Edgartown does its business, goes home early
As their counterparts in West Tisbury and Oak Bluffs slogged on to a second night of town meeting discussions, Edgartown voters approved a $25 million budget and most of a 58-article annual town meeting warrant in little more than two hours.
Today, voters go to the polls in the Baylies Room of the Old Whaling Church from 10 am to 7 pm to elect town officers and vote on four Proposition 2.5 questions.
A total of 237 voters, or about eight percent of the town’s 2,977 registered voters, settled into the rigid wooden benches of the Old Whaling Church on Main Street Tuesday night. Long-time town moderator Philip "Jeff" Norton Jr. gaveled the meeting to order soon after 7 pm and punctuated the flow of articles with characteristic quips that brought chuckles from voters.
The meeting began with town board reports. The news was mostly good, but there is a cautionary note.
Fred Condon, chairman of the town finance committee (FinCom), said the budget presented to voters Tuesday reflected strenuous efforts to keep costs and spending in check. The town had done a good job in recent years, he said, but there are clouds on the horizon, in the form of fixed costs, retirement liabilities, and a worsening economy that could mean less state aid in the future.
"We are quite concerned about going forward," said Mr. Condon, who estimated that the operating budget, $25,317,501 for fiscal year 2009 that begins on July 1, could rise to $30 million in the next fiscal year.
Edgartown voters got a glimpse of the future. Adam Darack, hired to be the town’s new information technology manager, said that in the next several weeks he would launch a new easy-to-use town website that would provide residents with plenty of information and an opportunity to discuss town issues.
Not that anyone seemed anxious to know that their tax bills indeed would arrive, but late. Alan Gowell of the board of assessors said there had been a delay in the state’s approval process, but property owners would soon see their bills.
There was good news mixed with not so good news for some. The tax rate per thousand dollars of valuation would drop by about 20 cents, but because it was a revaluation year, some property owners, mostly those near the waterfront, would see an increase in their valuations.
Voters approved all articles placed before them, most with little discussion and unanimously. Two articles were dropped from the warrant.
In Article 44, the Byways committee withdrew a request for money to purchase two surveillance cameras to monitor town ways, in an effort to catch people who illegally dump trash. Legal questions surrounding the use of the cameras were behind the decision to withdraw the article.
Article 55, pertaining to a wastewater system for the regional high school, was also indefinitely postponed so that school officials can continue to work on the project.
The only sustained discussion of the night surrounded a request for $221,000 for the town dredge program, an article that had generated a split vote by the FinCom. The dredge money article also appears as a Proposition 2.5 request.
Malcolm Reed, a FinCom member, got the discussion flowing. He said that the town had operated for many years without a dredge and sooner or later the town was going to have to cut back. The dredge program was a good place to start he said.
Laurence Mercier, also on the FinCom, agreed. He said the dredge program had cost the town more than $3 million over the years and it was time to start saving money somewhere.
That view was not shared by fellow FinCom member Morton Fearey and a line of speakers who described the importance of the dredge program. Former selectman Tom Durawa said the program might need some fine tuning but that was no reason to eliminate it. He said the town needed to protect its waterways.
Steve Ewing, a dock builder and member of the dredge committee, spoke passionately about the importance of the dredge program, its accomplishments and the many projects in the pipeline. He said the town was getting its money’s worth.
Dredge committee chairman Norman Rankow said that an agreement with the Cow Bay Association for a project to dredge a portion of Sengekontacket Pond was an example of a public/private partnership that would pay dividends. The association had agreed to pay permitting costs. In return, the dredge would remove sand to improve circulation in the pond and deposit it at the town’s Bend in the Road beach and along the Cow Bay section of beach.
There was one standing vote. Robert Fynbo, a candidate for selectman, suggested an amendment to article seven, an addition to the town’s personnel bylaws, that describes procedures intended to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free workplace.
Mr. Fynbo’s intention was to clarify the language. The voters defeated the proposed language 107-80 and the article passed unanimously.
Peter Look, known for his persistent questioning of town officials, has been absent for several years. Back from his travels, he took up where he had left off.
As Mr. Norton ticked off the budget line items Mr. Look ticked off those he had questions about. As Mr. Norton moved through the articles, Mr. Look rose frequently, prompting one voter to suggest that he move to the front of the room to be nearer the microphone.
Mr. Look questioned town officials about a motion filed by town council Ron Rappaport to intervene as a limited participant with the state energy siting board considering Cape Wind’s proposed wind farm in Nantucket Sound. Mr. Rappaport explained that the town is asking to participate for a limited purpose, to protect the authority of local boards.
Mr. Look asked about an article that provided town employees with a 4 percent cost of living increase. He made a motion to reduce that figure to the cost of living adjustment provided by social security, 2.8 percent. Deborah MacInnis, assistant librarian, said that the cost of living increase provided non-union town employees who had exhausted the town’s seven salary step increases with their only raises. It was defeated.
Town meeting is an intimate experience. Town leaders go one-on-one with the voters and the results are often productive. That was the case on Tuesday when, near the end of the meeting a voter noted that the town had approved spending approximately $30,000 to rent and maintain portable toilets at the Dark Woods parking lot and South Beach. She suggested the town consider purchasing the toilets.
Pamela Dolby, Edgartown town administrator, said it sounded like a good idea. "We’ll look into it," she said.