Edgartown meets Tuesday over $25 million budget
Edgartown voters will gather in the Old Whaling Church on Main Street on Tuesday at 7 pm to take up a 58-article annual town meeting warrant and $25,317,501 operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year (FY09), which begins on July 1, 2008.
The annual meeting warrant includes a slate of community preservation funding requests and several articles related to purchases for town departments.
On Thursday voters go to the polls between 10 am and 7 pm. Voting will take place in the Old Whaling Church and not the town hall. There are two contests on the ballot. Incumbent Margaret E. Serpa faces a challenge from Robert Fynbo for a seat on the board of selectman. And incumbent Roger Becker faces a challenge from Robert M. Cavallo for a five-year term on the planning board.
Voters will also decide four Proposition 2.5 ballot questions totaling $520,675. These include a request for $221,000 to operate and maintain the dredge program and $64,675 to pay the town's share of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority.
The FY09 operating budget is a 5.8 percent increase over FY08. Education costs (33 percent) and town employee salaries (18 percent) will lay claim to the largest shares of tax dollars, according to a report by the finance advisory committee.
However, the overall FY09 budget, including proposed spending for all annual town meeting articles ($1,391,000), totals $27,709,000 and is a 1.9 percent decrease in overall town spending when compared to FY08. This comparison includes money spent in FY08 that was not included in that year's tax levy.
In its annual report, the Edgartown financial advisory committee gives credit to town administrator Pam Dolby and the give and take between town departments for the budgetary restraint. Ms. Dolby told The Times that the town would take up the least number of overrides it has taken up in years. She said all of the town departments worked hard this year to keep costs in check.
The annual town meeting warrant booklet mailed to all residents prior to the annual town meeting is packed with information for voters who wish to understand the workings of town meeting, an elemental exercise in participatory democracy emblematic of New England town life.
In addition to the warrant, operating budget, specimen ballot and a glossary of town meeting terms, the booklet contains an analysis of the town's current financial health and lists some concerns posed as a series of questions.
These include a downturn in state revenues that could result in a reduction in state aid; the additional yearly cost to fund the town's post-employment benefit liability; and the difficult-to-control escalating costs of insurance, employee benefits, and pensions.
For many years, the construction of large valuable houses and the rising valuations of others have helped to soften tax increases for the owners of more modest houses. That could soon change.
The report notes, "Absent the disproportionate increase in valuation of the more expensive homes, the average home will be forced to bear a larger per cent of the yearly increase."
In many town departments the only increases in the FY09 operating budget are related to cost of living adjustment for town employees of 4 percent. For example, expenses for the Council on Aging will drop from $68,813 in FY08 to $68,619, while salaries would increase from a requested $223,316 to $232,082.
The largest expense in the FY09 operating budget is related to education. Total spending on education, $8,251,168 in 2008, will rise by $179,650 to $8,430,818.
The regional high school assessment will rise from $2,878,457 to $2,983,673.
Spending on fire department ambulance services will rise from $424,835 to $511,147. The increase reflects the addition of a fulltime paramedic and additional staffing hours.
The town's share of health, Medicare, and life insurance costs, $2,216,284 in FY08 will rise to $2,473,766.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission assessment will rise by $20,626 from $253,577 to $274,203.
One regional assessment not part of the budget approval process is the Dukes County assessment. Edgartown taxpayers will contribute $277,208 in tax dollars, subtracted from the state "cherry sheet," to pay for county government in FY09. That money is in addition to the $24,346 voters at a special town meeting on March 6 agreed to pay to help fund the county pest management and health-care access departments.
Missing from this year's annual warrant are articles that might be described as meeting flash points. Ms. Dolby, an experienced observer of town affairs, described the annual warrant as "pretty benign."
Article 7 would add language to the town's personnel bylaw in keeping with the federal Drug-Free Workplace act.
A series of ten articles direct the appropriation of community preservation funds. These include a request to use $42,000 for a regional housing authority program that subsidizes house owners who agree to provide year round rentals provided that the subsidies be paid only to Edgartown landlords; $20,000 for the restoration of the front of town hall; and $200,000 for the construction of a "historically appropriate hanger" at the Katama airfield.
The shellfish department will ask voters for $46,550 to fund various shellfish programs and $9,980 to buy a new outboard motor.
The police department will be looking for $16,000 to replace outdated computer hardware and software in the police station.
The finance advisory committee recommended most of the warrant articles. However, two articles requesting money for the dredge program carry notations of a split vote. Three voted to recommend and three voted not to recommend a request for $221,000 for the operation and maintenance of the dredge program and a request for $15,000 for professional services.
The effort to catch those responsible for illegal dumping along Edgartown roadways is behind a request from the byways committee for $4,650 to purchase two surveillance cameras.