Chilmark votes $6 million for FY2008; and $50,000-plus for shellfish effort
Chilmark voters agreed Monday to a $6.04 million fiscal 2008 town budget. They also created a shellfish advisory council to counsel the selectmen on the ways of bivalves in the town ponds. The fortunes of those quahogs, scallops, mussels, and oysters will be put in the hands of a $50,000-a-year professional shellfish propagation agent, whose job voters created.
The budget, up just $166,498, or 2.83 percent, over the current year, will probably rise slightly, because the figure for Chilmark's contribution to the regional high school budget is likely to rise. So far, one town, Oak Bluffs, has declined to go along with the formula built into the regional agreement for apportioning costs among the towns. Oak Bluffs voters preferred the new, state formula, which would reduce their town's regional assessment significantly. Oak Bluffs's decision means that the new formula will apply, and assessments in four of the other five towns will rise, including Chilmark's. Aquinnah's assessment would likely decline under the new formula.
Voters return to the community center on Wednesday from noon to 8 pm to elect town officers. The only contest is for a three-year term on the board of selectmen.
Voters attended in modest numbers, just 163 out of 820 registered, about 20 percent, and moved quickly through the mostly uncontroversial annual warrant. Most of the non-budget appropriations were made from available funds in several rainy day accounts, such as the reserve fund, the general stabilization fund, or the fire department stabilization fund. Voters approved spending $120,000 from available funds and another $6,000 from the fire department fund to pay for a new brush breaker fire truck that has been in the planning stages for several years, as the price of the equipment rose. The fire department's current brushbreaker is vintage 1977.
Fire Chief David Norton told the meeting that the brushbreaker's price has risen partly because of changing specifications and equipment, including a foam fire suppression system, which will greatly assist firefighters in remote Chilmark locations where surface water or water tanks are unavailable. In answer to a question about the threat the foam might pose to the environment, Chief Norton said he thought the environmental threat, if any, would be greatly offset by the fire department's enhanced ability to put a house fire out.
Selectman Frank Fenner told the voters that a new manager at the regional refuse district had improved the district's efficiency and lowered its costs. And the FY2008 budget shows a $35,000 decline in the charges to Chilmark by the waste district. Mr. Fenner also said negotiations are underway that may lead to Tisbury and Oak Bluffs rejoining the district, which now includes just the three up-Island towns and Edgartown. He said the district is also discussing the purchase of 11 acres next to its headquarters on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road near the airport. Mr. Fenner said the additional acreage is needed for expansion.
Voters turned aside an effort by the selectmen to begin a regular process of reviewing and perhaps redefining a commercial fisherman each fall. The definition is key to the awarding of certain rights and privileges, such as low-cost leases for the shacks along the east and west sides of the basin, as well as reduced fees for these facilities. The selectmen said that the current definition, which requires that a qualifying commercial fishermen get 40 percent of his or her annual income from fisherman might not fit all of those who enjoy these privileges today, and adjusting the definition annually after hearing from interested townspeople might make it possible to keep up with changes in the fishing industry and federal and state rules.
The fishermen at the meeting said, essentially, leave it alone, and the voters agreed. Jonathan Mayhew, who runs a dragger in the winter and a swordfisherman in the summer, said the current definition suited him, and he added that he thought the selectmen were proposing the new definition system on the theory that "you'll be smarter in September than you are tonight," which he obviously doubted.
Pam Goff, the former selectman who had herself for years wrestled with accommodating the definition of a commercial fisherman to the real thing, urged voters to leave the definition as it was agreed to at town meeting in 1996. The proposal was indefinitely postponed.
Jay Lagemann objected to the proposal to hire a shellfish propagation agent, on grounds that the likelihood was small that investing significant sums in the shellfish production of the several town ponds would yield a significant return on the investment. But selectman Warren Doty, a fish buyer himself, said the investment was likely to prove rewarding on three counts: that it would improve the harvest for commercial fishermen, a species that the town broadly supports; that it would also improve the harvest for recreational shellfishermen; and that it would likely improve the water quality in the ponds. Voters agreed.
Also postponed was a proposal to amend the personnel bylaws to describe the system under which the performance of each town employee would by reviewed each year. Norman Freed asked for the personnel committee to come back with a more comprehensive rewrite of personnel policies and the review standards, leaving the critical judgments on an employee's performance to the immediate appointing authority.
Voters approved a proposal, with an amendment, that the selectmen name three representatives to an Island-wide group to draft an energy district of critical planning concern nomination to the Martha's Vineyard Commission. The warrant article requires that the three town representatives return to a Chilmark town meeting with whatever guidelines and regulations are proposed before sending a nomination to the MVC. The amendment, proposed by Frank Yeomans, requires that the three representatives include in their report to town voters an analysis of the costs and benefits of the proposed district for home and business owners, the town, the school, and taxpayers. A proposal by Lenny Jason to indefinitely postpone the energy district article was rejected in a standing vote.