Yarmouth Town Meeting Approves Spending Measures, Bans Marijuana Shops

YARMOUTH – Yarmouth residents worked through a 42-article town meeting warrant Saturday, approving an operating budget of $37,693,481 with little discussion.

Debate on the regional school budget was a much different story.

“Thanks to a recovering economy, improved financial management, the operating budgets of the town and the Cape Cod Tech School are funded without an override,” said Board of Selectmen Chair Tracy Post.

“We are within the budget and in a position to maintain service levels, maintain existing facilities and equipment and increase revenues,” she said.

The debate over the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School budget quickly turned contentious.

The Board of Selectmen recommended spending $33,426,707 for their portion of the spending plan for the next fiscal year.

That was less than the $33,973,474 being sought by the school committee. The total school budget for both towns proposed by the school committee is $60,471,135

School Committee Chairman Joe Tierney said his board only found out about the amount selectmen would recommend 15 minutes before the meeting began.

He argued that the amount in the main motion should have been the amount printed in the warrant and not what Selectmen Chair Tracy Post presented.

Assistant School Superintendent Ken Jenks, in a budget presentation to the town meeting, said the money spent by the district provides a quality education for students from Dennis and Yarmouth.

“This year’s FY ’19 specific budget goals are very similar to last year’s goals. Improve student achievement. We know at the end of the day, are they learning and are they learning enough is the key piece of our mission. We are working on that,” he said.

Jenks said students have excelled in all academic areas and D-Y has been a leader in arts and entertainment.

“Good things happen. We know it’s expensive, we know it’s a challenge, but I hope you can find a way to make sure their future and our future works together and we can find a way to invest in our students,” he said.

Jenks said enrollment has been essentially level since 2014 and that charter school enrollment has declined as students and parents realized they could get the same education in their home district.

Yarmouth officials and the school district have had a strained relationship for years over the budget, and that rift was on full display Saturday.

Selectmen Norm Holcomb said some of the numbers presented by school officials during town meeting had never been disclosed to the board until that morning.

He also noted that prior to town meeting, selectmen were able to come up with an extra $800,000 to cover additional students and increased expense.

“Over the last several years, we have been asked to shoulder override proposals. This is not new. Each year, the (school) administration has said they needed more money to run the schools. When you turn back the covers of the financial details, you begin to uncover things that are uncomfortable,” he said.

Holcomb said the schools have not been transparent about “substantial wage increases” given by the district.

He claimed that after staff reductions, there was still a 10 percent increase in expenses, and he questioned where that came from.

Under the proposed budget, Dennis would only have to pay an additional $17,000 compared to last year, while Yarmouth’s share was up by more than $1,000,000.

A motion from the floor to fund the full amount requested by the school district of $33,973,474 was eventually approved after a lengthy debate.

The additional $546,767 added back to the budget will be subject to a Proposition 2 ½ override at the town election later this month.

Town meeting voters also approved a Community Preservation Act article that would allocate $975,000 to purchase the dilapidated Yankee Village Motel on Route 28 in West Yarmouth.

The building would be torn down, allowing for two adjacent parks to be connected, creating a large waterfront vista along Route 28.

Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson spoke in support of the article, saying the property has been a haven for drug dealers, prostitution and human trafficking over the years.

“This piece of property is a no brainer. You are going to beautify Route 28 and make the value across from it and around it go up,” he said.

Frederickson called the current run-down motel a “patrol hazard.”

In other action, residents rejected a $20,000 item to buy electronic voting equipment for town and approved $275,000 to build new pickleball courts at Flax Pond.

Voters approved an article that would ban the consumption of marijuana in public places in Yarmouth and another article that bans the establishment of recreational marijuana shops.

It did not impact private, personal use of marijuana.

The town meeting began with a moment of silence and the playing of Amazing Grace and a moment of silence for Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon, who was killed in the line of duty last month.

By MATT PITTA, CapeCod.com News Director

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