Aquinnah voters take up $3 million budget, annual warrant


Aquinnah voters will meet at 7 pm, Tuesday, in the town hall meeting room, to take action on special and annual town meeting warrants totaling 40 articles, and a $3,048,524 spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

On Wednesday, voters go to the polls to elect town officers. Polls are open from noon to 7 pm in town hall.

The only contest is a battle for one seat on the three-member board of selectmen. Beverly Wright, former chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe, will challenge incumbent Camille Rose. An interview with both candidates appears in today’s issue of The Times.

Lean budget

For the most part, the budget, up about 3-percent over last year, reflects an effort to level-fund or cut town spending across the board.

Town coordinator Adam Wilson said department heads were asked to level-fund, or in some cases reduce budgets by up to ten percent. He said everyone who worked on crafting the budget felt a fiduciary duty to hold or reduce costs.

Mr. Wilson said the only salary increases are linked to longevity or contractual agreements. Unlike several Island towns and Dukes County, Aquinnah will provide no cost of living increases to town employees.

Town accountant Marjorie Spitz was unable to provide The Times with a readable electronic version of the budget at press time. The budget is expected to be available on the town website. Ms. Spitz added that the budget is posted in the town hall and library.

The most significant budget hike was for police services, the result of a collective bargaining agreement reached earlier this year, and ambulance services. Education costs, a budget buster in the past, are greatly reduced.

A new three-year police contract was signed in March. The wage line will increase from $279,822 to $308,763 and longevity from $2,557 to $9,315. In total the police department budget will increase from $392,611 to $426,049 in the next fiscal year.

The Tri-town ambulance service assessment would increase from $104,269 to $160,278. The increase is tied to the addition of fulltime paramedics and additional personnel.

The assessment formula for the ambulance force, which splits the cost evenly between the three up-Island towns, has been a sore point in the past with voters and town officials who point to a disparity in calls between Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury.

A move to reduce the assessment to $134,369 is expected. At the same time, taxpayers will be asked to raise their contribution to support Dukes County’s one-man pest management department and the county’s health care access program.

Education costs will take less of a bite from Aquinnah taxpayers in fiscal year 2012. The elementary school assessment will drop from $635,192 to $563,383. The high school assessment will increase slightly, from $250,772 to $252,011. Total education costs will drop from $885,964 to $815,395.

Health, dental, and life insurance benefits for town employees will cost taxpayers $233,486, about a $3,000 increase over the current fiscal year.

Bylaw adjustments

The first order of business Tuesday will be the special town meeting warrant. The articles are a mixture of transfers, housekeeping, and expenditures needed in the current fiscal year.

The largest spending item, $35,500, is for the refurbishment of the fire department rescue truck.

Voters will next be asked to tackle a 30-article annual town meeting warrant (published in today’s issue of The Times). A change in the personnel bylaws would limit the amount of sick leave an employee can now cash in when he or she leaves or retires.

If approved, unused sick leave would be allowed to accumulate year to year up to a maximum of 120 days. An employee with more than 10 years of employment would be entitled to 50-percent compensation for up to 60 days.

A lengthy article requested by the planning board would more clearly define special permit extensions and when certain projects do not require a special permit granted at a public hearing. For example, a small shed in an area not visible to the public.

An article submitted by the housing committee would more clearly define how a property owner of three acres or more may create a so-called homestead lot “for the purpose of helping Aquinnah residents who have lived here for a period of time and who, because of rising land prices, have been unable to obtain suitable land for their permanent homes at a reasonable price, and who desire to continue to live in Aquinnah.”

The cost to taxpayers of post-employment benefits for retired town employees is behind a series of articles that include a request for $50,000.

Voters will once again be asked to reduce the number of voters needed for a quorum from ten percent to six percent.

Voters will also be asked to eliminate the option at town meeting to table an article “on the grounds that it deprives the voters of the ability to discuss and understand the meaning of an article.”

A motion to table an item must be seconded and cannot be debated and is voted on immediately. It requires a two-thirds majority. The motion may be reconsidered at any time during the meeting by a majority vote.