No inexpensive options
West Tisbury voters and taxpayers are in a lamentable fix. It won't be easily solved, and it won't be inexpensive.
First, as to the town hall, moving carefully but without delay to set a new plan seems sensible. Since the town defeated the $1.8 million in additional funds for the planned town hall restoration and expansion, onlookers have cast a variety of plans upon the wind. Each has a promising feature or two, but none is complete with designs, cost estimates, schedules. Common sense suggests that none of these proposed alternatives will save taxpayers much money. In the end, whatever plan is chosen, the bill will be in the millions.
More important at this stage is a carefully thought-through definition of the goal. To this page, the restoration and continued municipal use of the old Dukes County Academy building as a central focus of West Tisbury affairs ought to be a fixed objective. Sure, scrapping the addition and building some functional office space for certain municipal operations at a satellite location in town might be sensible. It might save some money, though probably not much. Without question, town offices don't need to be monuments, and some town functions could be placed elsewhere, but because West Tisbury is blessed with a monumental, though decrepit, building at its heart, the continued use of the academy building as a centerpiece of town affairs ought to be perpetuated. The key here, if townspeople agree that the beating heart of the town ought to be refreshed and continued in constructive use, is to re-charge the building committee, which has done admirable work, with the task of making a new plan and doing it quickly. Dithering costs money and rarely improves the final decision. If there are savings to be had, no matter how large, by recasting the project, let's have them, but the voters should have a new proposal before them by spring.
As to the legal and other bills associated with the William Graham tax appeal, the vast majority of voters at the November special town meeting agreed, as reasonable and responsible voters would be expected to do, that the defense of the assessors' position should be funded, even if in arrears. But paying old bills requires voters to scale a sizable hurdle, and more than 10 percent of those voting wanted no part of it.
Irritation is understandable, irresponsibility is not. There is no question but that the assessors and the selectmen have to work out a system for avoiding a repeat of this mess, and they are currently revising procedures for budgeting for legal and consulting fees. There is also no question that the elected assessors, in defending the town against the Graham appeal, acted in good faith, conscientiously, and with no intention of putting one over on voters or taxpayers, and they never envisioned putting the town in the hole. The same may be said of the selectmen. There is also no reason to believe that the attorney or the consultants employed by the assessors have set out to burn town taxpayers with unjustified charges. In fact, there is every reason to think that the attorney and the consultants have given the town good service, in response to the town's request for their help. Negotiations are underway to see if the bills can be reduced, and taxpayers have every reason to expect some success in winning concessions. But when negotiations have ended, the lawyer and the consultants ought to be paid, with no further delay. And, in addition, the assessors should be provided with the means to defend the town's position vigorously before the Appellate Tax Board.