West Tisbury voters fund affordable housing

A voter at West Tisbury town meeting comments on the roof for the Martha's Vineyard Museum.

Updated: At 11 pm Tuesday, West Tisbury town moderator Dan Waters hunkered down at the edge of the stage at the West Tisbury School after wrapping up a classic New England town meeting that engaged more than 200 of his fellow citizens for four hours.

“This was quintessential West Tisbury,” a weary Mr. Waters said after shepherding a 39-article annual town meeting warrant through the shoals and eddies of questions, opinions, amendments, and votes offered by enthusiastic townspeople.

Voters whisked through the first half of the warrant, but spent more than three hours on the final half, largely devoted to understanding the town’s agreement with the Island Housing Trust related to the Scott’s Grove affordable housing project.

Voters were not opposed to the Scott’s Grove project, but to the structure of the agreement between the town and the Island Housing Trust (IHT), which objectors said overly benefitted IHT at town expense. As explained by town officials and IHT executive director Philippe Jordi, the town is granting $500,000 for nine rental apartments that will be paid by community preservation funds over the next 10 years. Community preservation funds can be used for historic preservation, open space and affordable housing. An additional $550,000 will be secured through a mortgage and paid back through revenues from the rentals, according to Jordi.

The financial details bewildered voters, but eventually, by majority vote, they came down in favor of affordable housing, perhaps spurred by two comments: “We need affordable housing because if we don’t, look around: You won’t see many people here my age. Come on!” Adam Petkus said.

And an unidentified woman voter said, “I am going to vote for this because we need affordable housing. Although I don’t like the agreement, I am trusting the board of selectmen to make a better agreement.”

Overall, the town is paying about $1.4 million of the $2.9 million cost of the project, Jordi wrote in an email. The remainder of the funds are being raised by IHT through state grants, private donations, and bank financing.

At 210 voters, attendance was down from 224 attendees at last year’s town meeting, but was far greater than the 128 voters needed for a quorum.

In other action, after questioning a half-dozen line items, voters passed an $18.2 million budget, $700,000 more than the 2017 budget, and they agreed to a 2 percent raise for town employees.

They also agreed to a truck noise abatement measure sought by former truck driver David Steere, limiting the loud, flatulent sounds made by large trucks resulting from a practice known as “jake braking.” Voters also agreed to reduce the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph in heavily congested areas (for example, houses within 200 feet of each other over a quarter-mile distance), and to contribute $65,000 to make the Vineyard Baseball Park fully compliant with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) standards.

Voters rejected a proposed change to establish earlier deadlines for submitting future warrant articles. They also failed to resolve debate over proposed changes in sick leave policy, postponing indefinitely discussion of the detailed changes that sought to mirror federal law. Opponents of the measure argued that the changes would limit an employee’s right to choose how to use a combination of sick time, vacation, and personal leave in the event of sickness.

Voters amended several articles, including one related to overtime shift differentials paid to police officers. West Tisbury Police Chief Dan Rossi proposed deletion of one line at the advice of counsel. The line read, “The shift differential applies to base pay only, and shall not be added to overtime hours.” The approved article adds $2 per hour to 4 pm to 2 am overnight shifts and $2.50 per hour for overnight shifts between 11 pm and 8 am. “West Tisbury has the only nonunion police department in the state, and we want to keep it that way,” Chief Rossi said.

After thorough debate, voters narrowly defeated (65-63) a plan to use cedar shingles rather than slate shingles on the new home of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum at the former Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven.

Townspeople roared their approval (209-1), then loudly applauded after they passed an article reaffirming town policy not to use resources or funds to enforce federal immigration law. The Island-wide initiative seeks to support what local police departments already do.

On other money articles, voters approved purchase of a new Ford fire pumper truck ($460,000) and purchase and equipping of a new police cruiser from surplus funds, and $15,000 from funds previously set aside for the purchase. Voters supported purchase of a new vehicle for the animal control officer for $31,000. In answer to a voter question about using electric vehicles, town administrator Jen Rand said electric cars are not yet suitable for police vehicle work, but noted that the town has leased three electric cars for use by other town employees, beginning this week.

With regard to community programs, town voters approved its $12,866 share of funding for the First Stop information and resource center managed by Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard, and approved $15,280 to fund the Adult Community and Education program (ACE). The expanded ACE mission includes college credit and job-training courses.

Voters also approved $7,839 in support of the Island-wide Counseling, Outreach and Referral for the Elderly (CORE), run by the Island Councils on Aging.

Town meeting agreed to spend $82,420 to repair roads, for which the state will reimburse the town. Voters approved $100,000 for repairs to town buildings, including $19,000 in new funds and $81,000 squirreled away from past town meeting votes for the purpose.

Voters unanimously agreed to use $575,000 in funds from free cash and overlay surplus funds to reduce budget impact on the property taxes.

In a fitting conclusion to the evening, voters hand-voted, then voice-voted, and finally stood to vote on a petition asking whether the town should provide childcare at town meeting. The vote was ultimately tied at 38-38, which meant it failed. But it also meant the arm-weary voters could go home.

Editor’s note: Story was updated to correct spelling of Philippe Jordi’s name and to clarify financing for the Scott’s Grove project.