A lean budget, down two per cent overall on last year, and compiled in the shadow of a darkening national economic scene, will go before voters at the Edgartown annual town meeting next Tuesday, April 8. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at the Old Whaling Church on Main street. Philip J. Norton Jr. will preside.
In a letter submitted to the board of selectmen, members of the Edgartown financial advisory committee credited the frugality of town administrator Pamela Dolby and a spirit of give-and-take within various town departments for achieving the $26.7 million bottom line on the budget for fiscal year 2008-09, which is almost $1.5 million down on last year’s total.
The reduction was achieved despite a sizable increase in fixed costs within the operating budget, through a substantial drop in the cost of items on the warrant.
The decrease is especially welcomed by a financial committee with a collection of looming economic concerns. The letter, which points to high levels of town debt, questions whether a national economic downturn might lead to reduced state aid and a slowing in new growth. The committee also points to increasing costs not controlled by Edgartown, such as the town’s portion of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget, which makes up 33 per cent of the *this year’s operational budget.
The warrant features four funding requests, totalling $400,000, which have been given proposition 2 1/2 status. This informs voters that, if approved, the items will bring the town budget over the annual tax cap. The items are $221,000 for the town’s dredge program; street and sidewalk repairs totalling $235,000; and $65,000 for Edgartown’s portion of a Regional Housing Authority agreement.
An article submitted by the byway committee requests the installation of two security cameras to monitor sections of ancient ways, which were granted special environmental protection with a bylaw approved at a special town meeting last month. The committee, which has organized periodic cleanups on the ways, seeks to end illegal dumping in the area; a practice which has been “out of control” in the past, according to committee member Robert Green.
“We need night vision cameras,” said Mr. Green who explained that much of the dumping, which increases during the summer months, occurs during the hours of darkness. “It would make it possible to get license plate numbers and pass the footage on to police.”
Three requests from chief of police Paul Condlin ask for $55,000 from various funds to carry out repairs on police buildings and grounds, $16,000 for computer upgrades and $64,000 to purchase two new cruisers and to dispose of two old Ford Victorias.
Other vehicle-related requests on the warrant are a new outboard motor for the shellfish department, two four-track vehicles for the park department and a pickup truck for the wastewater commission.
As part of the budget crunch, town leaders removed draft articles from the wastewater commission calling for a further two new trucks totalling $195,000.
Affordable housing projects are the focus of six of nine Edgartown community preservation committee recommendations. The committee recommends projects that qualify for the fund using a set of state guidelines. The community preservation budget comes from up to three per cent of town property taxes, matched by a state grant.
The committee recommends $42,000 for a rental conversion program which provides funds to homeowners who convert vacant summer properties into affordable winter rentals.
Some $68,550 is slated for the South 10th street project, a home ownership program which offers homes to low-income buyers in combination with sweat equity.
The committee also has recommended $200,000 to pay for a new hangar at Katama airfield, one of the last few functioning grass airstrips in the U.S. Committee member Ursula Prada feels the repair is overdue. “The old hangar was constructed out of salvaged junk,” she said. “There were pieces from two hurricane-damaged hangars plus who knows what else.”
Katama airfield, which qualifies as an historic resource, was the first non-military pilot school in the country and is a popular tourist destination. “Everyone who comes here in the summer brings out their kids and sits and watches the planes,” Ms. Prada said.
The community preservation requests are culled from the applications of 12 organizations, which included the town library. A request to help fund the renovation of the library’s Carnegie building was denied by the committee. “It was a case of ‘come back to us when you’re closer,’” said Ms. Prada. “They were essentially 18 months out from any state funds. We couldn’t commit funds for two or three fiscal years into the future.”
In the warrant’s final article, library trustees request to spend on continuing repairs to the North Water street library building. Paintings, books, computers and furniture were covered in a sooty vapor when a furnace burst over the weekend late last year, causing a puffback incident. A protracted claim process with Massamont insurers has delayed repairs to the library, which has been closed since December 3 last year. If approved the article will allow the library to spend up to $100,000 of any further money received from the insurers.