Edgartown voters made short work of the town’s business Tuesday night, easily approving every spending article on the warrant, passing a bylaw that requires buildings in the historic district to be kept up and voting to take ownership of the Edgartown lighthouse — all in under two hours. With just a handful of questions and little dissent, the 200 voters who filled the Old Whaling Church approved an annual budget of $29.9 million, a six per cent increase over last year. The budget includes $85,000 to upgrade the Robinson Road playground, $84,000 for two new police cruisers, $48,500 for a two-year program to seed oysters in Sengekontacket Pond and $40,000 for Fourth of July fireworks.
Only one of the 68 articles on the special and annual town meeting warrants failed: a proposed new bylaw to impose penalties for public consumption of marijuana. Voters did agree to a one-year moratorium on approving a medical marijuana dispensary in town. Both articles came in the wake of a new Massachusetts law that legalized medical marijuana.
The required two thirds of town meeting voters also agreed to appropriate $900,000 to repair and repaint the town water tower in Katama, although the money will be paid by users rather than the town, and to spend $634,000 on two new fire trucks. Both big ticket items needed separate approval at the annual town election on Thursday.
Moderator Philip J. Norton Jr. opened the proceedings at 7 p.m. with a nod to artist Margot Datz, whose re-creation of a historic trompe l’oeil mural inside the Whaling Church was having its town meeting debut. “Margot did a good job, didn’t she?” he said, to a round of applause. The appreciative crowd also clapped after a Boy Scout troop presented the color guard, and Steve Ewing read a tribute to Edgartown families past and present called Marks, his second town poem since being named Edgartown’s poet laureate.
Selectman Arthur Smadbeck told voters that the current tax rate of $3.55 per thousand would increase to $3.79 per thousand if all budget articles were approved. A total of $1.2 million of funds appropriated were from free cash, leaving the town with a free cash balance of $465,515.93.
“It’s a pretty healthy number, should anything come up,” said town administrator Pam Dolby, who said the town usually maintains a cash reserve of $200,000 to $300,000.
Voters were greeted outside the Whaling Church by fire department officers, some in uniform, handing out leaflets in support of the new fire trucks. One truck would replace a 1985 pumper and rescue vehicle; the other would upgrade a 1978 water tanker on Chappaquiddick with more capacity.
Voters unanimously agreed to spend a total of $734,000 on the two trucks, $634,000 in a new appropriation and $100,000 from a stabilization fund created last year. Because the spending would exceed the town’s Proposition 2 1/2 spending cap, it will need to be approved again at the ballot box on Thursday.
For the most part, unanimous approval was the order of the day as Mr. Norton led voters quickly through the proposed budget and warrant articles.
A proposal for the town to take ownership from the U.S. Coast Guard of the Edgartown Lighthouse won easy approval, after Mrs. Dolby assured the crowd that there would be no new costs. The lighthouse is operated and maintained by Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and any repairs that might need to be made would be done with Community Preservation Act funding, she said.
One of the few articles requiring more than a voice vote was a proposed new bylaw that would require owners of buildings in the Edgartown historic district to keep them minimally maintained or face fines of up to $300 a day. Historic district commission chairman James P. Cisek said the bylaw was based on one adopted in Nantucket.
Ben Hall Jr., whose family owns several properties in Edgartown, said the wording of the bylaw was vague and seemed to single out specific buildings, and suggested that action on it be postponed until the historic commission had determined how it would be implemented.
“Are we trying to preserve history or are we trying to create Disneyland?” Mr. Hall asked.
Asked by another voter whether the bylaw would apply to the town-owned Warren House, which has fallen into disrepair since the town purchased it, Mr. Cisek noted the property is for sale and the goal is to have a new owner restore it. Mr. Norton called for a standing vote, and the bylaw — slightly amended to remove language limiting it to “certain contribution” buildings — won the required two-thirds approval.