Voting ourselves a bigger gun

The first night of Wellfleet’s recent Town Meeting, FinCom, trying hard to curb spending, suggested cutting the proposed $101,000 budget for “legal services” in half. In the debate, one selectman pointed out that we spent about that amount just in the lalte 2016 court case trying (unsuccessfully) to prevent Cumberland Farms’ makeover of its existing store and we might be in for more expense if the company appeals the selectmen’s recent vote not to permit a Cumby’s gas station.

If you’re foolishly idealist enough to take on a large, deep-pocketed corporation intent on having its way, he seemed to be saying, you shouldn’t be talking about reducing the legal services budget.

The selectman was one of the minority of two who voted in favor of the gas station proposal.

There’s something wrong about this either/or. Whether you vote for the full $101,000 or vote to halve it, a fixed amount seems insufficiently flexible. And unrealistic.

Just about all those who have expressed an opinion at hearings about Cumby’s p lans have been against both the bigger store and the gas station as being bad for our town. In the first court case, after our formula business bylaw was found by a judge to be invalid as a basis for denying the glorified store, the selectmen voted to cave because we had already spent $97,000. Why throw good money after bad?

But what if most of of us wanted to dig deeper and put up more of a fight against this company’s hostile makeover? $97,000 is about $20 of a median home’s tax bill, or a loaded pizza or a couple of mixed drinks or five fancy coffees. What if we had couple of drinks’ worth more to spend in defense of what we know to be right for our town?

Since Town Meeting, Cumby’s has, as expected, decided to appeal the town’s rejection of its unwanted gas station. This should be a whole different matter from the earlier court case, nothing to do with a legally questionable formula business bylaw. It’s hard to see the basis for the company’s appeal, given that it is the selectmen’s job to decide about matters of public health and safety. If, nevertheless, Cumby’s should once again succeed in court, do we just accept the unwanted gas station, widely deemed both redundant and dangerous in that congested stretch of Route 6, with its history of bad accidents? I would personally have a few more bucks for my share of keeping that gas station out of town.

Fighting such fights seems more important than many other budget items we rubber-stamp at TM.

A set legal services budget line, whether $100,000 or $50,000, fails to address the reality of the situation we’re in, when threatened by a company like Cumberland Farms, or other large, deep-pocketed corporate chains.who may become interested in us. (Provincetown, armed with a formula business bylaw just like our late, lamented one, is in just such a situation with CVS.)

There ought to be some more expressive and flexible way, when we feel strongly enough about something, to put our money where our hearts are. To tell the selectmen when necessary: Yes, of course we want in general to keep expenses down, but this is one we need you to fight. And we have the price of more than one pizza per tax bill to put into such a fight.

Is there an existing mechanism for accomplishing that? (A quickie special town meetiing?)

One way or another, if we’re serious about resisting the effect we see large corporations having on most other towns, we need to vote ourselves a bigger gun. How about a reserve Goliath Budget funded by the price of several pizzas per tax bill to fight for the soul and the future of our town?


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