Tisbury voters say yes, and yes some more
Tisbury voters agreed Tuesday to combine the town's fire, ambulance and civil defense/emergency management departments on a new site, and agreed to cooperate with Oak Bluffs over a new waste collection site.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the use of the town hall annex site for a $5 million emergency services facility (ESF), and they authorized selectmen to enter into a lease/purchase agreement with Oak Bluffs on 11 acres of land, next to the Edgartown transfer station, signaling that the two towns may soon rejoin the regional refuse district with which they parted ways years ago.
After approving the ESF site, voters agreed to borrow $640,000 to fund architectural and engineering services related to the design, planning, project management, oversight, and construction administration of the new facility.
The lease/purchase agreement for the 11-acre property will involve borrowing an amount between $500,000 and $1.2 million, depending on whether both Tisbury and Oak Bluffs participate in the deal.
Voters also voted to accept a road easement and property swap needed to allow the town to construct a connector road from Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road to State Road.
Town meeting moderator Deborah Medders began the two-and-a-half-hour meeting in the Tisbury School gym with a drawing to choose the order articles would be taken up. One hundred sixty-five voters attended, about six percent of the town's 2,643 registered voters.
The vote in favor of using the town hall annex site was 131-24. The vote was unanimous to approve the lease/purchase agreement for property near the Edgartown transfer station.
Some voters who spoke against the articles expressed concern about taking on new debt during a recession and amidst the current crisis in credit markets.
Discussion about using the town hall annex site for a new ESF for the fire, ambulance, and emergency management departments and the cost of design services generated the most emotional debate of the evening, lasting almost an hour and a half.
Prior to debate, planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson provided an eight-minute Power Point presentation outlining the need for a new facility, the criteria for a site, and the decision-making that went into the ESF committee's choice of the town hall annex site.
The selectmen, town officials, emergency services personnel, department of public works, and planning board and finance and advisory (FinCom) committee members came prepared to answer voters' questions as a cohesive unit, with presentations and handouts explaining the issues available for reading before the meeting started.
The selectmen carefully explained that article one was about approving the town hall annex site as a potential location for a new ESF, and that no plans for the facility have been created yet.
Fire Chief John Schilling and ambulance coordinator Jeffrey Pratt explained the growing needs of their departments and their satisfaction that the town hall annex site would meet those needs. They also emphasized their roles as safety professionals in ensuring the Tisbury School community about issues related to the location of the ESF near the school.
As the father of two children who attend Tisbury School, selectman Jeffrey Kristal assured voters that the school community's concerns will be addressed, as did Principal Richard Smith.
"I would just go to the mattresses if I thought they were going to cut into the playground," said Clarence "Trip" Barnes. "I also think that we should table this for a year, because I think the country's in a lot of trouble, and so are we."
Bruce Doten, who spoke against borrowing money to fund the Veterans Memorial Park project at last spring's annual town meeting, objected to approving an article requiring a Proposition 2.5 override, which will appear on the November 4 ballot, while the county is in a recession. "If we bite the bullet to give $730 billion to bail out Wall Street, that's $11,000 per household in the United States - this is not the time to do this," he said.
Patrick Phelan questioned what the real cost of the ESF would be, in relation to other municipal projects that will need to be done. "We're talking about the annex getting old, what to do with the old firehouse, what we're going to do with the new site," he said. "What we haven't talked about yet, the real question for me in looking at the whole issue, is that we don't have a cohesive plan that strings together what the real cost is over the next three to five years for bonding."
Mr. Stephenson pointed out that the Tisbury planning board recently completed a municipal needs assessment study that included cost estimates.
Town treasurer Timothy McLean added that if all of the projects recommended in the study were completed, it would cost between $15-17 million over the next 10 years. He also assured voters that despite the country's economic situation, town finances are sound.
"While this is going to be an expensive project, we are going to be rolling off debt - so it is going to be costing you money, but it's not going to be on top of debt that's already off there," Mr. McLean explained. "And it may be a good time to build, because people are going to be hungry for business out there, and we may get a better price building this building now than we do when times are normal. We really need to do this." The audience applauded.
Department of Public Works (DPW) director Fred LaPiana provided an explanation of the lease/purchase agreement. The agreement offers Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, which are joined in a solid waste municipal partnership, the opportunity to buy land critical to consolidating refuse and recycling operations Island-wide and to negotiating the terms of reentry into a regional refuse district with the other four towns.
The cost to purchase the 11 acres of land adjacent to the Martha's Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District (MVRDRRD) transfer station is $1.4 million, less lease and exercise payments, which will be credited toward the purchase price.
The terms of the lease/purchase agreement in place now are a three-year lease at a cost of about $101,000 per year, with a $100,000 exercise payment due upon exercise of the option to purchase.
Oak Bluffs and Tisbury have $406,000 available in a joint fund that accrues from a surcharge levied on a per ton basis for the purpose of maintaining the two towns' current transfer station facility in Oak Bluffs.
If the land is purchased jointly, Tisbury's share of the purchase price is $500,000, plus $203,000 already available in the joint fund. If for some reason Oak Bluffs did not share in the purchase, the article asked Tisbury voters to agree to authorize borrowing the entire amount needed for the purchase. The offer for the lease/purchase agreement's terms expires on December 31.
"We believe this is so important to Martha's Vineyard that we should take the stand at this point to make that purchase available no matter what," said FinCom member Bruce Lewellyn, adding, "We have no expectation that the town of Oak Bluffs will not join us."
In response to a voter's question about Oak Bluffs's position on the agreement, Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton, who attended the meeting, said, "The Oak Bluffs board of selectmen supports this, the FinCom is prepared to fight for it on town floor, and the voters will decide."
All of the special town meeting warrant articles were approved, with the exception of one tabled by voters at the suggestion of the planning board, regarding plans for providing alternate accommodations if a new ESF displaces town hall annex offices.