A banner announcing next week’s annual town meeting was hanging over Edgartown’s Main street Thursday as the town prepares to debate medical marijuana and new historic district bylaws and decide on spending money on everything from new fire trucks to Fourth of July fireworks.
Annual and special town meetings will start at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Old Whaling Church. Against the backdrop of Margot Datz’s recently-completed tromp l’oeil mural, Edgartown will take on a 13-item special town meeting warrant, followed by 54 annual town meeting articles. Moderator Philip J. Norton Jr. will preside.
Voters will decide whether to spend $900,000 to paint the water standpipe in Katama. On the other end of the price spectrum, ownership of the Edgartown lighthouse out in the harbor is also on the warrant — it could be the town’s for no money at all.
Up for approval is a recommended annual town budget of $29.9 million, representing a six per cent increase over last year.
Part of the increase can be attributed to the town’s school budget, which increased by about six per cent. Edgartown School principal John W. Stevens said an increase in enrollment, as well as the addition of some staff and an increase in the school district budget, contributed to the higher budget.
After six years where enrollment stayed roughly the same, the Oct. 1, 2012 enrollment was 359 students, he said, an increase of 32 students over the 2011 student population.
When enrollment goes up, the school’s share of overall school district expenses goes up, Mr. Stevens said. In addition, a math enrichment teacher was added to the budget, as well as a special education teacher who will provide one-on-one help for a kindergarten student.
The superintendent’s office and shared programs budget, which is divided by all six Island towns according to enrollment, increased by about 16 per cent, with the expansion of the Bridge Program and the Project Headway program, and increased use of special education transportation.
For the Edgartown School alone, salaries and contractual obligations will go up by about five per cent, Mr. Stevens said, though other school expenses are staying the same.
Edgartown’s portion of the high school budget has also increased by about $560,000, or about 16 per cent.
Beyond the budget, big ticket items include $634,000 for two new fire trucks and the money to paint the town standpipe (water tower). Selectman Margaret Serpa said these were items that have been planned for awhile. “Hopefully it’ll go along relatively smoothly,” she said of this year’s town meeting.
The two big projects are also ballot questions. Funding for the fire trucks will take an extra $634,000 in real estate and personal property taxes and the standpipe renovation will require a Proposition two and one half override. Both projects have to be approved by two-thirds of town meeting voters.
Edgartown water department superintendent Fred Domont said it is standard practice to repaint standpipes every 15-20 years, and, at about 19 years old, Edgartown’s standpipe, which is rusting on the outside, was due for repairs.
The project calls for the tower to be emptied, sandblasted, and repainted both inside and out, he said. There will be some modifications, he said, including the removal of a steel ladder cage.
The price is based on similar projects in Nantucket and Chatham, he said, and he hopes the price might come in lower. If approved, work would be done in fall 2013 and last two or three months.
The town might try something new and use the Oak Bluffs standpipe during repairs, he said. With Oak Bluffs planning similar work in the future, he said, Edgartown could return the favor.
“We’re going to paint it Dayglo orange,” he joked, “with a Dayglo green top.”
In reality, it will be painted a similar color to the existing white shade.
Like other towns, Edgartown residents will be asked on their special town meeting warrant whether to ban public consumption of marijuana and whether to impose a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. Another special town meeting warrant asks residents whether to spend $50,000 to move an electrical box in front of the library to the back of the site as part of a North Water street historic restoration project.
The town will also debate a new minimum maintenance bylaw for historic district buildings and structures. Historic district commission chairman James P. Cisek said the bylaw was proposed by the selectmen. “Historic doesn’t necessarily mean dilapidated,” he said.
The bylaw, which Mr. Cisek said is partly based on a similar bylaw in Nantucket, applies to exterior features such as fences and shingles peeling off. Violators can be fined $300, with each day considered a separate violation. However, the historic district commission can grant a waiver for financial hardship or other circumstances.
He said while most buildings in Edgartown’s historic district are well-maintained, a few can use some work.
“It’s a benefit to the town, and the Island itself,” he said, to have well-maintained buildings.
When it comes to spending, Community Preservation Act funds are proposed for a $27,870 rehabilitation and restoration of an original town hall bell for display at the Firemen’s Museum, $32,245 for the rehabilitation and restoration of a 1952 Mack Fire truck, and $85,000 for new toddler equipment and improvements at the Robinson Road recreation area.
Last spring, the federal government listed the Edgartown Lighthouse among a number of lighthouses that are no longer mission-critical and would be offered at no cost to eligible state and local governments. Edgartown filed an application for the lighthouse, but the town needs to vote at town meeting to approve taking ownership of the landmark. The transfer comes at no cost to the town.
The town will also decide on changing the use of two town-owned lots on 14th street to be used for affordable housing.
Town roads are up for improvement, including $170,000 to rebuild and resurface the road, ferry staging area, and parking lot at Chappaquiddick Point, and another $155,000 to rebuild and resurface various town roads.
One item would bring shellfish to Sengekontacket Pond: the town is asking for $48,500 for a two-year program to grow 500,000 two-inch oyster seeds in an area by Major’s Cove. Edgartown would work in coordination with Oak Bluffs, which has a similar item on their warrant.
Other warrant items range from a favorite summer tradition — $40,000 to pay for Fourth of July fireworks — to clearing snowy winter streets: $20,000 to purchase and install a liquid anti-icing system. The roof of the town-owned barn at Katama Farm is on the agenda as needing $40,000 in repairs, and the police department is seeking to purchase and equip two new police cruisers for $84,000.
Edgartown, like all towns on the Vineyard, will vote on whether to fund their portion of $173,000 in architectural fees for a new superintendent’s building to be housed on the high school campus. Each town’s portion of the cost is based on assessments. In past years, the towns were asked to approve a $12,000 feasibility study for a new building. Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said the study showed the need for a new building, with expansion impractical for the existing building on Pine street in Vineyard Haven.
The new proposed building location is near the high school, and Mr. Weiss said the next step is paying for 25 per cent of the architectural design for the new location. A building committee convened for the subject “feels strongly we really need to get towns behind us,” Mr. Weiss said.
The building would be 10,000 square feet, and include the superintendent’s office, the administration building and public restrooms for the high school. The new building would be right by the football field, he said. The estimated price is $3.74 million and would be paid for with a bond.
The existing building “is not appropriate” for the 24 people who work there, Mr. Weiss said. It is not accessible for people with handicaps, he said, has heat and air conditioning problems and electrical issues. There is a lack of confidentiality as well, he said.
The plan is to sell the Pine street building and use whatever proceeds are made for the new construction. If the architectural design is approved, Mr. Weiss said, town meetings would next be asked to approve the entire project.
Once town meeting concludes — history indicates it will likely take just one night — voters will head to the polls. The annual town election will be held Thursday, April 11 at the selectmen’s room in town hall. Polls are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. There are no contested races, and selectman Michael J. Donaroma is up for re-election.