There was only one contested race to discuss at Tuesday’s Edgartown candidate forum in a ballot otherwise full of uncontested incumbents.

Organized by the League of Women Voters, the sparsely attended event was made sparser by a Covid infection; school committee candidate Kimberly Kirk tested positive, preventing her and fellow candidate Kelly Scott from making their case in what is one of only two contested races in the April 13 election.

There is, however, one race that has no challengers or incumbents. The five-year seat on the town planning board has no official candidates, meaning any eligible Edgartown resident with the most write-in votes could take the position, said Bea Phear, the event’s moderator.

“Tell your friends,” she added.

The candidates forum began with a short statement from longtime select board chair Margaret Serpa, who is running unopposed for re-election. Ms. Serpa has served on the select board since the late 1990s.

“Here I am again,” she joked.

When asked what she thought was the biggest issue facing Edgartown this coming year, Ms. Serpa responded with a familiar refrain: housing.

“I never would have been able to get where I am now with the way prices are these days,” she said, adding that the biggest concern was finding stable housing for longtime residents and working people.

One attendee lamented a perceived loss of community over the years, with more houses sitting empty year-round. They asked if the select board would consider a moratorium on new buildings. Ms. Serpa commiserated but declined to commit to any specific policy changes.

“There’s certainly a loss of neighborhood feeling,” Ms. Serpa said.

Another attendee expressed concern at the rising school enrollment, up nearly 10 per cent from the previous year.

“The schools are going to have to do a lot of work to address that,” Ms. Serpa said. “I’m wondering when Covid comes down if people will leave.”

The night’s only debate was for a position on the town’s board of assessors. Incumbent Alan Gowell and challenger James E. Joyce both have lived in Edgartown for more than 40 years. In a neighborly spirit neither could give a direct reason why one would be better suited to the position over the other.

“I’ve held this position for 17 years and this is the first time I’ve been challenged,” Mr. Gowell remarked. “I’m glad to see someone else interested in this.”

Mr. Gowell went on to encourage Mr. Joyce to run again when another board member retires. Mr. Joyce responded that the competition was part of the point.

“No offense to Alan…there should be term limits,” he said. “These shouldn’t be positions for life.”

Mr. Joyce went on to cite his 30 years’ experience as a realtor as to why he thought he would be suited for the board.

Lorna Andrade, a member of the League of Women Voters and a retired medical professor, had several questions for both candidates. She began by asking Mr. Gowell for an outline of how assessors come up with an estimate for each property.

Mr. Gowell explained that per state requirements, the town visits each property every 10 years, tracking land value by neighborhood and using a rubric to determine price per square footage.

“It’s a combination of what your neighborhood’s worth and what your building’s worth,” he said, adding that residents are welcome to dispute any estimates.

Ms. Andrade said that she had heard of several people of color on the Island receiving lowballed estimates on their properties, a discriminatory phenomenon that has been well-documented in other communities.

“At least some type of research needs to be done,” Ms. Andrade said.

Both candidates expressed disbelief that this type of discrimination could happen in Edgartown.
“In my over 30 years in real estate I’ve never seen that happen at all,” Mr. Joyce said. “I don’t believe any of that has been happening here.”

Mr. Gowell said that the board does not keep information on race in their data, or much information about property owners at all.

“In Edgartown, most of these houses are empty when they’re sold,” he said. “I just don’t see it as a major factor.”

Edgartown’s elections will take place April 13 at the town hall from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.