Edgartown voters at annual town meeting approve library move

Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts led Edgartown voters in the pledge of allegiance. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Edgartown voters moved methodically and efficiently through special and annual town-meeting warrants Tuesday evening and approved a $27,528,381 operating budget for fiscal 2012.

They also endorsed a plan to create a new Edgartown Public Library on the site of the now vacant Edgartown elementary school building. That vote attracted sustained applause and cheers.

A total of 263 voters, eight percent of the town’s 3,107 registered voters gathered in the Old Whaling Church to attend to the town’s business.

Edgartown town counsel Ron Rappaport traditionally remains in the background, speaking only to points of law. But Tuesday, Mr. Rappaport stepped to the podium to acknowledge moderator Philip “Jeff” Norton, a fellow attorney, who has recovered from a grave illness and was about to convene his 37th annual town meeting.

Mr. Rappaport said that Mr. Norton was first elected in 1974 by seven votes and had led the town with humor and decency. He described Mr. Norton as the best moderator he had every known. The voters stood and applauded in agreement.

With characteristic wit, Mr. Norton said, “The fellow that I ran against in the beginning is not here anymore, so I guess I have nothing to worry about.”

The first order of business was to introduce a troop of Cub Scouts who led voters in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Then, Mr. Norton ran through the special meeting articles, mostly appropriations from free cash, at a quick clip. Voters also approved an increase in permit fees for the removal of underground tanks.

The annual meeting began with town reports. Wastewater manager Joe Alosso apologized to town residents for faulty accounting practices uncovered during an annual audit of the wastewater treatment plant. He also thanked the wastewater commissioners for their support. He said the problems are being addressed.

Selectman Michael Donaroma provided an update on the Edgartown Library. It was a Cliff Note’s version of the year-long discussion that saw the library committee, board, and foundation richochet in their deliberations between the present Carnegie site on North Water Street and the old elementary school building on West Tisbury Road.

Now, Mr. Donaroma said, the committee is unanimous in support of the school site. As for what would become of the Carnegie library building and the adjacent Warren House, once seen as an expansion property for the library, Mr. Donaroma said there will be time to look at all options.

Town meeting currents can sometimes be difficult to predict. The warrant included several proposed changes to zoning bylaws that included measures affecting construction noise, wind turbines, and wireless antennas. Those articles generated little discussion or debate. A proposal to install five new streetlights provoked extended discussion and required a standing vote.

Budget, noise, and libraries

Voters had little to say about the $27,528,381 budget for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2011. One of the only comments came from a voter who asked why town employees would receive a cost of living increase when senior citizens on Social Security do not get a raise.

Maureen Hill of the personnel board explained that many employees were at the top step limit and faced rising costs for gasoline and food. “We have the best employees out of all the towns,” she said.

One voter questioned the $517,984 salary line for the fire department ambulance that listed five full-time employees and 26 EMTs.

“How many calls does this represent,” she asked. Deputy chief Alex Schaeffer answered, 609. “I can tell you about the EMTs,” Jeff Norton said.

An amendment to the noise bylaw that would allow police to fine people who make loud noise between 10 pm and 7 am brought a request for an amendment from Peter Look to exempt New Year’s Eve and July Fourth.

“I’ve been waiting since 1973 to not get arrested on one of those two nights,” Mr. Look said. “I hope I can win this one.”

The voters agreed. “Maybe this will shut you up, huh?” Mr. Norton said with a goodnatured laugh to his persistent town-meeting questioner.

In the lead up to a much anticipated vote on the new library, Mr. Donaroma explained that the issue at hand is the availability of a state grant. Without a vote in favor, the town will lose any chance to qualify.

Article 50 specifically asked voters to authorize selectmen to apply for any state and federal grants that might be available to defray all or part of the costs of a new library.

He said selectmen would return to voters with all the numbers and a design.

One voter said the town had not had a say in the project. The article before voters that night was that opportunity, Mr. Donaroma said. The article passed on a voice vote to a round of applause.

The most hard-fought article of the night was a request for $1,500 to install five new streetlights on Herring Creek Road between Katama Road and Crocker Drive.

Stuart Fuller, highway superintendent, said it was a matter of public safety to have lights along the busy bike path. Not everyone agreed lights were needed. Retired highway superintendent Larry Mercier questioned the cost of electricity. The article passed on a standing vote, 109-63.

The last article of the evening also prompted a standing count. Placed on the warrant by petition, it directed the state’s elected representatives to object to spending tax dollars to fund U.S. warfare and military occupation.

Mr. Norton called it a yes on a voice vote. Voters objected to his call. A vote count showed 101 in favor and 58 against the article.

“You’ll never dispute me again,” said the veteran moderator as voters began to file out just before 10 pm.