taxpayers were reeling from the demolition of their life savings. Cost of living increases were given when federal statistics showed there was ZERO inflation.
A change is needed. We need a new independent voice for spending restraint. Bob Long, who has been speaking out against waste and unwise commitments being made by the town, is running for selectman. He sounds just like the person we need to bring spending and the rise in property taxes under control.
Be sure to vote in the election, Thursday, May 12, 2011. Absentee ballots can be cast. Applications for absentee ballots are available now by calling the Town Clerk's Office. (508) 945-5101 to have the application mailed to you. Or you can download forms here: There is a form for an individual to apply and a form for a family member to apply. Just click on either form to download to your computer to print out. Instructions are on the forms.
The folly of chasing federal money may catch up with Chatham big time. Despite warnings from Chatham Concerned Taxpayers (CCT) about launching a massive sewer project in the middle of a deep recession, town officials roared ahead anyway, claiming federal stimulus money made it worth doing.
Now the Cape Cod Times reports there is no more federal stimulus money and even cheap loan money from the state may be in short supply.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers also had urged Chatham town officials to consider less expensive and environmentally preferable alternatives to centralized sewering (e.g., cluster systems and permeable reactive barriers) that could save Chatham taxpayers tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. These calls were rejected.
In addition, CCT had urged town officials to join with the nine other Cape towns in getting a competent third party review of the state's methodology, but they refused to do that.
A big problem with rushing ahead as Chatham has done is that there is still considerable doubt about the state's recommendations for what has to be done to ensure Cape Cod bay waters are healthy. Nine Cape towns (but not Chatham) are seeking a peer review by the National Academy of Sciences of the state proposed methodology and whether it will in fact make the improvements in Cape waters it is claimed it will do.
Ironically, neither the county, the state nor the federal government wants to put up the $600,000 for the peer review while they are insisting Cape towns spend eight to ten billions on centralized sewering that no one knows will do the job.
Yet Chatham town officials went ahead to build a brand new, completely separate, gigantic wastewater treatment plant right now -- to be completed next year -- that will only work right if thousands more properties are connected than are connected now. And they didn't tell told town meeting voters that's what they were going to do.
Town officials should have gradually enlarged the existing treatment plant as needed to service properties as they were added to the sewer system over 20 years. In fact, in the Warrant for that vote, they had told town meeting voters that's what they were going to do.
The plan as stated was to go back to town meeting every few years for more money to build out the system. At each stage town voters could decide to stop altogether or to shift to integrating alternatives that would be less expensive and just as good if not better as technology improved. "Adaptive management" was to be the watchword.
However, by building the huge new treatment plant upfront, it appears that "adaptive management" will be largely foreclosed and subsequent town meeting votes merely rubber stamps. In a letter to the state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs dated February 16, 2010, Chatham's director of Health and the Environment Robert Duncanson told the Secretary that Chatham had "committed" to funding the full 20-year centralized sewer plan by their unknowing authorization of the immediate construction of the mega treatment plant at its May, 2009 town meeting.
Nothing in the Warrant for that meeting suggested that taxpayers were being locked into the 20-year spending plan by a vote to enlarge and upgrade the treatment plant while adding a few hundred properties to the existing system and updating the connector piping from downtown to the existing treatment plant.
Now it appears we're stuck.
We will have a gigantic overbuilt treatment plant and only property taxes to pay for whatever sewering lies ahead.
While town officials claim the total cost is "only" $266 million after stimulus savings, that number ignores inflationary costs over 20 or more years of construction and assumes 2% money from the state for 30-year loans that just won't be available. A more realistic estimate is over $400 million, actually well over half a billion dollars for property owners when all costs (e.g., connections, annual fees) are taken into account. If the town has to fall back on its own bonding capacity instead of state loans the total cost would be much higher.
Will Chatham wind up with a white elephant of a gigantic treatment plant on its hands for which $40 million of taxpayer money has been spent? The few hundred properties that are being added to the existing system now could easily be handled by the existing wastewater treatment plant.
This is a huge mess. Unfortunately, there's more.
The location of the new mega treatment plant and the existing treatment plant are at an elevation above Cockle Cove Creek. The plan is to increase the flow of treated effluent from the treatment plant(s) from the present 100,000-150,000 gallons a day to 2-3 million gallons a day. But can Cockle Cove Creek and its adjacent marsh handle such an increase? In 2009 Forbes Magazine called Cockle Cove Creek the fourth most polluted beach in America!
Is that pollution draining down from the treatment plant site? Citizens are demanding that a hydrogeological study be done before any more effluent is pumped into Cockle Cove Creek. They are charging that engineers working for Chatham did not adequately evaluate the feasibility of the site for a massive treatment plant, but just concluded it was the only place to put it and figuratively crossed their fingers. No one knows what a new study will reveal. Increasing effluent flow 20-fold into an already polluted creek doesn't sound like a sound environmental plan.
Maybe Chatham should just stop right now on its sewer construction. It has the right under its construction contracts to do so.
What should be done?
Chatham should join the other nine Cape towns in demanding a peer review of the state's methodology for improving coastal bay waters. It's better for ten towns to spend $600,000 now than to be forced into spending $8-$10 billion needlessly.
Chatham should cooperate in an objective scientific review of the hydrogeology of the Cockle Cove Creek site for its appropriateness for a 20-fold increase in effluent flow.
With huge costs ahead and no financial aid in sight, Chatham should update its review of available alternative technology that is less expensive and environmentally better. A benefit of alternatives such as cluster systems and permeable reactive barriers is that treated effluent need not all be dumped in one place such as Cockle Cove Creek. It can be dispersed widely throughout the town without adding to the pollution of Cockle Cove Creek -- which should be cleaned up, not polluted further.
Chatham taxpayers are facing staggering costs. The biggest by far is the centralized sewer, which is the most expensive way to address the problem the state says needs to be addressed if Chatham’s bays are going to stay healthy.
Let’s find out if the state’s plan is the right one. If it is, let’s correct the problem in the most cost-effective and environmentally sound way, which is not centralized sewering. Even the EPA says that use of clusters can save 25% to 50% over the cost of a centralized sewer.
Saving $100 million or more of property taxpayer dollars with alternatives to centralized sewering makes sense. It’s not too late to do that. It will take courage for town officials to adjust to these new financial realities and change course. This they should do.
Chatham citizens realized the folly of the recall effort and those behind the effort fell far short of the necessary signatures.
Selectmen Seldin, Roper and Summers were vindicated.
They had acted in the best interests of the town in deciding there was no time to lose in facing up to problems which had been too long neglected during the reign of Town Manager Hinchey. Too much debt, too many obligations loom ahead and to deal with them required a new face and a new determination, someone not wedded to the overspending days of the past.
How did this "controversy" arise? After all, it was no surprise that the Board of Selectmen were displeased with the performance of the Town Manager. In his most recent review published in the Chronicle in February, 2010, the Town Manager's score was 72. In most law firms and other businesses anybody who received a performance rating that low would have been shown the door. Instead, the selectmen agreed to let him serve out his contract until June 30, 2011. But then the Town Manager asked for a new one-year contract. No surprise, the answer was no. Big problems are looming for the town and getting a new town manager aboard for the next several years was the understandable priority.
So what happened? The Cape Cod Chronicle suddenly created a firestorm with an editorial headlined "Hinchey Lynching?" as the selectmen and the Town Manager were working out his pension, vacation and other credits to wind up his five-year contract. Indeed, all five selectmen and the Town Manager signed an agreement tying up all the loose ends. Were it not for the Chronicle, that would have been the end of it. The Chronicle then followed up with a front page "news" article about Hinchey being "ousted," which was not the case at all.
Why the Chronicle chose to inflame passions as it did is an interesting question. Clearly, over the years the Town Manager had supplied the Chronicle with many an exclusive story about what was happening in the town and that special access would be gone along with the Town Manager, as perhaps it feared. Did the Chronicle think it more important to keep that special information source than let the selectmen get on with preparing for several difficult years ahead? We would hope not, but otherwise we're mystified. Did they just want to stir up a controversy to sell newspapers? We certainly hope that wasn't the case. Once hysteria had been ignited, a great deal of poison was spread and needless damage to the reputations of conscientious public servants was done. All in all, it was a poor performance by the Chronicle and its editor Mr. Wood.
The performance of the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Leonard Sussman was particularly disappointing. His conduct of the public selectmen's meeting to ratify the decisions the board had made in executive session was an embarrassment for the town. Before a room full of friends of the Town Manager brought there by the Chronicle's incendiary reporting,he publicly tried to bully Selectman Seldin into changing her vote not to award a new one-year contract to the Town Manager, apparently feeling as a woman she would buckle under his pressure, which she did not. She firmly stated she had considered the matter very carefully and was doing what was best for the town. Everyone who knows her knows that to be the case.
That wasn't enough for Mr. Sussman. After the public 5-0 vote ratifying the executive committee decision, Mr. Sussman waved a copy of the town charter in the air, pointed to it and intoned that in that charter were provisions for the recall of selectmen whose action citizens didn't like. "Actions have consequences," he said. With that inducement by the chairman of the board of selectmen, the witch hunt was on. .
It was a wretched display of incredibly poor judgment by Mr. Sussman. He caused selectmen Seldin, Roper and Summers to be subjected to unjustified humiliation and anxiety for a matter of weeks. The Chronicle lit the match and Mr. Sussman poured the gasoline.
That wasn't right.
That Mr. Sussman later apologized for his behavior did not wipe away the hurt that he caused and the embarrassment he brought to the town.
No apology has been forthcoming from the Chronicle.
The provision in the town charter to recall a selectman has never been used for very good reason. Recall of a selectmen is akin to impeachment of a president or a judge. It's for serious crimes or malfeasance of great magnitude.
What basis did close friends of the Town Manager and favored town employees have to launch a recall petition drive against selectmen Florence Seldin, Tim Roper and Sean Summers?
They apparently did not like it that the selectmen decided to seek a new town manager to take over when the present town manager's five-year contract expires according to its terms on June 30, 2011. Two selectmen wanted to sign a new contract for the present town manager for one year, but the majority decided this was no time for delay since several very difficult years for the town lie ahead.
That's it. No moral turpitude, no theft of public monies, no perjury, just elected people using their judgment as to what is best for Chatham.
The recallers have been out on the sidewalks, at the dump and filling town lobbies with their three petitions containing affidavits charging Seldin, Roper and Summers with voting to terminate the Town Manager's employment. These are obviously false statements made under oath.
The Town Manager's five-year contract will end according to its terms on Jun 30, 2011. No selectman voted to terminate the Town Manager's contract. This fact was known to the organizers of the petition drive before they began the drive. Why did they then make false statements such as this? Did they decide that stating that the selectmen voted to terminate the Town Manager's contract without just cause would be much more inflammatory and more likely to get people to sign their petitions?
Infomed legal opinion is that these false affidavits invalidated the petitions from the beginning. These were not accidental misstatements, but false statements that were knowingly made.
The recall petitioners have created a poisonous atmosphere, unjustly raising suspicion amongst the population about the integrity of the selectmen. They have unjustly sought to damage their reputation and to do them harm. There can be no question that those making these false accusations knew that such accusations, knowingly and deliberately made, would be likely to cause mental anguish as well.
For such situations the law provides remedies. Making a false statement in an affidavit can be a criminal offense. Civil damages can be sought for unjust damage to reputation and mental anguish.
After an early flurry of letters to the local paper supporting the recall petitioners, people began to grasp the magnitude of the unjust insult to the selectmen and last week's letters were strongly in favor of the three selectmen's position and against the present town manager, suspicion being voiced that he was the one principally behind the recall drive, something we do not know.
The deadline for filing sufficient signatures is 5 p.m., Tuesday, December 21. Hopefuly, the three separate petitions will fail. If not, steps will be taken immediately to have the petitions invalidated because of their falsity.
In addition to the letters to the editor this past week Fran and Jackie Meaney paid for an ad that appeared in that issue of the Cape Cod Chronicle. It can be read here. FranJackie Meaney Statement.pdf
The Chatham selectmen who decided not to rehire the Town Manager for a 13th year, but instead to search for a new manager in whom they could place their trust and confidence for the difficult years ahead describe the decision process.
The three -- Florence Seldin, Sean Summers and Tim Roper -- decided delaying the decision on a new town manager for a year made no sense. After months of negotiation on vacation pay, severance and the like the five selectmen and the Town Manager made and signed an agreement. It was subsequently ratified by a 5-0 vote in an open selectmen's meeting. That should have been the end of it.
Dissatisfaction with the Town Manager's performance has been increasing in recent years. His most recent performance evaluation by the selectmen (reported in February of 2010) was a D or C-, hardly a ringing endorsement. And that was before the horrific bungling of the start to the sewer piping work on Route 28. With virtually no notice and with no prior consultation with local businesses or residents, the Town Manager had the heavy equipment show up and disruption and hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions in lost business followed. So a decision not to re-hire the Town Manager for another year but to go forward for a fresh start made eminent good sense.
After the public meeting to ratify the agreement reached by the five selectmen and the Town Manager, close friends of the Town Manager and some favored town employees (or their spouses) began an unprecedented recall effort to throw out of office the majority of the selectmen whose votes carried the decision not to rehire the Town Manager. Recall has never been used in Chatham. It is in the charter for extraordinary cases such as fraud, malfeasance and crimes, not for protesting a routine decision such as the hiring of a new town manager. It is like impeachment at the federal level.
The most disturbing aspect of the public meeting to ratify the agreement the five selectmen and the Town Manager had reached was the behavior of Chairman Sussman and Selectman Whitcomb. Even though they had signed the agreement with the Town Manager and publicly joined in voting for it 5-0, they publicly criticized the majority and applied pressure at the meeting in an effort to get one of the three to buckle. Sussman's effort was obviously directed at Florence Seldin, which was a despicable thing for him to do. To her credit, she let it be known she would not be intimidated. She had agonized over the decision for many days and made the decision in the best interests of the town. Sussman concluded his demagogic behavior by waving the town charter at the audience and urging a recall action.
See for yourself (click on the photo to get rolling):
There may be a slight glitch; if it stops move the little black dot on the line at the bottom slightly to the right and it should start up. There is about 3:40 of Chatham scenes for introduction which can be skipped by moving the black dot to the right.
You can also view directly on the town website. Click here.
Town Counsel as recently as last year ruled that selectmen who vote for a matter must then publicly support it, even though they had initially objected to it. The Town Manager in late October, 2008, right after the successive market collapses of August and October, signed a very rich three-year union contract calling for compensation increases ranging between 5-7%. This was done despite the fact that many if not most town residents had suffered massive losses in their life savings. At the selectmen's meeting to approve the contract, Selectman Summers voted against approval, but it was approved 3 to 1. Subsequently, when it was incorporated into the budget, Summers voted with the other selectmen to recommend the warrant question on the budget, but said he would speak against it at town meeting. Town Counsel ruled he could not undermine the affirmative vote he had cast.
The obligation of Sussman and Whitcomb is the same. They signed the agreement with the Town Manager. They joined in a unanimous public vote to approve it. Therefore, they appear to be in violation of the rule enunciated by Town Counsel, as well as policies of the selectmen, particularly 3(c) and 3(d), in attacking the agreement made in executive session and urging hostile action against the three selectmen, as they both did at the selectmen's meeting after the unanimous approval vote.
The recall effort quickly turned ugly with unfounded charges lodged against the majority selectmen in flyers, letters to the local papers and the recall petitions themselves.
Citizens going to a special town meeting on school regionalization were harassed to sign recall petitions. People entering the public Community Center this past Friday met a bullying crowd in the lobby seeking their signatures on recall petitions set up on the reception desk used by the town employee on duty. It looked as if the recall was officially sanctioned by the town employee in charge. Outrageous.
The Cape Cod Chronicle fed the flames (indeed, set them) with a headline "Hinchey Lynching?" The paper referred to the decision not to renew as the Town Manager being "ousted," which it clearly was not. The Town Manager will complete his current contract as agreed. The Chronicle said the Town Manager had not been reviewed since 2008, even though the Chronicle itself published a report of the most recent review (the D or C- review) on February 4, 2010.
Each selectman voting not to renew the Town Manager's employment had his or her own reasons. As with any such personnel decision in any business, details about the reasons for non-renewal were kept confidential. There can be no question that Florence Seldin, as well as the other selectmen, did what they concluded was best for the town. Seldin had been a tireless volunteer on many committees for years before becoming a selectman. She works hard, she digs for the facts, she is honest, fair and open. She votes too often for more spending than CCT likes, but she has our respect. Tim Roper said at the selectmen's meeting he had been a friend of the Town Manager for years, so his decision was not personal, but made to take the town in a more responsible spending direction. Sean Summers has served the town faithfully and well, being a lone voice calling for more attention to taxpayer concerns and ending overstaffing and overspending, for seven years.
Chatham Concerned Taxpayers certainly supports, indeed, applauds, the decision to seek a new town manager. The reign of the present town manager has been characterized by chronic overspending and steadily rising tax bills. The tax rate is meaningless. It's the result of Chatham's inflated property assessments (6th highest per capita in the state) and the fact that annually the town benefits from property tax windfalls paid by non-residents who impose minimal cost burdens on the town.
Proposition 2 1/2 in Massachusetts was meant to be a restraint on spending and the rise of property taxes in cities and towns. But in Chatham over the past decade the average spending increase each year has been about 6%, far above 21/2%. Indeed, according to state records, our neighbor Orleans, about the same size geographically and about the same in population, spends about 30% less per year than Chatham does. That's currently a difference of $9-$10 million per year. That gap will get larger as debt services charges for the enormously expensive sewer (CCT estimate: $450-$500 million) start hitting.
Chatham capital projects always seem to be bigger and more expensive than many thought they should be. To replace a 3,000 square foot community center for the children a 22,000 square foot project costing $10 million resulted. The children only use about 3,000 square feet. The rest of the building is underutilized. Some functions were added to use up the extra space, such as an exercise room for adults. Poor planning for children and adults: No locker rooms, no showers. Meeting rooms are empty most of the time since there is ample public meeting space elsewhere in town.
Nearing completion is a kind of second town hall to house the police and planning and permit issue people. At most about eight police will be on duty at any one time, we're told; nonetheless, they will have 19,000 square feet to luxuriate in. Despite the police having access to the exercise room at the community center, they will have their own gym in their new headquarters. As for the planning/permitting folks, they will rattle around in 20,000 square feet. The $17 million structure, dubbed the Taj Mahal by some, actually will cost more than that because it was built without a wastewater disposal system. Running piping up George Ryder Road from Route 28 will add at least a few hundred thousand if not more to the cost. Early plans for a new fire station also include a gym. And so it goes.
Readers can scroll through earlier entries on this website and find many, many reasons to be dismayed about the present Town Manager's years in office.
But, one may argue, aren't all these decisions made by the selectmen or town meeting?
In function, yes, in reality, no.
Why is the president of the United States limited to eight years? Because one administration over time acquires more and more power and controls more and more of the flow of information.
This is true in Chatham as well, but the administration in this town is the Town Manager.
This Town Manager has negotiated every contract establishing salaries and benefits for all unionized non-school employees. He has set the salary for almost every other non-school employee. He has hired many if not most of them. Needless to say, they are responsive to his wishes.
All information flows to and through the Town Manager. The Town Manager not only carries out the policies set by the selectmen, he is their principal advisor on setting policies, establishing budgets and proposing projects. It's no surprise that what he proposes usually gets rubber stamped by the board of selectmen and carried at town meeting. He says he doesn't set policy, only executes what the selectmen decide. Hogwash. He's in control.
Do the selectmen know about what they're voting for? Do they know all their options? Does town meeting? In many cases the answer is "No." From our close observation over the past two years, the Town Manager presents information to support his position and does his best (usually successfully) to keep contrary information from getting to the selectmen or town meeting or voters in general. At town meeting, town employees, their relatives and friends are a formidable bloc of votes and budgets with fat raises and increases in pension and health benefits always seem to get approved. The first town meeting spending plan after the October 2008 market collapse proposed by the Town Manager provided raises of 5-7% for all town employees. The public employee bloc vote prevailed over the objections of some 300 plus voters. Did the Warrant detail how rich the raises were? No.
Were Chatham voters, reeling from losses in their savings, told that they were voting compensation increases for public employees who already earned far more than most of the households in town are living on? No.
Mean household income in Chatham is $57,379 or less (2008 Census figures). CCT calculates that the average full-time town employee has total annual compensation in excess of $70,000.
In fact, the Town Manager's FY10 spending plan not only contained those rich increases in compensation, overall it exceeded expected FY10 revenues by more than $1 million. The Town Manager used off-budget money such as the emergency fund to fill the gap; how could there be an emergency when town employees are getting such handsome raises?
The FY10 spending plan deficit may have been closer to $2 million than $1 million since non-property tax revenues were in decline. How much they were down was not known because the Town Manager refused to provide that information to CCT and the Finance Committee despite repeated requests.
That FY10 deficit spending made for an unbalanced FY11 stuation, which the Town Manager "solved" by pushing as much as he could into FY12. "Cuts" in spending were minimal. The FY12 crisis is the culmination of years of overspending under the direction of this Town Manager made dramatically worse by the FY10 spending plan that was far, far in the red. At a time when CCT called for fiscal prudence, level spending with FY09 and deferral of all non-emergency capital projects until good economic times returned, the Town Manager imprudently continued his overspending ways.
As for how the Town Manager planned to and did ram the centralized sewer through town meeting without any vote on the overall plan or providing any honest information about taxpayer costs, please review our many entries on that. He wanted a hugely expensive 19th century centralized sewer for Chatham and he got it. Will it really improve Chatham's embayments as claimed? No one knows. That's why nine Cape towns are now discussing with the National Academy of Sciences a peer review of the state plan which Chatham alone forged ahead with. Before these towns spend hundreds of millions of dollars of their taxpayers' dollars, they want to know the science is good and what they're being told to do by the state will in fact make an improvement in their coastal waters. Was Chatham's Town Manager irresponsible in making Chatham the guinea pig of an unproven, untested state plan? We think so.
We hope the citizens of Chatham will show their good sense and that the recall actions will fail. It is astonishing that the Town Manager has not asked his friends and supporters to desist, but has allowed the poison to spread. He signed an agreement. He was not under duress. Even his two supporters on the board signed it, a clear indication that the agreement was acceptable to the Town Manager if not what he had hoped.
It's time to move on.
The seach process for a new town manager is beginning. Chatham is an attractive assignment and a host of qualified applicants is assured. We hope many folks will volunteer to serve on the five-person search committee being established by the Board of Selectmen.