Updated 9:30 am
Edgartown voters filled the pews of the Old Whaling Church Tuesday for the annual Edgartown town meeting.
The hot button issue of the night came at the very end of the meeting and when Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden made his pitch for $92,000 to support the regional communications center.
Paulo DeOliveira, co-chairman of the town’s finance committee, answered a question from a voter asking why the finance committee did not recommend passing the article.
“Our board believed and could see the necessities of upgrading the comm center technology. There’s a dire need to upgrade, but we didn’t agree that we wanted to fund the operation of the comm center, paying for salaries and health insurance and what not since it’s a state agency,” DeOliveira said.
The finance committee told Ogden to return with other ideas on how the town could help the communications center, but Ogden never returned.
Some voters expressed confusion over why the town shouldn’t just give sheriff’s department the money, considering the numerous other amounts passed throughout the night that were much more than $92,000 and were passed with little-to-no discussion.
Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer voiced his support for the sheriff’s department and agreed something needed to be done to fund the communications center, but urged town voters to vote against the article because, “there’s nothing written down on how the $90,000 will be used.”
Schaeffer, who has been on a committee studying the problems and possible solutions for the communications center for the past two years, was at odds with Susan Schofield, director of communications for the communications center, who was in attendance to field questions on behalf of the sheriff’s department and the center.
“If we don’t get a new radio system it will be a huge problem for everybody,” Schofield said.
“This can not be left to the inertia of the politics and the bureaucracy. We’ve got to get it done. They need the money,” Peter Look, an Edgartown voter, said.
Acting Police Chris Dolby sided with Chief Schaeffer. He informed voters that the proposed money in the article would not help the sheriff’s department because the cost of a new radio was so high.
Acting Chief Dolby was asked if approving the money would just be the same as throwing it to the wind, to which he said he couldn’t reply, but that the Sheriff’s department would be getting $1 million from the state and that still wasn’t enough.
“Ninety two grand tonight isn’t going to do anything. This is a big, big project,” Dolby said, “You’re talking millions of dollars.”
After 30 minutes of debate and explanation, voters decided to strike down the article.
Edgartown voters voted 175-19 in strong favor of spending $1.2 million for the construction of a new airport hangar at the Katama Airfield.
The airfield was purchased with state and nature conservancy funds. The current hangar was built in 1944 from the wreckage of previous hangars that had been built on the property.
“It is in terrible condition and it definitely needs to be replaced,” Peter Vincent Jr., a member of the airfield commission, said.
One town voter voiced opposition to the hangar construction saying the money could be better spent helping with substance abuse or helping seniors.
The town had appropriated $250,000 for the project in April 2008. An additional $73,301 was to be donated by the Katama Trust, but had not yet been given to the town. Voters moved to amend the article before voting to pass the it. A two-thirds vote was required to pass the article.
In other business, Philip Norton, the town moderator, was presented with a commemorative plaque featuring a golden gavel for his service as moderator for the past 43 years. This meeting was Norton’s last as he prepares to step down and retire.
Norton exemplified some very quick wit and dry humor over the course of the night that had the room laughing. Saying, “what’s the difference,” when corrected on a monetary amount he had said incorrectly for an article and asking voters: “all those in favor of keeping the animals warm say I,” when going over an article for a new heater in the animal control office. Those were just two of many examples.
The special town meeting, held before the annual town meeting, moved along quickly as each article was passed unanimously with little discussion.
Making quick work of the schedule of appropriations, town voters also approved the over $34 million dollar budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Steve Ewing, poet laureate of Edgartown, kicked things off for voters by reading an original poem, which was met with a standing ovation.
Updated to correct chief’s name.