Snyder's Sandwich: Spending $70 Million In 200 Minutes
By: MARK SNYDER, May 9, 2014
Okay, so I’m impressed. I attended my first Sandwich Annual Town Meeting on Monday night. Let’s start with the bad—I missed “24” on Fox. That’s about it. The rest was quite good. I had been an elected member of Stoughton’s Annual Town Meeting for over two decades, and was used to their type of meeting. For instance, Stoughton would have 60 or 70 articles, and Town Meeting would sometimes go 10 nights, each until 11 PM. It plodded along and long boring speeches would be given; repetition was a regular part of the festivities, and so were endless presentations. The moderator would frequently arrive 15 minutes late, and it would sometimes start nearly an hour after scheduled.
So, I was pleasantly surprised to see moderator Garry Blank start the night on time, after some wonderful music from the Sandwich High School Chorale group. I was a volunteer “teller,” which means I counted votes in my section. I was smart enough to grab a section of only three voters. Even I could handle that. And, so the warrant was opened.
The first thing that those who attended voted on was the town’s budget, which is $68,854,242. A few quick words from the finance committee, the board of selectmen, and the town manager, and then—quickly passed. I liked that!
Article 3, which funded the sanitation department, passed unanimously. Interestingly, $825,000 of the $1,073,509 sanitation budget is funded by sanitation receipts, including dump passes and trash bags. The rest comes from all taxpayers, through the General Fund. Half of what was previously needed as the taxpayer contribution was needed this year. That’s progress.
Article 5 was $932,495, and covered a “re-lifing study of the Wing School,” repairs, and items for natural resources, the police and fire, engineering, and the recreation department.
The most controversial of all the articles was the one which requested $500,000 for artificial turf at the Captain Gerald F. DeConto Veterans Memorial Stadium at Sandwich High. Dan Miller said Sandwich last year spent $1.7 million more than it took in. “I think this is selfish, self-serving, special interest spending. It’s all about ‘me’ and not ‘we.’ This doesn’t benefit the majority. Last year, a million for the pool. Now, a half million for the field. Sandwich does not have a revenue problem, it has a school spending problem.”
But superintendent of schools Richard Canfield said, “There’s been declining enrollment across Cape Cod. We have a plan. This six-year program starts with STEM Academy, and we’re hoping students will want to stay here after 8th grade. We have great kids. I hope you will support our game plan. We’ll have 1,300 kids in the high school next year. The field will get additional usage.”
Tim Paul of the Sandwich Sports Complex Committee said, “Real grass didn’t stand up to the seven teams that used it, and the weather. It was shredded.” Voters passed the article for new turf, 219-146. This article must pass Thursday’s vote at the polls to be enacted.
Article 7, which requested a capital expenditure exclusion of $1.3 million toward the estimated $10 million worth of road and parking lot work needed in town, got overwhelming support. In fact, the majority of speakers thought the selectmen should have requested more money in a road bond that could have taken care of the problem, without having to come to Town Meeting and the polls for five years for approval. This one passed on a voice vote, and will also be at the polls on Thursday.
If both are passed, Sandwich’s highest on the Cape taxes will be even higher, by nearly $200 for the average homeowner, with a house assessed at $343,100.
Town Meeting flew through the next articles, including one which allows eligible seniors to defer their property taxes, with a 5 percent interest rate (it used to be 8 percent). Another one, which I thought might be controversial, reduced the tax load on NRG, LLC’s power plant on the canal. But, the town manager did a good job explaining the possible consequences of rejecting the valuation agreement. It was the third agreement that has been sent to Town Meeting over the years, with six different owners.
Community Preservation Act money will be used to provide an additional $1.3 million to the Sandwich High multi-purpose field, including for lighting of night games. It was said that this could generate funds from additional ticket sales at football home games. CPA money will also go toward beach restoration at Town Neck Beach, contingent on the town obtaining grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants program.
I really like the way Blank has the board of selectmen rotate in making the motions to put on the floor, and the finance committee doing the same with its recommendations. It keeps everyone involved. In Stoughton, just the chairman of each read the motions and recommendations.
CPA funds were also used for protecting burial stones at Sandwich Cedarville Cemetery, protecting the Town Archives at Sandwich Library; an assessment of Lower Shawme Pond Dam, the Dexter Grist Mill and surrounding area; and the purchase of a 5.6-acre lot adjacent to Maple Swamp. There was little to no discussion. I noticed that many had already left.
The Town Meeting members who were left also continued for another year the temporary moratorium on medical marijuana treatment centers from last year. A new Flood Plain District was also passed in new zoning.
A petitioned article to put a question on the next election ballot asking voters to determine if Sandwich should pull out of the Cape Cod Commission was handily defeated after Sheila Lyons, a Barnstable County Commissioner, said, “You can’t vote your way out of the Cape Cod Commission. It’s not an option for the town to come into it or out of it.”
A total of 416 voters checked in, according to Town Clerk Taylor White. That number is 2.6 percent of the registered voters in the Town of Sandwich. I know that readers of this column came out to vote. They have shown an interest in what is going on in their town. For those who did not vote: YOU are the problem, and not the solution. Do not complain about what is happening in Sandwich. Same for those who didn’t vote on Thursday. Leaving a small minority to vote in your representatives, and your policies and bylaws, doesn’t make much sense. Think about it next time you have a chance to vote! People have fought and died for your right to vote. And, please, don’t write me and tell me you had to work all day or were away on business. That’s what absentee ballots are for.
RUMBLINGS AROUND TOWN
SANDWICH HIGH AFTER PROM NEEDS YOUR HELP. With less than three weeks until the Sandwich High School After Prom party, they need donations of cash, food, or prizes—and, especially, volunteers! If you can donate prizes (gift cards, T-shirts), cash, or food to the After Prom Party, please e-mail: email@example.com. Checks can be mailed directly to: SHS PTSA, PO Box 479, Sandwich, MA 02563. Volunteers are needed and they need to know ahead of time who they can count on. They need decorators, chaperones, cleaners, and others who can volunteer on May 24 and 25, from 11 PM to 5 AM. If you can volunteer, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org (put decorate, chaperone, or cleanup in the subject). You can also help by eating great food and enjoying ice cream! Go to Ice Cream Sandwich, 66 Route 6A on May 9, 10, 16, or 17 with a printed coupon, and After Prom will get a percentage of the proceeds. Same on May 18, from 5 to 9 PM at British Beer Company. You can download the coupons on the After Prom Facebook page at www.facebook.com/shs.afterprom?fref=ts&ref=br_tf or e-mail email@example.com and ask for the coupons. Carolyn Walker tells Snyder’s Sandwich, “After Prom has been a Sandwich tradition for the past 20 years. Every year juniors plan the actual prom and junior parents step up to plan the After Prom party, hosted at the high school from 11:30 PM to 5 AM. We feed and entertain approximately 400 students and entice them to come by drawing four names every 15 minutes to receive donated prizes (mostly gift cards). In years past laptops, iPods and a car have been the big gifts. This year we can’t even afford iPods. Our group is having a particularly difficult time raising money this year. So 18 days before the event, we are under our fundraising goal by $4,000.” I hope my readers will help.
HAVE YOU MET FRED? A new web mapping application developed by the Cape Cod Commission offers a simplified way to visualize the factors that affect the suitability of land for development across the Cape. The Flexible Regional Economic Development application, or FRED, will enable users to evaluate any geographic area’s viability for further economic development based on 17 factors in three key areas: Natural areas that might constrain development such as flood hazards or drinking water supply; existing infrastructure that could promote development like proximity to the Open Cape network or roadway capacity; and factors sought by developers such as workforce availability or redevelopment potential.
Mark Snyder, who has written more than 1,900 articles in newspapers and magazines, and published three books, is the CEO of PMPNetwork.com, the Internet’s entertainment superstation. Have a story idea? He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook (Snyder’s Stoughton), and on Twitter (MediaMan2009). Write him via snail mail at Box 639, East Sandwich.