Community Preservation Committee seeks path around Selectmen after preservation rejection

Sep 27, 2017

Selectmen have the authority to stop Community Preservation Committee proposals from reaching Wareham voters, a situation that has committee members exploring how to avoid rejection in the future.

Most recently, Selectmen would not place a request on the October Town Meeting agenda that, if approved, would have spent $91,500 of Community Preservation funds to purchase 6 acres of land near Stony Run Drive, located off Main Street. The land would have been used for preservation and recreation.

Each year, the committee considers requests from groups seeking funds for projects related to open space, historic preservation, affordable housing and recreation. Those Community Preservation Act funds are raised through a surcharge on property tax bills. The state then matches a percentage of those town-raised funds.

At the committee’s meeting on Wednesday night, Co-Chair Sandy Slavin said her board was frustrated that Selectmen ignored some properly vetted Community Preservation Committee requests.

“The reasoning hasn’t been shared with us as to why Stony Run wasn’t an appropriate purchase,” said Slavin.

At a previous Selectmen’s meeting, board members reminded the committee that last year they decided to hold off on buying preservation land until the Master Plan was updated. An updated plan would create a proper road map for preservation, they said.

Slavin noted that a couple of previous Community Preservation Committee requests, related to affordable housing, were also kept off of past Town Meeting agendas by Selectmen.

“They had refused two housing projects, one for six units and one for four when there are 700 people on the waiting list,” said Slavin.

She noted that Wareham is one of a few towns in Massachusetts where Selectmen decide what agenda items end up before Town Meeting voters. The exception would be a citizen’s petition item, which requires the signatures of 10 registered voters and must be placed on the agenda.

Community Preservation Committee members voted to seek the advice of the town’s attorney on whether or not their proposals could be brought forward with a citizen’s petition.

Slavin said that would provide her committee a better idea if in fact they can present proposals to Town Meeting voters if Selectmen say “no.”