Tisbury special consumes evening; annual meeting tonight

Tisbury voters only managed to plow through the special town meeting warrant Tuesday. So, they had to return to the Tisbury School gymnasium Wednesday evening to take action on the annual town meeting warrant.

The special town meeting was postponed for lack of a quorum on April 5. It was rescheduled to the same night as the annual meeting. But by the time voters had approved all 17 warrant special meeting articles, there was little time left to take action on the annual warrant.

Some voters were game to go on, but many of the 172 voters had already headed out the door, and a quorum count fell short.

The annual town meeting convened last night at 7 pm in the Tisbury School gymnasium. The warrant included an operating budget of $20.4 million and 37 articles.

The hot topics

Although Tuesday’s special town meeting warrant seemed light by comparison, it took voters almost three hours to do their work. Long discussions ensued about three complicated and long articles related to amendments to building code bylaws. Two articles about policies to fund post-employment benefits for municipal employees also generated many comments.

Since the annual town meeting was officially set for Tuesday night, it took precedence over the special in the double-header schedule. Deborah Medders convened the annual meeting at 7:10 pm, with 130 voters present. Following protocol, she then recessed the annual meeting in order to convene the special town meeting.

In keeping with Tisbury’s lottery system for determining the order of articles, Ms. Medders drew numbers from a ceramic antique pitcher.

Building code amendments

Article 12, which would create a new provision for large-scale ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, came up first. As explained by planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson and town administrator John Bugbee, that article and two others relate to energy efficiency and renewable energy standards that the town must adopt to meet the criteria for designation as a “Green Community.”

Towns and cities so designated are eligible for the state’s Department of Energy Resources Green Communities Grant Program, for a minimum of $125,000 in funds annually.

Voters expressed several concerns about article 10, which would amend the town’s building code bylaw to include a Stretch Energy Code to improve energy efficiency requirements for all new residential and many new commercial buildings.

Ellen O’Brien asked how much the code would increase costs.

Planning board member Dan Seidman said that according to articles he reviewed, the new code would probably add $3,000 to $6,000 to the construction cost of an average house built on Martha’s Vineyard. However, energy-cost savings would start from day one.

“I think the market forces should drive us in this direction, rather than the regulatory process,” Harold Chapdelaine said.

As an example, he said he recently completed a project in Edgartown that achieved an over 20 percent reduction in energy savings, at a cost of about $11 more per square foot. This must be coupled with the state’s latest building code revisions, which brought extreme changes in costs of framing a home, adding about 15 to 20 percent to the cost of a home.

“When you start putting these extra layers on top, you have to start to ask the question, who can’t afford to build, who can’t afford to rent it?” Mr. Chapdelaine asked.

Although Ms. Medders declared the ayes in majority in a voice vote, the meeting floor called for a standing vote. The result was 103 in favor as opposed to 43 against.

OPEB policy debate

The adoption of two new policies to start addressing Other Post-Employment Benefits, that is, healthcare benefits, not pensions, also sparked debate.

Bruce Doten, who served on the town’s OPEB committee in 2010, and selectman Tristan Israel argued strongly against the town adopting policies to create a mechanism to fund future healthcare benefits for new municipal employees as they are hired, as well as starting a trust fund for retired municipal employees.

Mr. Doten said the state mandates OPEB benefits at 50 percent, while Tisbury agreed to 75 percent. He recommended that the town postpone any funding plans to allow time to roll back that amount and look for more sources of revenue.

In regard to a policy for new employees, “This article asks you to stop putting the funding off forever and says if we hire someone and if we make a promise, then calculate the present actuarial value of that promise and set it aside,” Finance and Advisory Committee member Bruce Lewellyn said in regard to adopting a OPEB policy for new employees. “Wherever the money comes from, what the article says is it’s an expense we’re incurring and incurring now — set it aside now.”

Mr. Israel said he doesn’t think Tisbury has the luxury to fund the OPEB liability right now, since the money goes into a fund that cannot be touched. Tisbury has met its obligations on a year-to-year basis, he said, adding that, “I just don’t think we can afford to do this to the extent this has been laid out,” he said.

FinCom vice chairman Jon Snyder, who was chairman of the town’s OPEB committee, said that $100,000 would only be a starting point and that the town would need to fund a much larger amount over time.

Voters approved the OPEB funding policy article with a two-thirds majority in a voice vote, and the OPEB funding policy for new employees in a standing vote, 106 to 42.

A related article on the annual town warrant, which corresponds to a ballot question on the April 26 town election ballot, asks voters for approval to begin funding $100,000, a portion of the town’s OPEB liability, through additional real estate and personal property taxes for FY12.

Among other prominent articles, voters approved allowing the town to join a regional refuse district, to extend the sewer collection and treatment system to include the Steamship Authority’s dock facilities in Vineyard Haven, and to increase penalties for Vineyard Haven property owners who fail to comply with the snow removal bylaw.

Before Ms. Medders officially convened the special town meeting, she conducted a straw poll to see if voters would be in favor of starting future town meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance, led by a Boy Scout. A woman voter suggested a Girl Scout should take part, too. Ms. Medders took an informal voice vote and the ayes were in the majority. Ms. Medders said she would invite the Scouts next year.