Water Quality Fund Receives Approval at Sandwich Special Town Meeting

SANDWICH – Special town meeting voters in Sandwich overwhelmingly approved a new fund over the weekend to help pay for water quality improvements.

The Water Infrastructure Investment Fund would be generated through a 2 percent surcharge on property taxes which would only be used to pay for projects related to wastewater, drinking water or stormwater issues.

An associated article to help offset the property tax increase by reducing the Community Preservation Act surcharge from 3 to 2 percent also passed.

Sandwich Town Manager Bud Dunham said establishing the fund is very important for the town.

“Water, wastewater and stormwater are really the number one environmental issue and capital issue the town will probably face for the next 50-plus years,” Dunham said.

Special town meeting was the first of two hurdles required to establish the fund. It also needs a majority approval at town election in May.

The fund would be used to clean ponds and coastal waters, along with the extension of water lines throughout town and provide better stormwater draingage.

The fund would grow and earn interest similar to the Community Preservation Act surcharge.

The fund is possible due to a law passed by legislators in the state several years ago that allows municipalities to assess a property tax surcharge up to 3 percent to raise funds for wastewater, drinking water or stormwater purposes.

“When we looked at the numbers, in our opinion the 3 percent actually would bring in too much money for what we are trying to accomplish based on a long-term study that we’ve had [completed],” Dunham said. “So we went forward with a 2 percent WIIF.”

The town completed its Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan after a decade of work and it estimates that water quality improvement projects would require $86 million over the next two or three decades.

Dunham believes the surcharge passed at special town meeting because water quality issues are receiving more publicity and residents know what is trying to be accomplished through individual embayments instead of a region-wide solution.

“All the scientific studies have proven that it really isn’t necessary to have an MWRA-type solution on the Cape,” he said.

Sandwich embayments that flow north towards Cape Cod Bay are in fairly good shape when it comes to water quality, according to Dunham. The southern facing embayments contribute to water quality issues in Mashpee, Barnstable and Falmouth.

“We are going to be responsible for a certain percentage of their cleanup efforts as well,” he said.

Dunham said the beauty of the funding mechanism is that it provides money to cover the costs for stormwater and drinking water, not just wastewater.

“I know wastewater gets a lot of the publicity, but the other two issues are almost as important,” Dunham said.

If the fund passes at town election, town meeting approvals would also be needed to fund individual projects.

“The public still has approval requirements, but the beauty of it is it can just happen at town meeting and doesn’t have to go back for additional ballot question votes,” Dunham said. “It has a legal authority where you can borrow against it. So there are a lot of positives, I think, to the funding mechanism and I’m pleased Sandwich voters have given us the opportunity to try to get it passed in May.”

If passed at town election, the fund would not take effect until Fiscal Year 2021, which begins on July 1, 2020.

By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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