Chilmark voters make short work of $7 million budget, annual warrant

Chilmark voters made quick work of their annual town meeting warrant Monday, at the Chilmark Community Center. In less than two hours they approved a long list of spending items that included $220,000 for a new fire tanker, $32,000 for a new four-wheel drive police vehicle and a $7 million operating budget for fiscal year 2012.

A total of 107 voters, or 12 percent of the town’s 858 registered voters, agreed to all spending articles on the warrant including the operating budget for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1, a 3.4 percent increase.

And while the spending articles passed with almost no debate, a pair of proposed bylaw changes — one regulating the construction of new swimming pools and another establishing a new human resources bylaw — passed only after considerable discussion and debate.

Reports and updates

The meeting opened with the customary town reports, during which selectman Frank Fenner gave voters an update on plans to renovate the historic Tea Lane farmhouse at the corner of Tea Lane and Middle Road.

Mr. Fenner is a member of a three-member committee appointed last fall to oversee renovations to the farmhouse. Voters were given a handout giving a brief overview of the plans, which provided an estimate of $500,000 for the repairs.

“We worked very hard trying to make sure that from the main road there would be very little visual change; we tried to make this building so it would be as energy-efficient as possible, and also tried to keep the costs down,” he said.

Mr. Fenner said the committee will hold a series of public hearings in the coming months to gather input on the plans. As expected, Mr. Fenner later moved to postpone an article seeking $150,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) money to fund the renovations of the farmhouse.

The final plans will return to voters at a future town meeting, he said.

Warren Doty, chairman of the selectmen, then gave an update on plans to rebuild the town pier destroyed during the fire in Menemsha last July that destroyed the Coast Guard boathouse. Mr. Doty said selectmen recently received a report on the cause of the fire.

The report, Mr. Doty said, raised more questions than answers.

“It took a long time for the Coast Guard and the state authorities to complete their investigation, and their investigation was inconclusive,” Mr. Doty said.

“We have a report that says the fire could have been caused by faulty electrical wiring in the Coast Guard building, or a cigarette that could have been thrown onto the dock or faulty wiring coming from the town running under our dock,” he added.

Last September, voters agreed to spend $1.5 million to replace the old wooden car-way with a new connecting pier reinforced with steel pilings and concrete planks. The town is now applying for state and federal funds for reimbursement of a portion of the cost of the project.

Mr. Doty said the town received $200,000 from the Seaport Advisory Council, and will once again ask that council for more money for the project in September or October.

He said the contractor, C. White Marine of Danvers, had already driven 64 piles for the pier and was on schedule to complete the project by June 1. He said the town has changed its insurance coverage to include all the wooden docks in Menemsha.

FY 2012 budget

When voters turned to the $7,047,286 FY 2012 budget, former town treasurer Judy Jardin noted the budget included a 2.6 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for employees, the highest on the Island, as well as regular step increases.

Ms. Jardin asked why employees were receiving raises when those in the private sector were doing without.

“I think we are way out of line with what we are doing. I don’t think this is realistic . . . the recession is far from over. You have to keep in mind there are people in this room trying to live on a fixed income,” she said.

Ms. Jardin also questioned why information on the COLA and step increase wasn’t broken off into a separate warrant article. “I don’t really understand why we don’t have more information about this,” she said.

Mr. Doty said employees deserve the COLA.

“Last year we had zero percent, and we felt 2.6 percent was appropriate this year . . . It’s not hard to see the cost of fuel and food is going up,” he said.

Despite the tough questions from Ms. Jardin, the budget passed unanimously.

Other spending articles

Voters then approved a series of spending articles with hardly any discussion.

In less than thirty minutes they approved $220,000 for a new fire tanker truck, $32,000 for a new Ford Expedition for the police department, $10,000 for new metal stairs at Squibnocket Beach and $30,000 to rebuild the town dock at Hariph’s Creek.

Voters also agreed to spend $100,000 to continue to fund the town’s share of post-retirement benefit obligations, $24,465 to purchase new software and training for the accounting department and $9,000 for engineering and repair services for the Chilmark Community Center.

Two articles to give CPA money to projects sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum were postponed indefinitely.

Swimming pools and tennis courts

The article that generated the most discussion called for an amendment to the bylaw regulating swimming pools and tennis courts. Among other things the proposed change would set restrictions on where tennis courts and pools are located, and allow heated swimming pools as long as they use energy-efficient heating systems.

Under the new bylaw, swimming pools and tennis courts would be allowed through a special permit issued by the zoning board of appeals, and would require a homeowner to live in a dwelling for two years before applying for a permit.

Sculptor Jay Lagemann questioned a provision requiring property owners to install standpipes in new pools that allow firefighters to tie-in during an emergency. He said the foundations of some swimming pools will crack if they are drained too quickly.

He said the provision could create hardships for homeowners and proposed an amendment to strike it from the article. “It seems absurd to me,” he said.

The amendment was defeated handily; and voters approved the bylaw change.

Voters also approved a new human resources bylaw, which addresses employee classifications, definitions of temporary and year round employees, recruitment and hiring practices, and vacation and sick pay.

Ms. Jardin objected to the changes, arguing the new bylaw would not give voters a chance to review proposed changes in employee classifications and pay grades. “For some reason [those changes]aren’t coming to us, and it used to,” she said.

Executive secretary Tim Carroll said the current bylaw allows the personnel board to make changes to the employee classifications.

Mr. Fenner noted the personnel board worked on the bylaw for the last six years, and urged voters to ratify the plan.

“This is a vast improvement for all of our employees and I hope you support it,” Mr. Fenner said.

The article passed by an almost unanimous vote.