Oak Bluffs says no to waste plant
A mass of voters wearing yellow smiley face stickers and holding equally vivid voting cards packed the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center Tuesday night to tackle special and annual town meeting warrants.
Voters defeated a motion to begin building a small wastewater treatment plant at the high school.
And they approved an amended version of the article containing the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) assessment, forcing Island towns to use the state's new, so called wealth-based formula. The move will save Oak Bluffs more than $400,000.
But, when the meeting ended, the work wasn't done, and voters had to reconvene last evening to confront the remaining articles on the annual warrant.
According to the official count, 355 Oak Bluffs voters signed in Tuesday to decide articles ranging from school funding to wastewater.
After a lengthy debate, voters approved expansion and upgrades at Veira Park, and, in the closest vote of the night, agreed to recommend creation of an Island-wide advisory group to create an energy District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC).
Special town meeting first
After the first two articles on the special town meeting warrant were postponed indefinitely, voters wrangled for nearly an hour over whether to begin the design process for a small regional wastewater plant on MVRHS property, which would serve Community Services, Woodside Village, the YMCA, the High School and the nearby resident homesite property.
After a lengthy debate and an amendment presented by Mimi Davisson, the tally was 151-103, short of the two-thirds needed to pass.
The article, as written, asked voters to appropriate $350,000 to begin the design and engineering of the plant, which would be paid back by the users.
Ms. Davisson proposed an amendment, which was passed, adding language stating that all parties must enter into a written agreement to pay back the town, before any money is spent.
Russell Wendt read a lengthy prepared statement that moderator David Richardson categorized as an "articulate and broad-based attack." Mr. Wendt said the town does not need another wastewater plant, the location was hastily chosen, and that, "we as taxpayers must put our foot down and say no."
Wastewater plant manager Joe Alosso said the town missed a good chance to build a plant that will be constructed at the high school at some point in the future anyway, and that the other organizations that would benefit, including the YMCA, Friends of Sengekontacket, and Community Services, should have supported the article.
"There's a whole conservation end of this that is just being overlooked for fear of where a location might be. And I think a real opportunity was missed," Mr. Alosso said. "I'm extremely disappointed."
The special town meeting moved swiftly from there, until hitting a sticking point at article 10, which asked voters to approve $700,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for eight separate projects.
More than 10 voters lined up at two microphones to speak for and against giving $200,000 of that money to Vineyard Baseball to expand the facilities at Veira Park to include two fields, a concession stand and parking lot.
Abutters Gail Barmakian and Ann Margetson spoke against the project, lamenting that the expanded park would bring additional noise and that Oak Bluffs is once again forced to foot the bill for an Island-wide organization.
Michael Bettencourt, Jamie McNeely, and Tim Dobel all spoke in favor of the project, saying it would allow the Little League to hold tournament-style play, and draw more spectators to the games.
After the lengthy discussion, the project was easily passed, along with the other recommendations in article 10, which gave money toward restoring Hartford Park and to the Boardwalk to Beach Taskforce.
Voters breezed through articles approving the installation of new software for the Ambulance Department, and using $20,000 from the Stabilization Fund to pay for a classification and compensation study.
Annual town meeting second
At the end of the special town meeting, which concluded around 9:45 pm, a swarm of voters left. Right off the bat voters approved six identical articles that cured a flaw in the title in a handful of resident homesite properties.
A vote on whether to appoint three representatives to an Island-wide advisory group, with the purpose of forming an Island-wide energy DCPC that would fall under the superseding authority of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), sparked some debate. The article passed in the closest vote of the night, 95-92.
MVC member Richard Toole spoke in favor of the article and responded to many residents who said they felt uncomfortable with the MVC limiting their energy use.
"Rather than have Big Brother impose restrictions on my energy use, I'd rather see a campaign to promote conservation," said one resident, echoed by another who said, "I don't need the MVC to tell me what to do."
The article is non-binding and the selectmen now have the duty of appointing three members to the advisory board. All five selectmen stood in support of the article.
Voters waded into the treacherous waters of the high school assessment question late Tuesday night, which kept them talking until nearly 11:30 pm. In a 107-72 vote, voters approved an amended warrant article for $2,597,764 for the MVRHS assessment. Selectman chairman Duncan Ross and selectman Greg Coogan abstained, while the remaining selectmen, Kerry Scott, Roger Wey, and Ron DiOrio, voted against the motion.
Town administrator Michael Dutton said the vote essentially rejects the high school budget, and all but forces the school committee to go back and re-do the assessment according to the statutory formula.
Oak Bluffs now has a levy capacity $400,000 higher, Mr. Dutton said, and he expects representatives from the Oak Bluffs School to request that the cuts made to their budget be restored.
The close vote brought supporters on either end, and in an uncommon move, the town voted in favor of allowing a Tisbury resident, Philip Combra, to speak for two minutes on the issue. Tisbury stands to loose about $220,000 under the statutory formula.
But the voters kept Mr. Combra under close watch. Linda Marinelli, a member of the board of health and an outspoken advocate for the town, yelled out "one minute" when his time was half up, and was prompt on the two-minute mark as well.
To no avail, Mr. Combra encouraged Oak Bluffs to reason with their Island neighbors, and stick with the current per-pupil formula.