Authors Posts by Tony Omer

Tony Omer

Tony Omer
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West Tisbury voters will take up where they left off in the annual town meeting warrant.

Tisbury voters balked at increasing West Tisbury school costs. File photo by Rich Saltzberg

West Tisbury voters will return to their annual town meeting warrant Tuesday in an effort to complete town business following a failed attempt to reach a quorum on the second night of town meeting last week.

Voters passed a record-breaking $17 million operating budget on April 14, but found after four and a half hours that there was still work to be done, and the meeting adjourned at 11:25 pm with seven warrant articles left on the town meeting floor.

Voters returned last Wednesday night to complete their work. However, at 7:20 pm moderator Dan Waters announced with regret that a quorum had not been reached. Only 100 voters were present, and the meeting was rescheduled for Tuesday, April 28, 7 pm at the West Tisbury School.

Some keen town observers suggested that many town meeting regulars opted to attend the Béla Fleck–Abigail Washburn concert at the Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night.

Irrespective of the reason, seven articles remain.

Voters will be asked to tighten up the language of the zoning bylaws and eliminate regulations already covered by state law, and authorize selectmen to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with the county to provide services for the elderly.

Among the remaining articles is a request to require the posting of street numbers on buildings, and on roads in cases where the buildings cannot easily be seen. The regulation would carry fines for noncompliance.

Voters will also be asked to designate as special ways parts of Pine Hill Road, Red Coat Hill Road/Motts Hill Road, Shubael Weeks Road, and Old Coach Road. The special way designation prevents the way from being paved or blocked, according to planning board administrator Jane Rossi. Subdividing land over which a special way runs can only be done with a permit from the planning board.

Ms Rossi said that the intent of the special way designation is to maintain the ways’ historic character. According to the town bylaw, “development and use shall not block or prevent non-motorized means of travel … along a special way.”

A proposed zoning bylaw change would increase the size of permitted guest houses from 800 square feet to 1,000 square feet, and accessory apartments from 500 to 800 square feet. Tucker Hubbell, a West Tisbury builder and chairman of the zoning board, said that the proposed bylaw change is the result of the realization that the smaller sizes are just too small for comfortable living spaces, and that more people are using the structures to house relatives.

School budget unresolved

West Tisbury taxpayers may have no option but to come up with $300,000 of the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) budget voters rejected in a Proposition 2.5 override vote at the town election last Thursday. If the other two district member towns pass the UIRSD budget, West Tisbury will have no choice, according to Selectman Richard Knabel, who said that the budget must pass by both a two-thirds vote of the school board as well as a two-thirds vote of the towns.

“If Chilmark and Aquinnah pass their budgets, we will have to find a way to pay,” he said.

The town budget, which contained the school budget, was approved at town meeting, but the increase in the school budget required an override vote at the polls, and it failed, 246 to 147.

Selectman Richard Knabel said he was not surprised. “I think that if many school issues were decided on the town ballot, they would not pass,” he said. “Many people have expressed concern about the rate at which the school budget has increased and the amounts of money that are involved. This is something that has been coming for a long time, and this is the first time that a school issue has appeared on the ballot as an override question, and the results are not surprising at all. The school committee seems to think that no amount of spending is too much.”

A ballot question to fund the rebuilding of the school playground also failed, but the question was made moot when the school committee pulled it from the warrant on the town meeting floor. UIRSD Chairman Michael Marcus said at the time that there is reason to believe the board can find private funding for the project.

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The change from a Y to a T intersection is expected to take five weeks.

Construction has begun at the State Road and Old County Road in West Tisbury, where the Y intersection will be turned into a T intersection.

Work has begun on a redesigned intersection at State Road and Old County Road in West Tisbury, and is expected to be complete by Memorial Day. The new intersection removes the gradual curved turn of north-south traffic onto and off State Road with a right-angle turn that will require a more deliberate stop. The intent is to reduce accidents at the intersection.

Large flashing signboards warning “construction ahead” are in place. Richard Robbins, project manager for Lawrence-Lynch Corp., said work should take about five weeks. The project, designed by state planners, will cost $339,286 and be paid with state and federal monies.

At a public forum last year, Richard Madsen, project manager, explained that the state found numerous deficiencies at the intersection. The sight distance for drivers approaching the intersection from the south on State Road, the placement of the stop sign on Old County Road, high approach speeds, lack of shoulders, and a large roadway skew, or angle, were the major issues.

Mr. Madsen said, “The proposed improvements will T up the intersection, slightly realigning the angle of the intersection, [and] reducing speed; reduce the amount of the existing pavement; increase the green space; and increase the signage to better inform motorists as they approach the intersection.”

A PDF of the project with graphics can be found on the West Tisbury town website, westtisbury-ma.gov.

To pee, or not to pee (outside)?

– Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Meeting nature’s call in the great outdoors is one of the distinct, and unsung, benefits of living on Martha’s Vineyard. The Island’s rural character, more trees than people, and laid-back lifestyle allows for a freedom of fresh air’s expressive relief, a relief that is largely absent in much of postmodern America, with its port-a-potties, multi-bathroom houses, and its stainless steel and tile restrooms, in which few would ever think of actually resting. The outdoor call is answered in our cities mostly by the homeless, the drunk or the incontinent.

It is a convenient habit for many Vineyarders who work outside, and a custom approaching ritual for others. It is often spoken of as a conservation measure, saving the septic system, cutting water use, or treating the compost by adding minerals and nitrogen. Some just like the fresh air and the airing out under the stars, and some just like doing it outside.

Going outside for relief was something my brother and I were taught not to do. Maybe that’s part of what makes the act feel a little rebellious.

A mostly male thing

A girlfriend in high school once told me boys have outdoor plumbing and girls have indoor plumbing. This observation has held up pretty well, for the most part. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more males than females make a habit of peeing outside. Males can more easily relieve themselves behind a tree, or shielded by a car door, or for that matter out in an open field, without being too obvious, one hand innocently scratching the head or adjusting the collar while the other does the directing. Females must go to a little more trouble, but I have known a few women whose ease with the outdoors defies that adolescent dichotomy.

Personal health can be an issue when taking advantage of the great outdoors. It is more difficult to wash afterward, even though urine from a healthy person seldom contains anything harmful, according to information from the Internet.

As a teenager, I worked two summers on road crews, one with the Kentucky state highway department and the other with the county road department. Both summers were spent with poison-ivy-infected nether regions from taking roadside breaks. The heat, the sweat. It took a heap of self-control not to scratch my privates in public. Sitting in church was unbearable.

Classless relief

The outdoor release is enjoyed not only by the laborer, the rustic or the down-and-out. My father-in-law, a private school– and Harvard-educated man of great propriety, poetry, and manners, would take on a mischievous, childlike smile when he walked off his back porch in Vineyard Haven, a longer walk than to the bathroom, position himself between a tall Italian cypress and a chest-high boxwood hedge, and “water the lawn,” as he would say, all the while taking advantage of his harbor view.

He once told me a Harvard-Yale joke. A student from each school was positioned in front of a urinal. When the Harvard man finished, he began walking toward the door. The Yalie said, “At my school they teach us to wash our hands when we are done.” The Harvard man replied, “At my school they teach us to not piss on our hands.” So it goes.

An Island friend once told me about a compost pile his parents kept in the backyard of their off-Island suburban home when he was a kid, where his businessman father preferred to do his business. His mother, who was familiar with Charles Dickens’ work, called the compost “Urea Heep.”

There can be a social aspect to taking care of business outside. A young man who grew up in Vineyard Haven did his undergraduate work at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. He took a break from a school dance behind some bushes outside, and found himself shoulder to shoulder with a fellow schoolmate and the heir to the British throne, Prince William, who was also answering nature’s call. It didn’t turn out to be a bonding experience. The Vineyarder was not invited to the wedding.

Compost

Chilmark farmer Mitchell Posin of Allen Farm said the best way to break down a pile of oak chips or other organic matter is to pee on it. He has a compostable toilet in his house, but prefers the outdoors. “I just like to go outside,” he said.

And lifestyle

Retired West Tisbury carpenter and boatman Tony Higgins, a lifelong outdoorsman now in his mid-70s, said of his proclivity, “It is one of the pleasures of living in West Tisbury, and a custom of long standing to go outside. In West Tisbury, it is a way of life. I couldn’t live anywhere I couldn’t do that. It is horrible to even think about.

“If you go to a dinner party and it becomes time, instead of closeting yourself in some nasty little room, it’s very pleasant to just go outside and look up at the stars and have away at it. It gives you that breath of fresh air, and you come back into the room refreshed in more ways than one.”

When asked if he had ever had trouble finding a spot while at work, he replied, “It’s amazing how you can find little corners here and there, even in Edgartown, depending on the season. Up-Island it’s hardly ever a problem.

“It’s a rural thing. I lived in a small town growing up. Being outside is pretty much a lifelong thing for me. Not to mention it saves water, and there’s no splattering the toilet bowl.”

Mr. Higgins, who shares an appreciation of organic gardening with his wife Abigail — who writes the Garden Notes column for The Times — said, “The best thing you can do is use the compost pile; it helps break down the organic matter. People should be doing that.” Abigail added that she thinks it can help keep deer away.

He said the “urination factor” creates more lush and greener grass when the lawn begins to green up in the spring. It contributes to a healthier and greener lawn where a mark has been left, but only if the marks are left during the winter, the lawn’s dormant period. The grass will die if fertilized with urine during the summer, as anyone with a dog knows, he said.

The guest room and education

Mr. Higgins is not above sharing his fondness for the outdoors with visitors, and his son. “Guests at our place are sometimes uneasy about it during the day, but under cover of darkness I have been known to direct people if they start to go to one of the indoor facilities, ‘Go out the back door, take a left, there’s a compost pile.’”

When Adrian, the Higgins’ grown son, was young and not quite housebroken, they let him run around in nothing but a T-shirt in the summer. “When he began to look a little squirmy, we would just hustle him out the door,” he said. “He learned early on. He caught on pretty fast.”

The line in winter

“Writing your initials or whatever in the snow is always fun when there is a lot of snow, like this winter,” Mr. Higgins said with a smile. “The poor people down South never get to do that. They don’t know what they’re missing.

“I did kick snow over many of the spots this winter to make things more presentable. The snow was on the ground so long there were many, many spots.”

I was raised in the city by a mother determined to have mannerly children. Going outside for relief was something my brother and I were taught not to do. Maybe that’s part of what makes the act feel a little rebellious and, as with my father-in-law, brings a little smile to my face as I mark my territory in West Tisbury. We didn’t get a lot of snow in Kentucky when I was young, and I never practiced my writing in it, but we got enough that I was warned more than once, “Don’t eat yellow snow.” It wasn’t me, of course, but someone was outside answering nature’s call.

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Unfinished business required a return meeting on a second night. However with no quorum the meeting was rescheduled to April 28.

West Tisbury voters were asked to return a second night.

Updated 9:30 pm, Wednesday

West Tisbury voters met Tuesday night in the annual town meeting, and passed a record-breaking $17 million operating budget, but found after four and one-half hours that there was still work to be done.

The meeting adjourned at 11:25 pm with seven warrant articles left on the town meeting floor. Voters returned Wednesday night to complete their work. However, at 7:20 pm moderator Dan Waters announced with regret that a quorum had not been reached. Only 100 voters were present. The meeting has been rescheduled for Tues., April 28, 7 pm.

There are still 7 articles from the 48-article warrant awaiting action.

Despite the inconclusive evening, the small crowd gave the new moderator a warm round of applause, just as they had the night before .

Polls are open Thursday from 7 am until 8 pm at the Public Safety Building for the annual town election.

The town election and override votes will be held Thursday from 7 am until 8 pm at the public safety building. Results will be posted to mvtimes.com.

Tuesday night the meeting was both buoyed and saddened by the memory of longtime town moderator Francis “Pat” Gregory, murdered last May while hiking in California. Town poet laureate Justen Ahren began the meeting with a sonnet he composed for the occasion to honor the well-loved man.

Newly elected moderator Dan Waters, presiding over his first town meeting, ended his own short tribute to Mr. Gregory with a request: “I am hoping we can keep something of Pat alive tonight in the way we talk to each other and listen to each other. I know he would be happy to know we kept the conversation going in his spirit. Let’s do it.”

Newly elected town moderator Dan Waters skillfully navigated the town meeting currents.
Newly elected town moderator Dan Waters skillfully navigated the town meeting currents.

A unanimous vote to approve an article to dedicate the lobby of the town library to Mr. Gregory was followed by applause. The dedication ceremony will be held at 3 pm, Sunday, May 3, in the library.

As the meeting progressed under the careful, studied attention of Mr. Waters, he did not hesitate to retreat when longtime town counsel Ronald Rappaport stepped to the lectern to correct a misinterpreted point of law, or elaborate on a point of procedure. Mr. Rappaport, town counsel for four towns, would normally have been in Edgartown, but in memory of Mr. Gregory chose to be in West Tisbury.

The school gym was full but not packed by the time 286 voters, out of 2,479 registered, were ready to get down to business at 7 pm.

Budget was up

Earlier this month, for the first time in 15 years, the FinCom rejected the proposed operating budget. The $16.95 million price tag was up $1 million, or 9.6 percent over last year. The increase, driven primarily by school cost increases totaling almost $800,000, met with little opposition on the floor after an amendment to cut $68,448 from the $7.1 million Up-Island Regional School District (UPIRSD) line item was proposed by the district’s school committee chairman, Michael Marcus. The finance committee had recommended a $100,000 cut.

FinCom chairman Katherine Triantafillou said, “We will not look a gift horse in the mouth. This budget needs to go down. If you are willing to take it down $68,000, that’s fantastic. We need to bring those costs in line.” The amendment passed unanimously after a 20-minute discussion covering particulars of the education budget. The entire budget passed within 10 more minutes, by a majority vote.

But it was not all clear sailing for school costs. Later in the night voters rejected an article to share in the cost of a new $3.9 million administration building for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District.

Articles to purchase a new fire truck and a new police car to replace an aging car were passed by large majorities. An article to increase the wages of town employees 1.6 percent passed unanimously.

A protracted discussion preceded a majority vote to approve $50,000 for the planning and design of a new highway department building on the site of the present fire and police stations.

An article to approve a county plan to help fund the purchase of the former VNA headquarters building in Tisbury for use by the Center for Living required the evening’s first hand-count vote after a long discussion that included questions about the efficacy of another county-run program. The article passed 130 to 125.

A majority voted to approve the refuse district’s request to borrow $2.5 million to fund capital improvements to the transfer station, after another long discussion in which perennial anti-spending gadfly Nick Van Ness reminded voters that it is just a dump.

A request for $25,000 was approved for the purchase of a removable walkway to facilitate access to the town’s Lambert’s Cove Beach; it passed with a show of hands.

The UIRSC pulled an article asking for $80,000 to renovate the West Tisbury school playground. Mr. Marcus said the committee hopes private money will be available to fund the project.

A half-dozen Community Preservation Committee articles passed, totaling $355,500, including $50,000 for a new roof for the Marine Hospital building, the future home of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, $45,000 for work on a track and field facility at the high school, and almost $200,000 for affordable housing projects.

As the night wore on without a break, voters began to drift home. Those left moderated their free-spending ways. The remaining voters rejected an article to spend $43,000 for the installation of sound-damping material in the town hall, but approved $7,500 to renovate the town hall bathrooms.

They also voted to rescind a 2014 town meeting decision to spend $75,000 to rebuild the town cemetery fence, reacting during the course of a lengthy discussion to a request for a change in wording of the 2014 article to allow for restoring rather than replacing the fence.

At 11:25 pm, with more than half of the original voters remaining, town clerk Tara Whiting said she had kept an eye on the numbers to insure that the quorum requirement of 124, or 5 percent of registered voters, remained. Still, Mr. Waters decided the voters had had enough, and proposed to continue the next evening. The voters agreed.

Left undone were a zoning change related to the size of guest houses and accessory apartments, designation of special ways, and other issues.

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School costs are expected to figure largely in the budget discussion.

Flanked by West Tisbury town officials, moderator Pat Gregory led voters through the town meeting warrant last year. – MV Times file photo

West Tisbury voters will gather for annual town meeting at 7 pm, Tuesday, April 14, at the West Tisbury School to address a 48-article warrant that includes a $16.95 million operating budget rejected by the finance committee.

The budget represents an increase of more than $1 million, or 9.6 percent over fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30, and will require a Proposition 2.5 override vote. The FinCom rejection, its first in almost 15 years, focused on increased school costs.

Two days later, on Thursday, April 16, voters go to the polls at the Public Safety Building on State Road to elect town officers and to vote on three Proposition 2.5 overrides. There is only one contested race. Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter faces a last-minute challenge from taxi cab owner Benoit Baldwin, who announced his intention to run as write-in candidate for the position.

The ballot questions include school funding requests and a request to help fund a county-engineered purchase of the former VNA building in Tisbury for use by the Center for Living.

A request to finance a new school playground has been pulled by the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) committee, but not in time to remove it from the ballot.

At the start of the meeting, voters will be asked to dedicate the lobby of the West Tisbury Free Public Library in memory of Francis “Pat” Gregory, the much-beloved longtime town moderator who was murdered while on vacation, hiking in California last May.

Dan Waters, newly elected town moderator, will step up to the podium in his place.

 

Unprecedented

The annual will not be a walk in the park. The FinCom called its rejection of the town budget an “unprecedented decision” in an OpEd published in The Times last week (“Why we said no to the West Tisbury budget”). Two members of the FinCom, Greg Orcutt and Doug Ruskin, told The Times they hope their action to not recommend the budget will promote informed discussions of the town’s finances and the expense of the schools in particular.

“The line items can be decreased on the town meeting floor,” Mr. Ruskin said. “At some point we, as a town, need to address these issues. I believe there can be structural changes made to improve the budget without education suffering at all.”

The FinCom’s primary concerns are the proposed increase in education costs, which would be 57 percent of the town’s budget, accounting for 82.5 percent of the total increase in the budget.

The FinCom letter stated, “West Tisbury’s share of the cost of operating the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) alone will increase 11.8 percent this year, with the average per capita student spending rising to $29,061. The increase over two years has been 22.2 percent.”

The FinCom recommended greater financial restraint by the Island’s schools, and pushing for more state funds to fund state-mandated programs.

The letter also highlighted the impending costs of funding the town’s other post-employee benefits (OPEB), nonpension benefits paid to both school and town employees, which local governments are feeling the pressure to fund rather than list as liabilities. The FinCom said that the unfunded OPED liabilities are likely to have a significant effect on the long-term finances of the Island towns.

In contrast to the UIRSD increase, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget is increasing by about $60,000, or 2.3 percent, to $2.6 million, after having dropped by $130,000 in FY15.

Level mostly

The library has requested a 15 percent increase of $87,622, from $594,638 to $681,260, for a new position related to increased library usage and an increase in cleaning costs, according to library director Beth Kramer. Most of the town departments budgeted for level funding, at the request of the selectmen, with the exception of a 1.6 percent across-the-board cost-of-living increase for full-time employees.

Police, fire, and ambulance services will all increase, mostly due to salary increases. Total public safety costs will increase from $1,883,148 to $1,985,513.

A request for $25,000 for additional money to complete the Mill Brook watershed study will be decreased to $6,600 on the floor of the meeting, according to watershed study committee member Cynthia Mitchell, who said savings from using volunteers and contributions from conservation organizations and a monetary contribution from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will cover the rest of the anticipated costs.

Voters will decide whether to approve the allocation of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. Requests include $98,000 for rental assistance in West Tisbury, $40,000 to pay debt service on the acquisition of the Maley/Field Gallery; a $50,000 contribution to help rebuild the roof of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum of the Marine Hospital; $45,000 to fund the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School track and field facility; $100,000 to help fund six affordable-housing units at 6 Water Street in Vineyard Haven; and $75,000 to restore the West Tisbury cemetery fence.

A two-thirds vote will be required to designate portions of Pine Hill Road, Red Coat Hill Road/Motts Hill Road, Shubael Weeks Road, and Old Coach Road as “special ways.”

The most significant changes in a series of zoning bylaw articles would increase the maximum size of a guesthouse from 800 to 1,000 square feet, and of an accessory apartment from 500 to 800 square feet. Planning board associate member Henry Geller said that many of the proposed changes eliminate bylaws covered by state law and other town bylaws.

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Well-known banjo players Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck will perform at the Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night. — Photo by Jim McGuire

Béla Fleck, widely recognized as one of the world’s most proficient and technically skilled banjo players, will be performing with his wife, clawhammer banjo specialist, singer, and songwriter Abigail Washburn, at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center at the high school on Wednesday, April 15.

The Vineyard has hosted skilled banjo players in the past, like Richie Stearns, Jake Shepps, and the Old Crow Medicine Show, but this performance is a unique opportunity to see, here on the Island, a superb banjo picker, songwriter, and composer, and one of the world’s most celebrated musicians. The show is produced by Phil daRosa’s The Print Shop Presents (TPS), and was rescheduled from April 14 due to the annual town meetings.

In his mid-50s, Mr. Fleck has been experimenting with his musical sound since he was given his first banjo by his grandfather at the age of 15. He spent his childhood in New York and moved to Boston after high school, where he developed his skills playing the streets. After performing with several other bands he eventually joined the influential New Grass Revival, and later formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988. The Flecktones was an instrumental group whose music was primarily a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, and rock.

Mr. Fleck is a master of many genres, from bluegrass and newgrass to rock, jazz, and classical, and he has recorded duets with notable musicians from each genre. He has played with musicians from across the world, in every continent, and in the process he’s won 15 Grammy awards and accumulated over 30 nominations. He has been nominated in more categories than any other musician — across country, pop, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk, spoken word, composition, and arrangement. Mr. Fleck has shared Grammy wins with Asleep at the Wheel, Alison Brown, and Edgar Meyer.

His most recent album is a 2014 collaboration with his wife entitled Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (Rounder Records). Prior to that he composed and recorded a classical concerto for banjo on an album titled The Imposter.

The multitalented Ms. Washburn, born in Illinois, is an accomplished banjo player and songwriter in her own right, and a singer who specializes in American roots tunes with a folksy voice that ranges from haunting to the sublime. She has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums, and has worked in folk musical diplomacy in China, where she taught and toured. She speaks Mandarin, which she studied in college, and has recorded and written songs in Chinese.

On a 2005 trip to China with cellist Ben Sollee, Mr. Fleck, and Grammy-nominated fiddler Casey Driessen, Ms. Washburn and friends called themselves the Sparrow Quartet, and the journey resulted in an EP, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet. At the request of the U.S. government, the Sparrow Quartet toured Tibet in 2006 and performed in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.

Ms. Washburn also volunteered to help with Sichuan quake relief in China in 2008, and produced a benefit EP as a fundraiser the following year, with Shanghai Restoration Project’s David Liang, called Afterquake.

In 2013 Ms. Washburn debuted her first theatrical performance piece in New York, Post-American Girl, about an American girl coming of age in a swiftly changing global order. It featured folk arts of China and Appalachia in shadow puppetry, sacred harp song, and traditional music, as well as new musical compositions.

For their latest album, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, the couple recorded in their home and produced the record themselves, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts. The pair, who were married in 2009, include several songs on the album that were no doubt influenced by their experiences as new parents to their son, Juno, who will be 2 next month. While appearing on PBS’s Tavis Smiley show last year, Mr. Fleck said his then 8-month-old had not taken up the banjo yet, but was learning to play keyboards.

Some proceeds from Wednesday’s concert will benefit the Island Collaborative, a nonprofit established to facilitate collaborations between Islanders and Island groups including businesses, schools, local government, and individuals. Additionally, the concert is sponsored by the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, which is offering a package-rate overnight special including tickets to the show.

Mr. daRosa said he hopes to produce more shows with well-known artists in the future. “I’m working heavily on MV Sound No. 2 right now. We are in fundraising mode, and I’m putting out feelers to bigger artists to participate.” The first Martha’s Vineyard Sound Festival, a two-day celebration of music, food, and culture at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs in July of last year, was a critical success, according to Mr. daRosa. “I’m hoping that this year will be two days full of fun. We have a lot of great ideas. We plan to incorporate yoga at the park, and are teaming up with The Yard on some dance ideas. It will again benefit the Island Collaborative.”

An Evening with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Wednesday, April 15, 6 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard High School Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 day of show, and may be purchased online from the TBS website, tpspresents.com, or by calling 800-838-3006.

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The Mill Brook watershed study will set a baseline for monitoring the changing conditions there. – Photo by Michael Cummo

A yearlong study of the West Tisbury Mill Brook watershed began Wednesday. Mill Brook Watershed Management Planning Committee co-chairman Chuck Hodgkinson said preliminary work will begin on the installation of data loggers to record various aspects of the watershed environment. The study will set a baseline from which the changing conditions of the watershed can be monitored, he said.

The study will include data collection from specific sites to measure rainfall, and to analyze nutrients and chemicals in the water and water quality. The study will monitor water sources, diversions and withdrawals, water flow and temperatures, and will record seasonal weather impacts and the impact of existing and potential sources of threats to the health of the watershed.

Mr. Hodgkinson said the study is unique to the Vineyard in the breath of cooperation between at least seven local organizations and private volunteers who will do much of the work, and in the donation of $5,000 from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to the study.

The study is managed by the sole bidder on the town’s request for proposals (RFP), ESS Group, an environmental consulting and engineering services company, which agreed to accept help from volunteer groups and individuals in order to scale back the costs of its bid, which exceeded the $30,000 approved at town meeting in April 2014 by $15,000.

The Mill Brook study committee will ask for an additional $6,600 at the annual town meeting on April 14 to cover additional costs to complete the study. A request for $25,000 will be reduced to $6,600 on the floor, according to committee co-chair Cynthia Mitchell, because of the MVC donation and the volunteer help.

The study is the result of sometimes contentious discussions over almost 10 years concerning the condition of Mill Pond and whether the pond should be dredged to maintain its scenic value or whether the dam that creates the pond should be removed and allow parts of the watershed to return to their natural state.

A dozen people attended a public forum Tuesday, March 24, at the West Tisbury library where the committee of seven presented the major points of the study goals and methods with a PowerPoint presentation, accompanied by talks by committee members Selena Roman, Mr. Hodgkinson, and Ms. Mitchell.

The presentation was videotaped, and will be available on MVTV.

Mr. Hodgkinson said anyone willing to volunteer to help with the study can call 508-696-9322 and leave return contact information. He said there will be training sessions on methods and protocols as needed.

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Single-digit temperatures and strong winds have wreaked havoc this winter.

Ice on a roof can spell trouble for a homeowner.

Unusually prolonged cold weather and freezing winds that penetrate even well-insulated houses have created numerous problems for Martha’s Vineyard homeowners. Island plumbers, and even on occasion fire departments, have responded to numerous reports of burst pipes and flooded basements.

One Island plumber told of answering a call at a seasonal house to repair a pipe that froze, then burst, and ran for almost two weeks before the caretaker checked on the house. The water had run down the side of the house and created a small glacier, he said.

On a bitter cold Friday night last week, the Oak Bluffs fire department responded to a call on East Chop. When the first firefighters arrived, there was about four feet of water in the basement.

“It’s not the sort of thing we usually do,” Oak Bluffs Fire Chief John Rose said, “but the resident was elderly and the ground around the house was so frozen the water department couldn’t access the cutoffs. It took us about two hours to pump it out so a plumber could get into the house to shut the water off and fix the leak.”

Water damage from frozen pipes is the most significant wintertime damage to houses on the Vineyard, according to several local plumbers. Water damage can result in collapsed ceilings and walls. It can ruin floors, and create mildew issues that can require extensive renovation.

When it comes to protecting a house from the ravages of winter, the experts advise homeowners to take nothing for granted. Just because no pipes froze in past years, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen, particularly during a hard winter like this one.

Mr. Rose, who is a licensed plumber, recommends homeowners seal up any air leaks in the house to help prevent pipes from freezing. “Check the basement windows. Make sure none have fallen open,” he said. “Anyone who has an unoccupied house that has not been drained should make sure the water-service valve is shut off just after the meter.”

He also recommends installing a remote call alarm that can notify a homeowner when the house gets too cold. “When the house drops below a certain temperature, it can call your cell phone, or you can call the remote to check on the temperature,” he said.

“We haven’t had a winter like this in a long time. We just aren’t used to this kind of cold. In years past, when you could set the temperature at 40 degrees, that was enough to keep a house from freezing. Now with this kind of extreme cold and you get a strong wind with it, it just isn’t enough.” Mr. Rose said houses on the water and those exposed to really heavy winds are particularly vulnerable.

Wind to blame

Living in a house exposed to severe weather near Oak Bluffs Harbor where the winds come whipping in off the ocean caused unexpected problems for Oak Bluffs plumber Patrick Caine, who shares a ground-floor apartment with his girlfriend. Two weeks ago, his girlfriend called him while he was at work when she noticed water dripping from the ceiling of their living room. Mr. Caine traced the problem to a third-floor bathroom, 15 feet from an outside wall, where the hot and cold water lines had both frozen and burst. The water leaked down into a recently renovated kitchen, causing extensive damage, and then into their apartment.

The house, a combination of a 1920s bungalow and more modern additions and renovations, had never had a freezing problem before, he said. “It was strange because the house was heated, and the bathroom wall that contained the frozen pipes was an interior wall,” Mr. Caine said, “I think it was the strong wind that shifted during a day of extreme single-digit temperatures, that made its way through a soffit and came all the way in, freezing the pipes.”

Mr. Caine said that although modern plumbing codes require that there be no water-carrying pipes in exterior walls, where they are more susceptible to freezing, many older houses have exterior wall plumbing. Some Island houses were originally built as summer houses, with little or no insulation, and were usually drained before winter hit. Now many of those houses are lived in year-round, and a cold spell can result in damage.

“I just came from a house where the boiler that heats the house froze and cracked due to the wind and the extreme cold,” Mr. Caine said. “It will cost about $8,500 just to repair the heating system.”

Echoing the warning of Chief Rose, Mr. Caine said, “It is common for people who decide not to drain the water from the pipes when they leave to keep the heat on at 45 or 50 degrees. This is not enough, particularly during harsh winters like this one with such strong, cold winds.”

He said that leaving water trickling from the valves of suspect pipes can also help prevent freezing.

Keep it warm

Plumbing contractor Seth Williams from Vineyard Haven said that some insurance companies now require that the heat in unoccupied homes be kept at 60 or 65 degrees if the pipes are not drained. He said the only sure way to prevent water damage from frozen pipes is to winterize the house by shutting the water off and draining the house. He has winterized more than 80 houses this winter.

To winterize a house, Mr. Williams said, the water service to a house is shut off, and all the pipes and water lines are drained, including washing machines. Toilet bowls and the drain traps of all sinks, tubs, and showers are filled with an antifreeze solution. He said that most new water valves are self-draining when the water is turned off, and they are left open, but there are some that must be drained by hand.

Mr. Williams said that his company recently handled problems at two houses that were heated, but not enough to prevent pipes from freezing. “We just came from a relatively new house that was badly designed, with a heating pipe running up an exterior wall. The pipe burst, causing a lot of damage,” he said. “Another house had a third-floor leak that resulted in damage to the electrical system that caused the heat to fail, which resulted in more frozen pipes, collapsed ceilings, and extensive damage throughout the house, and a basement filled with water.”

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The tax rate will likely increase from $5.41 to $5.70 for fiscal year 2015.

West Tisbury School. — File photo by Janet Hefler

Updated Thursday, February 12, 4:33 pm

West Tisbury is looking at increases in the town budget and the tax rate for fiscal year 2016. Many property owners will see a decrease in property value assessments, which will mitigate but not eliminate the effects of the rate increase.

The 2016 preliminary budget is projected to be just under $17 million, a $1.07 million increase, or 6.7 percent over 2015, according to a report presented by town accountant Bruce Stone to the selectmen at their Feb. 4 meeting. Mr. Stone said then that the proposed budget exceeds the annual levy limit set by Proposition 2 ½. The selectmen plan to continue budget talks at future meetings.

The largest single increase is Up-Island Regional School District spending, which is up nearly $752,000 — 11.8 percent — over the current year. The second largest increase is West Tisbury’s portion of the preliminary Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget, $127,335, up 5 percent. The third largest increase is library spending, with a total increase for personnel and other expenses of $87,000.

Tax rate

Principal town assessor Dawn Barnes told selectmen that pending state Department of Revenue approval of the latest property value assessments, the tax rate for West Tisbury real estate will increase from $5.41 per $1,000 of valuation to $5.70 for fiscal year 2015. She said that the tax on the average town property, valued at $960,563, would increase by $278, from $5,197 to $5,475.

Ms. Barnes told The Times last month that overall property values have decreased since the last revaluation by about 5.6 percent, due in part to a relatively flat real estate market the past several years. She said the decrease in assessed values has contributed to the increase in the tax rate, which is set by the state, since the tax rate is a function of budget costs and assessed property values.

In a related matter, selectmen voted unanimously to continue the single tax rate for all properties for the 2016 fiscal year. The selectmen are required by state law to make a decision annually on whether to create separate tax rates for businesses and/or for year-round residents.

Ms. Barnes said that the board of assessors will produce a complete analysis of the residential exemption option and its implications prior to next year’s rate decision. She said that of 2,384 parcels of land in the town, just over 1,400 might qualify for a residential exemption if it were to be instituted.

Of Island towns, only Tisbury gives year-round residents a tax break — their homes are valued at 18 percent less than seasonal residents, and a there is a commensurate lower rate for businesses. The prevailing argument for the break is that it helps compensate year year-round residents for the additional costs of living on the Island, according to Tisbury tax assessor Ann Marie Cywinski.

In other business, selectmen voted unanimously to recommend an increase in the highway department superintendent’s stipend from $17,000 to $22,000. Selectman and chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, who brought the issue before the board, said the $5,000 increase puts the compensation closer to but probably still a great distance from what the town would have to pay a replacement, whenever the current superintendent, Richard T. Olsen, steps down.

The Mill Brook

Selectmen also voted unanimously to award the Mill Brook watershed study contract to the ESS Group Inc., on the recommendation of the Mill Brook watershed management planning committee. ESS, the only respondent to the request for proposal (RFP) for the study, was previously contracted to prepare an engineering and environmental study of the Mill Pond, which they submitted in January 2012. Concern over the future of the Mill Pond has sparked the watershed study.

ESS submitted a bid of $45,000 — $15,000 more than the $30,000 approved for the study at town meeting — but committee member Selena Roman said that ESS agreed to complete the study for the allocated amount using the help of volunteers and other organizations to collect the data. Ms. Roman said that ESS agreed to establish the protocols and methodology, provide the equipment and materials, and help manage volunteers. Committee member John Christensen said the committee is in the process of contacting state and local organizations who have indicated they will provide assistance for the yearlong study. The groups include the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and nonprofits that own or manage conservation land in the watershed. He said the committee expects these groups will handle about 50 percent of the collection tasks.

Committee member Prudy Burt said that all of the groups that own land or conservation restrictions on land in the watershed have done baseline biological assessments of those properties, which can be used in the study.

In answer to a question from selectman Richard Knabel about when there might be a watershed management plan — the goal of the study — Mr. Christensen said the committee has begun the process of developing the plan from the data once it is collected. He said the committee estimated that it will need another $25,000 to complete the plan, including about $10,000 to hire a consultant. He also said that in order to properly manage the watershed in the future, there will be a need for long-term monitoring after the study is complete. Selectman and committee member Cynthia Mitchell said that she expected the request for more funds would be made no sooner than the 2016 town meeting.

In other business, Selena Roman, who volunteered to serve on the town’s energy committee, was appointed to that committee by a unanimous vote.

Selectmen unanimously approved the formation of a five-person committee to study the future needs of the highway department. The establishment of the committee is the result of discussions at previous selectmen’s meetings about the condition and plans for the Old Courthouse Road building used by the department.

A previous version of this story incorrectly implied that the new tax rate was for fiscal year 2016. It is for the fiscal year 2015.

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Artists David Wallis (left) and Ken Vincent are the new tenants of the former West Tisbury Police department building. —Photo by Susie Safford

West Tisbury selectmen last week chose Vineyard landscape artists Kenneth Vincent and David Wallis to be the new tenants of the former West Tisbury police station building next to Mill Pond on the Edgartown Road. They will lease the building for five years at $600 per month.

There were five bidders in total interested in the 1,000-square-foot, weathered building vacated when the police moved into their new station house on State Road in March. Selectmen chose the two painters at their December 17 meeting over Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) MV. The continuing education group proposed to use the space as its main office with a full-time staff of one and several part-time staff. The vote was two to one in favor of the Island artists.

At the Wednesday meeting, selectman Richard Knabel spoke in favor of renting to ACE MV because of its value to the community as an educational group. He said the choice between the two bidders “was essentially a draw.”

Selectmen Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter and Cynthia Mitchell voted in favor of the two artists, who they said contributed to the cultural goals of the town, and offered more money and a longer-term lease. The ACE MV bid was for 3-year term at $500 per month.

New canvas

The artists will use the old station as a painting studio and have no plans to display or sell their work there but hope to begin a mentoring program for a few select young artists in the future. Both men exhibit their work at the nearby Granary Gallery on Old County Road, where Mr. Wallis is the gallery manager.

In conversations with The Times both artists expressed surprise and elation with the news of their winning bid.

“When we applied I thought we didn’t have a chance to get it,” Mr. Vincent said. “We were just taking a stab in the dark. I am super excited. It is heated, and has natural light and ventilation and is only a mile from my home. I have only painted above ground one year in my career. It is a beautiful spot and we will be across the street from Rez Williams.” Mr. Williams is a well-known painter.

Born on the Island, Mr. Vincent’s Vineyard family roots go back many generations. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and paints primarily in oil. He also illustrates children’s books in addition to the landscapes he is best known for.

He lives in West Tisbury with his wife and two children. For the last three years he has taught art at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School at the junior high and high school level.

Mr. Wallis said he and Mr. Vincent were “stunned” to get the space. “It’s a dream come true,” Mr. Wallis said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled. We feel like we have won the lottery. We hope we will be able to stay there forever.

“Imagine being an artist and being represented at one of the finest galleries on the Island and then having your studio at the Mill Pond where you could lean a fly rod at the corner of the building and say, you know, I’m just going to stretch my legs and cast a few after the trout have been stocked in the pond.”

Mr. Wallis studied commercial illustration at Syracuse University and moved to the Vineyard in 1992. He is the president of Vineyard youth soccer and lives in Oak Bluffs with his wife and two children. He has painted from a garage studio on Stonewall Pond in Chilmark for 20 years. “It has been a long commute,” he said.

The artists expect to move in sometime in January after the paperwork with the town is completed.

The bidding

Selectmen issued a request for proposals (RFP) to rent the building in October. The minimum monthly rent was set at $500. Lease terms included no residence, no kitchen, and an occupancy limit of an average of four persons daily on an annual basis. There is parking for only three vehicles on the .32-acre parcel of land. The RFP asked that bidders provide a service to enhance the cultural, environmental, and recreational needs of the town and the Island.

Selectmen excluded two of the five bidders based on traffic. Dr. Judith Fisher, a primary care doctor at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, proposed leasing the space for use as a health consultancy office that would be home to a physician, administrative staff, and potentially one medical assistant or home care nurse.

Artist Robert Hauck proposed a work-studio with a public dimension. The building would have been a place where artists could meet and interact.

The fifth bidder, Peter Johnson of Vineyard Haven, was excluded from further consideration because he did not provide the town with the required tax compliance certification. Mr. Johnson, a fisherman and owner of the well known Robert’s Lures, proposed using the building to assemble, package and ship his products.

In other town business Wednesday, selectmen voted unanimously to increase the hourly pay of election workers, constables and the warden from $8 and $9 to $9 and $10 respectively, in 2015 and to $11 and $12 in 2016. Town clerk Tara Whiting presented the proposal and said the town pays less than any other Island town. She said the poll workers had not had a raise in at least 10 years.