West Tisbury voters will gather for annual town meeting at 7 pm, Tuesday, April 14, at the West Tisbury School to address a 48-article warrant that includes a $16.95 million operating budget rejected by the finance committee.
The budget represents an increase of more than $1 million, or 9.6 percent over fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30, and will require a Proposition 2.5 override vote. The FinCom rejection, its first in almost 15 years, focused on increased school costs.
Two days later, on Thursday, April 16, voters go to the polls at the Public Safety Building on State Road to elect town officers and to vote on three Proposition 2.5 overrides. There is only one contested race. Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter faces a last-minute challenge from taxi cab owner Benoit Baldwin, who announced his intention to run as write-in candidate for the position.
The ballot questions include school funding requests and a request to help fund a county-engineered purchase of the former VNA building in Tisbury for use by the Center for Living.
A request to finance a new school playground has been pulled by the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) committee, but not in time to remove it from the ballot.
At the start of the meeting, voters will be asked to dedicate the lobby of the West Tisbury Free Public Library in memory of Francis “Pat” Gregory, the much-beloved longtime town moderator who was murdered while on vacation, hiking in California last May.
Dan Waters, newly elected town moderator, will step up to the podium in his place.
The annual will not be a walk in the park. The FinCom called its rejection of the town budget an “unprecedented decision” in an OpEd published in The Times last week (“Why we said no to the West Tisbury budget”). Two members of the FinCom, Greg Orcutt and Doug Ruskin, told The Times they hope their action to not recommend the budget will promote informed discussions of the town’s finances and the expense of the schools in particular.
“The line items can be decreased on the town meeting floor,” Mr. Ruskin said. “At some point we, as a town, need to address these issues. I believe there can be structural changes made to improve the budget without education suffering at all.”
The FinCom’s primary concerns are the proposed increase in education costs, which would be 57 percent of the town’s budget, accounting for 82.5 percent of the total increase in the budget.
The FinCom letter stated, “West Tisbury’s share of the cost of operating the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) alone will increase 11.8 percent this year, with the average per capita student spending rising to $29,061. The increase over two years has been 22.2 percent.”
The FinCom recommended greater financial restraint by the Island’s schools, and pushing for more state funds to fund state-mandated programs.
The letter also highlighted the impending costs of funding the town’s other post-employee benefits (OPEB), nonpension benefits paid to both school and town employees, which local governments are feeling the pressure to fund rather than list as liabilities. The FinCom said that the unfunded OPED liabilities are likely to have a significant effect on the long-term finances of the Island towns.
In contrast to the UIRSD increase, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget is increasing by about $60,000, or 2.3 percent, to $2.6 million, after having dropped by $130,000 in FY15.
The library has requested a 15 percent increase of $87,622, from $594,638 to $681,260, for a new position related to increased library usage and an increase in cleaning costs, according to library director Beth Kramer. Most of the town departments budgeted for level funding, at the request of the selectmen, with the exception of a 1.6 percent across-the-board cost-of-living increase for full-time employees.
Police, fire, and ambulance services will all increase, mostly due to salary increases. Total public safety costs will increase from $1,883,148 to $1,985,513.
A request for $25,000 for additional money to complete the Mill Brook watershed study will be decreased to $6,600 on the floor of the meeting, according to watershed study committee member Cynthia Mitchell, who said savings from using volunteers and contributions from conservation organizations and a monetary contribution from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will cover the rest of the anticipated costs.
Voters will decide whether to approve the allocation of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. Requests include $98,000 for rental assistance in West Tisbury, $40,000 to pay debt service on the acquisition of the Maley/Field Gallery; a $50,000 contribution to help rebuild the roof of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum of the Marine Hospital; $45,000 to fund the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School track and field facility; $100,000 to help fund six affordable-housing units at 6 Water Street in Vineyard Haven; and $75,000 to restore the West Tisbury cemetery fence.
A two-thirds vote will be required to designate portions of Pine Hill Road, Red Coat Hill Road/Motts Hill Road, Shubael Weeks Road, and Old Coach Road as “special ways.”
The most significant changes in a series of zoning bylaw articles would increase the maximum size of a guesthouse from 800 to 1,000 square feet, and of an accessory apartment from 500 to 800 square feet. Planning board associate member Henry Geller said that many of the proposed changes eliminate bylaws covered by state law and other town bylaws.