Tisbury slogs on into second night
Tisbury voters had long memories and sharp pencils at their annual town meeting Tuesday night, challenging town officials about expenditures ranging from color printers to sidewalks to boat motors. After inching through 10 of 35 warrant articles in about 3 hours, everyone agreed - although some reluctantly - to call it quits and come back Wednesday night.
An update on the results of last night's continuation are available at www.mvtimes.com.
As a popular saying goes, "It's not over till it's over." Town moderator Deborah Medders reminded the voters at the meeting's beginning that articles could be reconsidered up until the time the meeting officially closed, regardless of whether they had been voted on or whether the meeting ran longer than one night.
With that said, Selectman Tristan Israel explained to voters that due to concerns about spending, the selectmen and Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom) decided to put spending articles over $10,000 into 14 overrides. "We wanted to give voters a chance to make value judgments," Mr. Israel said.
Voters took him at his word, asking for explanations for almost all of the 15 capital appropriation items under article four. Paraphrasing a quote from Chief Justice John Marshall in 1819, Hubert Knipmeyer reminded his fellow voters, "The power of taxation is the power to destroy." He urged them to "think carefully about every expenditure you do."
Voters voted no on appropriations for exterior repairs and painting the police station, reconstructing William Street from Church to Woodlawn Streets, and constructing a sidewalk on Franklin Street from Fairfield Avenue to Holly Tree Lane.
They did agree to new sidewalks on William Street, a copy machine and computer equipment for town hall, and a color printer for town hall annex, to name a few. After an eloquent appeal from assistant town administrator Aase Jones for replacing drafty windows in town hall, voters agreed to add $5,000 to an already established window replacement fund.
Harbormaster Jay Wilbur underwent a grilling about his requests, especially one to purchase navigational aids. "Every year there's an article for buoys and aids - what happens to the old ones?" asked FinCom member Dave Willoughby. Mr. Wilbur assured everyone this would probably be the last time for several years that he would be requesting funds, as he has started a replacement program using stationary aids.
During one of the lengthiest discussion periods regarding Community Preservation fund expenditures, voters challenged a few of the Community Preservation Committee's (CPC) decisions. The CPC recommended eight projects to receive $561,000 from funds collected in 2006 from a three percent real estate tax surcharge, matched by the state. This being Tisbury's first year to allocate the funds, CPC chairman Bob Wheeler explained how the committee made its decisions.
However, voters made it clear they were not happy with the committee's decision to bypass repairs needed at town hall, especially window replacement. Tisbury Water Works employee John Peipon disagreed with the committee's decision to spend money on restoring the Tashmoo Spring Building. Familiar with the building from working around it for nine years, Mr. Peipon warned, "This is the tip of the iceberg - I'd rather see you spend the money on something else."
The last article tackled, which asked for approval of the town's fiscal year 2008 operating budget of $18.4 million, brought a few surprises. Mr. Israel revisited an issue over water department salaries, which has been simmering since town meeting last year.
Mr. Israel reminded voters that the selectmen had concerns last year over five-year contracts signed between the water department commissioners and the water superintendent and assistant superintendent.
The contracts, which the selectmen said at last year's town meeting they did not know about, granted to the two employees, who work half-time for Tisbury and half-time for Oak Bluffs, higher salaries and better benefits.
Mr. Israel proposed amending the salary line in the water department budget to reduce it by $38,240.64 and the fixed expense line item by $3,200.40. He said he evaluated comparable salaries, and that the town's M-7 salary scale at $78,759.36 was more appropriate than the $117,000 budgeted for the superintendent and assistant superintendent positions.
Although approved, the vote raises many questions about how the issue will be resolved. The water commissioners said they consulted their own attorney about the contracts and stand behind them. Several voters raised concerns about possible litigation.
In other budget actions, voters agreed to an amendment to the emergency management (EM) budget. Assistant fire chief Jim Rogers proposed increasing the salary for EM director Richard Townes from $250 to $2,000 because of the increased responsibilities Mr. Townes has been handling since the events of 9-11.
The best news of the evening came from Council of Aging director Joyce Stiles, who asked to reduce her budget by $492, because she had discovered she made a mistake in the math. She received a round of applause.
Voters numbered 378 a few minutes before the meeting's start at 7:49 pm, which represents about 14.7 percent of the town's 2,563 registered voters.