Chilmark voters gathered for their annual town meeting Monday night, and moved briskly through the business at hand. The largest applause of the night came following unanimous passage of a bylaw change that would allow the creation of accessory apartments intended to expand affordable housing options.
The meeting was not without some heat. An accusation of conflict of interest related to the town’s plans for Squibnocket Beach brought a strong response from Selectman Bill Rossi. Voters also debated the cost of a new Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools administrative building.
A total of 147 of the town’s 913 registered voters, or about 16 percent of the electorate, gathered in the packed Chilmark Community Center quickly approved a $8,887,261 operating budget for the next fiscal year, an increase of 2 percent.
Voters also approved two big-ticket regional warrant articles.
A request to authorize Dukes County to issue bonds to purchase the old VNA building in Vineyard Haven to house the Center for Living and its supportive day program, which has received strong support Island-wide, received unanimous support. Voters also gave the go-ahead for the construction of a Public Schools administrative building, the cost of which will be shared by all the Island towns at an estimated cost of $3.9 million.
Voters go to the polls Wednesday from noon to 8 pm at the Chilmark Community Center to elect town officers and take action on two Proposition 2.5 questions related to the VNA building purchase and school administration building. There are no contested elections.
No to school officer
Monday night, longtime moderator Everett Poole proceeded at a rapid clip, covering 37 warrant articles in just over two hours. Voters said yes to most articles unanimously, and with little or no discussion.
The one article voters did reject was a request for $13,000 to fund a 10-hour-a-week position for a school resource officer.
Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi said he requested funding for the position in response to a new state law that encourages towns to provide school security officers.
The article generated passionate debate. Rick O’Gorman said he did not want to “live in fear.” Stan Mercer said he thought that “twelve thousand some odd dollars is well invested,” and that he’d “like children to feel comfortable knowing there are police around.”
Selectman Jonathan Mayhew was very much against the idea of a funded position. “You can do that with your regular police force and not have another man,” he said.
Chilmark voters were in a generous mood when it came to requests to contribute to county programs.
Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Health Care Access Program (VHCAP), spoke about her program, which will cost Chilmark taxpayers a $27,852 share, or 11 percent, of the net cost of the program.
Created in 1999, the VHCAP is designed to help Island residents to obtain affordable, quality health care. “Back in 2000 we submitted about 100 applications for 250 Islanders, and in 2007 we had submitted 1,100 applications for 1,700 Islanders, to give you a sense of the growth,” Ms. Kuh said.
Voters also said yes to a request to contribute to the $1.6 million county purchase of the former VNA building in Tisbury. FinCom member Susan Murphy and Martina Higgins, manager for the Center for Living, explained the need.
“The main program is the senior day program, for people who are elderly and cannot be left at home,” said Ms. Higgins.
“This is an organization that has existed on Martha’s Vineyard for 29 years,” said Ms. Murphy, “and it is almost invisible until you actually have need for some of the services that this organization provides.”
“The building may not be perfectly located or absolutely delightful,” said Ms. Murphy, “but given the need and given the price, I think it’s a good value.” Ms. Murphy’s comments were followed by applause.
The need for a new MVPS administrative building was preceded by a description by Mr. Weiss of the failings of the current building at 4 Pine Street in Vineyard Haven: It is not handicap-accessible, there is no fire-suppression system, and there is no confidentiality.
“It’s time,” said Ms. Kuh. Her comment was followed by applause.
Not everyone shared that sentiment. Several voters, who included Selectman Warren Doty, questioned the cost at a time when school buildings around the Island were in need of attention.
The article passed.
Two articles related to the town’s plans to restore Squibnocket Beach and provide access to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision generated a heated exchange between Chris Murphy and Selectman Rossi.
The plan calls for removal of the current boulder revetment and beach parking lot, to allow the shoreline to return to its natural state.
The solution, hammered out over months of discussions with opposing camps, requires the town to acquire two small privately owned parcels of land abutting the town parking lot and Squibnocket Pond.
Mr. Rossi requested that the two Squibnocket articles be indefinitely postponed, because although there is agreement, a closing date had yet to be set.
Mr. Murphy fired away at Mr. Rossi, essentially accusing him of conflict of interest and strong-arm business practices as they related to the Squibnocket land acquisitions and eminent domain. Mr. Rossi, a real estate agent, flatly rejected Mr. Murphy’s comments.
“I negotiated for the town 100 percent,” Mr. Rossi said. “For the record, I don’t receive a penny for any of the negotiations I do regarding real estate, and my colleague did not receive a penny and was working for the town.”
Voters postponed the two articles.
Groans and approval
JIm Feiner, chairman of the housing committee, introduced a bylaw request amended on the town meeting floor designed to generate more housing options, by allowing for the permitting of an accessory apartment for a caregiver or immediate family member.
“In my 15 years of being on the housing committee,” Mr. Feiner said, “we have awarded less than 12 homesites. We need to do better; we need to do more.”
Voters applauded the sentiment.
The bylaw was amended to change the review period from five to two years, allow the town more flexibility to set qualifying income levels, and further define a caregiver as someone who lives on site full-time.
Mr. Poole said he had received a petition for an Australian, or paper, ballot — news of which was met with groans from the town floor. There were 10 names on the petition. Jonathan Mayhew volunteered to remove his name from the list. One voter seated in back yelled out, “Can you read the names?” The comment was met with laughter.
Mr. Poole decided the matter. “I’ll take a vote,” he said.
Voters unanimously rejected the call for an Australian ballot. On a voice vote they approved the accessory apartment bylaw.
At the close of the meeting, one resident asked that the town thank Mr. Weiss for his years of service on the eve of his June retirement. There was a rousing standing ovation. “Thank you,” Mr. Weiss responded.