Edgartown Turns to Town Voters to Pay for Ambulance, Firehouse

By JAMES KINSELLA

A laundry list of potential capital expenditures and a proposed 5.1 per cent increase in the annual operating budget await Edgartown voters this April.

The financial advisory committee has signed off on a budget of $21,250,025 for the coming fiscal year, $1,031,892 higher than the current year.

Town administrator Peter Bettencourt said additional state aid as well as general overrides voted by the town last year have given Edgartown latitude to request more spending without resorting to a Proposition 2 1/2 override.

State law requires towns to obtain voter permission to increase the tax levy more than 2 1/2 per cent in a year. The town's tax levy this year is $16,573,365. Mr. Bettencourt said the increase in the levy for next year has yet to be determined.

The budget, Mr. Bettencourt said, "is a reasonable one, based on the Island and the prices here and our inflation experience. It's well thought out."

On the second Tuesday in April, town officials also will ask voters both at the annual town meeting and at the ballot box to approve a series of expenditures, some of which would be funded through one-year capital outlays and others that would be funded through debt.

As annual capital requests go, this year is on the lower side, Mr. Bettencourt said.

The expenditures include a debt exclusion for an $850,000 facility at the town highway barn off Meetinghouse Way that would be used by the shellfish department, and a $600,000 debt exclusion that would be added to a previously voted $500,000 debt exclusion to build a new fire station on Chappaquiddick. The town has been unsuccessful in attracting bids within the original $500,000 appropriation.

Asked why the town is proposing a new shellfish building, Mr. Bettencourt said, "There are two buildings out there that are falling apart. The time has come to replace them." He said the building also would provide more space to store marine-related equipment that now must be kept outside.

Other big-ticket items include $350,000 to provide sewer service in the Curtis Lane area, $175,000 for a new ambulance and $59,000 for a school bus. Each would be paid through one-year capital outlays.

Free cash - money previously appropriated but not spent by the town - is coming to the rescue for items such as conversion of town computers to a system required by the state ($175,000), new equipment for the wastewater department ($50,000) and a feasibility study for the use of the old Edgartown School by the council on aging ($35,000).

As for the town operating budget, some of the largest percentage increases are found in line items such as fire department ambulances, park department, debt, employee benefits and computer expense.

Debt shows the single largest dollar jump of a line item in the operating budget, increasing $270,574, or 15 per cent. Previously voted debt, including for the new Edgartown School, now is coming on line to push the town's annual debt payments higher, Mr. Bettencourt said.

He said higher ambulance and park expenses reflect the proposed hiring of more personnel. The ambulance line item would rise $69,308, or 26.8 per cent, to $327,805. The park department line would rise $31,038, or 12 per cent, to $290,018.

Employee benefits, including a buyback of accrued vacation time by a retiring employee, would rise $5,000 or 14.3 per cent to $40,000. Computer expense, reflecting additional training, would rise $9,400 or 12.8 per cent to $82,900.

The largest line items in this year's budget include the elementary school at $4,944,140, up $36,201 or 2.83 per cent; the charge for the regional high school at $2,451,798, down $89,816 or 3.53 per cent; miscellaneous at $2,819,720, up $253,649 or 9.9 per cent; and the police department at $1,691,549, up $123,672 or 7.9 per cent.

Mr. Bettencourt said the relatively small annual increase in spending at the elementary school can be laid in part to efficiencies now being realized at the school, while the lower high school charge is based on a decrease in Edgartown students attending the regional high school.

As for the increase in the miscellaneous budget, Mr. Bettencourt said this largely consists of higher health insurance costs. The higher police budget, he said, mostly reflects negotiated wage increases for police department workers.