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Housing policies are centerpiece in Chilmark selectmen's race
Chilmark voters who go to the polls Wednesday will be asked to decide between two candidates in a race for one seat on the three-member Chilmark board of selectmen. Frank Fenner, incumbent and board chairman, faces a challenge by Steve Gallas, a member of the affordable housing committee and volunteer fire department.
Please describe yourself and your involvement with the community.
Frank Fenner. MV Times file photo
Frank Fenner: In the past, I have been involved with a number of Chilmark and Island-wide groups. I have twice served on the town finance committee and once on the All Island finance committee. I have also sat on the Chilmark Community Center winter committee, the town affairs committee, the town association, the Martha's Vineyard Refuse District, the board of appeals, and served as selectman for one and one half terms.
Steve Gallas: I have been bouncing down Chilmark's dirt roads for over 16 years, lived at seven different Chilmark addresses; I've become adept at navigating the back roads and knowing the difference between a puddle and problem, when to give way and to always smile and wave a thank you. Chilmark has been good to me, supported my business, and provided me with a place to call home. It is a part of my character that no good deed should go unpunished, so I try to give back to the town. As a cemetery commissioner, I learned that people take comfort in knowing where they will spend their future; as a firefighter, I train to respond to emergencies calmly in an organized manner, to preserve life, property and environment; as a member of the housing committee, I studied the town's history, demographics, and worked on town by-laws, attended hundreds of meetings, spoke at town meeting, and in 2005, as part of the team that got Chilmark's first housing project passed at town meeting. And later that year at town meeting, I presented a state law to allow Chilmark firefighters to buy health insurance through the town, which was passed. I believe that with imagination, perseverance, and a good attitude, all things are possible.
Steve Gallas. Photo by Mae Deary
Why are you running?
Mr. Fenner: I have a great love and respect for the town of Chilmark, and I look at this as an opportunity to give back to my community. I have a long heritage in Chilmark, and I respect the fact that some of my ancestors worked hard for this town and left me a wonderful place to live. I hope I can help to do the same for those who follow.
Mr. Gallas: I believe that conviction without action is of no practical value. Also, frustration that after serving six years on the housing committee, and hundreds of meetings, zoning by-law changes, land use changes, ultimately concluding with the June 2005 special town meeting, which voted overwhelmingly to proceed with the Middle Line project, my opponent has only found obstacles and stalled the Middle Line project.
The town attorney recently gave advice regarding legal and procedural concerns in connection with the Middle Line Road affordable housing project, primarily the use of CPA funds. In your view, what are the next steps the town should take?
Mr. Fenner: First, I would like to say the headline in the April 13 issue of The Times, "Chilmark housing project falters," worried me, but after reading it, I thought the story did a good job of pointing out and explaining some of the issues and background.
Mr. Gallas: The selectmen and the Middle Line subcommittee should accept the proposal from the Island Housing Trust for developing Middle Line road. The design is what the town passed overwhelmingly at the 2005 special town meeting in June. Towns all over the state have, and several towns on the Island including Edgartown, are using CPA funds. Like Chilmark's proposal, they use non-profit developers, CPA funding and often mix rentals and home ownership, for different income levels. Firefighters, EMTs, police, teachers and nurses need housing now. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be.
Under the current Middle Line proposal, monthly rent for one person for a one-bedroom apartment ranges between $1,024 (income limit of $40,960) and $1,920 (income limit of $76,800). House sale prices range from $146,700 to $288,900, respectively. Are these really affordable? If not, would you describe a better way to provide affordable housing in Chilmark?
Mr. Fenner: No, I do not feel these are affordable rents. I have questioned many costs built into the construction of the project.
Mr. Gallas: Affordable, as defined as 30-percent of income, yes. Rental and home prices in Chilmark are determined by vacation home buyers and by vacationers who are able to spend several times more than a working family, making Martha's Vineyard's housing costs 80 percent higher than the state average.
Please respond to the charge that the selectmen are slowing efforts to develop affordable housing and the Middle Line Road project.
Mr. Fenner: The town voted this project, which charges the selectmen with the job of completing this project. We will do that, but we are also responsible to the town that it is done in the correct manner and is usable, in the end, for the purpose the town voted.
Please describe why you think that the selectmen are slowing efforts to develop affordable housing/Middle Line Road, and what you would do differently if elected.
Mr. Gallas: Let me qualify the question to read, "two of the selectmen." Perhaps they believe much like the present administration in Washington that it is not government's function to help working people; perhaps they see the CPA funds being used for other purposes in town.
Please describe some other town issues you think are important and need to be addressed.
Mr. Fenner: Menemsha Harbor is a gem, and I want to do what we can to preserve its character and continue its fishing heritage. The fishing fleets have intense regulations, and there are less and less outlets where fishermen can sell their catch.
Mr. Gallas: They include: coordinated long term planning between all town departments; housing for the elderly; increased public education in areas of health and safety; promoting town sponsored legislation that would provide property tax relief for town residents who wish their property to remain in their family forever; and making emergency medical service a priority to assure that anyone who needs to get to the hospital gets there in time.