Update April 6
It’s town meeting time, that annual foray into citizen government when every registered voter can show up and let his voice be heard and her votes counted.
In Tisbury, a lot of voters are expected to show up because there is a big-ticket item on the warrant.
Voters will decide whether to authorize borrowing for the town’s $33 million share of a $47 million Tisbury School project. Those are the numbers provided by the town finance director, but the school building committee’s estimates are slightly below those numbers.
Unfortunately, voters won’t have any direction from the town’s leadership. The board of selectmen decided to take a pass when it came to supporting the project. Selectman Tristan Israel’s reason was that he didn’t want to take a negative vote on the project, though he went on to criticize the building committee and their project consultants, saying that not enough was done to keep the price of the project down.
The reality is that the building committee has been working on ways to keep the project price as low as possible and still meet the educational needs of its students. They’ve taken elements out of the project, and are using the competitive bid process to choose a contractor, rather than another process, known as construction manager at risk, which would have likely added more than $2 million to the bottom line, but would have given the town more control over selecting the builder.
It’s a costly project, to be sure, but the need has been well-established. This isn’t about bells and whistles, this is about providing the types of learning spaces that have come to be expected and providing technology necessary in a 2018 educational setting.
Let’s hope that this discussion doesn’t devolve into a discussion of saving the existing Tisbury School building. That ship has already sailed. Any project that included saving that school would be more costly, a point that’s been made frequently.
The Tisbury School project requires a two-thirds vote at town meeting, and then a majority approval at the polls. If you’re the least bit unsure about how to vote on this project, we recommend you get to the forum on the project this Saturday at 10 am with tours of the building from 11 am to 12 noon at the existing school.
We like what West Tisbury has done with its $400,000 Proposition 2½ override vote. Instead of pinning the increase in taxes on any one budget — which is a sure way to ensure that you’ll wind up with only loyalists for a particular issue or town department showing up in force — the override is spread out over the entire operational budget. If it doesn’t pass, there will be consequences throughout the town budget. It’s a modest request, well justified, that should pass.
Ditto Oak Bluffs, which reduced almost in half the request of town administrator Robert Whritenour, deciding to go with the $275,000 that was absolutely needed for an override, rather than the $500,000 Whritenour was looking for to provide a bit of a cushion. Raising taxes through Proposition 2½ is nothing to take lightly, because it changes the levy limit moving forward. Selectmen were right to hit the pause button, and their recommendation deserves the support of voters.
While we’re in Oak Bluffs, the home-rule petition put forward to ban moped rentals also deserves support. We’ve been all over this issue before, and the Island has spoken. Though the Islandwide vote was nonbinding, it was clear that Island residents don’t want mopeds as part of the Island traffic equation any longer, because of safety concerns.
In Edgartown, we support the $1.2 million requested for a new Katama Airfield hangar. We also like that override votes on town sidewalks and road projects, as well as a separate one on wastewater upgrades, allow the town’s voters to help set the agenda for the town’s capital spending.
Updated to correct time of school forum and the amount saved by the bid process —Ed.