October 21, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
Hingham citizens are encouraged to keep up the fight against proposed Greenbush commuter rail service cuts and the possible elimination of Hingham/Hull ferry service.
The MBTA is forecasting a continuing reduction in ridership and an accompanying significant drop in revenue and as a result, is proposing major service cuts which might never be restored or not for a long time.
"Such cuts would be devastating to Hingham and other South Shore communities and would jeopardize our Smart Growth [built around public transportation] developments," such as the Hingham Shipyard, Selectman Joseph Fisher said at last night's remote Selectmen's meeting.
Ferry advocate and Hingham resident Martha Bewick said recent research indicates that $300 million-worth of private Smart Growth investments that have marketed their ferry access as a big plus, stand to lose out if the service is discontinued.
She also noted that 50 percent of Hingham and Cohasset commuters normally take public transit.
Rep. Joan Meschino and Sen. Patrick O'Connor are working closely with the towns of Hingham, Hull, and Cohasset to rally citizens to join the effort to oppose these cuts. See related link: https://hinghamanchor.com/representative-meschino-and-senator-oconnor-encourage-residents-towns-to-advocate-for-ferry-and-commuter-rail-services/
Updates about upcoming meetings and other information, including how to submit concerns, will be posted on the town website at https://www.hingham-ma.gov/.
Additional information is posted on the https://www.savetheferry.org/ website, which was started by Hull resident Jason McCann.
The MBTA could make a decision about which services to cut or eliminate by the end of this year.
Early voting update
Town Clerk Eileen McCracken reported that early in-person voting at Town Hall is going well and will continue until Oct. 30. (See the Town Clerk link on the town website for dates and times.)
As of yesterday, 1,466 citizens had voted early. A total of 8,500 vote-by-mail ballots have been mailed with the help of volunteers. They may also be dropped into the designated Town Hall mailbox.
Colorful signs made by Girl Scouts and placed on the front lawn of Town Hall encourage residents to vote.
Citizens who have already received vote-by-mail ballots may change their minds and decide to vote in-person either during early voting on or Election Day, Nov. 3. "There's no need to bring their mail-in ballot. We give them a new one," McCracken said.
She said the Hingham postmaster has been "very helpful in keeping and processing the vote-by-mail ballots in-house when they would normally go to the Brockton Post Office for handling."
While early ballots received in the Town Clerk's Office can be run through the voting machine before Election Day, they aren't tallied until Nov. 3 at 8 p.m., after the polls close.
Selectman Joseph Fisher thanked McCracken's office staff and volunteers for accomplishing a "Herculean" task. "Voting is our right and our privilege, and you are making it easy for us all to exercise that right."
Outdoor dining deadline extended
Under new state COVID-19 regulations, Hingham restaurants that earlier gained permission to offer new or additional outdoor table service through an expedited permitting process are allowed to extend their outside dining option beyond the initial Nov. 1 deadline.
In this case, extensions are permitted for an additional 60 days after the Massachusetts state of emergency is lifted, which might not be anytime soon, according to Real Estate Town Counsel Susan Murphy.
Any outdoor coverings or canopies would need to comply with COVID-19 requirements, and any outdoor heaters would need to comply with local regulations.
For those restaurants that received permission to extend their seating onto town property and in the Snug's case, to place seating on the MBTA tunnel cap, additional approval is required to continue that arrangement.
Selectman William Ramsey said that during conversations he has had with restaurant owners, concerns were expressed about "what the winter months will bring."
Fellow Selectman Joseph Fisher said it's important to support our local businesses, "and this is clearly one way to do that."
Selectmen Chairman Mary Power noted, "Many of us have enjoyed outdoor dining, and some restaurant owners have said it would be nice to extend outdoor table service beyond the pandemic. That's something we can take up at a different time."
Large infrastructure projects detailed
Power provided a financial update on large infrastructure projects that are on the town's radar screen.
Top priorities are Foster School and the proposed new public safety facility and related senior center expansion into the space now occupied by the police station, all contingent on Town Meeting approval.
Power explained various funding mechanisms and said should all three projects gain Town Meeting/Special Town Meeting support, the highest taxpayer impact would likely occur in 2026.
A total of $100 million in new debt, as an example, would amount to a roughly $1,000 tax increase in the first year of a 20-year bond on the average assessed home value of $870,000, with an average annual tax increase of just under $900 over the life of the bond -- depending on the interest rate.
However, some of the town's debt will be retiring at the same time, which could help reduce the tax burden.
Other ways to accomplish that are to reduce the size and scope of some project proposals, take advantage of lower interest rates, and use part of the rainy day fund.
Power explained that the town had been facing decreasing revenue growth and an accompanying demand for services even before COVID-19, which has further significantly impacted town resources and finances.
The good news is that the financial plan earlier agreed upon by the Selectmen, School Committee, and Advisory Committee "continues to produce the desired results," Power said. More information will be available at a later date.
The town's legal debt margin -- the amount of debt the town could absorb without affecting its AAA bond rating -- is $300 million, Power noted, and the town currently has about $60 million in outstanding debts.