Authors Posts by Tony Omer

Tony Omer

Tony Omer
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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.

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Town officials are considering several options, including replacement, for the highway storage barn. —Photo by Susie Safford

West Tisbury selectmen learned last week that the town public works building on Old Courthouse Road in North Tisbury may be too far out of date to be a suitable candidate for renovation and might best be replaced.  Once used for town meetings and later as a fire station, the mid-19th century building is now used primarily as a garage for highway department equipment.

At the Wednesday, December 10, selectmen’s meeting, highway superintendent Richard Olsen explained the situation. “My intent was to redo the building, if that was possible” he said. “We weren’t looking for a whole lot, but I think from what Joe [building inspector Joe Tierney] has told me, in order to bring it into compliance [with the building codes] it’s probably better to build a new building, at the same location.”

In April, the town appropriated $10,000 for needed repairs to the building. A major rebuilding project would be subject to a capital improvement committee feasibility study before any more money would be committed.

Mr. Olsen said the logical location for a new highway department would be on the grounds of the new police and fire stations on State Road but “there are too many variables at that site.” He said a new building would require a new septic system for which there is no room.

“I think we are stuck where we are. Which is fine,” he said. “In order to bring this up to code there is so much to do, the windows, the insulation. Regardless of what we do we need a new well and a septic system.” He said that his department could use more room so that an addition might be in order.

Mr. Tierney said he consulted with West Tisbury civil engineer Kent Healy on the condition of the building. “There are a lot of structural issues with the building from the foundation to the second floor,” Mr. Tierney said. “So the amount of money we would have to dump into it and the fact that it may not meet his [Mr. Olsen’s] needs when we got done. That’s why we were searching for other locations.”

Mr. Tierney said he thought it would be a better investment for the town to build a new building either on the present site or on a new site.

Selectman Richard Knabel asked if there were any hard numbers to accompany the various alternatives.

Mr. Tierney said that he and Mr. Olsen, wanted to speak to the selectmen and seek some direction before they proceeded further.

Town administrator Jennifer Rand said that the deed on the land is not clear and should be cleared before any work is done on the land to be certain there are no deed restrictions. “I may need to spend some money on a title search,” she said. “What we have found to date would make us believe that there are probably no restrictions.”

Mr. Healy said it is a small site but there is room for a septic system and a new well. “The building is really of limited value,” he said. “The best way to replace it would be a new concrete slab and put a new building on top of it.” He said that he thought a new metal building might be the most economical way to deal with the situation.

Mr. Knabel asked whether the building has any historic significance.

Ms. Rand said she would investigate the history as well as the title and restrictions issues. Mr. Healy volunteered to get prices for replacing the building and installing a new well and septic system.

Rich history

Prior to its use to store highway department equipment, the parks and recreation department used the building for equipment storage. It was also where town residents went to purchase town beach stickers in the summer. The sign on the front of the building still reads West Tisbury, Parks and Recreation Committee, Community Hall.

Mr. Knabel told The Times in an email the building was formerly called “Association Hall.” The owner of record in 1884 was the Vineyard Literary Association.

Former selectman and county commissioner John Alley, a lifelong resident of West Tisbury, told The Times that he remembers when town meetings were held in the building. “There were rows of benches, a stage and a ballot box,” he said. In 1959 when town meetings were held in the Grange Hall, then called the Agricultural Hall, the town voted to turn the building into fire station number two. It was at that time that the old wooden floor was replaced with a concrete slab and the front was replaced with two large garage doors.

“The building was never a courthouse,” he said. “The road is named ‘Old Courthouse Road’ because it once went all the way to the present intersection of Scotchmans Lane and Old County Road and on to the current intersection of Old County and the West Tisbury-Edgartown Road where there was a courthouse.”

Ag Hall events under review

In other town business last Wednesday, Mr. Tierney told selectmen that after reviewing events held at the Agricultural Hall at their request, he found most were in compliance with town zoning regulations. “For the most part this year the activities have been mostly compliant. There are a lot of grey areas.”

Mr. Tierney said he and outgoing building and zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall recommend that selectmen require an event permit for events at the Ag Hall. He suggested the permit application be submitted four weeks prior to an event so that he could determine, with advice from counsel when necessary, whether the grey area events met the zoning regulations.

“Ninety percent of the events will probably not be a problem,” Mr. Tierney said. He said the four-week lead-time would give the town time to make a determination.

Ms. Rand said, “Many of the things that go on at the Ag Hall do not currently get an event permit; and have never had an event permit.”

Selectman chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said that the event permit interpretations would pertain to zoning regulations only and not to deed restricted activities.

The Vineyard Conservation Society and the town jointly hold an agricultural preservation restriction over the property that limits use of the property to the “full-range” of nonprofit and educational activities the Ag Society “has historically pursued,” as well as limited commercial activities that “relate directly to the nonprofit and educational function of MVAS.

The selectmen agreed to consider the permit suggestion when they discuss the definition of events requiring an event permit at a future meeting.

Fenced in

West Tisbury selectmen learned that $75,000 is not enough to replace the fence around the town cemetery. —Photo by Michael Cummo
West Tisbury selectmen learned that $75,000 is not enough to replace the fence around the town cemetery. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Also last week, selectmen discussed the town cemetery fence. The one bid received in June in response to a request for proposal (RFP) to rebuild the cemetery fence exceeded the $75,000 approved at April town meeting for the entire fence. The bid price ranged from $83,520 to $92,470 depending on options offered by the bidder, Landmark Fence of Eastham.

Mr. Manter suggested that the community preservation commission be asked to rewrite the RFP to allow for work to a portion of the fence for the $75,000. Mr. Knabel and selectman Cynthia Mitchell agreed with the suggestion but noted that the change will require a vote at town meeting.

Selectmen voted to go into executive session to discuss the possible acquisition of a triangular piece of land at the intersection of Indian Hill and State Road. Mr. Manter would not say what the selectmen had discussed as uses of the land.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that selectmen learned of the fence bid on December 10. Selectmen have been aware of the bid amount since June.

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Inscribe them with names or messages, and help raise money.

The West Tisbury Library has raised almost $100,000 by selling bricks to Islanders, who can inscribe them with greetings, or the names of loved ones. – Photo by Susie Safford

Sometimes used as a foundation material, bricks have become a material source of funds for the West Tisbury Library Foundation. For $150, a donor can buy a brick inscribed with three lines of type that will become a permanent part of the walkway leading to the recently renovated library.

More than 750 bricks have been purchased and almost $100,000 raised since 2011, when the project was started. The money goes to help fund unfinished library projects, such as the landscaping, beyond the building construction budget, according to Wendy Nierenberg, a retired educator who heads up the brick campaign.

“We also hope to build an endowment that will produce income every year to help offset library budget items,” she said. “Buying a brick is an exciting way to leave a permanent mark in the town and support the library at the same time. The inscriptions often honor family members. New births, grandchildren and memorials are high on the list as are appreciations of family and friends and of West Tisbury in general and the library in particular.

“People call from all over the country to buy bricks. It is just lovely. Some have placed orders from foreign countries. Almost everybody who has purchased bricks has an Island connection of some sort, but there have been several purchases from people buying bricks for people they know on the Island.”

The library reopened on March 22 after a $6 million dollar renovation. The old 5,640-square-foot library was enlarged to 13,000 square feet. The library foundation ultimately raised more than one quarter of the construction costs. The town picked up almost a quarter and almost half of the project’s cost was funded by matching funds from the state.

Ms. Nierenberg said there is plenty of room for new donors. “We have sold about half or our bricks. We have room for about 1,500 when we are done.”

The walkway is paved with the names of Islanders and memorable messages. – Photo by Susie Safford
The walkway is paved with the names of Islanders and memorable messages. – Photo by Susie Safford

Many bricks contain names of old Island families — Mayhew, Whiting, Norton — as well as summer residents. There are names of well-known authors and Island businesses and tributes to pets and some with just names in support of the library. There are cryptic slogans and praises for the library and its staff.

“With fond memories of summer reading,” reads one. Another from a ten year old says “Be a bookworm.” “Thanks for the memories,” reads another and an encouragement to read, “Readers live a thousand lives,” is on another. “Reading is breathing.” And the simple but heart-felt “We love this library.”

“There is no frigate like a book to take us worlds away.” And a tribute to a spouse “You are my brick.” “Our favorite place to read and learn.” “ For the love of reading.” And a nod to digitization, “Thanks for keeping the books.” And to the library director, “You planted the seed and the library bloomed.”

Cathy Minkiewicz, treasurer of the library foundation, decided to honor her four-legged friends. “My pets, dating back to childhood — Ariel, Osa, Obi, Becket, Krakus, Belle, Sinbad, and Aza — all fit onto one brick,” she said.

Asa Allen Ruel had a brick purchased on the occasion of his birth in July. – Photo courtesy Lynn Whiting
Asa Allen Ruel had a brick purchased on the occasion of his birth in July. – Photo courtesy Lynn Whiting

“It’s amazing, the number of people I see on the pathway just looking at what people have written,” Ms. Nierenberg said. There are so many bricks that the library staff has a folder at the front disk with the bricks plotted on a map with numbers and names so they can be found by brick hunters.

Each brick may contain up to three lines of 20 characters. Brick orders can be made on line at the library foundation website or by calling Ms. Nierenberg at 508-693-0800.

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The Mill Pond in West Tisbury
The Mill Pond in West Tisbury. —MVTimes File Photo

ESS Group, an environmental consulting and engineering services company, submitted the only bid in response to a request for proposals to study the Mill Brook watershed, West Tisbury selectman Cynthia Mitchell told her fellow board members at their meeting on December 3. Ms. Mitchell is a member of the Mill Brook watershed planning committee that is overseeing the RFP.

The ESS bid was $45,000, considerably higher than the $30,000 allocated for the study at town meeting. Ms. Mitchell said that ESS, with offices in Waltham, Providence, and Virginia, expressed an interest in working with the town and other organizations to conduct the study within the set amount.

“ESS expressed a willingness take some of the tasks in the RFP out of the mix giving some of the tasks to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), who has looked at it and has agreed to participate,” Ms. Mitchell said. Carl Nielsen, an aquatic biologist and a vice president of ESS who met with the committee, will consider managing the MVC participation and the participation of any volunteers who might want to help with the study, she said, adding that he would be willing to work with the committee to help scale down the project to meet the monetary limits of the RFP.

“He seemed quite willing to entertain all kinds of local partnerships,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Ms. Mitchell said Sheri Caseau, MVC water resources planner, attended the committee meeting with a proposal for doing part of the work. Representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish group also attended the meeting.

Selectman Richard Knabel said that he is concerned that the project be a professional study.

“One of the non-negotiables is that the contractor would be responsible and would oversee the work of any local partner,” Ms. Mitchell said.

A similar RFP, issued last year, prompted only one response, due in part to the unspecific nature of some of the conditions and a cost limit of $15,000.

The study will look at the entire Mill Brook watershed ecosystem, including all streams and ponds, and establish baseline readings for determining the water quality and general health of the Mill Brook watershed and its impact on Tisbury Great Pond. The goal of the study is to collect data over the course of one year, from January 2015 to January 2016.

In 2012 ESS presented the results of a study of the Mill Pond, one part of the Mill Brook watershed, and submitted three options for dredging Mill Pond.The plans ranged in cost between $240,000 and $700,000.

The question of whether to dredge the Mill Pond, and the cost associated with that project, has roiled the town’s political waters for several years. There are those who want to maintain the man-made pond and its placid vista. Others want to remove the dam used to create the pond and allow the stream to return to its natural state, a change they say would enhance the spawning habitat of native fish, including herring, white perch, and eels, and allow free passage of brook trout.

The next watershed management planning committee meeting is at 5 pm, Monday, December 15, at the town library.

In other town business last Wednesday, selectmen voted unanimously to renew beer and wine licenses for two town restaurants, the Plain View at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport and State Road in North Tisbury.

Mr. Knabel noted that the town selectmen’s holiday party, a potluck, will be at the Agricultural Hall from 5 to 8 pm, on Thursday, December 11.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the next meeting of the watershed management committee would be in town hall on December 15. It will be in the town library.