West Tisbury faces bylaw changes, $13.2 million budget


West Tisbury voters Tuesday will take up a 48-article annual town meeting warrant that veteran officials suspect may take two evenings to wade through. Voters will also be asked to approve a $13.2 million 2011 fiscal year (FY) operating budget, a 1.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year that ends on June 30.

The annual town meeting begins at 7 pm in the West Tisbury School. A total of 115 registered voters constitute a quorum, according to town clerk Tara Whiting.

On Thursday, voters go to the polls to elect town officers. There are no contests.

During a review of the warrant at the March 31 selectmen’s meeting, town moderator Patrick Gregory said he would not keep voters late into the night, suggesting the warrant could take two nights to complete. “I do not like to go beyond 10 or 10:15 pm so if it is headed that way I will move for the next night,” Mr. Gregory told selectmen. “We will see.”

Articles expected to generate considerable discussion include significant change to the town’s personnel bylaw affecting benefits and pay scales and a proposal to fund a study of Mill Pond in anticipation of dredging.

Spare budget

The proposed operating budget for FY 2011, which begins on July 1, 2010 is $13,179, 848. The budget represents a $209,086 increase over the $12,970,762 appropriated in FY 2010.

“West Tisbury has done pretty well for the past four years in controlling budget increases and certainly so compared to what was happening ten years ago,” selectman Richard Knabel told The Times.

Although there are no cost of living adjustment increases, step and grade raises will increase personnel costs by 1.9 percent, a net change of $45,000 compared to FY2010.

West Tisbury accountant Bruce Stone said 65 percent of the operating budget is allocated to education expenses. That includes $5,562,600 for the Up-Island Regional School District and $2,173,732 for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. This represents a $239,000 increase in the total cost of education over the FY2010 budget.

The next largest single expense for the town is the police department. That department budget will increase from $927,082 to $937,961. The total cost of departments under the heading of public safety will increase from $1,494,380 to $1,515,285.

Total employee benefits, including health and life insurance, will rise by $63,017 from $729,050 to $792,067 in FY 2011.

Bylaws and pond’s fate

Articles four and five would make changes to employee classifications, pay scales and benefits.

Article four asks voters to appropriate $21,877 to fund proposed changes to the town’s pay schedules.

Article five contains a series of proposed changes to the personnel bylaw addressing titles, compensation rates, overtime, holidays and vacation and sick leave.

For example, the position of executive secretary would change titles to town administrator; police officers who are required to work in excess of their standard work schedules while assigned to special duties would receive a minimum of four hours pay and 1.5 times their base wage; an employee could accrue sick leave up to a maximum of 120 days; and employees would only be able to carry forward unused vacation times for 12 months or forfeit the time off.

Voters will also be asked to allocate Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for several town projects. These include $104,000 to support the rental assistance program of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority; $225,000 to support the affordable housing initiatives of the town Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $150,000 for the restoration of the First Congregational Church.

Mr. Knabel told The Times he expects the proposal to appropriate funds for the church restoration to be controversial, because people resent giving the church tax money.

Also expected to stir up discussion is a request to appropriate $25,000 in CPA funds “to fund engineering and environmental studies preparatory to dredging and preserving the town’s historic Mill Pond.”

Article nine, if approved, would rescind the existing zoning bylaw governing “wireless communications facilities” and replace it with regulation of “personal wireless service facilities” (PWSF). The bylaw “needed to be rewritten to reflect the enormous changes in technology of today,” Virginia Jones, planning board chairman, told The Times. According to Mrs. Jones, the last update or rewrite occurred 11 years ago. Mrs. Jones highlighted the “definitions” section of the new bylaw language as “key because they really show how far behind the times we were” in terms of understanding and regulating this technology.

Article 12 asks voters to amend the existing zoning bylaw governing wind energy systems as well as add a new section to the bylaw. The new section of the bylaws provides that no wind energy conversion system (WECS) could be erected, constructed or installed without first obtaining a special permit from the zoning board of appeals. The language also states that modifications to an existing WECS will also require a special permit. And the proposed new language spells out how the allowable height is to be calculated, the allowable level of noise, what a permit applicant must do to minimize the visual impact of the WECS, steps that will be taken if a WECS is abandoned and defines a WECS as “all equipment, machinery and structures utilized in the connection with the conversion of wind to other forms of energy whether commercial or residential. ”

The warrant includes articles, apart from the operating budget totaling $330,000. These include $15,000 for a new well for Howes House and the library, $80,000 for a basketball court, $15,000 to conduct a feasibility study for construction of a new police station and $34,000 for a new police vehicle.

Voters will also be asked to approve funds for reconstruction work on town roads ($62,124), hydrant maintenance ($10,000), buying a new printer/copier for the police department ($3,500), and installing lights on the south side of the Howes House/Library parking lot.