West Tisbury voters will decide a $15.9 million budget

The Mill Pond in West Tisbury was serene Wednesday. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

West Tisbury voters will gather for annual town meeting at 7 pm, Tuesday, April 8, at the West Tisbury School to tackle a 43-article annual town meeting warrant and $15,870,727 operating budget for the fiscal year 2015 (FY15) which begins July 1, 2014, an increase of 7.3 percent over FY14.

Two days later, on Thursday April 10 voters go to the polls at the Public Safety Building on State Road to elect town officers. There are no contested races on the ballot.

Voters will be asked at the polls to change the job of town treasurer from elected to appointed. The question was placed on the ballot at the request of current treasurer Katherine Logue. “An appointed treasurer allows the town to choose a qualified applicant from a much larger, expanded pool of applicants because they don’t have to live in town,” Ms. Logue said.

Town budget up

The FY15 West Tisbury budget will increase by 7.3 percent, $1,083,691 over $14,787,036 in FY14. The largest contributors to the increased costs are the Up-Island regional school district (UIRSD), long-term debt service, and additional library operating costs.

The combined increase in these three areas is $944,806 or 13.3 percent over FY14. All other budget lines in the aggregate are up $138,885 or 1.8 percent over FY14.

The library operating budget will jump from $453,336 to $594,637. The increase will pay for additional staffing needs and expenses due to the increased size of the new building, according to library director Beth Kramer.

Spending under the total culture and recreation category will increase from $589,472 to $733,492.

Total education costs will increase from $8,499,872 to $8,907,505.

The UIRSD budget is up $542,626, or 9.3 per cent. A significant part of the school increase is due to additional special needs services shared with the other member towns, according to town accountant Bruce Stone.

The high school assessment will drop, from $2,674,288 to $2,539,295.

Police, fire, and ambulance services will all increase. Total public safety costs will increase from $1,749,269 to $1,883,147.

Total debt service will increase from $828,799 to $1,089,676.

Mr. Stone said the long-term debt service, up $260,878 or 31.5 percent will make payments for the new police station, the new public library construction, road work completed this past year and the town hall renovation project. FY15 will be the first year that $100,000 of the town hall project is not being paid from CPA funds. The original plan was that CPA would pay $100,000 for each of the first five years of the bonding that is ending at the end of FY14.

He said FY15 will be a bubble year for debt payments due to the town paying off the last $183,375 of the original public safety building construction costs.

“By using $435,000 of free cash to offset next year’s tax levy, I am projecting the actual property tax levy to be up a lesser amount of $773,433 or 6.0 percent, “ he said.

He said the increased town expenses will not require a proposition 2.5 override vote. “The town is still pretty far under its levy limit,” he said. “We have built up quite a bit of excess capacity the last several years and some of the items causing an increase in the budget this year are items the town voted to exclude from proposition 2.5 requirements in the past.”

Total general government hikes include the Martha’s Vineyard Commission assessment which will increase from $121,075 to $138,250 and total property insurance, from $65,100 to $87,000.

Total employee benefits, which include health insurance, will increase from $991,068 to $1,042,690.

Dredging up the past

The warrant includes 14 articles related to the expenditure of Community Preservation Act Funds (CPA) that total $545,127.

Voters will be asked to spend up to $30,000 from CPA funds for the design and permitting in preparation to dredge Mill Pond. The question is expected to generate debate.

Advocates of maintaining the scenic pond, which has accumulated a deep layer of silt, would increase the average depth of the shallow, murky artificial water body from 1.7 feet to four feet.

Advocates of removing the dam and allowing the stream to revert to its natural state point point to the health of the complex ecosystem and several native species, that include wild brook trout, that are at risk due to high water temperaturesand the harmful effects of numerous impoundments.

CPA funding comes from a surcharge of up to three percent on property taxes, plus a variable state match from real estate deed recording fees, to raise money for open space, historic preservation, affordable housing, and outdoor recreation.

Two CPA requests are to support regional projects. Voters will be asked to contribute $80,738 in CPA funds to support, along with the other Island towns, the restoration and renovation of the Gay Head Lighthouse and $25,000 to support the new little league field in Oak Bluffs.

Voters will also be asked to approve a total of $219,000 in three articles to support affordable housing initiatives, $12,000 for the field at the West Tisbury School, $75,000 to replace the town’s cemetery fence, $40,000 to support the acquisition of the Maley/Field Gallery property and $30,000 for repairs to the Old Mill building.

Voters will have plenty of reading to do when they get to articles dealing with regulating fertilizer and promoting solar energy both of which take up multiple pages.

An article that would regulate fertilizer use, which is identical to one that will be placed before voters in all six Island towns, would create one set of lawn fertilizer regulations to protect groundwater and estuaries from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, through the creation of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) known as the Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control district, which would overlay the entire Island.

Prepared with input from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission with the goal of protecting local estuaries from pollutants, the regulations meet the requirements of a state law passed in 2012 that gave the Cape and the Islands leeway to pass their own stronger regulations.

The state regulations restrict the use of fertilizers to prevent phosphorus runoff into rivers and other water bodies. Phosphorus is a major fresh water pollutant. The use of nitrogen, a major pollutant of saltwater estuaries, not be addressed in the state law, is incorporated into the Island regulations.

The second lengthy article amends the zoning bylaw to create regulations and “standards for the placement, design, construction, operation, monitoring, modification and removal of solar energy installations” with the stated purpose of promoting the use of solar energy.

It will require adequate financial assurance for the eventual decommissioning of solar installations as well as making owners responsible for maintaining systems in good condition. Systems taller than 12 feet or larger than 1,500 square feet or installed in front yards will require special permits.

Voters will also be asked to approve a personnel bylaw to allow an increase of 1.5 percent in town wages and to approve $20,000 to hire a consultant to prepare a new classification and compensation plan in consultation with the personnel board.

Voters will be asked to spend $24,000 to pay for the assessors triennial certification of real estate values, $82,862 for road work that will be reimbursed by the state and the police department has requested $33,000 for a new vehicle.

In other articles the voters will be asked to contribute its share of proportionate costs with the other Island towns of $13,482 to fund the All Island School Committee’s contract for adult and community education, $31,342 for the Vineyard Health Care Access Program, $38,593 for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority.