Tisbury wraps up unwieldy warrant in one night


With town moderator Deborah Medders at the reins, Tisbury voters said yes to everything, including a $20.08 million budget, as they galloped through a 41-article town meeting warrant in two hours and twenty-four minutes Tuesday night.

At the meeting’s conclusion at 9:34 pm, Ms. Medders declared in a soft drawl reminiscent of her Texas roots, “In my tenure, this is a milestone. It is the longest warrant in terms of articles and sub-articles, and the first time y’all completed everything in one night.”

In response, voters buoyed by the unexpected one-night roundup left in a stampede.

Over the meeting’s brisk course they approved a $20.08 million fiscal year 2011 (FY11) operating budget, which includes $19.9 million in budgeted taxpayer dollars, plus a transfer of $175,000 from the reserve for sewer betterments.

Voters also approved all of the articles that would use the town’s unreserved fund balance, or “free cash,” which totals $1.02 million, including $850,000 to balance the budget or reduce the tax rate.

Ms. Medders opened the meeting at 7:10 pm, when attendance reached a quorum with at least 136 voters. In keeping with Tisbury’s lottery system for determining the order of articles, she drew numbers from a pitcher. With no remarks from the floor, Ms. Medders and the voters made short work of the first 10 articles in about 20 minutes.

From a gallop to a canter

After that, articles regarding funding for the police union contract arbitration award, passenger ferry embarkation fee expenditures, and Community Preservation Act projects slowed things down a bit.

At $225,000, the police union contract article was one of the warrant’s big ticket items. Town finance director Tim McLean explained that the amount was determined by arbitration and included $125,000 for retroactive pay for FY08, FY09, and FY10, and $100,000 for new pay rates for FY11.

Since approval of that article at town meeting also requires approval of a capital appropriation Prop. 2.5 override question on the April 27 town election ballot, Rachel Orr asked what would happen if it failed at the ballot.

“If it doesn’t pass, we’re back to square one, where we don’t want to be,” said selectman Geoghan Coogan. “We want to move forward with the police department.” Voters agreed, with only one “no” heard among the “ayes.”

An article about spending $289,994 from passenger ferry embarkation fee receipts involved separate appropriations for 13 projects recommended by a committee after reviewing requests from town departments.

The state-legislature-imposed 50-cent surcharge on one-way ferry passenger tickets is intended to mitigate the impacts of ferry service on port towns by providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, or infrastructure improvements within or around the harbor.

The police department’s request for funds to purchase a new cruiser and a Harley Davidson motorcycle raised a few questions from Craig Hockmeyer. He asked why the police department doesn’t consider leasing its vehicles instead of buying them. Acting police chief Daniel Hanavan said he had looked into a lease program and found it was not cost-effective.

Mr. Hockmeyer also suggested that rather than buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle the town should “get something with less ego attached to it.” Chief Hanavan explained that a Harley designed for first responders includes helpful equipment such as a cardiac defibrillator in the saddle bag.

Voters subsequently approved all of the projects.

Four capital exclusion items on the warrant included $120,000 for a department of public works (DPW) refuse truck, $75,000 for a generator for Tisbury School, $20,000 for painting the exterior of the Tisbury Senior Center, and $20,000 to replace the body of a DPW sander truck.

With so many vehicles in need of replacement, Elaine Miller asked whether the town has a structured plan. Mr. LaPiana said Tisbury has a capital program, which the FinCom oversees very strictly. “We repair before we replace,” he added.

Voters said yes to all of the items, which also require approval of Prop. 2.5 override ballot questions at town election on April 27. In addition to five override questions, the town election ballot also will include a yes or no question on whether Tisbury should grant licenses for selling beer and wine in restaurants and inns. Voters also will elect town officers at the polls at the American Legion Hall.

Appropriations from Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds totaling $593,655 were approved for 11 projects, as recommended by a town committee. The funds come from a three-percent surtax on property taxes and are matched by the State at a percentage determined by the amount of local CPA and State registry collections, about 30 percent to date for FY10.

Since the Tashmoo Spring Building’s restoration has been on the list for several years, Peter Goodale questioned its status. Assistant town administrator Aase Jones, who serves on the preservation committee, said $427,000 has been spent on exterior work and the next phase will target the interior, which she estimated would cost another $150,000 to finish.

Voters also approved entering a two-year agreement with the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club to exchange use of a town-owned parcel at end of Owen Little Way, with a comparable sized parcel owned by the yacht club to improve a public swimming area, and to appropriate $5,000 from free cash for potential legal fees.

Rounding up the rest

Among many “free cash” article requests, voters said yes to funding $3,000 for tree removal already completed on Thomas and Ginny Payette’s property to preserve the Tashmoo overlook; $7,185 for three computers and related equipment for public use at the library; $15,000 to study town government structure; and $10,000 to repair the drainage outfall at Owen Little Way.

Although voters agreed to pay Tisbury’s share of the Vineyard Health Care Access programs and the county’s pest control program, selectman Jeff Kristal questioned the usefulness of the latter.

“What happens if we don’t approve it?” he asked.

“You get more rats,” a man responded from the back of the gym.

Dukes County executive manager Russell Smith said it would cost the town $4,000 for a private vendor to treat the Tisbury School, while the county program cost $300. Board of Health member Jim Pringle said Tisbury does use the rodent control program and gets its “bang for the buck.”

Voters also approved Tisbury’s share of the cost, $3,604, to participate in a county-wide reverse E-911 system for emergency notifications to town residents, provided all six Island towns agree to join and pay their share.

In discussion about the town’s classification plan for full-time managerial and professional employees, Board of Public Works Commissioner Dave Ferraguzzi objected to the personnel board’s addition of two new salary steps, M-10 for the police chief, and M-11 for the town administrator.

In the past he said the police chief was included with the finance director and public works director at M-9 and with the new step would now outrank them. He suggested all three positions should be moved up a step.

With no one from the personnel board available, town administrator John Bugbee provided the explanation that the new steps were added as the result of a salary survey done a few years ago that showed Tisbury’s pay scale was low for the town administrator and police chief.

Voters also agreed to a request from Marilyn Wortman on behalf of the Vineyard Haven Library trustees that the position of library aide/part-time substitute be moved up a tier on the classification plan for non-union, part-time, seasonal and temporary employees.

Given that this was the first year Tisbury Water Works switched over to a newly created water enterprise fund overseen by the town, water commissioner David Schwab thanked town accountant Suzanne Kennedy and Mr. McLean for “making it a painless process.”

According to check-in counts, 180 attended Tuesday’s meeting, which is about 6 percent of the town’s 2,902 registered voters.