Tisbury annual goes to a second night

Tisbury voters failed to make it through 65 warrant articles in one night.

Voters at the Tisbury town meeting in the gymnasium at the Tisbury school. - Photo by Sam Moore

Updated 4:17 PM, Wednesday

Tisbury voters gathered Tuesday night to take action on a total of 65 warrant articles and a proposed $25,475,439 fiscal year 2017 (FY17) operating budget at annual and special town meetings held in the Tisbury School gymnasium.

About 290 out of the town’s 3,371 total registered voters turned up for the meeting, but they could get through only the 21-article special town meeting warrant and five articles on the annual town meeting warrant before calling it a night at 11 pm.

Before calling it quits, voters did manage to approve a measure that would allow the sale of hard alcohol in licensed restaurants, pending legislative approval and a ballot vote; establish a five-member sewer advisory board; a plastic bag ban; and they authorized selectmen to establish rules and regulations regarding vessels permitted in town waters, namely houseboats and floating workshops.

Tonight, voters are expected to take up the town’s operating budget and a request to borrow $825,000 for a feasibility study on a Tisbury School building project.

The long and the short of it

The annual town meeting began Tuesday night with an expression of gratitude by selectman Tristan Israel to former executive assistant to the town administrator Aase Jones, who retired this year. 

Finance manager Jon Snyder presented a “five-minute financial overview,” and Angela Cywinski, chairman of the board of assessors, gave a presentation on tax rates and levies.

“Setting the budget for our next tax year, our goal is to manage the costs of operating the town responsibly,” Mr. Snyder said. He said 85 percent of the total budget is financed primarily through real estate taxes. The biggest costs are the elementary and high school, health and property insurance, and public safety. Health and property insurance costs have seen the most significant growth over the years, “but are also the hardest to control,” he said. On a positive note, he said, the town has done a great job of paying down debt over time, has a historically low interest rate, and has only borrowed 10 percent of the normal debt load.

The meeting got down to business through the lottery selection of warrant articles, prompting a continued shuffling of paper turning.

A measure to begin the process that would allow the sale of hard alcohol in licensed restaurants, pending legislative approval and a ballot vote, passed by a vote of 136 to 63, following strong debate.

One of the sponsors of the petition article, Mary Kenworth, co-owner with her husband of Beach Road Restaurant, kicked off the discussion. She stressed that the bylaw amendment would still include the current rules, which stipulates that licensed restaurants will have no fewer than 30 seats, and all alcoholic beverages will be served with meals. “Thanks for your consideration,” she said. “And here we go.”

Police Chief Daniel Hanavan was called to the microphone. He said the issuance of beer and wine licenses in town restaurants five years ago had not created any significant problems. “Everyone’s been pretty responsible, and we have not had any issues,” he said.

Selectman Tristan Israel strongly opposed the article. “Hard liquor is a different animal,” he said, adding that it’s an incremental change, and package stores will be the next step: “This is going to change the character of our town.”

Mansion House manager Josh Goldstein, tongue in cheek, said, “The town has not changed in five years; this will increase our contribution to the coffers of this town. Give it a shot.”

Voters rejected a measure submitted by the planning board to allow a board member who might have missed a meeting to still be allowed to vote in a hearing on the assurance that he or she had examined all evidence given at the missed session.

“Democracy is face-to-face; it’s working with your neighbors,” Mr. Israel said.

“It’s just giving us a tool so that we will not inconvenience applicants,” planning board chairman Dan Seidman said.

A request to establish a five-member sewer advisory board was approved with two amendments. The conversation began with Mr. Goldstein questioning why sewer users were not represented on the board. Tisbury resident James Rogers amended the article to include two additional rate-paying members from the community. Mr. Israel amended that amendment, to specify that one member be a rate-paying community member, and the other member be a Tisbury resident at large. The amended article passed 164 to 44.

“All the previous boards were made up of this same configuration,” selectman Melinda Loberg said. “This is really just parroting boards that have been set up before.”

An article to authorize selectmen to establish rules and regulations regarding vessels permitted in town waters faced some discussion. Several residents questioned the “vague” language of the article. Mr. Israel said it was specifically about houseboats and floating workshops, and any change in regulations would require a public hearing. The article passed by majority vote.

“We’ve had a couple of different kinds of vessels show up in the last couple of years,” Mr. Israel said. “I’m not saying it’s good, bad, or indifferent, but we have no way to regulate these and no ability to get a handle on this situation.”

Following much discussion, voters approved a ban on the use of plastic shopping bags less than 4 mils thick, to an overwhelming round of applause and cheers.

Robin Sylvia, owner of Mardell’s Gift Shop, voiced her concern with the cost of replacement bags. “I’m not saying I’m against this, I totally understand what you’re saying, but we have to come together,” she said. “This bylaw is extreme; the penalties are extreme.”

Others spoke in support of the measure. “The Island of Martha’s Vineyard has the ability to be a powerful example to hundreds of thousands of people who visit here every single year,” Tisbury resident Louis Hall said. Patricia Carlet came up with another solution: “I don’t take plastic bags, I don’t want them, I don’t need them; none of us need them,” she said. “You just carry a bag with you and put your stuff in there, or stuff it in your purse. Some of you ladies have pretty big purses, all right?” That ended the discussion with an uptick of laughter from the audience.

Voters approved the creation of a new facilities manager position in town to be funded under the Department of Public Works (DPW) budget. The job would involve dealing with capital budgeting for town facility and building needs, and overseeing a number of repair and improvement projects to town buildings.

Several voters expressed concern with the level of qualification the position requires. “When I look at the buildings in town, the lawn systems, the building management systems, the energy control systems, you would have to have a person with a pretty high level of qualifications for a position like this,” Mr. Rogers said.

DPW advisory board chairman George Balco said the position is an effort to save money and time. He said they are also trying to set aside money that can be available quickly for repair funding: “The way things work right now, if we find a window in one of our buildings that has a problem in July, the person responsible for that goes out and asks somebody to look at it, and then about October or November, the board responsible for that building says, OK, let’s put in a warrant article, and then in April the warrant passes, and then in July the money becomes available, and then the following September, the thing gets fixed,” he said.