Edgartown Overrides Appear on Ballot


Scores of pocketbook-pinching articles and a few tough zoning questions face Edgartown citizens Tuesday at the annual town meeting at 7:30 p.m. in the Old Whaling Church.

Voters will be asked to approve a $19-million operating budget - swallowing a $707,000 general override to cover a five-and-a-half per cent increase in town operations.

Questions of house size caps in certain neighborhoods - a hot topic - come at the end of the 74-article warrant.

The bleak financial climate in towns across the commonwealth might prompt debate on numerous items. The six-figure general override is only the second tax hike Edgartown votes have been asked to shoulder in 23 years since the state adopted Proposition 2 1/2 - a law capping town operation spending growth. Town officials blame soaring insurance rates, falling state reimbursements and the full assumption of tuition costs for Edgartown Charter School students for the bulge in the town's projected 2004 expenses.

On top of the $707,000 general override, residents will be asked to cast votes on 12 additional overrides for specific capital projects and programs. If all 13 overrides are approved, property owners will see as much as a $39 increase for every $100,000 of property value. New growth as well as reassessments to the town's $3.6 billion worth of property could temper increases to the current $368 per $100,000 levy. New growth in the last two years topped $80 million, and early predictions suggest that trend will continue.

In a separate general override, voters will be asked to allocate $34,800 next year to hire a housing inspector to license the town's 1,500 rental units. Gaining access to substandard dwellings and the enforcement of state habitation codes has long been a headache for Edgartown's zoning official and health agent; officials say licensing fees will fund the new position.

Other general overrides include $12,600 for Edgartown's share in administrative costs for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. This would be the first allocation in a four-year phase-in that will place the regional affordable housing entity's $175,000 administrative budget on the shoulders of the six towns.

The Shellfish Department will ask voters to appropriate $40,000 for an estuaries study of Edgartown Great Pond. The allocation represents the town's share in a state-sponsored study. Voters will also be asked to appropriate $187,800 to the dredge management program - the bulk of which Shellfish warden Paul Bagnall said will be recouped through payments for assisting other dredging projects on the Island.

Two substantial capital projects are up for discussion. The town asks voters to commit $500,000 over 10 years for the creation of a three-bay fire station on Chappaquiddick to replace the one-bay station originally designed to house a Model A fire truck.

Another article to cover $1.2 million in improvements for the town water system would be spread over 20 years. The town's water department, which sustains its operations on user fees, expects to absorb these capital costs through rates.

Other override questions include $110,000 for street, sidewalk and catch basin repairs; $78,000 for highway department trucks; $26,000 for a wastewater department truck and $50,000 for the Herring Creek and Edgartown Great Pond restoration project. These capital outlay exclusions will add $7.31 per $100,000 of property value to this year's tax levy.

All 13 override questions will also appear on the town's ballot Thursday. Approval on town meeting floor as well as the ballot box is necessary for each of these override requests.

Questions of house size could stir the fiercest debates.

Petitioned by voters, one zoning bylaw would limit homebuilders within the windswept and exposed Cape Pogue District of Critical Planning Concern on Chappaquiddick to a 2,000 square-foot foundation - unless building height is kept under 18 feet. Last year the Edgartown Planning Board struggled with a 10,000-square-foot project proposed for this area; the approved version finally came in under 8,000 square feet.

Another house size article, also petitioned by town voters, proposes limiting all new Chappaquiddick dwellings to a 2,000-square-feet footprint or 10 per cent of the lot size, with a maximum of a 3,500 square-foot foundation. Special permits to exceed the restriction could be granted by the planning board in some cases.

Edgartown residents voted down a Chappaquiddick-wide DCPC designation last April on town meeting floor, also killing proposed zoning changes that would have limited house footprints.

House scale concerns are also the root of two other proposed zoning changes within the Edgartown Ponds DCPC. Voters failed to adopt hard and fast height limits for homes within 700 feet of the ponds' edges last year. Articles this year seek to strengthen the role of the Edgartown Ponds Advisory Committee, which currently offers recommendations to the conservation commission. Voters will also be asked to place the advisory committee's duties within the zoning regulations for the Edgartown Ponds DCPC.

In other business, voters:

- Will be asked to appropriate half of the town's $1.3 million in free cash toward several one-time expenses, ranging from town hall maintenance to new cruisers for the police department.

- Will decide whether to accept changes to the tax exemption eligibility requirements for low-income senior citizens. Amendments include lowering the eligible age from 70 to 65 and raising the exemption rate from $500 to $1000. Income thresholds will also increase by 50 per cent.

- Will choose to revert building permit application system from a lottery system to a first-come, first-serve basis. This will be the second year Edgartown limits such permits to 84. The town eliminated first-come, first-serve last year, saying it favored wealthier property owners or contractors who would pay someone to wait in line for long periods. The current weighted lottery system, critics say, is forcing builders to wait as much as four or five months to secure a building permit.