West Tisbury votes $5M town hall rebuild
With 21 of 52 articles left to go on the annual town meeting warrant, West Tisbury voters decided to call it quits at 10:30 pm on Tuesday and return for round two last night. However, they left with decisions on some big ticket items checked off the list, including approval of a $5.5 million project to renovate and restore the town hall and a $13 million fiscal year 2009 budget.
Today, West Tisbury voters head to the polls at the public safety building from noon to 8 pm for town elections. Those results, as well as an update on last night’s continued annual meeting, will be available on mvtimes.com.
Mr. Gregory said that in his 16 years as town moderator, he could only recall one annual meeting that lasted two nights. Noting that most of this year’s warrant articles involved money, he prepared everyone for the possibility of another.
Keeping with tradition, town Poet Laureate Daniel Waters opened the meeting by reading his poem, "My Town," printed in the 2007 annual report. Offering a preview of things to come, one of his verses described, "Here we gather each spring like the peepers who sing as the frost on the skunk cabbage melts; And we air our complaints till the Fat Lady faints, but we’d never live anywhere else."
The highlight of the evening for many arrived about two and a half hours later. After a multi-year battle over proposed plans for town hall, voters overwhelmingly approved an ambitious $5.5 million project, breaking into loud applause after the 200-6 vote. The project also requires approval of a Proposition 2.5 question on today’s election ballot.
In addition to renovation and restoration, plans include an addition, furnishings, landscaping, paving, and other site improvements. The cost of the project will be raised by borrowing $4.4 million, and using free cash and Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for the rest.
The town hall renovation committee concluded that by borrowing funds as the town retires older debts, the taxpayers’ burden will remain nearly constant and will require little or no new taxation. A handout provided by the committee shows that for a property valuation of $1 million, the added debt service taxes will average about $60 per year for the first seven years and less thereafter.
When it came to amending the town’s wage scale, voters were almost evenly divided. While the personnel board made strong arguments for it, based on the recommendations of a two-year compensation plan review, the finance committee protested that the additional wages will hike the budget by $38,000 this year, and up to $180,000 in five years.
The article narrowly passed, 106-103. Too close to call by a voice vote, Mr. Gregory asked for a show of hands and then a standing count for confirmation. The new town personnel and police wage scales add an additional step increase, from seven to eight. Voters also approved an article granting town employees a three percent cost-of-living adjustment increase.
Adopting the new wage scale brought the town’s FY09 budget in at slightly over $13 million, which was approved by a voice vote.
Robert Potts and Les Cutler questioned why the town budget did not include an itemized budget from the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD). After a lengthy explanation from URISD school committee chairman Marshall Segall, West Tisbury School Principal Michael Halt added that the budget is shown as a line item in the town budget document because it is a regional budget. West Tisbury selectman Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter, who also is a school committee member, assured voters that a detailed printed budget would be made available at town meeting next year.
Mr. Halt also took the opportunity to thank the West Tisbury community for its support last year while he served a tour of duty in Iraq as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. He noted that the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves recently sent a certificate of recognition to superintendent of schools James Weiss, the UIRSD school committee, and the community for outstanding patriotic support and cooperation.
In other business, voters agreed to postpone indefinitely two articles requesting funds to construct a path on the west side of Old County Road. Ebba Hierta read a two-page statement against building the path, which she said was unsafe and had been poorly planned.
Linda Sibley, who serves on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Bicycle Path Committee, pointed out that the town spent a lot of money on paths that do not seem to be used. Before building another path, she suggested conducting a study to determine whether the number of people that use the existing paths justifies the expenditure.
Opinions were divided about an article requesting funds for rehabilitating Mill Pond. Selectman Glenn Hearn argued in favor of using CPA funds toward permitting and developing plans for dredging the pond, which he said is becoming choked with weeds and filling with silt.
However, Kent Healy, who carried out a state-mandated inspection of the pond two years ago, said that he has not seen evidence of the pond filling in, and that dredging would not solve the weed problem. He suggested that a half-dozen volunteers could easily pull out the weeds. The article was defeated, 131-99.
Two articles calling for the use of CPA funds toward affordable housing projects generated a lengthy discussion towards the meeting’s end. CPA committee co-chairman Caroline Flanders provided details. One article requested funds for predevelopment costs, including access and electricity rights, for three affordable single-family homes on Bailey Park Road. Two residents who live nearby, Cathy Brennan and Jose Chaves, said they have had problems with the electricity supply in the area and warned the town to investigate the issues thoroughly before proceeding.
A second article requested CPA funds toward construction of eight clustered single-family homes on four acres at 200 State Road. The Island Housing Trust (IHT) is developing the housing with funding by the Island Affordable Housing Fund.
In discussing the article, Pat Lynch said after meeting with IHT representatives several times, she had more and more questions. Ms. Lynch said she felt the lots should go to West Tisbury residents only.
Referring to the 60 affordable housing units in Edgartown’s Morgan Woods development, Ms. Sibley countered, "If Edgartown can take people from our town, we should be able to take people from other towns." IHT director Philippe Jordi said he has met with the town’s Affordable Housing Committee and the planning board, and that everyone agreed that preference would be offered to local town residents.
In a departure from other spending requests, Fire Chief Manuel Estrella asked to amend an article requesting $60,000 to purchase self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) for the fire department. Thanks to two fundraisers held by the West Tisbury Firemen’s Civic Association, Mr. Estrella said only $30,000 would be needed. Voters applauded.
Other approved expenditures included the purchase of a brush chipper for the highway department, increased library staffing, fire hydrant maintenance, the repair and resurfacing of North Road, and the establishment of a post-employment benefits stabilization fund.
At 10:30 pm voters approved a motion to recess the meeting until 7 pm Wednesday night. Town officials said 291 people, 13.5 percent of West Tisbury’s 2,145 registered voters, attended.