Chilmark voters make short work of annual town business

Chilmark voters gathered for annual town meeting Monday under the watchful gaze of town moderator Everett Poole. Outgoing selectman Frank Fenner is at left. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Chilmark voters moved quickly through annual town meeting on Monday evening. Voters approved a $7.65-million budget for fiscal year 2013 and agreed to fund two pond studies.

Both pond articles will appear as Proposition 2.5 override questions at the annual town election on Wednesday.

A total of 135 of the town’s 878 registered voters filled the Chilmark Community Center and completed the town’s annual business in about one hour. A 22-article warrant that contained mostly spending articles generated little discussion and passed without dissent.

As expected, the only issue to generate debate centered around two questions to enroll both the Menemsha pond system and Chilmark pond system in the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP), a state study of the health of coastal salt ponds.

The question relating to the Menemsha Pond — which also includes Squibnocket, Stonewall, and Nashaquitsa Ponds — initially asked for $31,767 to enroll the system in the MEP, but was reduced on the floor to $14,792 through private donations.

Because Menemsha/Squibnocket is a shared system, the cost of the match will be split evenly with Aquinnah and the Wampanoag Tribe.

The question to enroll Chilmark Pond system in the MEP was for $54,500. The total amount was initially $74,500, but was reduced by $20,000 through a contribution by the Chilmark Pond Association.

Some residents were critical of the MEP and their ability to complete studies of coastal ponds in a timely manner, both on Martha’s Vineyard and around the state. For example, the MEP started a study of Tisbury Great Pond five years ago, and the town has yet to receive the final report.

Building Inspector Lenny Jason noted the excessive lag time for the final report on Tisbury Great Pond.

“[They] have been studying for five years and we still don’t have anything,” Mr. Jason said. “I just think it would behoove us to see what the progress is before we jump into another study and take another five years.

“Nowhere do they measure nitrogen in the groundwater. They base everything on a computer model… If they really want to know what’s going on they should actually be measuring the groundwater. We are going down a long slippery road; I would hope you turn this down.”

But others residents and officials argued in favor of the spending articles, and said enrolling both Ponds in the MEP would provide essential information about the ponds — including data about nitrogen loading — that will help protect the pond for years to come.

“The data will be analyzed and the results will be something we can use to figure out how we can reduce nitrogen in our pond,” said Wendy Weldon, chairman of the Squibnocket Pond district advisory committee. “At this point in Squibnocket Pond we know what is going on, but we don’t know how to fix it and make it better… This study should give us the info we need to move ahead.”

Frank Dunkl, president of the Chilmark Spring Water, also argued in favor.

“We need this information and we need it now… Clean water is going to be more scarce in the future than oil. We will find more sources of clean fuel; we won’t find more sources of clean water… You should test everything you can, get the information, and find out what is needed,” Mr. Dunkl said.

In the end, both spending articles passed by wide margins.

The meeting began with a tribute to outgoing selectman Frank Fenner, who decided not to run for reelection after four terms. Selectman Warren Doty presented Mr. Fenner with a commendation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives signed by speaker of the house Robert DeLeo.

Mr. Fenner thanked his fellow selectmen, executive secretary Tim Carroll, and town counsel Ron Rappaport. “But most important this would never have happened if it wasn’t for you folks,” he said to the voters. “And I will always be grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to serve this town.”

Voters then made quick work of a string of spending articles, including the budget for fiscal year 2013 totaling $7,654,498, up 8.6 percent from the current year. The budget includes $2.69 million for education, a 2.3-percent increase over the current year.

Voters also agreed to place $40,000 in a new reserve fund to be administered by the finance advisory committee; $34,000 to come from available funds in the treasury and $6,000 to come from overlay surplus.

Voters also approved several spending articles to upgrade equipment for the fire department; one to spend $15,000 to replace fire apparatus over 25 years old, another for $17,000 to upgrade self-contained breathing apparatus, and another for $10,000 to purchase personal protective equipment, with another $1,700 coming from the Chilmark Volunteer Firemen’s Association.

Voters also agreed to spend $100,000 in available funds in the treasury to continue funding employee post-retirement benefits, and also agreed to spend $24,000 for new pilings in Menemsha harbor, of which $12,000 would come from the general fund account and $12,000 would come from the waterways improvement account.