Saving and spending conflict in West Tisbury
Requests for spending and efforts to save confronted the West Tisbury selectmen at their meeting on November 4.
However, before getting down to business, selectman Richard Knabel, presiding in the absence of chairman Dianne Powers, noted that due to the rebuilding of the structure this meeting marked the first time in several years that the sessions could be held in town hall.
The selectmen then heard that Howes House needs a new well and water pump, according to plumber Bill Haynes, as well as Joyce Bowker, director of the Council on Aging that is headquartered in Howes House. Although there is water coming into Howes House now, according to Mr. Hayes, "it is not a question of if the system will fail, but when."
The selectmen were told that the well at the library is big enough and amply protected to connect Howes House to that system for water. A 350-foot-long trench needs to be dug from the Library to connect to Howes House, at a cost estimated at $4,500.
Mr. Hayes added, "If the system fails in July, it's no big deal, but if it happens in January it could close down Howes House for a while."
Ms. Bowker added, "If the well fails we are out of business."
Selectmen Skipper Manter said that there is no money currently to do the work and that it should be a warrant article on the April town meeting agenda.
Executive secretary Jennifer Rand updated the selectmen on her progress in identifying a vendor to develop and administer a plan to store on microfilm the records the town is required to keep in perpetuity. According to Ms. Rand, since she began the process of finding a vendor in 2007, the cost estimate she has received recently has been greatly reduced.
"It is under $20,000, more like between $15,000 and $18,000 and it could even come in at $13,000," she said.
According to Mr. Knabel, there is now a 20-foot row of storage boxes that climbs five to six feet high in the basement of the town hall. Saying "the time is right," Ms. Rand commented that assessors records are required to be kept forever and "microfilm is considered to be forever."
The selectmen approved Ms. Rand's request to put the proposed expenditure on the spring town meeting agenda. Ms. Rand reported that she will put out a request for proposals (RFP) right away. The town meeting request will be for the actual cost, as detailed in the bids she receives, "up to $20,000."
Ms. Rand also reported that all town departments will get budget documents by November 9, to be completed and returned by December 15, with a "spend as little as humanly possible message."
According to Ms. Rand, last year the selectmen decided that there would be no new hires. Mr. Knabel added that the selectmen also told town departments that they were not to increase hours worked. And, Ms. Rand said, "We want to do that again this year."
Ms. Rand also sought advice from the selectmen - and members of the audience volunteered ideas also - about ways the town might make use of an available Commonwealth Renewable Energy Trust grant for $8,562. Ms. Rand explained that the amount is too small to undertake a major project and can only be used for alternative energy projects but, as Mr. Manter commented, "We would hate to not spend that money." The application deadline is November 30. Among the ideas suggested were replacing the speed light at the West Tisbury School on Old County Road or solar lights for the school parking lot. Ms. Rand said that she would talk to the school about how they might take advantage of the grant.
The selectmen discussed the request of the planning board for a letter of support to be presented to the town's finance committee, as the request is made for funding to hire a consultant to rewrite the portion of the town's bylaws governing wireless communication systems. Ms. Rand reported that the consultant cost was estimated at $5,000 for the rewrite of the bylaw. Mr. Manter asked if the bylaw rewrite could be accomplished by copying the revised bylaw of another town or towns. Ms. Rand explained that "the planning board staff does not feel that it has the expertise to even take some one else's bylaws." Mr. Manter opposed the expense.
Virginia Jones, a member of the planning board in the audience, told the selectmen that the nine-page section of the town's zoning bylaws covering telecommunications needs to become more flexible, to cover current and future technology and be consistent throughout. Ms. Jones suggested that the cost of the consultant could be recovered from fees paid to the town by companies applying to be carriers.
Mr. Knabel said, "This needs doing," adding that the current bylaw language is "indefensible." Building Inspector Ernest Mendenhall added, "As someone who has to enforce the bylaws, I urge you to rewrite the bylaws."
Mr. Knabel mentioned that if the planning board received approval from the finance committee to undertake the rewrite now, the change in bylaws could be decided at the spring town meeting. A delay in the process may put off the rewrite for another year, he explained. However, with disagreement regarding the expense from Mr. Manter, and in the absence of Ms. Powers, the selectmen did not agree to a letter of support.
Mr. Manter called the Island Affordable Housing Fund's (IAHF) announcement of the need to halt its rental assistance program as of Dec.1 a "shocker." Mr. Mendenhall, the West Tisbury representative on the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority Board, reported that 45 families on the Island will be affected by the IAHF announcement, although it was not known how many of those families, if any, are in West Tisbury.