Edgartown voters gathered in the Old Whaling Church Tuesday night for annual town meeting spent freely and debated sparingly. In two hours, voters approved a $29,790,931 operating budget for the next fiscal year with nary a question, and approved all but one of 68 articles.
In the course of the evening voters agreed to give the town one year to consider how to permit medical marijuana facilities, fund the annual fireworks display, establish oysters in Sengekontacket Pond, accept ownership of Edgartown Light and stiffen historic district by-laws to combat blight.
A total of 200 voters, 40 more than needed for a quorum, but only about 6 percent of the town’s 3,194 registered voters turned out on a cool, clear night.
Town clerk Wanda Williams said attendance was unusually light for an annual town meeting. Most years attendance is closer to 400, she said.
Town meeting began with a ceremonial color guard of cub scouts and boy scouts and the Pledge of Allegiance. A freshly painted architectural mural by artist Margot Datz provided an elegant backdrop to the proceedings.
Pot put off
The town got down to business with a special town meeting that included two articles that addressed the use of medical marijuana.
With no discussion, voters indefinitely postponed a by-law to prohibit the use of medical marijuana in any public part of the town, including streets, sidewalks, beaches, and parks.
Voters with no discussion approved a companion article to “establish a temporary restriction in order to allow the town adequate time to consider whether to allow facilities associated with medical use of marijuana, to the extent those facilities are permitted under state law and regulations and if so, in which areas of the town and under what conditions the facilities should be allowed.”
Following the conclusion of the meeting, several town officials told The Times they were taken by surprise that the articles provoked no discussion. “It happened so fast,” Art Smadbeck said.
The only discussion arose when Peter Look questioned why town financial data and reports are not readily available on the town website.
Edgartown computer systems manager Adam Darack, the self-described “computer guy,” explained that he was unwilling to risk exposing the town’s accounting systems and personal data to Internet hackers. Mr. Darack said the town was a constant target and he had logged more than 1,000 attempts to hack the system.
He invited Mr. Look to request any public documents.
On to the annual
With the special town meeting warrant out of the way, longtime moderator Philip “Jeff” Norton turned his and the voters attention to the annual.
Town poet laureate and dock builder Steve Ewing read a poem that spoke about how he finds the spirit of the town’s history and people in his every day manual work.
“Excellent,” Mr. Norton said, as Mr Ewing left the stage to sustained applause.
Town reports were brief. Selectman Art Smadbeck provided a brief overview of the town’s strong financial health. With plenty of free cash on hand, he told voters that if all the budget requests were approved, the town’s tax rate would increase from $3.55/$1,000 of valuation to $3.70 if all the budget items were approved, and $3.79 if voters approved a request for new firetrucks.
Highway superintendent Stuart Fuller said the town was currently moving to convert all the street lights to LED bulbs, which have a life expectency of 20 years and cost much less to operate than conventional bulbs.
Mr. Fuller said he had installed a series of five LED lights from the Square Rigger at the Triangle to the animal shelter. He asked for feedback.
Selectman Michael Donaroma provided a report on the library building project — on track and on schedule. “Completion 2015,” he said.
Mr. Norton moved methodically through the budget line items. The voters barely paused. The only spending question on the $29.8 million budget came from Ben Hall. he wanted to know why the historic district commission salary line item had increased from $6,500 to $15,080.
“There’s a lot more work and the people who do the work need to get paid,” historic commission member James Cisek said.
The voters took to the warrant articles like shuckers to scallops. There was little wasted motion and not much talk.
No sooner would Mr. Norton read an article than someone would shout, “So moved,” followed quickly by, “Second.”
“Discussion?” Mr. Norton asked and paused. “All those in favor say, aye.”
“Oppossed?” he asked and paused, before declaring, “Unanimous.”
Voters approved $85,000 in Community Preservation funds for new playground equipment, $21,000 for rental subsidies for Morgan Woods and $126,000 for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority.
Drawing from a significant pool of free cash, voters appropriated $40,000 for the cost of the Fourth of July fireworks, $84,000 to purchase and equip two new police cruisers, $48,500 to grow and plant 500,000 oyster seeds in Sengekontacket Pond and $38,000 for a new 4-wheel drive pickup truck for the harbormaster’s department.
The big ticket item not funded by free cash was a fire department request to raise and appropriate $634,000, and transfer $100,000 from the stabilization fund, for a total of $734,000 to purchase two new fire trucks. Voters approved the request without pause.
The request will also appear as a Proposition 2.5 request on the ballot when voters go to the polls on Thursday.
Prior to the meeting, Fire Chief Peter Shemeth handed out a sheet that explained the department’s need for new equipment. He said one new truck would replace a 1985 pumper and the department’s current rescue truck and do the job of both.
The second truck was a water tanker for Chappaquiddick that would greatly increase the department’s fire fighting capability on Chappy.
Voters also approved $900,000 for upgrades to the water company standpipe, to be paid for by users.
A proposed historic district bylaw that would require building owners in the historic district to keep the exterior architectural features of their buildings from falling into disrepair provoked the only extended discussion.
Ben Hall, Jr. said he was not aware of the proposed bylaw prior to town meeting. Mr. Hall, a lawyer whose family owns extensive real estate in Edgartown, including a building located in the historic district that has been the target of complaints, questioned the ambiguity of language in the bylaw that referenced “certain contributing buildings.”
The bylaw was amended with the offending phrase dropped. Mr. Hall continued to argue against the measure.
“Are we trying to preserve the historic district or are we trying to create Disneyland?” he asked.
One voter asked if the bylaw was related to a building that he described as an eyesore in the heart of town owned by the Hall family.
“What do you think?” Mr. Norton said.
On a voice vote, Mr. Norton declared the bylaw passed. On the recommendation of town lawyer Ron Rappaport Mr. Norton called for a standing vote and declared the bylaw passed.