Tisbury votes $6.8 M for ESF building
Tisbury voters, at a special town meeting Tuesday, approved borrowing funds to build a new $6.8 million emergency services facility (ESF) on Spring Street.
As they stood waiting for their votes to be counted, and as if on cue, the sound of a passing emergency vehicle's siren wailed through Tisbury School's quiet gymnasium.
The crowd burst into applause when town moderator Deborah Medders announced a two-thirds majority was achieved with 167 votes in favor and 22 against.
The approximately 18,500-square-foot multi-agency building, designed by a team from HKT Architects in Somerville, will house the town's fire, ambulance, and emergency management services departments.
Since the ESF will be built on the site across the street from Tisbury School where the town hall annex offices currently are located, voters also approved borrowing $115,000 to relocate operations such as the health department, planning board, and building and zoning office. The vote was 171-6.
In an arrangement that selectman Geoghan Coogan assured would be short-term, employees will work in rented office trailers at a Tisbury Water Department site on High Point Lane until a more permanent location is found. Both borrowing articles will require Proposition 2.5 ballot questions on whether to exclude the debt from the tax levy limit. Those questions will be answered on a special town election ballot in conjunction with the December 8 special state primary.
An article to borrow funds to install a solar photovoltaic array on the roof of the new ESF did not achieve a majority vote, so the selectmen asked for and received permission from voters to withdraw a second identical article.
Also in association with the ESF, voters authorized the hook-up of the new building and the relocated annex officers to the town's sewer system, and granted an easement for utility and phone service to the ESF.
Ms. Medders began the meeting at 7:10 pm. Unlike most Island towns, Tisbury takes up warrant articles based on a lottery drawing as a means of keeping people in their seats, and maintaining a quorum, until the end of the meeting.
Ms. Medders drew numbers out of a pitcher to determine the order in which the warrant's 20 articles would be considered. The selectmen had requested that if any of the six articles related to the ESF were drawn, all six of them would be considered as a group, starting with Article 1, which authorized the construction of the facility.
To the relief of many voters, the number for an ESF article came up as the second one, so they did not have to wait long for the meeting's main purpose.
A good sales pitch for ESF
In discussion before the vote, presentations and remarks by town officials and the ESF building committee demonstrated that they came to the meeting well prepared, anticipating likely questions.
ESF committee chairman Joe Tierney, a lieutenant in the Tisbury Fire Department, gave a detailed presentation about the project, fine-tuned over the course of several public hearings last summer and fall.
Mr. Tierney said the ESF project would impact property taxes at a rate of $17 per $100,000 of personal property value the first year only, and would decline over the next two years. By the fourth year, the ESF debt would take the place of other town debt that will be paid off and have a zero impact on the tax rate, said director of municipal finance Tim McLean.
Noting that the average median house price in Tisbury is $800,000, Mr. Coogan said the new ESF will cost the average taxpayer about $125 in the first year. As a homeowner, he said he was willing to pay that amount for such a worthwhile investment for the community.
Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling, who also served on the committee, discussed common concerns raised at the hearings about the new ESF and how they would be addressed.
The Tisbury finance and advisory committee (FinCom) provided a voter guide that highlighted the committee's strong support for the ESF project on its cover.
FinCom Vice Chair Jonathan Snyder said with interest rates so low, it is a good time for the town to borrow money. "The longer we wait, the more it will cost to build later," he said. "It's a 50-year decision and I think it's the right time to do it - and I speak for the FinCom."
Mr. McLean assured the community that although the town faces budget deficit issues next year, the ESF project involves a Proposition 2.5 override that would not affect other town department budgets.
Mr. Tierney said the lowest bid for the ESF project that came in last Friday was $5.5 million, to which the town added $550,000 as a contingency fee.
Although the warrant article called for $6.8 million, Mr. Tierney said the cost is more likely in the $6.5 million range and the town will borrow only as much as necessary.
Voter comments during the article's hour-long discussion were brief, with most in favor of the project. Echoing Mr. Snyder's remarks, former FinCom member Peter Goodale said that in terms of the project's funding and timing, now is the time to do it. "If we wait six months and interest goes up by a half a percent, we're looking at an additional half-million dollars in interest," he said.
In contrast, Margaret Wolontis, a long-time resident well-known for her outspoken criticisms of town spending, reminded everyone that the country is in a serious recession because of people who borrowed too much money. "I have a feeling the people who are planning this are living in a dream world," she said. "There are people who don't buy things if they can't afford them."
Two other articles that generated the most discussion involved affordable housing funds and a home rule petition regarding the state's statutory formula for regional school district assessments.
Article 19 asked voters to appropriate $105,000 from proceeds of the town's sale of a Lake Street apartment building to provide additional funding for the Lambert's Cove Road Affordable Housing Project.
Rachel Orr objected to giving more money to the Island Housing Trust (IHT) and Tisbury Affordable Housing Committee project, which she said already received about $250,000 from the town's community preservation act funds. She suggested giving the funds to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority instead, to shore up its rental assistance program. Ms. Medders told her that was beyond the project's scope. The article passed by a close margin, 67 to 52.
Regarding the school assessment formula article, long-time historian and library trustee James H.K. Norton offered a lengthy explanation and history of the issues, along with an amendment to correct the wording of the article, which voters approved.
They also voted to authorize the selectmen to file a home rule petition with the state legislature to allow the implementation of annual regional school district assessments based on what will be in place at the end the statutory formula's transition phase.
Voters also approved fund transfers of $27,000 for a new four-wheel drive truck for the water works department and $42,500 to develop a hydraulic model and flushing program for the Tisbury Water Works department.
Appropriations of $26,575 from a fund for repairs and restoration of town hall windows and $4,500 for a new town hall annex copy machine also were approved.
"I'm thrilled with the amount of support we had," Mr. Tierney said after the meeting ended at 9:50 pm. "It was totally a team effort by everyone involved."
The 210 voters that attended Tuesday night's meeting represented about 7 percent of the town's 2,897 registered voters.