At first blush, it appears that West Tisbury voters will confront no hot-button issues among the 37 articles on the annual town meeting warrant when they meet at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 9, at the West Tisbury School on Old County Road.
But there are certainly important issues on the warrant, most notably an article that asks voters to appropriate $2.8 million for the construction of a new police station at the site of the public safety building on State Road.
Voters will also consider a $14,735,255 operating budget for fiscal year 2014, which is up less than two percent over the current fiscal year budget.
Katherine Triantafillou, chairman of the finance committee, said that town departments did a good job of holding the line on spending this year.
“The town administrator and finance team, as in previous years, sent out memos saying keep things the same as they were unless you have a really good explanation for spending increases,” she said. “I think overall they did a good job of budgeting conservatively.”
The largest increase in the budget is the town’s assessment for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, which went up, from $2,559,005 to $2,674,287 in fiscal year 2014.
The total increase for the high school is $115,282, or 4.5 percent over the current year.
But that increase is offset by a reduction in the assessment for the Up-Island Regional School District, which went down from $6,005,234 last year to $5,825,584 for fiscal year 2014, a total reduction of $179,650 or 2.9 percent less than the current year.
Ms. Triantafillou said the finance committee scrutinized the school budgets, and asked school officials tough questions about increases to the special education budget and funding for a new building for the school superintendent’s office.
She said most of the increases are tied to assessments for regional entities like the high school and the Dukes County and Martha’s Vineyard Commissions (MVC).
She said the finance committee received the Dukes County budget late, before the recent revelation that the county had a surplus or more than $300,000 left over from fiscal year 2012 and is carrying an overall surplus of $572,726.
“We dealt with the budget before the recent revelation [about the surplus], which we didn’t know about until we read it in the paper. I can say there were some questions about what the county was doing even before that,” she said.
“Now that the report has come out about the surplus, I think we are going to have another meeting on the issue,” she added.
Ms. Triantafillou said the finance committee recommended approval of funding for the county programs but separated them out in the budget just in case other towns vote down their share of the funding for those programs.
“This money is tied to the other towns, and we made the decision to present these items at town meeting with our recommendation, provided the other towns do the same,” she said.
New cop shop
Voters will also consider an article to spend $2.8 million to build a new police station next to the Public Safety Building on State Road in North Tisbury.
If approved, the police department would move from its 1,350-square-foot headquarters with limited parking next to the Mill Pond to a new 5,634-square-foot building with ample parking.
Norm Perry, chairman of the building committee, said the projected cost of the new station will likely be lower than first anticipated. As a result he will make an amendment to the article on the floor of the town meeting to reduce the cost.
“We needed a figure to go to print with; we will find out the new price the day of town meeting and then plug in that new figure,” he said. “We want residents to know the exact cost of this project right down to the penny before they vote.”
Mr. Perry said the building committee, which includes police chief Dan Rossi and fire chief Manny Estrella, went to great lengths to engage and involve the public in the planning process.
Mr. Perry said the current station is limited to 1,300 square feet of space, and there is an acute lack of storage space, inadequate parking and a lack of privacy for residents to conduct business while at the station.
“A lot of times people come in and need to discuss sensitive issues, or officers need to bring in someone discreetly. There is really no place for officers to conduct business in a private manner. The set-up just doesn’t work,” he said.
Voters will once again consider an article relating to the future of Mill Pond, which has become a hot topic around town in recent years. This time voters will consider an article to appropriate $15,030 for a study of the Mill Brook watershed.
The watershed study would examine Mill Pond, Mill Brook, Fisher Pond, Crocker Pond, Priester’s Pond and several tributaries, and provide valuable information regarding water sources, water depth, and flow.
The vote on the watershed study comes at a time when opinions regarding the future of Mill Pond have diverged. A majority of a specially appointed Mill Pond Committee favors dredging the pond in order to prevent it from drying up.
However one member of that committee, Kent Healy, does not favor dredging and instead feels the pond can be preserved by less costly measures like pulling weeds or increasing the height of the dam along the western edge.
Meanwhile resident Prudy Burt has led a public campaign to remove the dam entirely and allow the pond to revert to its natural state, which she believes could support native species such as brook trout and herring.
Voters will also be asked to approve a series of questions relating to affordable housing including one to appropriate $20,000 from free cash to give to the West Tisbury Affordable Housing Trust Fund for “future affordable housing purposes.”
Voters will also consider an article to appropriate $58,000 to support the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental assistant program, and another to spend $50,000 in community preservation act (CPA) funds to support “affordable housing initiatives” administered by the town affordable housing committee.
Another article asks to appropriate $242,000 in CPA funds for the development of three new affordable rental units at the Sepiessa Affordable Housing project on Clam Point Road.
Voters will aso be asked to appropriate $52,700 to support second mortgage loans administered by the Island Housing Trust, subject to approval of the town CPA committee for qualified buyers.
Voters will also consider an article to transfer $39,000 for the town’s share of the cost to purchase and equip a new ambulance for Tri-Town Ambulance.
Another article asks for $10,808 in CPA funds for the town’s share of replacing windows at the county courthouse and another requests $12,000 in CPA funds to renovate the infield at the Manter Memorial Baseball Field
Voters will also decide whether to spend $41,381 to fund the town’s share of the county health care access program, and $9,945 to fund the towns’ share of the county pest management program.