News in Brief
Island democracy reigns on Tuesday night
On Tuesday the towns of West Tisbury, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs will hold annual town meetings. If history is a guide, all of the important public questions facing Vineyard voters in 2008 will be answered by only a fraction of those who will be affected by the decisions. Voters in the three Island towns will be asked to approve operating budgets that total more than $66 million.
For voters new to town meeting or those who want to brush up, a helpful glossary of town meeting terms and procedures follows:
AMENDMENTS: A voter may offer an amendment to a main motion under consideration, providing the scope of the original motion is not enlarged or otherwise altered. Amendments are discussed separately from the main motion. They require a majority vote to pass.
CHECKERS: Checkers are appointed to screen those entering to make certain only voters have access to the voting area.
CONSTABLE: The constable is an elected town official in charge of posting the warrant in advance; during the meeting he may be called upon to remove unruly citizens.
LIMIT CONSIDERATION: Debate may be limited to a specific time period by a two-thirds majority vote. To “move the previous question” brings an immediate vote on a matter being considered. No debate or amendment is allowed. Requires two-thirds majority.
MODERATOR: The moderator has absolute control of the town meeting. The moderator regulates all proceedings, decides questions of order, announces all votes, and recognizes speakers from the floor.
MOTIONS: Main motions appear as articles on the town warrant. They must be made and seconded before being open for consideration.
Secondary motions refer to main motions, generally amending, postponing, or limiting consideration of them.
MOTION TO WITHDRAW OR MODIFY A MOTION: One who has made the motion may wish to withdraw it. If done before it is stated to the meeting by the moderator, the speaker may withdraw it. Once stated by the moderator, the speaker must seek leave to withdraw.
NON-BINDING REFERENDUM: Normally appearing on the election ballot, this question seeks to sample public opinion but does not call for action.
QUORUM: The minimum number of voters who must be present before the meeting can transact any business. Once the quorum is established, the moderator begins the meeting. If the quorum is lost later, the meeting must adjourn until another time or be dissolved.
POINT OF ORDER: A voter may interrupt the speaker to determine the answer to questions including (1) is the speaker entitled to the floor?; (2) is what the speaker is saying, or is any pending action, indecorous, frivolous, illegal, contrary to proper procedure? “Mr. Moderator, I rise to a point of order,” is the proper form for the motion. A point of order motion does not require a second or vote; it may not be debated, amended, or reconsidered. It is decided by the moderator.
POSTPONEMENT: An article may be (1) COMMITTED or REFERRED to a committee existing or formed specifically to address the issue; (2) postponed until a definite time before the end of the meeting and returned by making a motion that it be considered; (3) LAID ON THE TABLE or TABLED. This motion must be seconded, cannot be debated, and is voted on immediately. Requires a two-thirds majority. An article not taken from the table before the meeting adjourns is dead. The motion may be reconsidered at any time during the meeting if a majority votes to do so; (4) PASSED OVER, POSTPONED INDEFINITELY, or have NO ACTION TAKEN. All are debatable, require a majority vote, and effectively defeat the motion.
RECONSIDERING AN ARTICLE ALREADY ACTED UPON: Anyone who voted on the winning side may move to reconsider the vote. Any voter may move to rescind the vote on a main motion. A two-thirds vote is required.
SPEAKERS: Those who wish to address the meeting must wait to be recognized by the moderator, state their names, and limit comments to the question under discussion. All discussion must go through the moderator. A time limit may be set.
TELLERS: Tellers are appointed to assist the moderator in counting votes.
VOTES NEEDED: Most motions are passed by simple majority vote. The following require a two-thirds majority: borrowing of money; appropriations for land purchase; land purchase for public domain; sale or abandonment of land; abandonment of projects for which funds were borrowed; zoning bylaws.
VOTING: The vote may be taken by voice, show of hands, standing, roll call, or balloting. If a vote is immediately questioned by seven or more voters, the moderator must verify the vote, generally by show of hands or standing vote. Once the moderator announces the vote tally, it becomes official and cannot be disputed.
WARRANT ARTICLES: Selectmen are responsible for placing all articles on the town meeting warrant. Departments may submit articles to the selectmen for placement on the warrant. Citizens may petition to have an article placed on the warrant by collecting 10 signatures for an annual town meeting, 100 signatures for a special town meeting.
CHERRY SHEET: Printed on cherry pink paper, this annual statement from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue lists estimated state receipts to the town for the coming fiscal year and estimated county and state charges payable by the town. The figures are used by town assessors in setting the tax levy.
FINANCE COMMITTEE: This elected body reviews all budget requests and gives recommendations on warrant articles. It is the sole entity that transfers from the reserve fund. The power of its recommendations rests on members’ ability to make a persuasive argument on the town meeting floor.
FINANCIAL BUDGET: The annual warrant always calls for approval of the town’s OPERATING (DEPARTMENTAL) BUDGET for the coming fiscal year. It includes line-item budgets for every town department. It may be amended from the floor by majority vote.
FREE CASH: “It’s the amount you have in your checkbook after you’ve paid your bills,” says one selectman. Once referred to as AVAILABLE FUNDS, free cash is the balance remaining after the town has satisfied its debts. It does not include the amount of unpaid property taxes even if these are due. The amount is certified to the town by the state director of accounts, effective July 1 of each year. Free cash can be appropriated out by a majority town meeting vote.
GENERAL FUND: Comprises money from operating budget and warrant articles. Town also has a SPECIAL REVENUE FUND for income from grants, gifts, and other sources; TRUST FUND includes bequests and income to stabilization fund; AGENCY FUND includes money held but not to be used by the town such as escrow deposits.
LEVY LIMIT: Amount the town is entitled to raise and appropriate in a given fiscal year not relying on a proposition 2.5 override.
MEETING THE COSTS: The town has three ways to obtain funds to cover expenditures (1) RAISE AND APPROPRIATE articles on the town meeting warrant that take money raised by taxation and put it toward a specific expense. Requires a majority vote; (2) FREE CASH TRANSFER by majority vote; (3) BORROWING through a bond issue or notes, usually used for a capital expenditure such as construction project or equipment purchase. A warrant article asks voters to appropriate the sum and authorize treasurer, with approval of board of selectmen, to borrow. Requires a two-thirds majority vote.
PROPOSITION 2.5: Enacted by the Massachusetts legislature in 1981, this measure stipulates that towns can increase their budgets by only 2.5 percent over the preceding year.
PROPOSITION 2.5 OVERRIDE: In instances when a town calculates all its income and expenditures and finds the bottom line shows an increase larger than 2.5 percent, a ballot vote is required for approval.
A GENERAL OVERRIDE seeks approval for going beyond the 2.5 percent spending limit for the budget as a whole. The increase becomes a permanent part of the base on which the budget is calculated.
Some towns have instituted a MENU OVERRIDE system, in which voters can pick and choose which capital expenditures they would approve beyond the spending cap.
Voters are sometimes asked to EXEMPT certain expenditures, such as long-term capital projects, from the 2.5 limit. Known as a CAPITAL EXCLUSION or DEBT EXCLUSION, this allows the town to assess taxes in excess of the levy limit. The amount does not become a permanent part of the levy limit base. It allows the town to assess taxes for a specific period of time to pay for capital expenditures or service debt payments. Island towns routinely exempt school construction projects from the 2.5 cap.
RESERVE FUND: An account to be used for transfers for “extraordinary or unforeseen” expenditures by town departments. The amount is appropriated by voters at annual town meeting. Departments request an appropriation from the finance committee, which controls the fund.
SCHOOL BUDGETS: Each town must approve its share of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget which appears as a line item in each town’s budget. Approval by at least four towns is required. In addition, three up-Island towns act on the Up-Island Regional School District budget; Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury vote on their own individual school budgets.
STABILIZATION FUND: A “rainy day” savings account, a trust fund, sometimes used to hold appropriations toward future expenditures. Balance may not be more than 10 percent of the previous year’s budget. Earned interest is added to the account. Funds from this account may be used for any lawful municipal purpose and may be appropriated at town meeting by a two-thirds majority vote.
TAX RATE: Town’s net expenditures minus estimated receipts divided by total valuation of the town as determined by the assessors.
Lagoon Pond bridge update
A change in the construction schedule for construction of the temporary replacement Lagoon Pond drawbridge next to the existing bridge means that around June 1 the contractor will begin pile-driving and work in the water, according to drawbridge committee chairman Melinda Loberg.
"If all goes well, the contractor would finish pile-driving by July 4, which is what we are urging them to do, with great emphasis," Ms. Loberg said. "We've been pretty dismayed that all of our efforts to avoid a major inconvenience in the summer seem to be falling that way. But on the other hand, if they get off the road and into the water, it may be there will be fewer traffic stops for trucks coming and going. It might turn out to be a silver lining."
The work crews also plan to change to a Monday through Thursday schedule, 7 am to 5:30 pm, for the busier spring and summer months, Ms. Loberg said.
Originally the contractor, Pihl, had planned to get the temporary bridge pilings done in the wintertime, Ms. Loberg explained. However, because Pihl had not finalized the specific type of draw mechanism to use on the bridge by last December, which affects the height and spacing of pilings, the decision was made to reverse the construction schedule and complete land preparations first.
Construction in the water is prohibited until May 30 to protect winter flounder. However, depending on the spring spawning schedule, Ms. Loberg said, the Division of Marine Fisheries might allow the contractor back in the water by mid-May.
According to a recent email update from a spokesman from the Massachusetts Highway Department, land clearing operations necessary to widen the access road are finished and environmental safeguards, including erosion control measures, are in place.
Widening the access road required construction of a retaining wall. Work crews have driven sheeting for the Oak Bluffs seawall and completed excavation and backfilling. Because of the possible adverse effects of construction of the retaining wall on nearby wetlands and marshlands, a salt marsh replication area (a second, substitute replacement area) was built.
The east abutment piles have been driven on the Oak Bluffs side and the segmented retaining wall on the Tisbury side is currently under construction. NStar has removed and reset utility poles. Conduit for the temporary bridge is in place on the Tisbury side and is ready for electrical work.
Aquinnah revaluation reflected in tax bills
Aquinnah property owners are due to receive their property tax bills this week. It is the first tax bill since a recently completed revaluation of Aquinnah property by the town's new, professional assessor.
Some property owners are in for a pleasant surprise. Third and fourth quarter tax bills reflect a tax rate that has dropped by 78 cents from $4.03 to $3.25 per thousand dollars of valuation.
In January, assistant assessor Angela Cywinski, the town's first state-certified, full-time assessor, finished a revaluation that resulted in significantly higher assessments for waterfront properties, the correction of inaccurate property records, and the elimination of elderly exemptions granted incorrectly.
Propelled by recent sale prices, values increased dramatically for houses with beach property or water views. As a result, the town's total valuation - including residential, commercial and personal property - increased by about 30 percent for fiscal 2008, which began on July 1, 2007.
Ms. Cywinski said tax abatement requests are due by May 1.
Delahunt sponsors forum on federal grants
Congressman Bill Delahunt announced in a press release that he will sponsor a public forum in Edgartown with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help non-profit organizations and municipal officials navigate the complex process of applying for federal funding.
In prepared remarks Mr. Delahunt said the workshop is designed to demystify the federal funding process and help local organizations identify potential funding resources using new online resources.
The forum is scheduled for 1 pm Friday, April 11 in the Vineyard Transit Authority meeting room in the Airport Business park.
For more information call Rep. Delahunt's office toll-free at 1-800-794-9911.
Union hosts Tisbury and Oak Bluffs candidates' forum
AFSCME Local 3992 has invited the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs candidates for selectmen to discuss their viewpoints and answer questions at a public forum on Monday at 6 pm at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center.
The forum is being held to offer town employees who belong to the union an opportunity to ask the candidates about how they would handle issues such as union negotiations, raises, and grievances. The public is welcome to attend. However, participation in the question and answer session will be limited to union members.
As Local 3992 President Rebecca Cass explains, the union represents many town employees in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury. Kenneth Maciel represents Tisbury, and Robert Wey represents Oak Bluffs as members at large on the union's board.
To attend, RSVP at 508-693-1594.
Martha's Vineyard Commission to hold hearings at Oak Bluffs Senior Center
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) has scheduled three public hearings on April 17. Because of the ambitious agenda and the many people involved, the commission will meet at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center at 21 Wamsutta Avenue.
The meeting begins at 7 pm with a public hearing about modifications to a previous decision on a development of regional impact regarding Shirley's Hardware in Vineyard Haven.
A public hearing regarding a garage addition by Joseph Moujabber at 10 Sea View Avenue extension, rescheduled from April 10, begins at 7:30 pm. A public hearing on the Bradley Square development project follows at 8 pm.
For more information on any of the projects, visit the Martha's Vineyard Commission website, www.mvcommission.org or call 508-693-3453.
Access program sponsors Mass Health insurance workshop for employers
The Vineyard Health Care Access Program will sponsor a workshop for local employers about health insurance rules and regulations enacted as part of the Massachusetts' health care reform program. The workshop is from 5:30 to 6:30 pm on Thursday, April 10, at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Library Conference Room.
Paul Wingle of the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority, the state agency that oversees the new health care programs, will explain some of the new regulations for employers. These include minimum creditable coverage, the fair share assessment, the free rider surcharge, Section 125 Plans, and Health Insurance Responsibility Disclosure Forms.
For more information call the Vineyard Health Care Access Program at 508-696-0020.
Discussion on race is planned
The Island Diversity Council and the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center's social action committee will co-sponsor a discussion of race in the United States on Thursday, April 10, from 7 to 9 pm in the Hebrew Center on Center Street in Vineyard Haven.
According to a press release, the evening will include a video of presidential candidate Barak Obama's recent speech on the issue of race in America and video clips of media coverage of Mr. Obama's controversial minister and friend, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Roundtable discussions will follow.
Donors Collaborative sponsors workshop
The Martha's Vineyard Donors Collaborative (MVDC) will hold a workshop for Vineyard non-profits titled "Strong Boards For Effective Governance and Good Fundraising." The program will run from 9 am to 4 pm on Wednesday, April 16, at Outerland in Edgartown. Registration begins at 8:30 am, and space is limited.
The workshop is designed for organizations large or small that have a challenge recruiting and retaining good board members or need to restructure their board to improve their governance and fundraising in an increasingly competitive environment, said Peter Temple, MVDC Executive Director.
The workshop will be led by Chuck V. Loring, the senior partner of the fundraising and governance consulting firm of Loring, Sternberg, & Associates. He is also a Senior Governance Associate for BoardSource (formerly the National Center for Nonprofit Boards) in Washington, DC.
The cost of the workshop is $25 per person, including breakfast and lunch. For more information call 508-645-3690 or go to www.mvdonors.org.
Financial advisers offer free counseling
Lightship Capital Management LLC of Vineyard Haven is offering a Community Financial Counseling Program to Islanders. According to a press release, "This is a pro bono program for financially challenged families and individuals who could benefit from general counseling to solve some of the everyday financial issues that arise throughout the year."
Jonathan R Laird, senior financial advisor and principal of Lightship Capital Management, an Island-based asset management and planning practice, is offering the program.
In order to qualify, individuals or families should have a specific issue to address, limited financial resources, little access to or experience with professional advice, and a strong desire to improve their personal financial situation.
This program is not structured to provide advice regarding debt relief or restructuring.
For more information on the program call 508-696-5996.
Financing program available for geothermal systems
A low-cost financing program to help homeowners defray the costs of installing new geothermal energy systems is now available through Nelson Mechanical Design (NMD), in partnership with the Electric and Gas Industries Association (EGIA).
NMD, a "green" mechanical contractor, specializes in renewable energy systems, including geothermal. EGIA is a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to advancing energy-efficient home improvement and renewable energy solutions.
EGIA has developed financing relationships with leading nationwide financial service providers. The financing program now available through the EGIA and NMD partnership is the GEOSmart Sustainable Financing Solutions Program. GEMoney, the consumer and small business financial services unit of General Electric, provides the funding.
The financing program will allow NMD to assist homeowners with the design, installation, and financing of two different geothermal systems, EarthLinked Technologies, a direct exchange system, and ClimateMaster, a water source system.
"Nelson Mechanical Design expects this financing program to be of great value in making geothermal systems even more affordable for the homeowners of the Vineyard and will help increase the number of geothermal installations on the Island," the company's press release states.
NMD installed the first geothermal systems in Aquinnah and Oak Bluffs, in addition to other systems operating in Edgartown and Tisbury. The company currently is constructing geothermal systems for the first two wind turbine-powered net zero energy houses on the Vineyard.
For more information, visit www.nmdgreen.com or call 508-696-3120.
A story in the March 27 issue of The Times incorrectly reported the starting time of the April 8 Oak Bluffs annual town meeting as 7:00 pm, preceded at 6:30 pm by a special town meeting. The correct starting time of the annual town meeting is 7:30 pm, the correct time for the special town meeting is 7:00 pm. The annual Water District meeting begins at 6:30 pm.