Updated: Patrol boat funding, Wells Road spark debate at Marion Town Meeting

May 13, 2024

This story has been updated with more information from Town Meeting.

MARION – At Marion’s Town Meeting on Monday, May 13, there was little question that the Harbormaster Department needed a new patrol boat to replace its aging 2006 Boston Whaler – the question was how to pay for it. 

Town Meeting voters had a choice of two methods to fund the purchase of a new $803,250 33-foot 2023 “SAFE Boat.” One would pay for the boat outright using $400,000 of free cash and $403,250 from the town’s Waterways Fund. 

The other method would finance the full cost of the boat, with the principal and interest to be paid for only with money from the Waterways Fund. 

According to Marion Town Administrator Geoff Gorman, the Harbormaster Department’s current vessel has been in continuous use since 2006 and was “not built from the ground up to be a patrol boat, it’s upfitted to be a patrol boat.”

A survey conducted by Boston-based Marine Safety Consultants found the current vessel to have cracking on the port and starboard side of the wheelhouse, severe cracking at the dive door and other issues including water saturation and loose fuel tank brackets.

The first method was recommended by the Marion Select Board. The second method was recommended by both the Select Board and Marion Finance Committee. 

According to Finance Committee Chair Shay Assad, paying for the boat using free cash  – which includes a portion of tax money paid by all Marion residents – would be fiscally irresponsible.

“This is not about whether we need a boat – we need a boat. This is not about the Harbormaster and his crew, they’re fantastic,” said Assad. “[The Finance Committee’s] view is that we need a boat, but our view is that we shouldn’t use taxpayer funds to do it.”

However, Marion residents – boat owners and landlubbers alike – largely favored the first option that would fund the boat outright with a 92-60 vote in favor of the item. This affirmative vote skipped over a vote on the second method that would finance the patrol boat. 

Several residents raised the point that the town as a whole has an obligation to maintain the safety of Sippican Harbor, as well as surrounding areas if another coastal town – like Mattapoisett or Wareham – requests mutual aid. 

“I’ve been agonizing over these two articles,” said Marion resident Helen Westergard. “I know that historically, the waterways people have paid for everything that has to do with the waterways. I personally don’t swim, I don’t go out on boats … but if I fell overboard from a boat, you’re going to spend that money on me to rescue me, aren’t you?”

What to do with Wells Road

According to Marion Select Board member Norm Hills, Wells Road, which runs between Route 6 and Spring Street, was part of Route 6 but was discontinued by the Commonwealth in the 1930s. 

Ownership of Wells Road then passed to the town.

At Marion’s Town Meeting, residents had the chance to follow the state’s lead and discontinue the roadway. 

By discontinuing Wells Road the town has the “opportunity to make a larger and more economically attractive business parcel” along Route 6, said Hills.

Some Marion residents, like John Rockwell, called this article “premature at best.”

Marion tax assessor TJ Walker made a motion to indefinitely postpone the question “until the town shall provide proficient specificity to reasonably advise the public of the issues to be discussed.”

In his motion, Walker included a list of demands for the Select Board if the item were to be considered in the future. These demands included “a plan” for the discontinued portion of road, said Walker.

In detail, Walker requested information about the property’s abutters, measurements and square footage of the property, and information about any property owners who may acquire the parcel. 

According to Marion Town Administrator Geoff Gorman, Walker’s motion would put the town in a “catch-22.”

“We can’t follow the reason for this indefinite postponement without the approval” of the original question, said Gorman. “I’m just trying to let everyone understand that we can’t enter into discussions with the abbutters about this discontinuance without the authorization from the town … without the authorization, there is no discussion therefore none of these questions can get answered.”

Walker added that there was a “lack of disclosure and transparency” regarding the question to discontinue Wells Road. “Without full disclosure in advance … and opinions of relevant town committees and boards, an informed opinion by the public here tonight is not possible,” he said.

Marion residents voted to indefinitely postpone this item. 

Other business 

Also at Town Meeting, voters approved the town’s $28.8 million operating budget with little discussion. The budget is a 4.72% increase from last year’s $27.5 million budget. 

This year’s budget includes $2.7 million to fund the town’s “general government,” $4.3 million to fund public safety and $13.4 million for education. The remainder of the budget will fund public works, human services, culture and recreation, debt services and pensions and insurances. 

Voters also approved $2.37 million of capital expenditures including a $182,000 refurbishment of Marion Fire Engine Two; the digitization of town records, which would cost $175,000; a $130,000 hook lift system truck for the department of public works; and a $72,789 replacement for the town’s brush truck that was originally purchased in the 1960s. 

Finally, Town Meeting members voted to allocate $1.69 million to construct a new Department of Public Works building and they also voted to authorize the Select Board to set 25 mph speed limits on thickly settled roads or in business districts.