Edgartown voters who turned out for annual town meeting Tuesday night appeared to be a decidedly contented lot. They questioned and discussed just enough to appear diligent, then approved everything they were asked to approve.
Maintaining tradition and skirting any dilly dallying and socializing, longtime Edgartown moderator Philip “Jeff” Norton began the annual meeting promptly once town clerk Wanda Williams told him that a quorum had been reached, just after the 7 pm scheduled start. The meeting concluded about 9:15 pm.
In the intervening two hours and fifteen minutes voters approved a $26,810,328 operating budget for fiscal year 2011 that begins on July 1, plus 59 warrant articles, all but a few by unanimous voice vote.
A total of 252 voters filled the classic interior of the Old Whaling Church. That’s a little more than eight percent of Edgartown’s 3,130 registered voters.
Today, voters go to the polls in the Town Hall meeting room, between 10 am and 7 pm, to elect town officers. The only contested race is for a seat on the planning board. Dudley Levick 3rd and Michael Jon Court will compete to finish the final year of a vacated term. Voters will also be asked to decide seven Proposition 2.5 questions totaling $1,031,270.
[Election results are available on updates at mvtimes.com]
The meeting began with town reports and an opportunity to slip in a heartfelt thank you. The members of the park and recreation commission walked up to the microphone to report, but the real purpose was to present chairman Nancy Shemeth, who leaves the commission after 27 years of service, with a bouquet of flowers and a standing ovation.
Selectman Art Smadbeck said it was the last annual town meeting police Chief Paul Condlin, who will retire, would attend as chief. But the self-effacing chief was not in the hall.
His standing ovation would have to wait. When it did come, the chief acknowledged the applause and then got down to business.
He had arrived in time to speak to an article restricting “electric personal assistive mobility devices,” also known as Segways, the two-wheeled gyroscopic balancing electric scooters. The article would provoke the only extended discussion of the evening.
Peter Look spoke emotionally about the process for considering the vehicles and the lack of a public hearing. He objected to a provision that allows individuals to apply for a permit to use one of the devices.
Chief Condlin explained that he had received a request from a tour operator who proposed to use Segways to provide tours of Edgartown. He said he did not think it was a good idea for Edgartown and had proposed the bylaw restricting use of the devices as a way to get ahead of a potential problem. Voters agreed with the chief.
The night’s work began with a question about a request to amend the salary scales to provide a two-percent cost of living adjustment. A voter wanted to know why town employees should receive an adjustment when Social Security recipients would receive none.
Maureen Hill, chairman of the personnel board, explained that rising insurance costs for town employees and the fact that adjustments were not provided until late in the 2010 fiscal year.
Ms. Hill said the town wanted to keep good employees, and the employees appreciate the small raise. The voters agreed.
Mr. Norton took up the budget line items in the customary manner. He told voters he would read the numbers that corresponded to the line item budget amounts in sequence. If a voter had a question or comment he or she was to say, “pass.”
Mr. Norton began reading. The room remained quiet. “You all have this gray booklet, don’t you?” he asked holding up the warrant booklet to laughter.
But it would not be clear sailing all the way. Peter Look, perennial town meeting inquisitor, said, “pass” and “pass” again and again.
Among his concerns was the ability to access town information and documents on the town website. Town officials addressed those concerns and others Mr. Look raised.
In some Island towns, the moderator reads every last word of every article. That can be a considerable undertaking. Over the years, Mr. Norton and the voters have reached a comfortable understanding. He will not read lengthy articles unless the voters request it, and that allows for rapid progress along a familiar script: Do I have to read it? Somebody like to move it? Discussion? All those in favor? The article passes unanimously.
A request for $5,600 to rent and maintain portable toilets at the Upper Main Street park and ride lot raised a familiar question about why the town did not install permanent toilets. Town administrator Pamela Dolby said it had been a frequent topic of discussion and was still on the planning horizon. Mr. Norton noted that it had taken near 20 years to get toilets at the town dock.
Voters marched along, spreading Community Preservation Act funds widely. They approved $30,000 for rental subsidies for Morgan Woods, the town’s affordable rental complex, and $126,000 to fund the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental assistance program for Edgartown families. They approved $25,000 to restore the town bell in the Whaling Church and $75,000 to restore historic Memorial Wharf.
A request to give $15,907 to the Dukes County commissioners to help restore the windows in the Dukes County Courthouse on Main Street brought a question from a voter. “Can somebody explain why this doesn’t come out of the county budget?” she asked.
In the next fiscal year, Edgartown’s county assessment is $305,423, an amount that is not subject to voter review. The county also receives rent from the state.
Selectman Art Smadbeck, a member of the county finance board, explained why Edgartown taxpayers should pay more.
The rent payments helped cover the costs of general maintenance, he said, but the county did not have the funds to do everything. The courthouse was a wonderful building to have in downtown Edgartown, and this request was a perfect use of CPA funds he said.
Peter Vincent, conservation commission chairman, added his support. It was a beautiful courthouse and the town should help the county to preserve it, he said. The voters agreed.
Another county request, this one to help pay the town’s $11,809 share of the county integrated pest management program also raised a question. Tom Durawa questioned the value for the money. Is this program cost effective? I don’t think so, he said.
T.J. Hegarty, head of the department and the self-described rat man, defended the request, telling voters the program was not expensive and provided a good value. He said the county program was geared to helping Islanders and not selling commercial extended programs.
The rodent control department budget is approximately $70,000. Mr. Hegarty highlighted revenues that he said had increased by 12.5 percent, to $22,654, when compared with the same nine month period in the previous fiscal year. Voters agreed to pay the bill.