Selectmen approve increase in deputy shellfish constable hours

Edgartown selectmen Monday took partial action on a request from shellfish constable Paul Bagnall to increase staffing in his department. Mr. Bagnall said an increased workload justified the expense.

Selectmen agreed to immediately increase the scheduled hours of deputy constable Robert Morrison from 32 to 40 per week, at a cost of $10,380.

Selectmen took under consideration a request to create an additional shellfish constable position at a cost of $36,020 for consideration on the annual town meeting warrant in April.

Edgartown recently embarked on a project to raise oysters in Sengekontacket Pond.

“I think going from the 32 hours to 40 hours is a relatively easy decision,” selectmen Michael Donaroma said Monday. However, Mr. Donaroma was unsure of the need to add a new position altogether.

“The more manpower, the more we can get more done,” shellfish committee chairman Jack Blake said. “The oyster farm is more labor intensive than what I thought it would be.”

Selectmen Arthur Smadbeck suggested an alternative. “What I’d really like is for the shellfish committee to explore the idea of a contract employee to handle this particular piece of work,” he said. “We’ve pretty much had a hiring freeze in town. Most of the departments have been good about not adding employees. This could be a way of getting work done without actually raising the town payroll.”

Shellfish committee member Donald Benefit told selectmen he was also a proponent of adding the new position because there is a need for it. “I think that the town has to realize the size and scope of this project,” he said. “500,000 oysters have grown to a size that’s fairly marketable. It’s a massive amount of oysters.”

The position would need to be approved at town meeting in April and the position would begin July 1, Mr. Bagnell said.

Edgartown resident Gregory Fuller also spoke in favor of adding the new position.

“Shellfishing is good for the economy; it’s good for the general quality of life for lots of people and good for the environment,” Mr. Fuller said. “I’m particularly supportive of Edgartown’s experiment of planting oysters in Sengekontacket to improve the water quality there.”