A large turnout of 229 voters in Edgartown raced through a 79-article annual town meeting that included approval of an almost $41 million budget and the passing of a plastic bottle ban from which the town was the lone Island holdout.
Due to the pandemic, the Old Whaling Church on Main Street has not hosted a town meeting for the past two years. The previous two meetings were held outside, at the Edgartown School. In 2021, Edgartown’s quorum of 207 was not met, causing delays in the proceedings. The initial quorum level for 2022 had been 213, but concerns over reaching that encouraged the select board to adjust it to 150.
Department head reports, based on the town census, cite 5,232 year-round Edgartown residents, with 4,262 who are currently registered voters.
The meeting began with town moderator Steve Ewing welcoming eighth grade student Xeandre Miller, who led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Ewing asked the crowd to remember the people around the world who are fighting and dying for freedom, “especially the people of Ukraine.”
The action kicked off with voters approving an article that authorizes the select board to take steps toward leasing a portion of the town’s capped landfill for the design and operation of a solar photovoltaic system at 49 Meshacket Road.
Ben Hall Jr. said that when the landfill was capped, it was the cheapest method at the time, and that particular cap prohibits there from being any other use on top. He added that another article before voters seeks to mitigate gas leak issues in that area, and wondered whether “putting an industrial-size electrical system” on top could cause problems.
“And then we are going to have to continue to mitigate gas from the area … Gas and electricity do not mix,” Hall said.
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said the existing cap has not been flagged by vendors as being a problem for the potential solar install. Poole added that the article on the warrant Hall referenced is for three monitoring probes to detect gas, but the majority of the landfill has no gas issues. Voters also voted to appropriate from free cash $40,000 to pay for capital improvements and structural repairs at the town-owned Katama Airfield restaurant building.
One noteworthy article that townspeople voted in favor of this year at the special town meeting was a nonbinding question to call upon Holtec Pilgrim, the owner of the closed Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, to immediately withdraw any plans to discharge radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay.
The townspeople also appropriated more than $33,000 from free cash to pay the unfunded portion of the replacement cost for a command and emergency medical response vehicle and equipment that was deemed a total loss when involved in a motor vehicle collision while responding to a mutual aid emergency.
One article that drew significant debate had to do with the town voting to amend the annual salary scales of the Edgartown classification plan in the personnel bylaw to reflect a 2½ percent increase. This change reflects a cost of living adjustment (COLA) that will become effective on July 1, but several townspeople said this wasn’t enough to keep town employees, whose pay scales are governed by the personnel bylaw on Martha’s Vineyard.
Marcel Laflamme, a member of the personnel committee, said he is concerned, as are all the members of his board, with what the next year might bring for people financially. After two years of COVID, Laflamme said employees who continued to work deserve “a little bit of attention.”
He stressed that the personnel committee felt that anything less than a 3 percent increase is not fair to the employees. “We think our employees deserve a much greater COLA than the 2.5 percent; we would like to propose that it be 5 percent. I believe we would have some support,” LaFlamme said.
Town administrator James Hagerty said that the 2.5 percent increase, and essentially all the figures the town puts together in the budget, are the “most conservative estimates.”
“A 5 percent increase is not sustainable or resilient,” Hagerty continued. “I have a fiduciary responsibility to keep this budget as lean as possible.” Voters ultimately agreed.
Voters also approved a transfer of $491,000 from the town’s free cash to develop a comprehensive wastewater management plan, along with $175,000 from free cash to contribute to the reconstruction of the Katama boat landing. Another article that passed with no discussion appropriated $200,000 from free cash to conduct an engineering and feasibility assessment of roadways on Chappaquiddick that have been deemed susceptible to climate change, based on the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program.
After three years of indefinitely postponing the article, Edgartown joined the rest of the Island in approving the plastic bottle ban put forth by Plastic Free MV, a group of students dedicated to reducing and eventually eliminating plastic use on Martha’s Vineyard.
The bottle bylaw eliminates the sale and distribution of disposable plastic water and soda bottles of 34 ounces (roughly one liter) and under. First violations will result in a written warning, second violations cost $50, and third or subsequent violations will cost $100.