Wareham Selectmen candidates talk override at open forum

Mar 23, 2018

The three Selectmen candidates in the upcoming Town Election answered a slew of questions Thursday on education, infrastructure and economic development.

However, the main concern for many at the Onset Protective League’s Candidate’s Night was how to raise additional revenue.

A crowd of roughly 70 people arrived to hear the candidates. Of two seats, one is contested by Marc Bianco and incumbent Alan Slavin. A third candidate, Mary Bruce, is running unopposed for the seat previously held by Judith Whiteside, who resigned in January.

Bianco’s town experience includes the Planning Board, where he has served for the last 10 months, and a stint on the Zoning Board of Appeals in the early 2000s. He’s lived in town for the past 25 years. Slavin has served as a Selectmen for six years and is involved with the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association. A Wareham native, Bruce has served on the Wareham Council on Aging, is currently a member of the Beach and Tourism Committee and is a founding member of Don’t Trash Wareham. The volunteer-driven organization is dedicated to beautifying the town.

On the minds of many was a how to deal with lackluster revenues, which has led to cuts for services, such as the Council on Aging and Wareham Free Library. Earlier in the evening, School Committee candidates addressed a looming budget shortfall.

One question dealt with the possibility of using an override to bring in additional funds.

If approved by voters, an override would raise property taxes. Four years ago, voters overwhelmingly rejected an override, which led to drastic cuts in municipal services.

Candidates were asked if they would support an override. Bianco said he would not.

“I don’t think this community can handle an override,” he said. “It would be devastating for families.”

Bianco said officials should focus on finding grants and properly enforcing town bylaws to bring in more revenue.

Slavin said because voters said “no” four years ago, it would take a groundswell of support for him to back an override.

“If people show us they want an override, the Selectmen will put it on the ballot,” said Slavin. “If this town wants an override they’ve got to step up.”

Bruce, who supported the previous override, agreed with Slavin.

“I’m in favor of an override if a huge amount of people in town support it,” she said. “I wouldn’t support one right now.”

Bob Brousseau, a longtime, former School Committee members, asked candidates to prioritize the following three issues: economic development, education and infrastructure.

Slavin said in his experience the three issues are intertwined. It’s not possible to work on one alone, he said.

“You can’t do one without the others,” said Slavin. “Each piece interacts with each other.”

As an example, he pointed to a plan currently being worked on that would consolidate the town’s elementary schools into one, new building.

Bianco agreed a balance must occur while working on those three issues, but he said infrastructure and education should be the top priorities.

Bruce said she also felt it was difficult to prioritize those three issues, adding that when it comes to revenue, town officials should be willing to work with businesses that are willing to open in town.

Candidates fielded a question regarding a new, 174-unit affordable housing project proposed for 3102 Cranberry Highway East Wareham. Unveiled in June by Waltham-based developer Dakota Partners, the project, dubbed Woodland Cove, calls for constructing six, three- and four-story buildings on an 8.6-acre site. Of the 174 units, 106 will be classified as affordable under state guidelines.

Bianco, Bruce and Slavin were asked if they were against the project.

Bianco weighed the need for affordable housing against the potential impact the project would have on local infrastructure.

“Do I think having affordable housing is valuable? I think it is,” said Bianco. “Do I think 174 units is excessive? I think it is.”

Bruce offered a direct answer.

“I’m against it,” she said. “I don’t think we can handle it. I don’t see how it’s going to help us.”

Slavin said he opposed the project, but he noted unless the developer withdraws the project, it will be built.

“The Board of Selectmen is completely against it,” said Slavin. “Can we stop it? No.”

Slavin said board members are doing what they can to make sure the developer will address town concerns related to its impact on services and infrastructure.

The Town Election is set for April 3.