Chilmark votes $6.8 million budget, rejects turbine moratorium


Chilmark voters were not at all troubled Monday evening by their $6.8 million fiscal 2011 operating budget. They approved it in a breezy voice vote.

The fiscal year (FY) 2011 budget is 2.64 percent bigger than 2010, which ends June 30. It includes no cost of living adjustments but provides pay raises for town employees, based on an eight-step compensation plan.

The budgets of several departments will decrease, because veteran employees at higher pay grades will leave. General government and public safety costs will shrink slightly

Education will cost $2,383,600, up 3.69 percent compared with the current year’s spending. Chilmark’s share of the Up-Island Regional School District budget is $1,896,019, including the cost of the Chilmark School, $637,095.

Total human services, including the board of health and council on aging, will increase by 5.07 percent to $166,252.

The largest budget increase is in employee benefits and insurance costs, up by $68,294, or 8.32 percent, to $889,583.

Voters filled up the reserve fund, the general stabilization fund, and the fire department stabilization fund.

Moving to save a penny where they might, voters even appropriated $30,000 to fund the costs of anticipated bonding for the three affordable housing rental duplex units in the town’s multi-million dollar Middle Line Road low-income housing project. This was a move to avoid adding the fees associated with the borrowing to the principal to be repaid.

Results of Wednesday’s town election will be posted at as soon as they are available.

[10 pm, Wednesday: In the race for a seat on the board of selectmen, Jonathan Mayhew received 245 votes. William Rossi received 181 votes]

It was the two questions on the special town meeting warrant that ignited the familiar, family-like, kitchen table debate that dominated the evening. Each needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Neither got it.

Voters rejected 71 yes, 77 no, a proposal from a divided town planning board, but approved by the town finance committee, that would have suspended until after next year’s annual meeting the authority of the zoning board of appeals to consider applications for a special permit to construct a windmill.

Opponents of the proposal charged that it was unnecessary. Chris Murphy called it a “slap in the face” directed at wind turbine enthusiasts.

Planning board member Bill Meegan said nothing like a year was needed to develop new, comprehensive rules for the zoning board to use in considering wind turbine applications. “We can get this done. I can bang this out in a month. We don’t need a moratorium,” he said.

Mr. Meegan’s colleague Tim Lasker concurred. He said the zoning board is already approaching such applications aggressively, using the existing, limited zoning rules to protect abutters’ enjoyment of their property, even before new, more comprehensive rules can be adopted. He urged the town to move quickly to develop new rules and to embrace the new, alternative energy initiatives, now in their infant stages technologically, but certain to change and improve.

Janet Wiedner, chairman of the planning board, argued that although her group had spent a great deal of times on issues having to do with turbines, more research and consideration is needed. She said the planners hope to establish a sub-committee to study the many issues and report to the board before the year is out with recommendations that might be adopted at the 2011 town meeting.

Andy Goldman, prominent among Chilmarkers who have objected to state proposals to locate industrial wind energy installations in Dukes County waters and anxious for decision making over such plans to be vested in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, urged voters to agree to the moratorium. But, he said his view and the views of others who supported the moratorium are neither “anti-wind” nor “pro-wind.”

Frank Fenner, a selectman, told voters that the town is blessed with long, wonderful viewsheds, with which wind turbines might be expected to interfere, if carefully constructed zoning rules were not in place. He said the turbines might disturb many Chilmarkers while benefiting few.

The second special town meeting question proposed that resident homesite lots might be transferred from a income-qualified recipient to his or her spouse, or their children, even if neither spouse nor children met the low income requirements. The proposal failed 83 yes, 77 no.

Mr. Fenner, a strenuous supporter of the proposal, urged voters to consider the effect on Chilmark families who, because of the death of a qualified spouse, or divorce, or death of both parents, would be forced to leave a house in which they’ve lived for years. His argument was that these were not merely homesite “recipients” but “Chilmark families” and neighbors.

Two such families served to make the selectman’s point. Mary Boyd, born in Chilmark and a schoolteacher, argued that the young people who build on a homesite, such as she and her husband have, make a commitment to the town and ask, in return, for the right to continue to own their house and leave it to their children. Ms. Boyd’s father, Christopher Murphy, supported his daughter.

Sheila Muldaur, also a teacher and a Chilmark voter, had the same view. She also argued that these were families, children of the town, and valuable young people whose contributions to the town were important. Ms. Muldaur’s daughter Dardy Slavin and her husband are recipients of a homesite.

Andy Goldman, a housing committee member, urged voters to reject the proposal and instead to do what it has been the town’s aim to do, which is to keep the homesites and other affordable housing units perpetually “in the pool.”

J. B. Riggs Parker, the chairman of the selectmen who chose not to run for a third term this spring, agreed with Mr. Goldman. “Permanent is permanent,” he said, reminding voters that in all their earlier actions on rules that would govern the distribution of affordable housing, voters had required that the housing created be permanently or “perpetually” affordable. Mr. Parker said voters should reject the proposed change to keep affordable housing “affordable for future generations.”

Judy Jardin objected to the arguments put forward by supporters of the proposal. She said they were “tugging at voters’ heart strings.” She said an important part of the value of the town’s effort to create affordable housing is that it is perpetually affordable. The proposal, Ms. Jardin argued, will render at least some of these affordable housing opportunities “not perpetual.”

Although a majority of voters favored the change in homesite rules, the two-thirds requirement meant defeat for the measure.

The last article on the warrant, which created the Molly Flender Chilmark Affordable Housing Trust Fund, attracted objections from voters who criticized a provision which would have allowed a board of trustees appointed by the selectmen to borrow money and pledge trust assets, with the agreement of the full board of selectmen, but without the approval of voters at town meeting. In the town’s long history, borrowing has always required voter action.

Chris Murphy proposed an amendment that continued the selectmen’s role in possible borrowing, but required town meeting action to approve whatever borrowing might be proposed. Supporters of the article, including selectman Warren Doty and Andy Goldman of the housing committee, argued that speed might be required of the trust, should one of the town’s affordable housing properties fall into foreclosure. Time needed to get together a special town meeting, described by town executive secretary as requiring about a month, might jeopardize the trust’s ability to deal with such a problem. Voters nevertheless decided they wanted to retain control over town-backed debt and agreed to Mr. Murphy’s amendment, before approving the amended article on a voice vote.

A total of 176 voters attended the special and annual meetings. That’s 20.5 percent of the 858 registered voters in town. They approved all of the articles on the annual meeting warrant, including the Flender Trust, as amended.

His selectman colleagues celebrated Mr. Parker’s hard work and dedication, during his six years on the board. The meeting acknowledged Mr. Parker’s work with a standing ovation.