West Tisbury selectmen tackle busy agenda

The West Tisbury selectmen last week approved a conservation commission request for money to fund a legal appeal, discussed how to finance school building repairs, and reviewed proposed changes to the structure of the Tri-Town Ambulance Service.

Richard Knabel, chairman of the selectmen, briefed his fellow selectmen February 9 on the process to make extensive repairs to the West Tisbury School. Mr. Knabel said that he met with school superintendent James Weiss on February 8, to urge the creation of an oversight building committee to ensure that the town is represented in the repair process.

The town of West Tisbury owns the school building and leases it to the Up-Island Regional School District. Under that lease agreement the district is responsible for oversight of the renovation process.

Mr. Knabel said, “I indicated to him that we felt that there needed to be some type of oversight committee or building committee with town representation, because of the magnitude of the repairs and the amount of money involved.

“I also asked the question as to whether or not this is the whole story as to what needed to be done and his feeling was that it was.”

The school committee first thought that repairs only needed to be made to windows, at a cost estimated to be about $250,000. However, an architectural review found design flaws dating back to 1973 that have created other serious problems.

The Up-Island school committee recently told the three towns that the needed building repairs are far more extensive than first thought. As a result, the cost of renovation is now estimated at $1.5 million.

School and town officials are now considering financing the repairs through the sale of bonds. The cost of that debt would be passed along to the three towns.

Because West Tisbury owns the school it would pay 80 percent while Chilmark and Aquinnah would contribute 10 percent each but have an equal say in decision-making through the up-Island regional school district.

Selectman Jeffrey (“Skipper”) Manter, who also serves on the Up-Island school committee, objected to Mr. Knabel’s conversation with the superintendent on behalf of the selectmen without prior approval from the selectmen.

Mr. Manter said that the selectmen should have discussed it beforehand.

“It’s done. Do you want to discuss it?” Mr. Knabel said. Mr. Manter said he did.

Cynthia Mitchell, who also serves on the capital improvement committee, said that committee discussed the financing and representation issues at its February 7 meeting.

“The general feeling was, we did not in any way want the school repair costs to get in the way of the planned projects that were already in the pipeline,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Those include a new police station and a library renovation project.

Ms. Mitchell said the committee is leaning toward recommending that the repairs be financed through 15-year bonds. She also said that two members of the capital committee immediately asked the oversight question.

“Every project that we do involves some town building committee. The question was, is there a building committee working on this? And the answer was no, not yet,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The capital committee voted for more town involvement.

Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Manter agreed that if additional repairs are needed they should be identified now and completed with the work now being planned.

“I expressed exactly that,” Mr. Knabel said. “Whatever needs to be done ought to be done now, so that in two years or three years they don’t need to come back and say we didn’t do this or we should have done that. Let’s do it now. Let’s be certain this is the whole story. That is a concern I think I continue to have.”

Tri-Town ambulance

Mr. Knabel also reported on a recent joint meeting of selectmen from the three Up-Island towns and the seven-member governing committee of the Tri-Town Ambulance Service.

The committee now includes one selectman (or representative) from each town, each town’s police chief, and a squad member representative.

Mr. Knabel said there were two decisions. The governance committee would eliminate the police chiefs from the committee after a new ambulance service chief has been hired and on the job for six months.

The second was that the selectmen would be included in the final interviewing of candidates for the chief’s job.

“I feel quite strongly that change in the governance committee has to be done now. Tri-Town needs some strong guidance and it needs it now. It has real problems. It is a vital service that is provided to the community and we need to be sure that it functions properly.” Mr. Knabel said.

Ms. Mitchell said, “I do not disagree at all with Richard’s assessment that [changes]may be sooner rather than later. That’s a discussion for the selectmen from the three towns to have.”

Condominiums

The selectmen unanimously approved the request of the planning board to consult town counsel for an opinion on the legality of the sale of a property including a main house and guesthouse at 40 Waldron Bottom Road.

Reportedly a real estate advertisement for the property currently states that it has a condominium unit. The owner is listed as Calvin Grimes Jr.

Potential buyers have asked town zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall if the guesthouse could be enlarged. Town bylaws do not permit guesthouses larger than 800 square feet and require a minimum of three acres of land.

The planning board wants to know whether town bylaws would allow the owner of the main house and the owner of a guesthouse to enter into a condominium arrangement that would permit enlarging the guest house.

Other business

In other business, selectmen discussed the language of articles that will be placed before voters at the annual town meeting in April.

That includes the wording of an article that would amend the current Community Preservation Act property tax surcharge percentage, which is now three percent.

Mr. Manter suggested that the surcharge tax be reduced to 1.5 percent. Mr. Knabel said that the article might not need a specific number. Mrs. Mitchell said, “I want to avoid the suggestion that we have a figure in mind.”

The selectmen also had a lengthy discussion about an article to create a sidewalk in front of Back Alley’s. Cost estimates range from $8,000 for asphalt to $10,000 for brick (without the cost of a police detail).

“Asphalt was present in town before brick,” Mr. Manter said. He said bricks are harder to shovel and easily become slippery.

Ms. Mitchell said, “Personally I like brick. But I do not feel qualified to choose. And, I think getting the Historic District Commission (HDC) take on this would be good.”

Jennifer Rand, executive secretary, said that she would seek HDC input and get final cost estimates for brick so that the wording of the article could be finalized.

Mr. Knabel said that the selectmen received a letter from Nick Puner who complained about the failure of Mr. Mendenhall to act on his complaints regarding the signs for, and sale of firewood at, the Focus camp property on Lambert’s Cove Road.

The letter, said, “I particularly urge the board to request Mr. Mendenhall not make the kind of off-the-cuff decision he made in the dirt-bike case but to clearly state his reasons, yea or nay, in writing, addressing the points made in this letter so that the public can be clear in the event that additional steps are required as the result of his decision.”

The selectmen referred the letter to Mr. Mendenhall.