Aquinnah annual will take up $3.9M budget, zoning changes, lighthouse

Special and annual town meetings come as the town realizes lower school costs and rising revenue from delinquent taxpayers.

Aquinnah voters gather for annual town meeting Tuesday where they will be asked to help preserve Gay Head light — File photo by Steve Myrick

A $3.9 million spending plan, a new capital improvement fund, relocation of the Gay Head Lighthouse, a measure to crack down on delinquent taxpayers, and a possible name change for State Road will be up for discussion when Aquinnah voters meet for annual and special town meetings on Tuesday, May 13.

A special town meeting is scheduled for 6:45 pm, followed immediately by the annual town meeting, at Old Town Hall.

The annual town election is scheduled for the day after town meeting, Wednesday, May 14. There is only one contested race for town office. Incumbent selectman Beverly Wright faces a challenge from Julianne Vanderhoop. Polls open at the Aquinnah town office building at noon and close at 7 pm.

Budget up modestly

The budget represents an increase of 1.49 percent over the previous year, according to town administrator Adam Wilson. The fiscal year 2015 spending plan totals $3,880,757, up $56,891 from the $3,823,866 budget for fiscal year 2014.

“That’s largely due to assessments being significantly down from the schools,” Mr. Wilson said. “The Up-Island School District is down about $76,000 from the year before. Health care reform netted some significant savings.”

The budget includes a 2 percent cost of living salary increase for town employees.

Among the issues expected to generate discussion on the special town meeting warrant is a proposed zoning bylaw change. It would allow the planning board to modify or vary the current requirement for 200 foot frontage. A variance would require a special permit from the planning board.

On the annual town meeting warrant, voters will decide whether to establish a capital improvement stabilization account and make  initial deposit of $78,280. Future capital projects could include improvements for town hall, police and fire stations, as well as construction of new community housing.

“It’s an effective planning tool,” Mr. Wilson said. “We’ve got a lot of property behind town hall. A committee has been formed to look at the overall situation. Our police department’s office is falling apart. We have to do something about it.”

Voters will be asked to allocate Community Preservation Act funds for a number of projects, including $100,000 the help restore and relocate the Gay Head lighthouse, and an additional $20,000 for design of landscaping pathways to the new and existing lighthouse locations. On the special town meeting warrant that precedes the annual town meeting, voters will decide whether to appropriate $25,000 for fundraising and public relations material to be used by the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse Fundraising Committee. The lighthouse is in danger of collapse because of the eroding cliff.

The town meeting will also be asked to authorize the town to deny or revoke leases, licenses, or permits issued by the town, to residents who do not pay taxes or fees. If adopted, the town could deny building permits for residents who are delinquent in tax bills or other town fees. It could also deny renewal of leases for lots the town rents to shop owners atop the Gay Head cliffs, and on Menemsha creek.

Mr. Wilson credits an overall emphasis on collecting delinquent taxes for increased revenue to the town. “We’re getting a lot of payment made through the tax title process,” he said. “Our research has identified many people that are clearly delinquent. They are coming in and paying their taxes.”

According to the the town’s revenue figures, Aquinnah collected no revenue from tax liens in the previous fiscal year, but will collect $95,000 from tax liens this year. That has helped boost the town’s free cash account, which currently stands at $331,890.

The town meeting will also consider new regulations to protect and improve water resources by regulating and enforcing the use of fertilizer on private property. The regulations are intended to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus leaching into ponds and water supplies. Aquinnah will be the last to act on the regulations: all other Island towns approved the measure at spring town meeting as part of a newly created District of Critical Planning Concern.

Voters will also consider whether they want to begin the process of changing the name of State Road. According to planning board chairman Peter Temple, the roadway everyone knows as State Road is legally named South Road, and recorded that way on many deeds and other legal documents. Voters will be asked to consider beginning the process to legally change the name of the road to State Road, or another name.

Calling it State Road creates some confusion with State Road in Chilmark, which is in the same zip code as Aquinnah, especially for people using GPS and Google Maps.

Google Maps, for example, shows the Aquinnah dump located between The Chilmark Tavern and the Chilmark police station, Mr. Temple said.

“We’re not going to decide a name at town meeting,” Mr. Temple said. If voters want to begin the process, the planning board will schedule two public hearings this summer to consider a change.