Taking Stock at the end of the Year
By Gregory T. Federspiel
With the Christmas and New Year Holidays upon us, it feels like an especially good time to catch our collective breaths. The promise of putting the pandemic behind us has faded as we continue to deal with the Delta variant and worry what the new Omicron variant will bring. Most of us have gotten our vaccine shots but now boosters are needed. We are all ready to be done with COVID but we are not out of the woods yet. By spring? If not “done” than at least well contained.
Despite the on-going challenges of the pandemic municipal operations have continued providing services without interruption. I give high praise to all staff for maintaining quality services, especially during such a disruptive time. And many of you have expressed your appreciation as well. I am always happy when I can pass on a quick note of thanks to a Town employee. (Staff Appreciation gatherings have had to wait while we get through the pandemic.)
The year has been full of issues pandemic related or not. Figuring out when and how to hold Town Meetings presented new logistical hurdles. A second meeting on the football field and an indoor meeting split between the high school gym and auditorium allowed us to conduct the most pressing legislative business of the Town.
Much attention and energy, expended by staff, various boards and residents, have been directed toward the proposed 40B. The project is now in the early stages of review by the Zoning Board of Appeals as they undergo the comprehensive permit process. This is likely to last through the spring. Clearly alternative solutions to affordable housing are preferred but the rules governing 40B projects make it difficult. Having a diverse housing stock has grown as a town priority. Residents demonstrated their willingness to back up this priority with generous donations in making the Powder House Lane project come to fruition setting a solid model for future efforts. Additional zoning work also is being pursued by the Planning Board.
The development of the FY23 budget which begins July 1, 2022, and to be voted on at the spring Annual Town Meeting, is underway. A preliminary budget was presented to both the Finance Committee and the Board of Selectmen on December 14th. While this budget is balanced within the constraints of a 2.5% tax increase, pressures are mounting to expand certain aspects of town services (public health and safety in particular) which may require additional funding. State and federal funds, beyond which we have already received, should help. We also anticipate additional state and federal support of needed infrastructure improvements. Finalizing budgets and positioning ourselves to receive some of the new funding being made available will be a focus of January and February meetings.
Also starting up this winter will be the work of the new Water Resources Protection Task Force. This subcommittee of the Conservation Commission, comprised of representatives from numerous committees and “at large” citizens, will assist in updating our long-range water protection efforts. Regional efforts looking at drinking water supply issues will be taking place at the same time. New information on PFAS in our water supply and possible treatment measures should they become necessary will also feed into the work of the new Task Force.
Another regional effort is underway aimed at better understanding the challenges of climate change and identifying priority action steps needed to increase our resiliency to bigger storms and surging seas. Three complementary efforts have been mobilized. One is through the EPA’s Building Blocks Program that is providing technical assistance to the four Cape Ann communities. Through the program we are reviewing past studies, gathering new information and identifying priority projects and potential funding sources for them. Through private donations and a state grant that Senator Tarr helped secure, the Cape Ann Climate Coalition and TownGreen2025 have contracted with Harvard’s Graduate School of Design’s American City Initiative to graphically portray the impacts of a moderate hurricane on the region as well as to provide best practices in the areas of “Grey and Green” Armoring of critical areas (seawalls, natural buffers, etc.) Net Zero Affordable Housing and Waste to Energy innovative systems for wastewater and solid waste. The third initiative, being funded mainly with ARPA dollars from the four Cape Ann communities, is titled “Voices for Climate Action”. This project will engage residents to learn what we cherish most about living here on Cape Ann and what needs to be protected. The “Voices” project will help ensure actions are aligned with the values and priorities of residents.
2022 promises to be every bit as busy as 2021. Hopefully we finally put the pandemic behind us as we attend to nurturing the health and sustainability of our town. Happy New Year.