For Tisbury voters, the third night turns out to be the charm
It took three long nights for Tisbury voters to conclude their annual town meeting that began last week on Tuesday and ended just before midnight Thursday. Over the course of the three-night meeting, they trimmed about $40,000 from the town's operating budget for fiscal year 2008, bringing it in at about $18.4 million.
Voters turned down a borrowing article for $1.6 million to purchase 1.5 acres of land adjacent to the Oak Grove Cemetery on which to build a new emergency services facility (ESF) to house the fire department, ambulance service, and emergency management services.
Spending articles approved totaled $930,174. In addition, $561,000 in community preservation funds were allocated for the first time.
Voters did agree to allow the selectmen to petition the state legislature for legislation that would authorize the town to grant restaurants a license to sell beer and wine. If the legislature agrees, voters will have the final say when the legislation allowing for the granting of licenses appears on the town ballot at the next annual election in April 2008.
Voters rejected an article intended to begin the process of creating an Island-wide energy District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) "to mitigate the environmental impact of energy use in new or renovated structures, and to foster Island energy independence." The energy DCPC would fall under the superseding authority of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), the Island's powerful land use regulatory body.
Throughout the three evenings, voters closely questioned town officials repeatedly and discussed many of the warrant's 35 articles in painstaking detail, under the guidance of town moderator Deborah Medders.
This year, the Tisbury selectmen and Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom) placed all articles that involved expenditures of more than $10,000 into Proposition 2.5 overrides. Those articles appear on warrant as well as the town election ballot on April 24.
Override articles approved the second night of town meeting included $130,000 for the purchase of a new ambulance and $50,000 to fund engineering, surveying and legal expenses for a connector road between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and State roads. Voters also agreed to create the position of a full-time fire chief, which will cost $35,305 in addition to the $17,500 stipend already allocated in the fire department's budget.
Voters did not agree with all of the recommendations from the selectmen on how to spend some $97,000 in passenger ferry embarkation revenues, which are intended to mitigate the effects of ferry traffic. They turned down a request to spend $21,200 for ambulance department equipment, after ambulance director Jeff Pratt said it could be postponed to next year. Instead, they amended a capital appropriations article so that $25,000 to fund the dredging of Tisbury's inner harbor will be taken from embarkation fee revenues instead.
Voters did approve a request for $41,000 for the Tisbury Police Department, including $30,000 to purchase and equip one new police vehicle. They also agreed to allocate $35,000 to pave and re-stripe Water Street.
Town meeting attendance started with 332 on the first night, dropping to 249 the second night. On the third night, 225 voters braved a cold, rainy night to return, knowing the numbers for articles pertaining to beer and wine, the ESF property purchase, and the energy DCPC were yet to be picked in Tisbury's lottery system. As the evening unfolded, those three issues sparked some interesting comments.
Energy DCPC, Act 3, scene 1
Voters rejected an amendment to the energy DCPC article submitted by John Best, Tisbury's former MVC commissioner, which called for naming three Tisbury members to an Island-wide committee to study the implications of forming an energy DCPC. Several voters expressed their concerns about possible restrictions, including a building moratorium during the MVC process.
"I've had dealings with the MVC and DCPC's, and once you form a DCPC, it's forever. You'd better be darn sure if you send anything to the MVC with the word DCPC in it." Daniel Feeney, lieutenant, Tisbury fire department
"A DCPC is a very strong commitment, a strong approach, all for a committee to recommend ways to save energy - I don't support this." Judy Federowicz, real estate agent
"I don't think we need this - the state code for energy conservation in new houses is very strict." Dave Willoughby, contractor and Tisbury FinCom member
"If you approve anything that gets us a DCPC, you'll pay a lot more." John Jones, contractor.
The article was defeated in a voice vote.
Fire station property,
Act 3, scene 2
Voters balked at the $1.65 million price tag for purchasing property next to Oak Grove cemetery for a new emergency services facility (ESF). Many questioned why the facility would not be built on town-owned property next to the department of public works.
Planning board member Henry Stephenson explained that the High Point Lane site was ruled out by the ESF committee because it requires a lot of turns for equipment to get out onto State Road and grading issues may be costly. With the focus on economy, some voters raised the dreaded "R" word - regionalization.
"It's going to cost me $1.75 million because you don't want the fire truck to make two quick turns to get to State Road? Before we start talking about building a $5 million fire station and hiring a full-time fire chief, maybe we should take steps towards the road to regionalization." Peter Duart.
"Maybe the time is now, when we have the flexibility, to look to regionalization...Maybe an area up near the airport would be freer of traffic." Sonya Norton.
"I keep coming back to the extra million bucks - I think High Point will work, and I'm willing to take that chance." Dave Ferraguzzi, public works commissioner.
"If someone says there's an advantage to being on State Road, I don't know where they've been in the summer." Margaret Wolonis.
"The reality is we're looking at spending $7 million on a new fire station, and even without the property, $3 to 4 million...maybe you better take a look at the prices you're paying for groceries and gasoline before you complain about the little bit your taxes have gone up. We do need a station." Selectman Tom Pachico.
The borrowing article failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required, at 121 for and 83 against.
Beer and Wine, Act 3, finale
At 10 pm the beer and wine article finally bubbled up. Despite the fact no one would be voting on the actual issue of allowing beer and wine - just the legislative process to put it on the ballot next year - discussion lasted for an hour and forty minutes.
"The quality of life is the issue here." Nat Benjamin, co-owner of Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway.
"I can't tell you how many people a day come in and ask where to get a glass of wine.... I'm a business owner and I'm losing business to other towns." Amy Levine, owner of It's in the Bag.
"We have an unlicensed, unregulated, untrained wet town. This is not going to change the character of the town." John Jones, Tisbury beer and wine review committee member.
"I carry the liability - people come in with coolers, and I'm liable. I can't buy insurance without a liquor license.... If I can get $6 for a beer, maybe I wouldn't have to get $44 for my entrée." Leslie Hewson, co-owner, Mediterranean Restaurant.
"Three-fourths of the people who live in this town live here because of it being dry - this will be the camel's nose in the tent." Shirley Kennedy.
Voters agreed 120 to 77 in favor of allowing the beer and wine question to appear on the town ballot next year.
As weary Tisbury residents left at the meeting's end, several were still chuckling over an exchange between Police Chief John Cashin and planning board chairman Tony Peak.
Looking at the chief's request for funds from the embarkation fee revenues, Mr. Peak asked, "What's an Island containment team?"
"I'm sorry, Tony - I just made that up," Chief Cashin responded. "I figured it would be late, you would all be tired - I'd just slip that in...."
One voter said with a laugh, "They should have put the chief in charge of the whole thing."