For Edgartown voters: zoning, county request
Edgartown holds a special town meeting March 6, when voters will be asked to approve new zoning regulations for designated special ways and to subsidize three county departments.
The county-sponsored proposal asks for $46,635 in addition to the town's annual county assessment. The request is part of an effort by the Dukes County commissioners to shift department costs to Island towns in order to close a gap in their 2009 fiscal year (FY) budget.
The special town meeting begins at 7 pm Thursday in the Old Whaling Church on Main Street. (A copy of the warrant is available here)
The 13-article warrant includes a resolution submitted by the Martha's Vineyard Peace Council that calls on Congressional representatives "to vote against additional Iraq-occupation funds, and to approve only those funds necessary for the safe and rapid withdrawal of all our troops from Iraq."
There is also a request from the Edgartown Library for money needed to begin a cleanup of the library resulting from a heating furnace puff-back. Insurance has paid for some of the costs and is ultimately expected to cover all the costs, but town meeting approval is needed for expenditures over a certain amount.
The first article voters will take up is a lengthy description of proposed changes to the zoning bylaws pertaining to so-called special ways and special way zones in Edgartown's Island Roads/Special Ways district of critical planning concern (DCPC). A two-thirds vote is needed for approval.
According to the article, the special way designation "protects old cart paths and walkways that are cultural and historic links to the community's past, recreational resources for enjoyment of the outdoors, and a conservation resource to accommodate and promote non-motorized means of transportation."
The bylaw would increase the number of special ways to six. The new designated ways would be portions, or all of existing ways known as Dr. Fisher Road, Ben Tom's Road, Middle Line Path, Pennywise Path, Tar Kiln Path and Watcha Path.
The new regulations would limit development within 20 feet of the center of the old way and prohibit certain activities unless a special permit is granted. For example, a property owner would not be able to clear brush or cut trees in the 20-foot corridor. Fences could not be erected although they would be allowed on properties of one acre or less in size provided they conform to specific requirements intended to maintain 50-percent visibility. Fences built before December 2007 would not be subject to the regulations.
Motor vehicles would not be allowed on portions of the ways that have not had motor traffic. Special ways could not be widened to allow for large trucks. A special permit issued by the planning board would be needed to cross a special way with a road or utility line.
Property owners would have the option to relocate a portion of a special way if it can be shown that the alternative would enhance the way for trail users.
Voter approval is the last step in a process that began with a referral to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) following a controversy that erupted along Middle Line Path.
Representatives of Edgartown's Meadows Road Association complained that Benjamin Hall Jr. cut trees on property along Middle Line Path that he did not own. Mr. Hall said he had a right to maintain access to property his parents own.
The county request for more money will be presented in the form of three articles. In turn voters will be asked to contribute $22,290 for the cost of a county engineer; $8,915 to pay for the one-person pest management department; and $15,431 for the health-care access department.
While all of the Island's towns have been asked to fund the county departments, Edgartown would pay 34 percent, the largest share of any town. Its contribution is based on the property valuation formula the state Department of Revenue uses to determine county assessments.
In December the county commissioners decided to erase a fiscal 2009 budget deficit by cutting the rodent control and health-care departments by 50 percent and eliminating the county engineer. The cuts were made with the intention of asking taxpayers in Island towns to make up the difference in the first two departments and fully fund the county engineer. Ultimately, the commissioners intend to ask the towns to fully fund all the programs.
At the same time the commissioners cut the departments, they added $15,000 to the county commissioners' department, raising the line item to $190,389, in order to boost the salary for the currently vacant position of county manager.
According to the articles, the health-care access program and rodent control department, if they were fully funded, would account for $90,000 and $50,000 respectively, and the engineering department $65,000.
Of those, only the engineering department and pest management generate any revenue. In the first six months of the current fiscal year the rodent control department billed $11,045. The largest customer was the Winnetu Inn and resort and Mattakesett Resort for a combined total of $4,342.
The health-care access program assists low-income people, non-native speakers, and those who do not have access to funded health care. The program also assists people with the new state-mandated insurance plan.
If the articles are approved, the money paid would be in addition to what Edgartown taxpayers now contribute in the form of a county assessment that is not a part of the town budget approval process. The seven towns of Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, pay 16.5 percent of the county's operating budget through annual assessments.
In the current fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2007, Edgartown was one of four Island towns hit with an increase in its share of the total assessment. For example, Chilmark saved $20,572, while Edgartown paid an additional $17,646, bringing its total county assessment to $270,447.
The new increases and decreases in town assessments were based on computations by the state Department of Revenue, based on changes in the total valuation of property in each town.
The state formula that resulted in a change in the county assessments also resulted in a change in the weighted vote assigned to each member of the finance advisory board that must approve the county budget.
Edgartown holds the largest share, 34.29, followed by Chilmark, 16.12; Oak Bluffs, 15.52; Tisbury, 15.19; West Tisbury, 14.20; Aquinnah, 3.30; and Gosnold, 1.38. Teamed up, Edgartown and Chilmark (50.41 combined) hold a majority vote.