Forecaster Forum: Falmouth facilities plan a long story, short on referendum timing

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Clearly the two-year work of the Falmouth Facilities Planning Committee is complete. Its recommendation for the most expensive of 10 known options to build no less than Falmouth’s third “town center” is on the table. However, the work of the Town Council, and the thousands of other taxpayers just began on Aug. 9.

With a potential for 13 options by Aug. 23, the council should give due consideration to more than one choice on a June or November 2011 referendum. To slam the most expensive option or a variation thereof on this November’s ballot and an uneducated electorate is to abdicate civic responsibility and dignify the charrette charade as legitimate.

This is a town of 8,800 registered voters and a few thousand more taxpayers. Contrast the number of people not “in the know” to the 347 “votes” (not voters) who moved the most expensive of 13 potential options to the brink of referendum. Consider that 67 of the 95 people who attended the second public forum had attended the first; 54 who answered the online survey reported that they had attended the first public hearing, and 171 people of the 482 who completed the first online survey reported that they had completed the second.

The citizen petition drive to date represents hundreds of individual taxpayers asking the council to postpone the referendum. Most want more time to understand what is happening and what the options are. All want to cast an informed vote. They are simply missing the facts, and they want time to debate.

Time means more than one public meeting at the tail end of the best summer in recent memory, when most people are away enjoying the last few days. The complex array of “facts” just became available, but the Aug. 9 workshop revealed that the numbers for improving Town Hall and expanding the library on-site deserve review. The council was recently made aware that one contractor has estimated $450,000 (not $2 million) will cover improvements at Town Hall.

A spontaneous presentation by the library board chair not only supports the long-standing contention that $3.8 million is a years-old estimate, but also that the library cannot articulate a clear and concise needs assessment. Its “space requirements” are based, in part, on a 2003 study that has little relevance to today’s “book world” in which hard covers, like brick-and-mortar video stores, are going the way of the passbook savings account.

If indeed, the Russell Room is not adequate to host 150 children, then the “cost” to taxpayers of summer reading events at any Falmouth school library would be the gas money needed for the librarian to drive to the “other town center” site on Woodville Road.

Which brings us to a favorite irony: the need for a(nother) town center, in addition to the seasonal Woodville campus; the West Falmouth shopping center now being outfitted with sidewalks; and, the most charming of them all, the Falmouth Memorial Library, juxtaposed to the ball fields, American Legion, cinema, hockey rink and stores. Expanding that existing footprint would be logical and cost-efficient, and preserve a historic building for the cost of just one lunch.

So, bring on the scare tactics. They don’t scare us. A rational, well-informed decision by taxpayers can (and we hope will) be made in an unrushed, thoroughly vetted and timely fashion in June.

Falmouth residents Lisa Preney and Dave Libby, a former town councilor, are coordinators of Falmouth Citizens for Sound Choices.