New library, $28.3 million budget goes before Edgartown voters

Architect's drawing of new library building at the site of the old Edgartown School. — Photo courtesy of Edgartown Library

Edgartown voters will be asked to tackle a combined 74 warrant articles when they meet on Tuesday, April 10, for a special town meeting followed by the annual town meeting. The annual warrant will include a request to spend $4.9 million on a new library on the site of the former Edgartown School.

The annual exercise in grassroots democracy begins at 7 pm in the Old Whaling Church on Main Street.

On Thursday, April 12, voters go to the polls to elect town officers. There is one Proposition 2.5 override question, a request for $272,500 to pay the town’s share of an estuary study of Cape Poge Pond, Pocha Pond, Katama Bay, and Oyster Pond.

Budget shifts

The annual warrant includes a $28.3-million operating budget for fiscal year (FY) 2013 that begins July 1. That represents a 2.6 percent increase, or $708,855, over FY 2012 in projected spending for the next fiscal year.

Approximately $100,000 of the increase is a procedural shift, with recurring annual costs that were once voted as separate warrant articles now moved inside the operating budget, according to town administrator Pam Dolby.

Much of the rest of the increase is due to rising salaries for town workers, as well as rising pension and insurance costs.

The budget includes a 2.94-percent cost of living increase for town workers, in addition to the step increases due under the town’s compensation scale.

Town officials agreed this year to use the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index to set increases.

The budget hikes were partially offset with significant cuts in debt costs, as well as health care premiums. Like other Island towns, Edgartown will shift more of the cost of health insurance to employees this year, as insurance reform measures enacted by the state legislature go into effect.

In addition to public safety, education regularly lays the largest claim to taxpayer dollars. Overall, the cost of education in the new budget is up 3.4 percent.

The cost of educating Edgartown students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School will increase from $3,351,562 to $3,490,162, up 4.1 percent from last year.

The Edgartown School department budget, including salaries and expenses, will increase from $6,072,234 to $6,257,727, an increase of 3 percent.

Teachers will receive a negotiated salary increase of 2.65 percent.

Police requests

The police department budget will increase from $2,098,110 to $2,339,921 under the new budget, an increase of 11.5 percent. In part, the budget reflects a change in policing philosophy that relies on seasoned full-time officers rather than special police officers who often work on an on-call, or part-time, basis and generally have less training.

Chief Tony Bettencourt said the budget includes funding for an additional full-time police officer, bringing the roster to 18 full-time officers, two administrative assistants, and five summer traffic officers. Chief Bettencourt said over the past six years, salary increases were absorbed to keep the budget level in difficult economic times.

“This is a catch-up year for us,” Mr. Bettencourt said. “We’ve shrunk the department down to have seasoned, fully trained police officers. They can do anything year-round. It allows us to be flexible.”

He said he will not hire any special police officers this year. The department had 10 special police officers, but one fewer full-time officer four years ago.

“I’m going in a different direction,” Chief Bettencourt said. “I’m going with full-time officers year-round.”

The warrant includes a request for $85,000 to establish an emergency management command center within the station, which would include a firearms training simulator.

Chief Bettencourt said the simulator includes realistic replicas of the same weapons officers carry, and can simulate training scenarios using actual video footage of Edgartown locations.

“The state has mandated quadruple the amount of shooting training,” Chief Bettencourt said. “The more training I can give these officers, the better off the town is going to be.”

Reading politics

Three warrant articles relate to the long and at times contentious effort to build a new library in Edgartown. The town expects to receive $6.4 million in state grant funding in 2014. The warrant article asks taxpayers to borrow $4.9 million to finance the rest of the project. Construction costs are estimated at more than $11 million dollars for the building planned for the site of the old Edgartown School. The old school building will be demolished.

Approval will require two-thirds of the people in attendance to vote yes. Town officials expect a spirited debate.

“I would expect some questions,” said Carl Watt, chairman of the library building committee and a member of the library board of trustees. “Based on the presentations we’ve been making, I don’t expect too many questions but we’re prepared to answer any questions people have.”

Immediately after voting on the new library, voters will decide an article that would transfer ownership of the Captain Warren House from library trustees to selectmen. If that passes, they will decide whether to authorize selectmen to dispose of the property.

Voters agreed to purchase the Warren House at a 2004 special town meeting by vote of a petitioned article. The historic building proved structurally unsuitable for use as part of a library expansion, according to engineers, because of state building codes. The historic building now sits vacant and deteriorating.

With interest on the 20-year bond used to buy the Warren house, design work on the current building project and a previously scrapped project, the town has already committed or spent $5.5 million in pursuit of a new library.

Sale of the Warren House could recoup some of those costs.

Historic repair and zoning

Also on the warrant is a request from the Community Preservation Committee to allocate $700,500 for restoration and preservation of the exterior of Town Hall. Town administrator Pam Dolby said an initial restoration project revealed that more extensive work was needed.

Voters will also be asked to significantly relax zoning bylaws to allow affordable homes on otherwise unbuildable lots.

A proposed bylaw change would allow a property owner to divide land into one standard lot and one “remainder” lot of as little as 5,000 square feet. An owner who meets the standards set by the affordable housing committee could build a house on the remainder lot. The remainder lot could be sold to a direct family member, even if they do not qualify under affordable housing committee guidelines.

The bylaw would also allow homes to be built on substandard lots of as little as 10,000 square feet, where building is now prohibited under zoning laws, for anyone who qualifies according to affordable housing committee guidelines.

Other warrant articles include a land transfer that would eventually allow the town to site a solar power array on the capped landfill, and whether to allow mobile concession stands at South Beach to defray the town’s cost of operating and maintaining the beach.