Aquinnah annual town meeting passes $4 million budget

Voters were in an agreeable mood, and agreed to most everything.

Town administrator Adam Wilson, left, assisted Derrill Bazzy with a microphone, a new touch this year at the Aquinnah town meetings. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated May 14, 10:30 am

With little fuss or fanfare, Aquinnah voters passed a $4 million operating budget for their next fiscal year, and worked their way methodically through five warrant articles in the special town meeting and 23 articles in the annual town meeting that followed in just under two and a half hours Tuesday night.

Voters said no to very little. In the last of the Island’s round of annual town meetings, voters also said yes to the county-led purchase of the former VNA building in Tisbury for use by the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living.

There were 53 voters in attendance, which easily outdistanced the quorum of 36 required out of the town’s 366 registered voters.

On Wednesday, voters went to the polls to decide a contest between incumbent selectman Jim Newman and challenger Barbara Bassett and answer four Proposition 2.5 ballot questions.

A short break between the special and annual, as the sun set and spread its glow through the windows across the inside east wall of the town hall, gave town residents a chance to get caught up after the hard winter.

A collective sense of pride fueled a standing ovation given to members of the Save the Gay Head Light committee after Meg Bodnar, fundraising co-chairman, and relocation committee chairman Lenny Butler brought the town up to date on the project to move the historic light and town icon to safer ground.

Ms. Bodnar told voters that were they to approve several community preservation act money articles that night, the group will have raised more than $3 million. The articles later passed easily.

She said that the project recently incurred unexpected costs following the discovery of Tinker’s weed, the mention of which brought laughter from the voters. The town spent $100,000 to protect the state-listed endangered plant, and $300,000 to move lead from the soil site off-Island.

Mr. Butler gave a detailed accounting of the current state of the move, which is nearing completion. He said that Aquinnah has allocated $400,000 for the move, and the other Island towns have chipped in $500,000, with most of the rest of the funding coming from fundraising activities and private donors. He explained that the lead issue was from paint used on the keeper’s house, a 30-foot by 60-foot building that was demolished years ago and buried inside its foundation, so the lead was contained and of no danger to the town before it was removed. He said the unearthing of the building’s foundation revealed large stones that will be incorporated into the construction of a stone wall and a connector path from the shops at the Gay Head overlook to the new lighthouse location.

Money articles totaling more than $100,000 for the lighthouse move passed without a dissenting vote.

Mr. Butler said a private donor had upped a previous donation by $100,000, but that $300,000 remained to be raised to complete the funding for the move.

School costs push budget

School costs up six percent were the largest budget item, as in other Island towns. Town school board member Theresa Manning presented an amendment on the floor to reduce the town’s portion of the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) budget by $30,499, lowering the education budget line item to $1,205,283. The amendment was in reaction to a UIRSD board decision last week to reduce its budget after West Tisbury voters refused to approve a Proposition 2.5 override to cover its share of the district’s budget. The amended budget passed.

The biggest hike was in the high school assessment, which jumped from $208,385 to $327,320, a 57 percent increase. Outgoing Superintendent of Schools James Weiss explained that most of the increase was unavoidable, due to the increase of Aquinnah students at the high school from 9 to 14.

Four articles concerning elder services passed unanimously with little discussion. Voters also said yes to $1,435 to fund the town’s share of the All Island School Committee’s contract for Adult and Community Education.

The town voted to approve debt authorized by Dukes County for a new building for the Center for Living to serve Island seniors. All Island towns have now approved the project, which is not to exceed $1.6 million. A second article also passed unanimously, to appropriate the town’s 2016 share of the center’s cost, $7,280.

The town voted to raise and appropriate its share of the First Stop Information and Referral Service, $2,593.

The only article to require a standup vote was a request to appropriate $15,000 for a town hall campus space-needs assessment. The request, which required a two-thirds vote, failed 24 in favor, 20 opposed.

Several voters bristled at the thought of paying someone to do what they thought residents could do on their own.

Voters and selectmen struggled more with a microphone than with the warrant issues. For the first time at town meeting, those wishing to speak were asked to use a microphone when making presentations or asking questions.

Town moderator Michael Hebert repeatedly asked voters, who were used to years of speaking from their seats, to walk up to a microphone on a stand in the middle of the room so they could be recorded better. The din of singing pinkletinks from the nearby pond behind the library broke the silence when the voters trekked to the stand. Many begin their orations before reaching the mic and some weren’t sure which direction to face. Selectmen, fumbling with the microphone at their table, failed to turn it on almost every time they spoke.

Debate avoided

Several potentially contentious articles were tabled, effectively removing them from the warrant and from debate.

An article to help pay the costs of constructing a new school administration building on the grounds of the regional high school was tabled. The measure needed approval by all six Island towns, and was moot, following no votes by West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Tisbury voters.

An article to appropriate $2,500 to pay for the 2016 interim real estate certification was tabled when voters heard that there was unused assessor’s monies from the 2015 budget.

And a motion to table a line item from a community preservation committee (CPC) article to spend $5,000 for stone wall and/or driveway work behind the town hall failed and the money was approved.

A motion to table another CPC line item, to allocate $6,000 for repairs to the future Martha’s Vineyard Museum, until the museum returns the old Fresnel lens from the Gay Head Light to the town failed.

Several voters questioned the need for a new police car costing $36,500, including one voter who announced that her Volvo had over 300,000 miles on it. Police chief Randhi P. Belain said that the insurance company had offered only $4,000 to replace a 2007 cruiser that suffered relatively minor damage while backing up, less than the cost of the repair. There was only one vote against the car.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that a request to spend $5,000 for stone wall and/or driveway work behind the town hall failed. The motion to table the article failed. The money was approved.