Edgartown warrant closed to Dukes County request for more town funds
Edgartown selectmen sent a plan by the Dukes County commissioners to erase a substantial deficit in the county budget flying off track on Monday. In a 2 to 1 vote the selectman refused to accept county-sponsored warrant articles for the annual town meeting warrant that would shift the cost of some county services to Island towns.
The Edgartown deadline to submit proposed warrant articles for the 2008 annual town meeting this spring was November 20. Edgartown selectmen chose not to make an exception for the county.
Last month the county commissioners learned that the county faces a $178,798 budget deficit in fiscal year 2009, which begins on July 1. To fill the gap, they voted to submit warrant articles to Vineyard towns, requesting that taxpayers fund 50 percent of the rodent control and health care departments. They intend to submit articles increasing the percentage by 10 percent annually, until the services are fully funded by town taxpayers.
The commissioners voted to eliminate the engineering department, but to submit a warrant article to town meetings offering the option of fully funding that department, if the towns want to continue the services.
The decision to turn aside the request for the warrant articles strikes a significant blow to the county's latest funding plan. Edgartown's share of the proportionate county assessment for those services would be approximately 34 percent of the total, the largest share of all Island towns.
"The question is, do we want to accept late articles. We've set a deadline, it's known, everybody has been told what the deadline is," said chairman Margaret Serpa.
Ms. Serpa and selectman Michael Donaroma voted to reject the articles, while selectman Arthur Smadbeck voted to accept them. Mr. Smadbeck, who sits on the County Advisory Board, wants voters to decide the issue.
"They ought to have, because the county has run out of money, the opportunity to decide," said Mr. Smadbeck. "I know I'm fighting an uphill battle. I'm happy that the county is beginning to address their fiscal limitations."
"I'm opposed to turning these articles down before they get a chance," said Mr. Donaroma, "but I'm in favor of sticking to our rules the way they are. I think eventually, people should have the final say."
"I'm disappointed, very disappointed, that they aren't going to give that opportunity to the voters." said Les Leland, vice-chairman of the county commission. "Hopefully, it gets on in other towns. If it's shared by six towns, the dollars for those programs per town are reduced - it's cost effective. It's valuable to the town. I think the voters need to know that."
Commissioners were far from clear how to proceed if some towns vote against funding the departments, while others vote for them.