Edgartown annual tackles $32 million budget

Voters will be asked to take on a full menu of spending items, and fund a possible taking of the mini-park.

Edgartown voters will gather at the Old Whaling Church for annual town meeting Tuesday.

Edgartown voters will gather in the Old Whaling Church on Main Street Tuesday, to attend to town business in the form of 88 warrant articles and a $32,074,908 operating budget for the 2016 fiscal year (FY16), which begins on July 1.

The annual meeting warrant includes a slate of Community Preservation Act committee funding requests and several articles related to school expenditures, elder services, and a county request to help fund the purchase of the former VNA headquarters building in Tisbury for use by the Center for Living.

Edgartown’s FY16 operating budget will increase from $30,716,650 to $32,074,908, a 4 percent increase.

Edgartown Selectman Margaret Serpa said she expects a relatively straightforward annual town meeting. She added a caveat. “You never know what people will bring up,” she said.

On Thursday, April 16, voters go to the polls between 10 am and 7 pm in the Town Hall. The only race on the Edgartown ballot this year is between incumbent parks commissioner Joel M. Graves and Kevin L. Searle.

Voters will be asked to answer four Prop. 2.5 ballot questions. Prop. 2.5 limits property tax increases by municipalities to 2.5 percent annually. There are general overrides to increase the tax levy, and debt exclusion overrides, which exist only for the life of the debt.

Two ballot questions, one to override Prop. 2.5 and another to exempt the debt, relate to the paving of Meetinghouse Way. That cost is pegged at $755,000.

Edgartown taxpayers will also be asked to exempt the debt payments to help pay the costs of constructing a new school administration building on the grounds of the regional high school.

Voters will also be asked to chip in on the county-engineered purchase of the VNA building to house the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living and its Supportive Day Program.

The center currently uses borrowed space at the Edgartown and Tisbury Council on Aging buildings, and has been searching unsuccessfully for a new home. The county is asking for $1.6 million to purchase, renovate, and equip the building. Under the county formula, Edgartown taxpayers would kick in about $493,000.

“We’ve been trying for eight years to find a home for the Center for Living,” Edgartown Selectman Art Smadbeck said. “The idea is that we find them a permanent home so they can do the kind of expansion they need to do to accommodate all of the seniors that would need the Supportive Day Program. Now they have a waiting list.”

Mr. Smadbeck said that unlike town projects, this is a regional effort that comes with added complexities. He said the VNA building is available at a cost far less than the cost of constructing a new building. He said there are some people who want to quibble about the cost, but he added, “There are just some things you have to try to do.”

“We’re going to bring it to the voters and hope that they see the same need that we do,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Budget bumps

As to the budget, Mr. Smadbeck said there is nothing unfamiliar. Town spending will increase slightly in several departments.

The high school assessment increased from $3,996,893 to $4,139,785.

Edgartown School salaries increased, from $5,176,129 to $5,476,607, and expenses rose also, from $702,459 to $792,059. The total cost of educating town children will increase from $11,134,353 to $11,763,131.

In general government — town administrative functions that include the offices of the selectmen, treasurer, clerk, zoning board of appeals, and council on aging — there is a modest hike proposed, from $2,286,861 to $2,288,914.

Protection of persons and property, which includes the police, fire, and shellfish departments, will increase by from $4,529,607 to $4,807,193. Police department salaries will increase from $2,561,880 to $2,652,184, an increase attributed to contractual increases and the addition of a full-time clerk.

The cost of the Edgartown Public Library will increase from $544,331 to $620,178. Those costs reflect the costs associated with the new building.

Unclassified expenses including employee retirement, pension-fund, and insurance benefits, including health insurance and Medicare, will increase from $5,240,593 to $5,345,768.

Group health insurance costs will jump from $2,500,000 to $2,750,000. Town administrator Pam Dolby said the town has been hit by the same changes as other businesses and individuals. Ms. Dolby said the town is working diligently with its group insurer to find ways to reduce that cost.

Edgartown’s Martha’s Vineyard Commission assessment in FY16 is $373,250.

Warrant redux

Several articles on the town meeting warrant expected to generate some discussion will not be new to town voters.

Requests to pave Meeting House Way have been brought before voters in the past. The road connects West Tisbury Road to Herring Creek Road, and is a convenient route to South Beach but for the washboard nature of a good portion of the dirt road.

The mini-park adjacent to town hall has been a topic of discussion in the past. Article 70 asks voters to appropriate $1,475,858 from the community preservation open space fund and $477,141 from the conservation trust fund to purchase or “take the property by eminent domain.”

The Hall family, one of Edgartown’s largest property owners, owns the land and now leases it to the town.

Ms. Dolby said the town has been maintaining the park for decades. “We have been paying rent on it for years,” Ms. Dolby said. “The conservation commission brought it up. They just thing the town should own it. It’s a nice space in the middle of town, and it’s used by a lot of people.”

Ms. Dolby said there have been meetings with the Halls over the years on the topic without any movement.

Mr. Smadbeck said the question is strictly up to the voters. There is money set aside, he said, and even if the article passes there would be additional steps, including court.

Asked if he thought Edgartown voters, as they often do, would make quick work of town business, Mr. Smadbeck said, “This is a big warrant, and if we breeze through it, it is going to be very late into the evening.”