Tisbury wrapped up its special town meeting Tuesday night, but the annual meeting that followed went into a double-header.
Issues still to be addressed last night included a $21,480,032 budget for fiscal year 2014 (FY14), a connector road, and harbor dredging.
A total of 225 voters, 125 more than needed for a quorum, turned out to take action on a total of 56 warrant articles. Town meeting moderator Deborah Medders asked them to return Wednesday night at 7 pm to take up 25 articles left on the annual town meeting warrant.
Voters Tuesday worked their way through the 21 articles on the special town warrant in about two hours. Following a five-minute recess they went to work on the annual. At 10:30 pm, Ms. Medders called it quits for the night.
An article that called for a one-year moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries failed to achieve approval by a two-thirds majority, as required to amend a zoning bylaw. Voters did approve a ban on public consumption of marijuana.
Voters also approved new positions in the Department of Public Works and wastewater plant, wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and local taxes on room rentals and restaurant meals.
They also approved a master plan for the harbor side of Beach Road that will allow the town to continue to study improved beachfront access by pedestrians and bicyclists, and to pursue funds for the improvements and repair of the seawall. In addition, voters approved an article to appropriate $12,861.33 for a pest management program to include skunks, which does not commit the town to use the Dukes County Integrated Pest Management (IMP) program.
Among the articles on the special town meeting warrant, medical marijuana was the big sticking point. Voters had agreed to take up articles 18 and 19 consecutively, which resulted in almost an hour of debate. Tisbury was in step with the other Island towns and many across the state that have also agreed to consider similar measures.
Article 18 called for amending the town’s bylaw to prohibit people from smoking, ingesting, or otherwise using or consuming marijuana in any area accessible to the public, including public transit vehicles, and assess a fine of $300 per violation. With no discussion, a majority of voters approved the article in a voice vote.
Many voters were not so amenable about article 19, however, which called for a one-year moratorium on allowing any medical marijuana facilities in town. Several questioned the reasoning behind it and whether it was a delaying tactic.
“Why do we need to make this delay on something we voted for?” James Weisman said to open the discussion.
“The ‘why; is to buy some time so there is some coherent planning for this,” selectman chairman Tristan Israel responded. He said the state board of public health had only recently come out with a set of proposed regulations, with a public comment period that ends on April 20.
Planning board member Jeffry Thompson, who said he voted against the moratorium at a planning board public hearing on it, agreed with Mr. Weisman.
“I’ve actually read the regulations, and basically the way they’re written, they’re trying to force the medical marijuana back underground,” he said. “We can’t do that. The people voted for this, and the vast majority voted twice now, for decriminalization and medical marijuana.”
Statewide, 63 percent of voters approved a medical marijuana ballot question last November. On Martha’s Vineyard, 74 percent of voters backed it, Jaime Hamlin pointed out.
“I’m a little confused as to why we need this,” she said to Mr. Israel. “I get what you’re saying, that you need time to plan, but anybody who has a relative who’s been through chemo and needs this, that’s another year that they’re going to be suffering and without legal access to it.”
“There is a medical need for this; I absolutely believe that,” Mr. Israel said. “But I also want to balance that. Making it too easy for our kids to get ahold of this is not something I’m in favor of.”
Ms. Hamlin made a motion for a written vote, so that people would feel more comfortable in expressing their true opinion less publicly. The motion failed in a standing vote, with 48 in favor and 125 against.
A second standing vote on the article itself failed to achieve the required two-thirds majority, with 123 in favor and 67 against.
New position questioned
Voters approved three articles on the special town meeting warrant to create new positions for an assistant public works director, wastewater laboratory director and wastewater superintendent, and to amend the town’s managerial and professional pay scale to include the new positions. The assistant public works director’s position drew the most comment, with the sharpest criticism coming from town employees Angela Cywinski, an elected member of the board of assessors, and Laurie Clements, the Animal Control Officer (ACO) who formerly worked in the DPW.
Department of public works (DPW) director Fred LaPiana explained that the board of public works (BPW) commissioners hired a consultant to review the department of public works (DPW) workload and staffing in advance of his retirement by the end of this year. The consultant recommended adding an assistant public works director to handle scheduling and the day-to-day interactions with crews and to provide quality assurance.
“I understand we can get two laborers for the same amount of money, and maybe it would be better to have two people working instead of creating another management position for $69,000,” Ms. Cywinski said.
BPW chairman John Thayer said the personnel board had reviewed and approved the request for the new position of operations director, which is tied to restructuring the department. The new position will be funded through savings from the loss of three former positions through attrition as the result of privatizing garbage collection last year. The wastewater positions will be funded through the sewer enterprise fund.
“It’s easy to say we could get two more employees to do labor work,” BPW commissioner Dave Ferraguzzi said, “but we need somebody to be out on the street, showing them what to do and doing the daily scheduling break-downs.”
Ms. Clements questioned that statement. “Isn’t that what the foremen are paid a ridiculous amount of money for?” she said, drawing groans from some in the audience. “The director tells the men what they’re supposed to do that day, and the foremen are supposed to be there to oversee the guys doing the job, relieving Fred so that he can do his fancy-smancy stuff?”
Selectman Jeff Kristal came to the DPW employees’ defense. “On behalf of the board, I have to say that the DPW foremen do not make a ridiculous amount of money. They work hard.”
Mr. LaPiana said the operations manager would schedule two foremen, provide quality assurance on the work they do on a daily basis, and allocate resources between roads and sanitation on a daily basis.
The article passed by a majority.