Edgartown to decide $1 million in overrides

Edgartown voters will be presented a $28.8 million budget for fiscal year 2011, when they gather at the Old Whaling Church Tuesday, April 13. The warrant is long, but not controversial.

The 2009 spending plan is 2.5 percent greater than the budget for 2008. If voters approve a recommended 2 percent cost of living increase for town employees, the budget will increase by 2.9 percent. The warrant also includes more than $1 million worth of Proposition 2.5 override questions covering expenditures from a new ambulance to money for scaled back library design for which fundraising fell far short. The annual town meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 pm.

Spending plan

The two percent cost of living increase for town employees was the subject of much debate in the town’s finance and advisory committee. Four committee members voted to recommend the raise, three abstained. The neighboring towns of Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury are not including cost of living adjustments for town workers in their proposed operating budgets. The all-Island finance and advisory committee made a strong push for Island towns to hold the line on cost of living increases. But Edgartown is bucking the trend.

“I haven’t heard any thunder about it,” selectman Arthur Smadbeck said this week. “The town is in very good financial shape.”

Education costs, representing a relatively modest increase in the budget, total $9,148,524, for the Edgartown School and the town’s share of educating students at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. That’s a two percent increase over last year. The high school assessment was down more than $12,000 to $3,243,939. Edgartown School costs rose 3.4 percent, to $5,904,585. Pam Dolby, town administrator, attributes much of that increase to Edgartown’s share of the superintendent’s budget.

The town’s fiscal 2011 spending plan holds health insurance costs level, but includes a significant increase in pension costs.

“It’s a budget buster,” Ms. Dolby said. The cost of funding pensions for town employees increased more than $100,716, to $928,201.

Salaries for the fire department and ambulance show significant changes. The fire department salary line item is reduced by $54,196, more than 38 percent. But the difference represents an accounting change, not a salary reduction. The town decided to move volunteer firefighters from a salary to a stipend this year.

The fire department ambulance service has proposed a substantial increase to its salary account to cover paramedic shifts during vacations, holidays, and other absences. The line item will increase from $448,606 to $517,984, up 15.5 percent.

“We added about $69,000,” Ms. Dolby said. “We were finding it was difficult to staff the ambulance. This money will cover the expenses to staff the ambulance the way it should be staffed.”

Like many towns this year, Edgartown’s warrant signals a shift in funding for the Dukes County Housing Authority rental assistance program. Voters will decide whether to contribute $126,000 to subsidize rents for Edgartown families. The Island Affordable Housing Fund, which provided partial support to subsidize rents, failed to meet its funding commitment on time last fall, and has been struggling to raise funds for the program this winter. Last week, the housing authority announced that the fund could not meet its April committment to the authority.

“For the first time we’re putting a significant amount of money into the rental assistance program, because of what happened in November,” said Janet Hathaway, chairman of the affordable housing committee. Also on the warrant is a request to appropriate $30,000 from the town’s affordable housing reserve fund to further subsidize rents at the Morgan Woods development.

“That is an increase that is due to just to the economics of the individuals that are there,” Ms. Hathaway said. “They came to us right around Christmas and said quite a few people are struggling. I don’t see them being able to maintain their rent.” She said through the winter, one or two families left their homes each month, because they could no longer afford the subsidized rents.

The warrant also requests $37,000 for historic displays in the firefighting museum, $25,000 to restore the town bell in the Whaling Church, and $75,000 for historic restoration of the town wharf.

Over and Override

An override question asking for $300,000 to start over on designing a new library expansion has drawn interest. Last summer, when it became clear the private fundraising effort would fall well short of its $11 million goal, the town was forced to pass up a $4.6 million state matching grant.

“It was a perfect storm,” said Mr. Smadbeck. “It was a great effort by the trustees to do it that way, it just isn’t going to work. We’re going to have an opportunity to make it a town project.”

The override question on this year’s warrant would fund study and redesign of the expansion project, so the town can once again seek state and private funding for the project. Given the current difficult fundraising climate, and budget trimming at the state level, library building committee member Larry Mercier expects significant changes in the original 17,000 square foot expansion design.

That plan connected the present building with the nearby Captain Warren House, purchased by taxpayers for $3.5 million. If voters approve the design funds, the building committee hopes to begin construction in 2012.

“That’s actually pretty exciting,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “It’s a beginning not an end. I’m pretty excited about the prospects of a new library for Edgartown.”

Also among the override questions is a request for $250,000 to replace one of the town’s two ambulances.

“The ambulance is on rotation of ten years,” said deputy chief Alex Schaeffer, who manages the ambulance service. “We’re actually in our eleventh year. We’re looking for its normal scheduled replacement.”

Other Prop. 2.5 overrides call for $236,000 for dredging, $135,000 for street repair, and $45,000 for sidewalk, bike path, and storm water drainage systems, $25,000 for doors for the wastewater treatment plant, and another $40,720 to replace the heating systems at the plant.

Device debate

Article 28 on the warrant is an unusual question for voters in the historic town of white houses, green shutters, and picket fences. The article would change town bylaws to regulate “electric personal assistive mobility devices.”

Most people know the devices as Segues, the brand name of the only company that manufactures them. The two-wheel devices are balanced by complex gyroscope technology and allow a passenger to zip around while standing aboard on a small platform, steering with handlebars. The bylaw change would require written permission from the police chief to operate the vehicles on town property. The operator must have a valid driver’s license, wear protective headgear, and could only operate in daylight hours.