West Tisbury says yes to $17.5 million budget, new highway dept building

West Tisbury voters gathered for annual town meeting Tuesday night. Photo by Sam Moore.

Updated 11:44 am, Wednesday

West Tisbury voters approved a $17,498,124 operating budget for fiscal year (FY) 2017, a 4.4 percent increase over FY16, and every article on the annual town meeting warrant — 40 in total, after two articles were withdrawn. Voters’ willingness to spend was not deterred by the finance committee (FinCom), which did not recommend four articles, one of which was the town budget.

West Tisbury voters go to the polls Thursday, April 14, to elect town officers and take action on an override request. The polls are open from 7 am until 8 pm at the West Tisbury Public Safety Building on State Road in North Tisbury.

On a damp, soggy Tuesday night, sophomore town moderator Dan Waters shepherded the 226 voters, just under 10 percent of the town’s 2,487 registered voters, gathered at the West Tisbury School through the three-hour meeting with dispatch, and at times showed savant-like skills with his ability to almost instantaneously tally raised-hand votes. A total of 124 voters were required to form a quorum.

In a break with tradition, Mr. Waters arranged for the finance committee to join the town clerk, town administrator, and selectmen on the stage at the front of the school gym for the meeting. “The finance committee members work very hard throughout the year, and think a lot about how the town spends its money,” Mr. Waters said. “Their advice is always worth listening to, and for that reason I thought it would be good to give the finance committee a more prominent role in town meeting. I hope putting them on stage will promote a more informed dialogue.”

Town poet laureate Emma Young read a poem, “Our Town,” that ended, “With care, in rain or stars, we step inside. It’s all come around and we meet again.”

Town accountant Bruce Stone provided a succinct explanation of the budget, which passed by a small majority voice vote, following a brief discussion of the finance committee vote to not recommend the town’s spending blueprint because of concerns about unfunded liabilities in the school budgets.

FinCom chairman Katherine Triantafillou said the FinCom could not in good conscience recommend the school budgets in the face of continuing increases. She said their primary objection was the lack of line items in the budget needed to address the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and Up-Island Regional School District other post-employment benefits (OPEB) debt. She said the FinCom suggested that $100,000 be budgeted for the Up-Island debt and $250,000 for the high school debt, and that the money could come from “excess and deficiency funds” (E and D), money unspent at the end of the fiscal year.

Up-Island school committee member Kate DeVane took the floor and said, “We did not vote not to give the E and D money to the OPEB, we voted to hold that money until the new fiscal year in case we needed the money for something like burst pipes, like we did last year. We didn’t say no, we just said give us more time.”

School committee member Michael Marcus also emphasized the need to have emergency money available. “We will use our best efforts to make a significant contribution to the OPEB liability at the end of the year,” he said.

Three additional articles the FinCom did not recommend also passed: $145,000 to cover the town’s share of a new playground at the West Tisbury School; $20,000 for a facilities management consultant for town buildings; and $15,000 to put toward the purchase and equipping of an all-wheel-drive police cruiser in FY 2018.

Voters agreed 175 to 13 to borrow $857,500 for a new highway department building to replace the unsafe and inadequate wooden structure on Old Courthouse Road. The new structure will be built on the site of the police and fire stations in North Tisbury. The project will require a Proposition 2.5 override vote at the town election on Thursday.

The loudest applause of the night was for a plastic bag ban that eliminates the use of single-use plastic checkout bags, to go into effect in 2017.

Laughter preceded a vote to pass an article to appropriate $45,000 for repairs to town buildings, of which $32,000 will be used to install a required air exchanger at the West Tisbury Road fire station and $6,000 for repairs to the State Road cemetery fence.

Robert Hauck, addressing the chair in regard to the fence, said, “This subject has been a religious experience, because it’s an issue that never dies, or when it dies it resurrects at each town meeting. I thought we dispatched this issue at the last town meeting” (when $70,000 was allocated for a fence repair). “What I am not clear on is why are we being asked for another $6,000, and will we be asked for more money at the next town meeting until we reach the $70,000?”

Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter explained that the project has been broken up into phases, which will be more cost-effective. A voice from the audience asked, “Do we know how many phases there are?” To which Mr. Manter responded, “We’ll know when we get to $70,000.”