Tisbury voters conclude annual business on second night

Voters said yes to several big ticket items that included two building purchases.

Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated 3 pm, Monday

Tisbury voters worked determinedly through 34 articles to finish up the second night of annual town meeting on April 15. Town meeting moderator Deborah Medders kept a firm grip on the proceedings, cutting commenters short — but politely — when they strayed off topic. Nonetheless, the meeting lasted four hours.

Attendance dropped from 222 on Tuesday night to 146 on Wednesday night, a decrease from about 7 percent to 4.6 percent of the town’s 3,156 registered voters.

Over the course of the night, voters approved some big-ticket spending articles tied to overrides, which included debt exclusions to fund Tisbury’s share of the Dukes County purchase of the former VNA building for $1.6 million, for use by the Center for Living, and construction of a new Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) administration building at an estimated cost of $3.9 million.

The plan for Dukes County to buy the former VNA building off State Road generated the evening’s lengthiest debate. Although the article was strictly about whether or not to buy the building as a permanent home for CFL, the discussion elicited many emotional testimonies from family members about its Supportive Day Program, which provides socialization and supervised activities for their loved ones in their struggles with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other disabilities.

Outgoing Selectman Jonathan Snyder said he thought the town “absolutely should” support the purchase. “Let’s not let the perfect ideal be the enemy of the pretty darn good,” Mr. Snyder said.

Tisbury’s finance and advisory committee (FinCom), however, did not recommend the purchase, which will cost the town $301,000, plus interest, for up to 15 years.

“There is no financial plan spelling out anticipated costs, or plans for growth associated with buying this building, and we were uncomfortable approving such a large expenditure without one,” the FinCom stated.

The article passed, but voters will be asked to approve a ballot question to exempt the purchase from Proposition 2.5 (Prop. 2.5) at the April 28 town election.

Voters approved a request to borrow up to $900,000 to purchase one, or possibly two, parcels at the corner of Main Street and Greenwood Avenue for parking for Vineyard Haven Public Library patrons and other public uses. They also said yes to the Tisbury Water Works (TWW) request to borrow $1 million to construct a garage facility on property at 275 Spring Street, across the street from where it now operates.

Capital appropriations and new equipment requests totaling $163,500 were approved, which included $60,000 to replace windows in the Tisbury Police Station; $30,000 to repair and upgrade the Owen Park gazebo and electrical system; and $18,000 to purchase firefighter protective clothing and equipment.

$24.2 million budget

The FY16 operating budget article came up late in the meeting, drawn as number 27 under Tisbury’s lottery system. Voters approved the $24,286,835 budget, up 4.7 percent over last year.

The budget includes a $208,929 increase in Tisbury School’s operating budget. Municipal finance director Tim McLean explained that the total increase in Tisbury School’s budget came to 6.4 percent, of which the town could pay 3 percent with available funds. The remainder requires a Prop. 2.5 override ballot question.

Tisbury School principal John Custer said the 6.4 percent increase breaks down into three components: 1.39 percent is the school’s portion of the superintendent’s shared-services budget; 4.45 percent is for the school’s contractual obligations and salaries; and 0.56 percent is for the school’s operating budget.

Asked what would happen if the override doesn’t pass, Mr. McLean said there are three options: The school would have to cut $208,929 out of its budget; the town would have to call another election to reconsider it; or the town would have to try to come up with another funding source and put it before voters at a special town meeting.

Just say no

At the end of the discussion, Rachel Orr said she was worried about the budget as a whole.

“We have the highest tax rate on the Island,” she said. “I had a hard time coming up with the money for our taxes this year — I’m sure I will next year. I’m not sure how we as a town or as a town meeting can even go about making any adjustments, but I’m really worried about it.” Ms. Orr asked for advice from the town’s financial advisors.

“We don’t pick and choose what we feel is financially good for the town,” Larry Gomez responded. “You have control of your taxes, not us. Each individual does. So just say no.”

And voters did just that, a few times, anyway. They tabled the selectmen’s request that the town borrow $192,500 to partially fund the design and engineering for an underground utility system for Beach Road. The article corresponds to a Prop. 2.5 override debt-exclusion ballot question.

Voters rejected an article that would authorize funding for design and engineering services to extend the sewer system from 82 Main Street to Greenwood Avenue, which would include the Vineyard Haven Public Library and Owen Park.

George Balco, a DPW commissioner and longtime member of the sewer flow review board, said the extension was intended to address a failing septic system at the Vineyard Haven Public Library. The extension would also allow the tie-in of a boat pumpout facility being built at Owen Park, which would save the cost of hauling the septage away. Selectmen Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg, however, argued in favor of waiting to do more extensive sewer planning. The borrowing measure failed to achieve a two-thirds majority, with 30 for and 59 against.

Voters passed on a request to spend $25,000 to purchase conservation mooring tackle, to allow for more research on location and type.

Voters also rejected a request to spend $25,000 to repair and maintain the Owen Park and Lake Street docks, after hearing that the money would only be a stopgap measure.

Embarkation-fee largesse

Voters approved 10 items for funding from the passenger ferry embarkation-fee receipts, a total of $240,000 for FY 2015. 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 such as Tisbury, by providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, or infrastructure improvements within or around the harbor.

While most of the items passed unanimously, voters were divided on a request from the police department for $20,000 to purchase and install cameras and equipment to record vehicle and pedestrian traffic at the Steamship Authority traffic circle, Water Street, Beach Street, and Beach Road in the area of Five Corners.

Police Chief Dan Hanavan said the cameras would be helpful in cases of pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents that occur at those intersections, as well as providing data for traffic monitoring, and crowd surveillance, such as during Tisbury’s annual Street Fair, for security reasons.

Tony Peak asked what the policy would be for maintaining the recordings: how they would be accessed, archived, and stored; who would have access to them; and how long they would be held.

“The policy is to hold those for a month; then they’d be gone,” Chief Hanavan said.

The article narrowly passed in a standing vote, 45 to 40.

Other items approved included wages for summer traffic officers, a radio repeater system and equipment for the fire, police and EMS departments, new portable radios for the ambulance department, improvements to the park and ride lot, harbor dredging funds, and beautification improvements in downtown Vineyard Haven.

Milestone for Tim McLean

The meeting ended, as always, with an article to transfer and appropriate money from the unreserved fund balance to reduce the tax rate, to meet the limitations of Prop. 2.5.

“Mr. McLean, you want to fill in the blank?” Ms. Medders asked.

“For the last time, Tim McLean,” Fire Chief John Schilling called out from his seat in the bleachers, in acknowledgement of Mr. McLean’s upcoming retirement this year.

Mr. McLean’s answer, “$950,000,” was drowned out by the audience’s applause, which turned into a standing ovation, for a well-respected and long-serving municipal employee.