Tisbury voters wrap up year's business by approving a $19.7 million budget
Tisbury voters wrapped up their annual town meeting on April 2 at the Tisbury School gymnasium, picking up where they left off the night before. They managed to finish the 32 warrant articles that remained by 10:20 pm. Town moderator Deborah Medders kept the proceedings moving at a brisk pace.
Over the two nights, voters approved a $19.7-million fiscal year 2009 (FY09) operating budget, appropriated $1.7 million from the unreserved fund balance or so-called "free cash," and agreed to allow the town to borrow $493,250 to rebuild Veterans’ Memorial Park, pending the approval of a Proposition 2.5 override ballot question.
The $1.7 million from free cash includes an appropriation for $1.2 million to balance the budget and reduce the tax rate. Another $532,000 was appropriated for expenditures in other articles, including capital projects and new equipment, as well as additional funds for the town’s FY08 regional high school assessment due to the state’s statutory formula.
The FY 2009 operating budget, which goes into effect on July 1, 2008, was amended on town meeting floor to reflect a reduction of $40,388 in the Tisbury Water Works budget.
The reduction came about after selectman Tristan Israel proposed an amendment, accepted by the voters, that reduced the combined total salaries of the water superintendent Deacon Perrotta and water systems administrator Lois Norton by $27,388 and their deferred compensation benefits by $13,000.
The two jointly manage the Tisbury Water Works and Oak Bluffs Water District, working half-time for each town. Voters approved a similar amendment by Mr. Israel last year.
The issue first came up in 2006, when the Tisbury selectmen protested that the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs water commissioners had negotiated five-year contracts with Mr. Perrotta and Ms. Norton that did not reflect equitable salaries and benefits compared to those of other town employees.
In October 2007, the Tisbury selectmen filed a lawsuit contesting the employee contracts against the town’s board of water commissioners, the Oak Bluffs Water District, Mr. Perrotta, and Ms. Norton. Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee said this week that the lawsuit is going through the judicial process and that the two groups continue to discuss how to resolve the issue outside the court process.
At town meeting last week, Mr. Israel said the reduced salary amount he proposed is in keeping with Tisbury’s approved M-7 salary scale for full-time managerial and professional employees. The water administrators qualify for the highest level of the scale, Mr. Israel said, which amounts to a combined total of $81,098 for the two positions. The Oak Bluffs Water District continues to pay them the contractual amount, which was $52,000 each for FY07.
Voters approved the budget reduction 71 to 39, in a standing count following a voice vote.
About halfway through the meeting, Bruce Doten provided a dramatic change of pace with his motion to rescind passage of an article voters approved the night before allowing the town tospend $493,250 to rebuild Veterans’ Memorial Park. The borrowing article also requires approval of a Proposition 2.5 override ballot question.
Given chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke’s recent warning that the nation is heading into a recession, Mr. Doten argued, now is not the time for the town to take "a precipitous plunge into debt." He also criticized voters’ approval of spending $97,000 in Community Preservation Act funds towards an irrigation system for the park.
Public works commissioner Dave Ferraguzzi countered that the park benefits everybody who uses it, Island-wide, and assured Mr. Doten that the town’s approval of the project "...is not going to put us into a recession." Voters defeated Mr. Doten’s motion for reconsideration.
The closest vote of the night concerned a request from harbormaster Jay Wilbur for $60,000 to fund the design and implementation of a mooring grid at the Lagoon Pond ramp. In order for a mooring grid to work in that area, Mr. Wilbur proposed that the town purchase and lease new moorings utilizing helix anchors, which would replace current privately owned moorings. Helix anchors offer the advantage of making the area safer for boats and protecting shellfish and eel grass, Mr. Wilbur explained.
Voters raised concerns about the lack of details about how the mooring program would work and how it would affect current mooring owners. They defeated the article 53-51, after rejecting an amendment proposed by Mr. Israel to address the grid plan only and an amendment by selectman Denys Wortman to take no action.
One of the evening’s lengthiest debates concerned the future of "Boch Park," property located between Beach Road and Vineyard Haven harbor near Five Corners that is owned by Ernie Boch Jr. Former FinCom chairman George Balco submitted an article by petition, asking voters to authorize the selectmen to urge the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank purchase the property from Mr. Boch.
Tisbury Land Bank commissioner Tom Robinson explained that it is not the Land Bank’s policy to purchase smaller, high-value properties in towns, especially ones with limited conservation value, such as Boch Park. "I personally think a well planned commercial development with public access would be the best use of this property," Mr. Robinson said.
"I think it would be far better for the Land Bank to spend money on pocket parks in towns rather than on barrier beaches with no access," FinCom member Peter Goodale countered.
"What does Ernie think of this? Let’s work with Mr. Boch," suggested ambulance director Jeffrey Pratt.
Jeff Kristal, who is running for selectman against incumbent Tom Pachico, said Mr. Boch knew nothing about the warrant article and is currently considering a proposal for the property. Mr. Pachico said Mr. Kristal was supposed to facilitate a meeting between the selectmen and Mr. Boch. Ms. Medders cut off the discussion and called for a vote. The article passed by a majority.
In follow-up to approval in 2005 for a connector road between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and State Road, voters unanimously approved spending $7,500 to purchase a portion of property owned by NStar and to acquire an easement. The easement across property owned by island Food Products to build the first leg from Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road to Mud Puddle Road involves an exchange of 14,650 square feet of town property.
Voters also approved a second article to fund engineering, surveying, and legal expenses to acquire an easement from Holmes Hole Road to the Tisbury landfill and to begin negotiations for acquiring an easement through Evelyn Way.
Department of Public Works director Fred LaPiana suggested amending the article to use $30,000 in remaining funds from last year’s appropriation for similar services for the first leg of the connector road, rather than appropriating additional funds.
In a departure from spending requests, Howie Marlin, representing a parents’ group, asked voters to take no action on an article requesting $15,000 to restore funds cut from the regional high school’s performing arts program next year. Mr. Marlin said that in light of a renewed approach and commitment to the program shared by Principal Margaret (Peg) Regan and Superintendent of Schools James Weiss in recent meetings, the parents’ group felt the supplemental funds were not necessary.
Meeting counters confirmed 140 people attended the second night of town meeting, about 5.16 percent of the 2,713 registered voters, down from 198 people the night before.
Town elections take place on Tuesday at the American Legion Post on Martin Road. Voters also will address three ballot questions, including the long-awaited beer and wine question, a Proposition 2.5 override for borrowing funds to rebuild Veterans’ Memorial Park, and a non-binding question calling on Congress to vote against additional funds for Iraq. A fourth question regarding a wastewater project for the high school requires no action at this time.