Fees Raised in Several Falmouth Departments
By: Christopher Kazarian
Several fees, including water rates, went up this week, but not before facing opposition from residents in attendance at the selectmen’s meeting.
The hearing was a continuation of one held last month, and the board voted several fee increases into effect without discussion.
Among the items that generated discussion were increases for use of the Gus Canty Community Center gymnasium as well as its meeting rooms for both nonprofit and for profit groups, proposed by the Falmouth Recreation Department.
With this last proposed increase, Daniel H. Shearer of Chapoquoit Road, West Falmouth, said he was not in favor of charging nonprofits $12.50 per hour to use meeting rooms. “It will be a real hardship,” he said.
Several town fees are due to increase:
- Building permits for new residential dwellings up to 3,000 square feet will cost $8 per square foot, a $1-$2 increase per square foot.
- Parking tickets at meters will go up from $10 to $15, while vehicles parked in a prohibited area will go up from $15 to $25.
- The tax collector will charge $75 for municipal lien certificates, an increase of $50.
- The Gus Canty gym will be $25 per hour for non-profits and $50 per hour for other groups, and $150 for those charging admission.
- Meeting rooms at Gus Canty will cost $12.50 per hour for non-profits and $25 per hour for other groups.
- The average water bill will increase from $44.93 to $49.49.
But Selectman Mary (Pat) Flynn said many nonprofits already pay such a fee as an unwritten rule. For-profit groups will now be charged $25 an hour to use the rooms.
The use of the gymnasium goes up from $25 an hour for nonprofits to $50 an hour. For profit groups will be charged $100 an hour to use the gymnasium, doubling the previous amount. Profit groups that charge admission will be forced to pay $150 an hour to use the gymnasium. In the past, no fee was charged to these groups.
Captains: extra fee without extra service
Charter boat captains were particularly upset at an increase in slip charges, arguing that they receive less than adequate service from the town.
Of all the proposed fee changes, the increase in charges for renting out seasonal slips for charter boats generated the most discussion.
The Falmouth Waterways Committee proposed an increase from $143 per foot to $147 per foot for residents, upping the charge for non-residents from $166 per foot to $170 per foot in Falmouth Harbor.
Charter boat captain Donald E. Oliver of Kompass Drive, East Falmouth, asked why the increase for charter boats was going up $4 per foot while residential slips in the main marina were only going up half that, from $150 per foot to $152 per foot.
Falmouth Harbor Master Gregg P. Fraser said the goal is to ultimately have the slip rates for both charter boats and private residential slips be equivalent.
Mr. Oliver was critical of such a move, especially because the section of the marina where charter boats are located is a dangerous one. When charter boat captains arrive in the early morning, he said, lighting is inadequate, creating a safety issue.
Fishing captains have been waiting several years for a lighting pole to be installed in the area, but the harbor master’s office has said they do not have an electrician to do it. At the same time, Mr. Oliver said, electricians have been provided for other jobs in the harbor.
Mr. Oliver was also upset with the lack of hand railings along the wall, which adds to the danger for those walking in that area when it is dark out.
“I suggest we have a lack of services,” he said, adding that some of the captains are being charged a 35-foot minimum to dock their boat there despite having vessels under that size.
He asked selectmen to freeze the slip rate and reduce the minimum footage for boats to 30 feet. The board did not go along with this request, with Ms. Flynn, Selectman Melissa C. Freitag, and Chairman Brent V.W. Putnam opposed to the idea. Selectmen Ahmed A. Mustafa and David Braga voted in favor of the proposal.
In addressing Mr. Oliver’s concerns, Mr. Mustafa called for town officials to erect a light in this section because that could constitute a legal problem, should anyone get hurt.
Other charter boat captains, including William H. Hatch of Oakwood Avenue, Falmouth, called on selectmen to reduce the fees they charge this sector of the industry. Mr. Hatch said he operated out of Martha’s Vineyard for 15 years where charter boats were a valued part of the island’s commercial base.
During those years, he said, he typically paid $300 a year for a mooring at a town dock, while in Falmouth those rates are closer to $1,200. He said the harbors and waters in town should be valued and “viewed as a big cash cow.”
Waterways committee Vice Chairman Joseph Voci was surprised to see the backlash against the fees, noting that he has been on the board for nearly five years and has never seen these residents at his committee’s meeting expressing their views. He was upset they were bringing their complaints to selectmen as opposed to the waterways committee.
But Mr. Putnam explained that the public hearing was being held to solicit public input on the proposed fees.
Ms. Flynn called on the waterways committee to work with the charter boat captains to settle some of their differences.
Bag fee back on the table
The board also focused heavily on the Waste Management Facility on Blacksmith Shop Road, which has been the source of controversy since the board voted to implement a $2.50 fee for each bag of trash disposed at the dump.
Mr. Mustafa was the first to propose a change to the current system, asking that the annual fee for dump stickers be increased from $40 per year to $70 per year, while scrapping the per-bag fee. The board did not back this proposal.
“I believe this is a philosophical discussion,” Ms. Freitag said. “The purpose of the $2.50 bag fee is to help the town stop the hemorrhaging at the dump.”
She explained the fee has worked, forcing residents to utilize curbside pickup as opposed to taking unnecessary trips to the dump.
Many argued the fee is working to reduce costs at the dump, but Department of Public Works Director Raymond A. Jack took that a step further. Since being instituted, he said, recycling has gone up substantially.
Others such as Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, Teaticket, pointed out that since January fewer beach and dump stickers have been purchased, translating into a loss of over $400,000 in revenue to the town.
Mr. Putnam used this as the basis for a proposal he put forth to the board, which included increasing the dump sticker from $40 a year to $50 a year. And he suggested that the first bag of trash visitors brought to the dump on each visit would be free.
He also recommended lowering the fee for "white goods" from $20 an item to a $10 flat fee. Finally, he called for trash generated from public departments be brought to the Upper Cape Regional Transfer Station at Otis Air National Guard Base.
Ms. Freitag said she was offended that Mr. Putnam was recommending four different proposals into one motion.
Ms. Flynn questioned the rationale behind employees bringing waste materials to the transfer station, noting the time and gasoline costs could offset any savings from not having to pay the hauling costs at the dump.
It was a concern shared by Highway Superintendent John T. Lyons, who said this would be particularly difficult in the summertime when traffic would pose a headache to drivers taking trash to the transfer station.
Virginia Valiela of Old Main Road, North Falmouth, warned that offering a free bag of trash for each visit would most likely force residents into their old habits. She said a survey done last year revealed that when residents brought their trash to the dump they usually brought one or two bags.
Acting Town Manager Heather B. Harper said one option could be to offer five free stickers to dispose of five bags of trash when residents purchase a dump sticker at town hall. Mr. Putnam amended his proposal to include that, instead of offering one free bag of trash per visit.
Virginia C. Gregg, a member of the solid waste advisory committee, said she was opposed to raising the dump sticker because it would discourage people from bringing other items to the dump, whether it be metals or unwanted goods to the Swap Shop. She said the value of the Swap Shop is that it takes trash out of Falmouth’s waste stream and reduces its overall tonnage at the dump.
The board elected not to act on Mr. Putnam’s proposal with at least one member, Mr. Braga, calling on one more year of data to determine how well the per-bag fee is working. Mr. Braga, Ms. Freitag, and Ms. Flynn opposed Mr. Putnam’s motion. Mr. Mustafa was the only other selectman in favor of it.
Water fees on the rise
Selectmen also increased water rates this week with the minimum charge going up 10 percent, and roughly 7 percent on the excess.
The minimum charge would go up immediately while residents would not see an increase on the excess charge until May. There will be a $5 late fee charged for residents who do not pay their water bills on time.
Water Superintendent William R. Chapman said the increase on the minimum charge will mean residents should expect to see bills going up from $44.93 to $49.49.
The board voted in favor of the increases, with Mr. Putnam opposed, and with Ms. Flynn, Mr. Mustafa, and Mr. Braga supporting the request. Ms. Freitag did not vote, as she left early due to illness.