West Tisbury voters moved quickly and efficiently through a 37-article warrant at their annual town meeting Tuesday. Voters overwhelmingly agreed to spend $2.5 million for a new police station and approved a $14.735 million operating budget for fiscal year 2014.
Voters will convene for the annual elections on Thursday when they will be asked, among other things, to ratify the funding for the new police station and elect town officials. Polls will be open from noon to 8 pm at the Public Safety Building.
Unlike recent town meetings when beer and wine in restaurants and dogs on the beach and packed the seats, turnout was light. Moderator Patrick Gregory waited ten minutes to be certain he had a quorum of 122, or five percent of the towns approximately 2,400 voters. When the count reached 156 voters the meeting began. It concluded in under two hours.
Mr. Gregory ran the meeting under a backdrop of clear skies, literally, as he stood in front of a hand-painted set for the school production of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ featuring cartoon trees and a cheerful blue sky.
It was mostly blue skies for voters too, as they approved nearly every article by unanimous or near unanimous votes. The meeting for the most part was light, with more laughs than rancor.
The only real dark cloud floated over a pair of funding requests from the County of Dukes County to fund the integrated pest management program, and window repairs at the county courthouse in Edgartown.
Voters defeated those articles in a clear backlash against the recent revelation that the county had a surplus or more than $300,000 left over from fiscal year 2012 and are carrying an overall surplus of $572,726.
Police department has grown
By contrast, voters approved an article asking for $2,495,000 to build a new police station next to the public safety building by a near unanimous vote. The strongest objections against spending on a new station came from selectman and West Tisbury police sergeant Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter.
Mr. Manter, who has earned a reputation as a staunch fiscal conservative, argued that the new station was in the wrong location and lacked the charm and character of the current police headquarters next to the Mill Pond
“The design feature I am most uncomfortable with is the outside appearance. When you approach the building, it just doesn’t say West Tisbury. It looks like a typical commercial building you find anywhere else,” he said.
Mr. Manter said he appreciated the work done by the police building committee and agreed that the new station was necessary, but he said the design of the station was another in a series of changes eroding the town’s uniqueness.
Norm Perry, chairman of the police building committee, said putting the new police station next to the public safety building was the best use of resources and smart planning.
“In February 2011 we gave the report it should be attached to the fire station; by doing this we have a truly developed public safety building with fire, police, emergency medical services, animal control, and emergency management,” he said.
Mr. Perry amended the money request on the warrant from $2.8 million to $2,495,000. He said the building committee was negotiating with the contractors until the last minute to get the best price.
Police Chief Dan Rossi said the new police station was designed to match the existing fire station and it was time to upgrade.
“The town has grown and the police department has grown…. We are in need of a new police station and having a true public safety facility in town. I think it’s time and I hope you guys vote for it.”
The vote was 133 to 3, at least according to Patrick Gregory, who is known to give his best guess on voting tallies when the outcome is clearly not in doubt.
Voters passed the fiscal year 2014 budget in a near unanimous vote, with only a handful of question and comments. Town accountant Bruce Stone gave a brief overview of the budget and said the town was in good stead financially.
He said next year’s budget was up $335,000, or 2.3 percent, over the current budget. About $8.5 million or 58 percent was devoted to education. He said the Up-Island school assessment dipped because a shift in the student population.
Only two budget line items — funding for town bathrooms and the assessment for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission — drew questions from voters.
MVC member Brian Smith said the regional planning agency’s assessment to the town increased from $107,000 to $121,000 because of unexpected legal fees and an increase in the county retirement.
“The unexpected legal fees: are they to defend the rotary that nobody wanted?” responded one voter in the audience.
County funding rejected
The biggest fireworks of the evening centered around two county funding requests; $10,808 to pay the town’s share to replace windows at the Dukes County courthouse in Edgartown, and $9,945 for the town’s share of the county pest management program.
Finance committee member Greg Orcutt said his committee voted against the funding for the window repairs because the town previously approved money for the repairs and it was unclear if those repairs had been made, or the money spent.
The funding for the windows was defeated in a near unanimous vote.
T.J. Hegarty, director of the county integrated pest management program and a West Tisbury resident, introduced the pest control funding article, also submitted in identical language in all six Island towns.
Mr. Hegarty also proposed an amendment to change the language to add language explicitly stating that the pest control program would continue to be available to all West Tisbury private homes, residences, businesses, schools, and municipal properties.
But Mr. Manter, who serves on the county advisory board, said the advisory board is now discussing whether the pest program should be made available to private homes and businesses. He also noted that the amendment was not being made in the other towns.
Mr. Hegarty, a county employee, said he introduced the amendment on his own to ensure the pest management would continue to be available to residents of West Tisbury.
“This was to react to you trying to prevent if from being implemented…to make sure you get the message that the town wants this program for the entire community,” he said. “It’s coming from me, myself and I.”
The amendment was soundly defeated. Several residents cited recent reports of a large surplus in the county coffers as reason to defeat the funding request.
“I would object to funding anything at the county level at this stage until they get their house in order,” said Doug Ruskin. “I have a problem spending money on an entity that doesn’t know how much money it has.”
Funding for the pest control program was defeated by a vote of 58-50.
West Tisbury will still contribute $64,498 to the county budget in the form of a county assessment that does not show up in the operating budget.
Voters also approved a series of funding requests for various affordable housing initiatives, all by a wide margin, including $20,000 for the West Tisbury Affordable Housing Trust Fund; $58,000 for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental assistance program; $50,000 for affordable housing initiatives administered by the town affordable housing committee; $242,000 in CPA funds for the development of three new affordable rental units at the Sepiessa Affordable Housing project on Clam Point Road; and $52,700 to support second mortgage loans administered by the Island Housing Trust.
In other business
Voters also said yes to an article to appropriate $31,976 for the towns’ share of the 25 percent design phase for a new school administration building. They also approved a two percent wage increase for town employees.
Voters also agreed to appropriate $15,030 to fund a comprehensive study of the Mill Brook watershed that includes Mill Pond, Mill Brook, Fisher Pond, Crocker Pond, Priester’s Pond and several tributaries.
The article was placed on the warrant by the board of selectmen in order to provide a comprehensive look at the Mill Brook watershed.
Selectman Richard Knabel said the study would provide valuable information about where the water comes from, where it goes, water quality and the impact of storm runoff on the watershed.
“This is an extension of work done by the Mill Pond committee regarding the future of Mill Pond…. What came out of that is a need for money to study this and to better understand the entire Mill Brook watershed,” he said.
The final article of the evening was non-binding resolution to support a bill from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to ban the sale and manufacturing of semi-automatic rifles and pistols with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
In a parallel to the discussion on the national level about gun reform, opinions were sharply divided.
Barbara Day said voters had a responsibility to support the bill. “How many babies will have to be killed before we do something about this heinous thing?” she said. “This is very important and we have to take a stand.”
Mike Marcus, a father of three and member of the school committee, said he felt the bill was too broad and took away too many rights. “I am very concerned with any haphazard restriction of our second amendment rights to bear arms,” he said.
The non-binding resolution passed by a simple majority.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the Mill Pond committee placed the watershed study on the warrant. The selectmen requested the study.