On the first Monday of each month we profile a different community in our listening area, paying special attention to how the town has weathered the recent financial crises. 

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Chatham - Bourne - Provincetown - Brewster - Wellfleet


October 3, 2011
By Sean Corcoran


Ruth Myer grew up in Edgartown, and she says the experience can be summed up in one word: "Freedom," she says.

"Growing up as a child, I think that we were very free," she says. "At a younger age we were able to go places and do things without fear. Parents didn't have the fear that they have today. Being outside, we were always outside."

Myer is 71 now, and she lives in a house not far from her childhood home, where she knew all the neighbors, and people looked out for each other.

"I used to always run away," she says. "When I was little. And my home, my parents home was on upper Main Street, and my grandparents lived a little further to town by the park. It's not a long distance. And my mother would see me leave. And she'd be watching me because I would be looking back to see if she was looking at me. And she would know I was going to grandmother's house, I was going to MooMoo's, because she always had good cookies and things. … I mean, 4 or 5 years old, I don't think anybody today would be comfortable and letting their child go down the road like that."

Four year olds no longer wander the streets alone. But some things haven't changed too much on the Vineyard, she says, including the individual reputations of the island's six towns.

"When I was growing up in Edgartown, the Edgartown people were kind of thought of as being a little more well off, a little more aloof than other towns. Oak Bluffs was always the place you went to party and play and to have a good time. Vineyard Haven was always the industrial center, where you went to do your shopping, to buy your clothes, where you went to leave, that type thing. And of course your littler towns up island were just a great place to visit."

For 44 years Myer owned and operated Larry's Tackle Shop, which her father started in the 1940s. She's one of about 4,000 people who live in Edgartown year-round, according to the 2010 US Census. An increase of just more than 7 percent from the turn of the century. And this time of year, she says, the mood of the town is changing.

"The people who live here year round -- and I'm not just thinking of business people, but business people get the gold star on it -- but I think everybody quiets down. They quiet down within themselves. They don't have such a need to rush around to get things done and get out of traffic. I think the minute spring comes and the traffic starts, there is a temperature within us that kind of rises and it stays like that until you see the flow of the people leave and the flow of our anxiety also leaves. Then you kind of quiet down and relax and say, ah, it's fall. Time to relax and enjoy again."

The town's trouble with traffic is not something that's going to go away. And in fact, people in town differ about just much of a problem traffic is in Edgartown.

"In my opinion we really don't have traffic," says Arthur Smadbeck, a real estate agent and a father to five children who's served as a town selectman for the past 18 years. "We have moments in time, during the year, very infrequently, when you have to wait. … And I kind of like the idea that I'm not in a really big hurry getting anywhere. And the few minutes that I might save if there were no cars on the road, would be made up with a great panic that nobody was here visiting us."

Because of its reliance on visitors, Edgartown puts a strong focus on its harbor and beaches, not charging for parking in an attempt to stay as welcoming as it can. Smadbeck credits the Town Hall financial team with guiding Edgartown through the financial crises that has struck many Commonwealth communities during the past three to four years.

"But I have to say that Edgartown and all the towns on the island here are somewhat insulated from this financial situation in we do not get much state aid," he says. "State aid primarily goes to more of the bigger cities like New Bedford and Boston and places like that. And I am sure that they are struggling horribly with the situation of being cut back. But when we get cut back, we pretty much anticipate it and we plan for it."

Edgartown has not had to lay off any employees. And in fact, one of the major decisions voters will make in the next few months is whether or not to build a new library next to the town's existing elementary school. The town's bond rating is up, and the reserve funds are healthy, Snadback says.

"I think Edgartown is very fortunate community in that we have a very large tax base and a very large percentage of our taxes come from seasonal people, tourists, seasonal people, so we are kind of the beneficiaries of a place that people want to be here but they are not taxing the services."

With its charming antique sea captain homes, Greek revival architecture, beaches and a working waterfront, Edgartown is an attraction for visitors around the world. And despite the associated traffic and high housing costs, for the 4,000 year-round locals, it's a place that calls to them, offering an island lifestyle that's worth sacrificing for.

Jump to stories: Chatham - Bourne - Provincetown - Brewster - Wellfleet


September 5, 2011
By Sean Corcoran


Jim O'Connell and Barbara Austin, shellfishermen from Wellfleet
For a shellfish farmer like Jim O'Connell of Wellfleet, life revolves around the tides and the weather.

"I fully intend to have four of us out there tonight to plant," he says, looking out his window. "But by the look at the radar and the weather and the pressure, I don't think I'll be doing that, which kind of stinks."

Not only is the rain coming down in sheets as the wind blows out of the west. But the atmospheric pressure is falling, which means the tide won't go out like it normally would -- not a good thing for a farmer looking to plant oysters.

"So a combination of a westerly wind and a lot of pressure -- foul weather -- the tide kind of hangs out, so then I don't have access to the bottom," he says.

Cape Cod is shellfish country, and Wellfleet's oysters are appreciated around the globe as among the best. Barbara Austin has been shellfishing in Wellfleet since 1978, while aquaculture as a whole has been ongoing here since the 1800s.

"We started with a strong wild fishery," Austin says. "Shellfish just seem to like Wellfleet. We have very tasty waters. And we have some really varied habitats and a huge tidal flush. So the tide running in and out as much as it does every day, it helps keep our water very natural and clean. And we have a big natural set of oysters, cohogs, sometimes if we're lucky bay scallops. And once in a blue moon we even get a nice strong set of steamers, naturally occurring."

Wellfleet and shellfish are linked in the seafood world. And each October during the weekend after Columbus Day, the entire town gets involved in a two-day street festival called Oysterfest.

But beyond oysters and clams, this also is the "Art gallery town." It's the outer Cape location with a world-class Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater. There's yoga at Mayo Beach, and dancing under the stars at the recently-renovated Preservation Hall. About two-thirds of the town is in the Cape Cod National Seashore, and another thousand acres are part of the National Audubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary.

Paul Sieloff is Wellfleet's town administrator. He says it's a challenge to keep taxes low for year-round residents when costs are increasing. In addition to budget cutting where it makes sense, Sieloff says the town is looking at ways to regionalize services. Wellfleet already shares a part-time building inspector with county government, and other regionalization efforts are coming.

"County-wide accessing is a possibility," Sieloff says. "County-wide emergency dispatch, police emergency services. The three outer towns of Eastham, Wellfleet and Orleans -- we were part of a study last year to look at police consolidation. Right now we're working with the other towns, despite a county-study on dispatch -- to merger with either another town or a couple of towns. Once again, looking at any way we can somehow try and work on our revenue and financial issues."

Fees are another option for bringing in more revenue while not increasing taxes by more than 2-and-a-half percent each year, as required by state law.

"We have a plan," Sieloff says, "which is essentially, for better or for worse, if a fee hasn't been raised in two years I ask my department heads why? Costs are going up. We review all our fees on a regular basis. Right now we're looking at building fees."

All of Wellfleet's attractions create high property values, which in turn makes it harder for local fishermen such as Austin and O'Connell to stay in Wellfleet.

"We really are lucky to live here," Austin says. "The problem is making sure our children can live here. … The biggest thing is just trying for the younger people is to keep them a place they can live because you have to be a Wellfleet resident to grow shellfish or fish in these towns."

Each summer Wellfleet's population booms from 3,500 people to 17,000. And while that creates traffic issues, Austin and O'Connell say the year-rounders don't mind the annual increase in numbers. Somehow, they say, even with all the summer folks, Wellfleet holds on to its small, fishing-village feel.

Jump to stories: Chatham - Bourne - Provincetown - Brewster - Wellfleet


July 4, 2011
By Sean Corcoran

As cities and towns across Massachusetts move into a new fiscal year with uncertainty regarding the national economic outlook, it's clear that some communities have fared better than others during the recession. For the town of Brewster, planning and a sense of community have helped helped spare it from the severe cuts some other towns have experienced.


Jump to stories: Chatham - Bourne - Provincetown - Brewster - Wellfleet


June 6, 2011
By Sean Corcoran
Artist and historian Bill Evaul inside the Beachcombers Club in Provincetown. Alongside him is his graphite drawing with "press type" collage of Jackson Lambert, done from life while Lambert was typing labels for his one man show at the Eye of Horus Gallery, circa 1982 (Sean Corcoran/WCAI)


Where We Live, Provincetown
By Sean Corcoran

Just off visitor-heavy Commercial Street, inside the second floor of a sign-less building that tourists never visit and many locals couldn’t find, printmaker and historian Bill Evaul talks about Provincetown's first economic downturn. It was the late 1800s, and the railroad had arrived, carrying in tourists and taking away fish – fish that previously traveled only by boat.

EVAUL: “All of a sudden any activity that was going on in Provincetown could be done through rail instead of packet schooners. So all these hundreds of wharfs that we had in Provincetown, they were just abandoned, essentially.”

The upside to the train was the steady arrival of more tourists. The result of the abandoned wharves and their associated buildings was the arrival of the artists.

EVAUL: "The artists love to fill a vacuum, so the minute there's abandoned buildings the artists just move in. Anything that's cheap. I mean, everybody says the light is great. And that's true. The light is great because of all the surrounding waters in the refraction and reflection. But the primary reason was economics. It was cheap, cheap place to live, and because of the train, they would spill enough coal that the artist could gather beside the railroad tracks and heat their studios. And artists were always able to get fish."

After 40 years in town, Evaul knows Provincetown’s art and artists as well as anyone. He learned much of that oral history here in the Beachcombers clubhouse, a private artists club whose grayed floorboards have soaked up decades of spilled beer and spirits accidentally tipped from the glasses of some of the nation's most prominent artists and writers. Membership goes back nearly a century to the days of Charles Webster Hawthorne, a towering figure in the art world, who helped Provincetown develop into the nation’s first art colony by popularizing it among his peers.

EVAUL: "Hawthorne, even though he was focused on his particular style of Impressionism, which is unique in the combination of the German and French styles and a lot of his own ideas, he was still receptive to other ideas. And so it didn't become a colony built around a single ideology, like say, Cape Ann and Rockport, where it was really plein-air painters and not much else, though maybe not today. Whereas Provincetown you had a variety of techniques."

The present-day Beachcombers club keeps a low profile, though some of its members lead high-profile lives. But in the early and mid-20th century, the club was a driving force behind Provincetown’s social scene.

EVAUL: "Back in the day it was a major cog in the town mechanism. It provided a lot of the entertainment -- producing costume balls all the time and entertainment things. But now we have so many nightclubs and dozens of choices for drag shows and concerts and theater performances, art exhibitions everywhere -- so the Beachcombers aren't playing that same roll anymore."

For the first time in about 50 years, Town Manager Sharon Lynn says that this October Provincetown will again host a costume ball. It will be run by the town, but in the mold of the Beachcomber masquerades.

LYNN: "We'll make it what it is and try to carry on some of the old-time traditions."

The masquerade ball will christen the town hall’s restored auditorium, and hopefully party away the economic turmoil of the past few years, driven largely by reductions in local aid. But in some ways Provincetown has used the national economic downturn to its advantage. If not for 21 million dollars in federal stimulus money, Provincetown wouldn’t be making improvements to its ailing sewer system. And the renovation of town hall – which boasts a remarkable town-owned art collection -- is one of a handful of projects tackled during the financial crises.

LYNN: "We're basically a small town that's making major improvements within the structure of our budget. Personnel and medical insurance that you frequently hear about eating most of the budget, is a huge percentage of our budget. So not filling positions and doing some other logistics with the budget and changing priorities, we were able to put that money into infrastructure."

The 2010 census reported that Provincetown has followed a Cape-wide trend of population loss during the past decade, particularly among young families. Anecdotally, the departure is blamed on the high cost of living and few year-round jobs. In Provincetown, the census recorded a loss of nearly 500 people, a drop of about 14 percent, leaving just less than 3000 year-round residents. That’s apparently not enough to maintain a local high school, and by next year Provincetown High will be closed and students bussed about a half-hour away to Nauset Regional High School in Eastham. But on any given day in the summer, some 30,000 people walk Provincetown’s streets and beaches. And all the cash-spending tourists helped Provincetown weather the recession without exceeding the Proposition 2 ½ percent tax cap.

"We did institute last year the 75 cents meal tax here in Provincetown, which helped us this year in the budget cycle. And we increased the rooms’ tax as well. Voters understood that was a way to increase revenue. Of course parking revenue is our largest revenue sources that we have on the revenue side of the budget, and parking is tied to tourism."

Along with the tourists, the artists still come to live in Provincetown, some as students, but most already well established in their careers. Because the days of inexpensive winter rentals and affordable rooms have gone the way of the railroad and the packet scooners. But the town’s reputation for progressiveness, culture and a good party, lives on.

When asked about changes in town since he arrived four decades ago, Bill Evaul quotes a fellow Provincetown printmaker, who was memorialized within the salt-sprayed walls of the Beachcombers club after his passing in 1991.

EVAUL: "I could give you a quote from James Forsberg. He was famous for saying, 'Well, things aren't like they used to be. But furthermore, they never were.' (LAUGHTER)"

For WCAI, I’m Sean Corcoran in Provincetown.

Jump to stories: Chatham - Bourne - Provincetown - Brewster - Wellfleet

Gateway to Cape Cod: Bourne

May 4, 2011
By Sean Corcoran

 (Sean Corcoran/WCAI)

Where We Live, Bourne
By Sean Corcoran

There's a lot of hope in the National Marine Life Center, which is undergoing a major renovation and expansion in Bourne's village of Buzzards Bay. There's hope for the sea porpoises and stranded dolphins that will rehab here. And there's hope that the new animal hospital will bring more people to downtown.

"It was envisioned that we would attract visitors to Main Street."

That's Marine Life Center president Kathy Zagzebski.

"This town has had some economic challenges over the years, and the hope was that with a strong anchor like Marine Life Center we can rejuvenate Main Street, Buzzards Bay, and work with the local businesses to draw in more tourists, residents and visitors alike."

The center's marine science training program is up and running, but the renovation isn't complete. And no one is sure when it will be. It all depends on donations. Someday sick and injured seals and small whales will rehab in the center's newly installed tanks. For now -- it's just turtles.

Young, endangered little guys called Plymouth red-bellied turtles are cared for and given a head-start here as construction work continues in preparation for the larger patients. A new pumping system is bringing fresh seawater up from the Cape Cod Canal. And the plan calls for classrooms, laboratories and a rehabilitation tank large enough for a pilot whale.

"There are estimates that we could see anywhere from 100,000 to a couple hundred thousand people over the course of the year once we actually open our discovery center."

The Marine Life Center leases its site from the town for $1 a year. And Bourne administrator Tom Guerino says its is expected to be a key component in the effort to economically boost the downtown.

"We see the potential, when the hospital is up and running and they're at their peak, it being a cornerstone to downtown, not just from a tourism perspective, but from a researcher, professional folks coming in to do various projects in turning over the lunch crowd, moving into town, we see that as a real cornerstone of what we can do downtown."

Bourne is a town of villages, and residents must traverse one of the two bridges to get from one side of town to the other. That can be difficult at times in the summer when the bridges clog with traffic. But Guerino says the bridges present more of a psychological barrier than anything else. Buzzards Bay, where the downtown, town hall and the Marine Life Center is located, is on the North side of the Canal, the Plymouth side. The Massachusetts Maritime Academy is located here, too. Revitalization efforts in this area have gone on for decades. The 3-year economic decline has not helped. But Guerino says despite the town's long-standing economic troubles, Bourne has weathered this financial storm better than most communities -- at least, so far.

"We didn't grow the organization during the boom times of the early 2000s in late 90s. We've been pretty stable in the size of our employee base. So when it hit hard a couple years ago in 2008 2009, we didn't have to look to rollback. We've pretty much stayed stable. This is the year we have to roll back."

With reserve funds running low, the town has fewer ways to make up slipping revenues. So this year, 17 positions will be cut, which with retirements and attrition, translates to nine people losing their jobs. And with state leaders cutting back on the compensation Bourne receives for state-owned land at the Maritime academy and the Massachusetts Military Reservation on the Cape side, next fiscal year will likely bring more layoffs.

"What's really hurt us is not just cuts in local lottery aide, but a bunch of reductions that the Commonwealth had last year on the payment of taxes on state-owned land that was about 353,000, plus or minus dollars that we get for the base and for its schools, all those lands are owned by the Commonwealth."

One of the issues Bourne faces is longstanding and has nothing to do with financing, at least not directly.

"I think sometimes the folks, you know, we kind of get forgotten on the Upper Cape."

With its bridges spanning the man-made Cape Cod Canal, sometimes people forget where Cape Cod begins and ends. And sometimes, its even Cape Cod officials who forget.

"The commission was doing a map of their five-year plan and they didn't even have this side of the bridge included, the Buzzards Bay side of the bridge. So we had to call them on that.
We are part of Cape Cod. We have the longest coastline of the any town on the Cape. We are part of the Cape, we're part of Barnstable County. We are proud of being the Gateway of the Cape."

While Bourne's stature as a Cape Cod town is sometimes overlooked, Bourne was America's first center of commerce. This is where European settlers first established a trading post with Native Americans. Judith McCallister, the director of the Bourne Historical Society, says Westward Ho wagons were built here in the 18th century. And aviator goggles worn by World War II pilots were manufactured at a factory here.

"We had the Hallway Ax factory. A few years ago someone sent a letter to the post office from Italy. They were asking about getting another Hallway ax. It had been out of business for probably 75 years, And this man was still using the ax and looking for a new one."

With its historic sites, ocean scenery and recreation areas, McCallister says people are missing out by NOT stopping in Bourne.

"We are a passthrough. People come over the Bridge, they go through Bourne and down Cape. We want them to stop. It is a wonderful town and there a lot of advantages for people here. And we'd just like them to stop passing through and to stop by and see what they are."

With the Marine Life Center inching closer to completing its renovation and expansion, and with the hope that the worst of the economic crises is over, Bourne leaders and residents say they're optimistic the town is on the cusp of a better economic future.

For WCAI, I'm Sean Corcoran in Bourne.

Jump to stories: Chatham - Bourne - Provincetown - Brewster - Wellfleet

Fishing Sustains Chatham Economy

By Sean Corcoran
A lobster boat floats in the waters off Chatham just before dawn. Unlike some historic Cape Cod communities, Chatham has retained its economic identity as a fishing town. (Brian Morris/WCAI)

CHATHAM, Mass. — Chatham owes just about everything it has to the fact it's located on the ocean. From its architecture — which, in many cases was based on buildings sea captains would find in other areas of the world — to its culture and tourism, the sea has helped keep the community fiscally strong, including during this recent financial trouble.

Tourism has grown to be the primary industry since people first began vacationing in Chatham in the late 1800s. But what's somewhat remarkable is here's a community that's just one year shy of its 300th birthday, and for all of that time it's remained a fishing village.

Today, the population goes from just more than 6,000 over the winter to about 24,000 in the summer, with tourists and second-home owners. But fishing has never gone away, and there are fishing families in town that go back six generations or more.
How has fishing survived in Chatham while fading away in so many other communities? People in Chatham point to things such as its location near some of the world’s most productive fishing grounds. It's a small-boat port with lots of types of fish coming and going from the pier. And fishermen say Chatham puts a premium on preserving the industry, so it maintains the working waterfront and it puts the fishermen in the forefront.
Historian Mark Wilkins, executive director of the Atwood House, a town landmark where the historical society is located, talked about the relationship between tourism, Chatham's location, and its reputation as a home to fishermen.

Fishing boats are seen in Chatham's harbor. (Brian Morris/WCAI)

"It's a national hot spot," Wilkins said, "especially among summer people. It's a beautiful place. Beautiful bodies of water, dynamic landscape, and its sort of retained that very small town fishing village character. A lot of towns have not, but preservation is very active and enforced here of architecture, residential zones and this sort of thing. They've tried very hard to preserve the character of this town."
One of the reasons Chatham has remained largely financially stable has to do with the benefits it derives from fees: Beach fees, shellfishing fees and mooring fees, for example. With the help of these fees, for more than a decade the community has managed to avoid increasing the town's budget by more than 2.5 percent each year.
Its bond rating recently was raised to the highest available, making it less costly to borrow money. And its reserve fund remains healthy.
There have been financial issues to work through, as well as some layoffs since the financial crises began, but even those were mostly through attrition — not filling job vacancies. And through the turmoil of the past three years, the town has managed to keep the tax rate extremely low — one of the five lowest tax rates in the
Despite the low tax rate and the high-end properties, residents here say it's important to remember that when the winter comes and the population drops, this is a real community, with retired folks, fishing families and people who make their living in the service industry. Taxes may be low, but the cost of living is high. So certainly in the winter the idea that Chatham is only home to the rich is just not the case.
But because of the town's strong financial standing, as other communities have moved to raise taxes, cut services and put off building projects during the financial crises. That mostly has not happened in Chatham.
Gerry Panuczak, the town's personnel director, says that, for the most part, Chatham has stuck to its capital plans, replacing or refurbishing almost all of its facilities in the past 10 years.
"So they redid town hall," Panuczak said. "They reconstructed the community center. We've got a new police station that will come online in June. We have a new annex facility, which is all the people who don't work in town hall, they work at the annes, and that is going to come online in June. We're planning for a new fire house."

The Stage Harbor Light in Chatham. (Brian Morris/WCAI)

Last week, the 2010 US census reported a loss of about 500 people in Chatham since the year 2000, bringing the population down to just over 6,100 year-rounders.

And what's notable is the loss among families with children. Chatham saw a 15-percent drop among people under 18 years old. And that speaks to perhaps the biggest problem Chatham faces — having enough kids for its school system.
In the 1990s, Chatham was the first school district on Cape Cod to implement the state's School Choice program, which allows students to attend school in other towns if there's room. And that's been good for Chatham.

Schools Superintendent Mary Ann Lanzo said the district has just under 700 students in total. And about 170 of them are School Choice. They come from as far away as Sandwich for a whole variety of reasons. And in return, Chatham gets $5,000 per student they from their hometown.
"Chatham is one of the few places over time that has really benefited from school choice economically," Lanzo said. "It has funded probably 10 to 12 percent of entire operating budget at this point. We have been in the first five in terms of standing in the state of funds for school choice."
But even with School Choice, Lanzo says the biggest threat to the quality of Chatham schools comes from having classes with not enough students.
"I'd say we weren't talking 10 years out it would have a major impact on students," she said. "I would say we're talking five years or four years. Because we wouldn't be able to have the advanced placement classes. We wouldn't be able to offer the array of remedial classes for students and programs."
To combat the declining enrollments Chatham and the neighboring town of Harwich have agreed to create a regional school system. But some people have questioned how that will work, considering that Chatham and Harwich have a history of being strong rivals.
Chatham has voted against regionalizing several times over the years. Back in the 1950s, the debates often came down to class and race issues. We haven't heard any of that this time. Instead, there has been lots of census talk, as well as the promise of saving Chatham taxpayers between $3 and $4 million annually by combining systems.
The district officially begins in 2012, and a new high school should open two years later. Already they're planning for a football team, thinking about a mascot — there's a real push to energize people.
Part of that effort came about last week when the kids went to the polls to vote on a name for their new school district.
What did they choose? Monomoy, after the Monomoy Regional School District, a Native American name, and a tribute to the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge down there.

If you'd like to tell us about the town you live in -- what you like about it, and even what you wish was different -- call our listener line at 508.548.9600 x103. We may use your comment on the air.
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