Tisbury voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide a three-way race for a seat on the board of selectmen, in which longtime incumbent selectman Tristan Israel faces challenges from Angela Cywinski and Bruce Lewellyn. The polls will be open from noon to 8 pm at the American Legion Hall opposite the Tisbury School.
Ms. Cywinski, principle assessor/appraiser for the town of Aquinnah since 2007, is a Massachusetts accredited assessor and has a background in business law, securities, and investment research. She also has served as an elected Tisbury assessor since 1998. Prior to that, she worked for the town as an assessor’s clerk from 1993 to 1997. She also owns, with her husband, a business that delivers printed materials including newspapers and contracts.
Mr. Israel owns and operates a landscape business that services many Island properties. He is an elected Dukes County commissioner and has been a member of the three-member board of selectmen for 15 years. Mr. Israel, who has a long history of volunteer and elected public service, currently serves on several other boards or committees, including the Island Housing Trust, Lagoon Pond Bridge Committee, Wastewater Planning Committee, and Eastville Beach Committee. He also participates on the Federal Minerals Management Taskforce that is exploring parameters for wind power south of the Vineyard.
Bruce Lewellyn is a retired lawyer and former partner in the New Haven law office of Tyler, Cooper and Alcorn, where he advised businesses, banks, municipal corporations, and individuals. Mr. Lewellyn serves on Tisbury’s finance committee and is chairman of the dredge advisory committee. He also represents Tisbury on the All-Island School Committee’s union negotiation subcommittee. Among his many volunteer activities, Mr. Lewellyn helps build houses for Martha’s Vineyard Habitat for Humanity and lends his voice to the Island Community Chorus and Federated Church Choir.
The Times emailed the candidates three questions. The third question was specific to each individual. Their responses follow:
Angela Cywinski: We need the voters of our town to be involved and need to educate them on municipal spending. Local aid has decreased from the state along with revenues, which in turn increases taxes for our town. The rising costs of insurance, not just medical but automotive, liability and building insurance, have increased significantly. The operating budgets of the departments have either remained the same or decreased. What is happening is the union wages increase and the departmental operational costs are being cut in order to balance the budget.
There are over 2,000 registered voters; only five percent or 120 voters show up at the annual town meeting and vote to raise and appropriate every warrant article. Hence, the tax rate increases, and we all pay. The majority of the budget is education at 38.8 percent, then insurance and employee benefits at 16 percent. The general government portion of the budget is only 8.1 percent. That is the real truth of our town.
Also, the FinCom recommended passage of all spending warrant articles at this year’s annual town meeting. That money is your money, and I always encouraged spending wisely when I served on the FinCom.
Tristan Israel: I am proud of my fiscal record. Tisbury is in sound financial shape. The selectmen have had a conservative spending policy, and they have been aggressive in paying down long-term debt. The town has a solid bond rating, which allows us to borrow at optimal rates. Spending areas that are hardest to contain are employee contractual obligations and health insurance.
I have tried to balance what is right for our employees with what is responsible fiscally. Many of our employees have switched to an excellent but lower-cost insurance plan, which has helped our bottom line significantly. The selectmen have worked closely with the finance committee to develop a joint approach to the financial management of our town. Revenue enhancement is paramount, but I am not currently a fan of the meals and rooms taxes. It is already hard enough for businesses to survive in these tough economic times.
Bruce Lewellyn: Let’s be clear. Anyone who promises you lower local taxes in the near term wants your vote more than your trust. As Jon Snyder noted in his article in the April 8 issue of The Martha’s Vineyard Times, taxes are the price we pay for the services we demand from our town — they are as much a burden as the cost of heating fuel and groceries.
Over 75 percent of Tisbury’s budget (including schools) pays for salaries and benefits for employees and retirees. The town departments and the schools have made all the easy cuts and have worked hard to keep their budgets from growing, even while multi-year contracts drive salary increases and as state aid to towns decreases (without reduction in state-mandated services).
While we should surely increase the town’s capacity to seek and be awarded federal and state grants, our most realistic hope is to eliminate duplications of expenditures among our Island governments and make town government more efficient, so that we get the most we can for every dollar we spend. I will strive in every way I know how to make penny-pinching thrift the town standard.
One of the arguments the Vineyard Conservation Society has mounted against additional development in the Tisbury Marketplace is that the town adopted a no-net-growth policy when it put a sewer system in the downtown area. Assuming that healthy businesses provide jobs and contribute to the tax base, please describe your view of what could be done to allow for economic development.
Ms. Cywinski: Tisbury has many complex layers of districts and zoning regulations. That kind of safeguard comes with rewards and shortfalls. On one hand you are keeping the town preserved for future generations, but on the other hand you are limiting growth and economic recovery. The residents are concerned about the natural vista that area provides. Mr. Dunn wants to encourage financial solvency, which in return gives residents job opportunities and helps the town stay vital. It’s a balance of preservation and growth. I feel that the by-laws and zoning regulations, along with the districts, need to be reviewed and updated, keeping mindful of expansion while balancing conservation.
Mr. Israel: The key to enhancing economic development is to work with the planning board to initiate zoning tools that allow for growth while taking into account the character of our town. A more definitive look at the Upper State Road area, in light of the proposed bypass road, is something the planning board has already been doing, and that area has the potential to become a second town center. The myriad of zoning districts and overlay districts in the waterfront area are confusing and hard to negotiate. The town should try to simplify zoning to make it easier for desirable development to take place there.
Mr. Lewellyn: First, the Tisbury Marketplace application is not a matter for action by the board of selectmen. The planning board and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will hear the application and the public comments it provokes, and measure its appropriateness under existing regulations. That said, outside the context of that application, we as a town need to re-examine the degree to which we can effectively manage development. It is logical and useful to restrict commercial development to specific areas and to mandate the provision of adequate on-site parking, specify maximum building heights, setbacks, and compatible architecture and style, as the town has done. However, once we have satisfied ourselves that what is proposed will fit — and fit in — we may be better off letting the market and the nitrogen-loading capacity of our ponds determine how many commercial buildings there will be and what business activities can take place within them.
Ms. Cywinski: That is a great question. I worked for the town of Tisbury for four years in the union. I have run my own business for ten years and currently am employed with the town of Aquinnah. That varied background gives me an objective review of both sides, the employee’s need of compensation and the need of the employer to present a balanced budget. In order to be fair and practical, both parties must come to a resolution. If elected, I would like to promote a creative approach between union negotiators and selectmen.
Mr. Israel: First, it is important to know that the Tisbury Police Department has a veteran, dedicated and professional group of individuals who are skilled in what they do, and the public is well served by them. The internal issues that have at times surfaced are not monolithic in nature, and when it comes to personnel issues in our democratic local government, individual rights and process must be followed.
Has every decision regarding the police department that I have participated in worked out? Not always, but on the whole I would stand by most of them and certainly stand by my motivation which has been to create a fair process for those involved, and even more importantly, develop a department that the community has trust in.
Currently the selectmen are working with Bob Wasserman, who is an expert police consultant and who has given the town guidance before on policing matters. We have an acting chief who is doing a great job, and it is my hope that he will become our permanent chief. I have been a long-time proponent of hiring a local person for that position.
Lastly, regional opportunities must continue to be explored, even if at times that tack seems daunting. I believe that economics on an Island that has so many redundant services and duplicate equipment will eventually be moved to look at creating a more global approach to how we deliver those services and how we better share our resources.
Mr. Lewellyn: Long-time Tisbury residents helped elect me to the FinCom three years ago and have seen the FinCom work to set fiscal priorities, communicate those priorities, and then work with department heads and the selectmen to craft budgets and warrant articles that we could explain and defend on town meeting floor and in our Voters’ Guides. They have seen me on town meeting floor advocating for actions I thought were in the town’s best interest. Sometimes I dissented from the position of the majority, but always I tried to explain and clarify the issues, so voters could make informed decisions. Most of the voters who initially urged me to run for selectman are long-time residents who observed, participated in, and cared about Tisbury town government long before I got here. They and the many more who now support my candidacy know that I listen well and learn quickly. I think their confidence, based on their observation of my performance, will inspire the confidence of others.