West Tisbury annual will include beer and wine question


West Tisbury voters will gather for their annual town meeting Tuesday where they will be asked to take action on a proposal to allow the sale of beer and wine in restaurants, fund the expansion of the library, purchase the Field Gallery property and approve a $13.8 million operating budget for the 2012 fiscal year.

Voters will also decide a proposed amendment to the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) budget that would reduce the spending plan by $750 per pupil, an unorthodox plan that is backed by the finance committee (FinCom) and selectmen.

There are 45 articles on the annual town meeting warrant. The meeting begins at 7 pm at the West Tisbury Elementary School on Old County Road. Veteran town moderator Pat Gregory will again preside (A copy of the warrant appears in today’s issue of The Times).

Budget questions

Voters will consider a $13,762,837 budget for fiscal year 2012, around 540,000 — or 4.1 percent — more than the current budget. The three biggest spending increases come from the assessments for the UIRSD, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and Tri-Town ambulance (The budget is available online at mvtimes.com).

The single biggest increase in the budget is in the UIRSD, which will increase $252,000, or 4.5 percent. The increase, coupled with declining student enrollment in the district, has rankled members of the FinCom, who will call for an amendment at town meeting to reduce the budget.

Frustration over the UIRSD budget is nothing new in West Tisbury, which annually pays the largest portion of the budget by a wide margin. But this year is unique in that town officials will call for a per-pupil reduction.

Under the plan the budget for the district, which serves 311 students in the towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah, would be reduced by $233,250. The reduction would be applied across the district, and would result in a reduction in the assessment of all three towns.

FinCom member Greg Orcutt said the recommendation to cut the budget was not a reflection on the quality of the education within the district. “We all think they do an outstanding job, it’s a quality education with quality people. We just think it’s a little rich,” he said.

“The issue has never been the quality of the education; it’s the cost. And as the FinCom we either recommend or don’t recommend based on costs. So we thought this was a reasonable adjustment,” he added.

Mr. Orcutt said the UIRSD has one of the highest per-pupil costs in the entire state. He said he does not believe reducing the budget $750 per student would have an impact on the quality of education being provided.

Superintendent of schools James K. Weiss said the increase in the UIRSD budget was mostly due to negotiated salary increases, increases in health insurance costs, and the shared service line item, which is tied to the expansion of a program that aids students with autism.

Another reason for the budget increase is the addition of a K-1 classroom at the Chilmark School next year, due to an anticipated increase in student enrollment at that school.

Mr. Weiss said the UIRSD school committee worked hard to keep spending in check.

Cutting the budget by $233,250 would likely result in cuts to staff and programs at the school. He conceded the per-pupil cost was high in the district, but said this was a reflection of what parents and voters wanted.

“The cost is tied to the quality of education, the depth of the programs, and the quality of the people who educate our children. I think people expect students in the district to receive a top education with a broad range of programs and experiences,” he said

Meanwhile the MVRHS budget will increase $130,000, or 6 percent over the current year, while the Tri-Town Ambulance budget will jump $56,000, a 54 percent increase over fiscal year 2011, largely because of the addition of several new full-time paramedic positions.

Beer and Wine

Voters will be asked to allow restaurants with 50 seats or more to sell beer and wine to patrons as long as they order food. The proposal would need the approval of the state legislature, and would need to be ratified by voters during an annual election.

The article was placed on the warrant by petition, and would affect only three restaurants: Lambert’s Cove Inn, State Road, and the Plane View at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. The article, if approved, would allow alcohol to be sold in town for the first time in more than a century.

Richard Knabel, chairman of the board of selectmen, said he supports the article because it would give restaurants more control over alcohol consumption.

“When people bring their own there is no limit to how much they drink. But if restaurants start selling it, they have the responsibility to monitor their patrons and control their intake,” he said.

Mr. Knabel said a planned amendment to allow nonprofits to serve beer and wine at fundraisers would result in a larger change then the main beer and wine article.

Selectmen agreed to the amendment last month after town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport advised them that alcohol cannot be served at any fundraising event where tickets are sold, a common practice for years, especially during the summer.

Field Gallery Purchase

Voters will also be asked to authorize the purchase the Field Gallery property across from the Congregational Church at a cost of $685,000, a deal that came together only last week.

Funding for the deal will come from $510,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, and another $175,000 from anticipated income from the Field Gallery Lease.

Under a five-year purchase plan devised by town officials, the town would pay $625,000 to the owners of the parcel, the Maley Family Trust, while the interest and bonding costs will be $50,000. Additional costs, such as permits and well connections, will cost $10,000.

Selectmen have said they signed the purchase and sale agreement largely to give voters the chance to decide if the town should purchase the property. The deal as crafted would not translate to an increase in taxes.

Library expansion

Voters will also consider a pair of articles relating to the library expansion project, which would nearly double the size of the West Tisbury Free Public Library while adding new reading rooms, a children’s area, meeting spaces, and other amenities.

One article would authorize the renovation and expansion of the library, contingent on the receipt of a Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) construction grant, and donation of private funds, which together will cover 75 percent of the total project costs.

The other article would authorize the town to apply for and accept any state grants which may be available for the project. Town officials have stressed the two articles are important steps for the library project, although they do not signify final approval.

Voters still need to approve the final design and funding for the project, which could take place at next year’s town meeting. The town space needs committee in 2007 suggested the town double the footprint of the library at a cost between $5.1 and $5.3 million, with the town paying for around half and the rest coming from private donations.

But since that time library officials have learned of a grant program offered by the MBLC that would cover up to half the cost of the project. But to get the money voters will have to agree to start the project in 2013 instead of 2016.

Ms. Kramer said the library is long overdue for an expansion. The number of circulations has increased more than 1,000 percent since 1997, and it has the highest annual circulation of all Vineyard libraries, which has contributed to a major space crunch.

“The library has become a real community center; we host events just about every day. This is a vibrant place where people gather to share ideas and experiences and learn from one another,” she said.

Ms. Kramer said she has heard from some people who think the size of the project is being dictated by the state funding. “The concern is we are building a certain size in order to secure the state grant. I can say that is not the case at all,” she said.

Other business

Voters will also consider an article to appropriate $150,000 for the Dukes County Pooled Other Post-Employment Benefits Trust; $65,544 for reconstruction work on town roads; and $15,000 for the purchase of a boat, motor, and trailer for the shellfish committee.

Voters will also consider adding several roads to the Special Ways District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) under the protection of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). The additions include a section of Pine Hill Road, Red Coat Hill Road/Motts Hill Road and Shubael Weeks Road.