Edgartown voters spend $24 million
On an evening when voters in the two other down-Island towns failed to make it through their annual town meeting warrants, Edgartown voters handily approved a fiscal year (FY) 2008 operating budget of almost $24 million and dispatched 67 warrant articles on Tuesday
For the most part voters were willing to spend money on projects endorsed by town leaders and unwilling to tinker with some long-held town employee prerogatives that provide additional pay for unused vacation time.
Voters barely blinked when it came time to approve the FY 2008 operating budget of $23,958,202, up 5.4 percent over FY 2007. The budget was approved unanimously on a voice vote.
Today voters go to the polls in town hall from 10 am to 7 pm to elect town officers and vote on six capital outlay and two debt exclusion proposition 2.5 override ballot questions. There are no contests on the ballot.
A total of 218 voters, 7.5 percent of the town's 2,892 voters, assembled in the Old Whaling Church Tuesday night to attend to business. The meeting began at 7:30 pm with a special town meeting needed to dispense with current fiscal year housekeeping.
Setting a brisk pace, Edgartown moderator Philip "Jeff" Norton Jr. began reading the 17-article special town meeting warrant even as voters continued to take their seats and greet each other. The special was dispatched with in a flash.
The annual town meeting began with town reports about 7:45 pm. Mr. Norton's no-nonsense style, punctuated with his trademark quips and a lack of extended debate resulted in the entire affair concluding slightly before 10 pm.
James Cisek, co-chairman of the committee charged with determining the best use of the old Edgartown School building, said that the court system, the office of the school superintendent, and a group made up of nonprofit organizations had expressed an interest in the space. He said the committee would issue a request for proposals and see what came forward.
One of the few extended discussions of a warrant article came early in the meeting. Article eight, submitted by the personnel board, asked that voters remove a personnel bylaw that allows town employees to elect to work half of earned vacation time at regular pay.
The first to object to the change was Harbormaster Charlie Blair. Mr. Blair said the demands of his schedule meant that he could not possibly use all his vacation time and days off. He said that there was no reason to change a system that had worked well for many years.
Shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said that like Mr. Blair he often worked seven days a week and odd schedules and did not see how he could take al of the time off due to him and still meet his responsibilities. He said it was a fair system.
Debby MacInnis, a town library employee and member of the personnel board, offered the counter argument that it was important for the health of employees that vacation time be used and the need to buy back vacation time only added to town costs.
Voters decided to leave things be and rejected he article and another measure that would have allowed employees to carry vacation time forward in a following year only with the approval of the appointing authority and the personnel board.
Article 24 was a request to use $300,000 from the community preservation fund for the Jenney Way affordable housing project. Janet Hathaway, chairman of the resident homesite committee, stood before voters and provided a lengthy explanation of the project. Still standing at a microphone, she then asked if voters had any questions.
Reading the mood of the voters, Moderator Norton peered over the top of his glasses and told Ms. Hathaway, "You're snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."
Drawing a laugh, he asked the voters, "You don't want to talk about this, do you?" Voters approved the article unanimously.
The most passionate discussion of the evening was over article 30, a bylaw change intended to make it possible for a member of an adjudicatory board, such as the conservation commission or planning board, to miss one hearing on a project before the board and still vote on a project as long as certain conditions were met. Those conditions included listening to the meeting on tape.
Alan Wilson of the planning board explained that the change was for the convenience of applicants who must return before a board when all the voting members are not present.
Selectman Michael Donaroma spoke against any change that would water down the interaction between all interested parties. He said there was no substitute for "eye-to-eye, person-to-person contact."
Pia Webster made an impassioned statement against any change. She told voters the change would undermine the public hearing system. "There is no substitute for being there in the flesh," she said.
The article was postponed indefinitely, killing it on the floor.
Voters briefly questioned the amount of money spent on shellfishing programs, including a request for $10,000 to fund a quahog depuration relay program for FY 2008. For his part, Mr. Norton wanted to know what "depuration" means.
Mr. Bagnall explained that it involved taking quahogs from the unclean Taunton River and transferring them to Sengekontacket Pond, where the bivalves cleaned themselves of impurities.
"It's like immigration," said Mr. Norton, "Why didn't you say that?"
One voter questioned the town's $30,000 payment to the shellfish group and asked what the town received. Mr. Bagnall explained that the town's assessment rose because Aquinnah did not contribute last year.
And we're still paying $19 a pound for shellfish, quipped the woman.
Shellfishing also framed a brief discussion about the cost and use of the town dredge. Fred "Ted" Morgan, former selectman, questioned the use of the dredge for projects unrelated to the needs of the shellfishing industry which he said was the original reason the town acquired the dredge. Mr. Blair explained that dredge projects must have a navigational purpose in order to meet the complex and time-consuming state and federal permitting requirements. He said past and future dredge projects met both those needs.
A request, submitted by petition, for $279,400 to construct a bike path on Meshacket Road raised a question about why the article was not recommended by the financial advisory committee. Finance committee member Thomas Durawa said the committee was not against the concept but did not have enough information about the project.
Highway superintendent Stuart Fuller explained that easements and the narrowness of the public way made the path a complex and involved project.
Taking issue with a comment by voter Jeffrey Agnoli, a proponent of the article, town administrator Pamela Dolby said town officials had not pushed the project off and were not ignoring it. She explained that other projects also in the town pipeline demanded attention. "It will happen," said Ms. Dolby.
The article was amended. Voters approved spending $30,000 to plan, survey, and design a bicycle path.
The final extended discussion of the evening came when voters were asked to appropriate $1.5 million to extend the town's sewer system to several subdivisions and streets. Under the plan, the costs would be shared equally between users hooking into the system and the town.
Selectman Art Smadbeck urged support for the article, which he said would improve the health of Edgartown Great Pond.
Fred Domont, town water superintendent, questioned the scientific basis for assuming that sewering would affect the amount of nitrogen contributed by the targeted subdivisions and the cost to taxpayers.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the article and dispatched the remaining few. At 9:50 pm, Mr. Norton declared the annual meeting ended.