Chilmark takes up annual meeting, $9 million budget

A decrease in education and modest increases in public safety — budget busters in other towns — beer and wine, will be on tap Monday night.

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Looking east along Squibnocket beach. Photo by Sam Moore.

With four of six annual town meetings complete, Martha’s Vineyard heads into the home stretch next week when Chilmarkers gather at the community center at 7:30 pm Monday to attend to a 36-article annual town meeting warrant and take action on a $9,035,504 operating budget for fiscal year (FY) 2017, an increase of 1.67 percent over the current fiscal year.

Articles voters will be asked to take action on include a Squibnocket Beach restoration plan, a change in zoning bylaws meant to protect historic houses, a ban on plastic bags, and a request to begin the process of allowing Chilmark restaurants to serve beer and wine.

Two days later, on Wednesday, April 27, voters will elect town officers. The polls will be open from noon until 8 pm in the Chilmark Community Center. There are no contests.

Lean budget

“I think we did well,” selectman William Rossi said of the lean budget that the board will present to voters Monday.

Chilmark, which boasts the second-lowest property tax rate in Massachusetts — $2.71 per $1,000 of valuation, second only to the Berkshire town of Hancock’s $2.40/$1,000 — will continue to spend tax dollars sparingly.

By category, the total cost of general government will increase by $51,295, to $1,201,088, a 4.46 percent increase. The largest line-item increases are found in the accountant ($12,173) and treasurer ($8,590) departments.

Total public safety will account for $1,522,455 of the budget, an increase of $45,439, or 3.08 percent. This category includes the police department budget ($671,653), which will rise by 1.93 percent; the fire department ($156,595), which will decrease by 0.75 percent; the ambulance service assessment ($260,151), which will decrease by 1.85 percent; building inspections ($58,644), which will jump by 42.67 percent ($17,539); the harbor department ($188,440), a 1.56 percent jump; and the shellfish department ($163,619), a 12.67 percent hike over FY16.

Unlike the majority of Island towns, Chilmark will see its total education costs drop even as West Tisbury officials review a selectmen’s report that calls for Chilmark to shoulder more of the costs of the Chilmark School, part of the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD).

In FY17, Chilmark taxpayers will pay a total of $3,028,923 to educate its students, a drop of $61,335, or 1.98 percent, which is tied to a drop in enrollment. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School assessment is $623,833, a drop of $14,527. The UIRSD assessment is $2,405,089, a drop of $46,808.

Mr. Rossi said Chilmark was not involved in a recent West Tisbury analysis of school costs. He said Chilmark expects to be part of that discussion in the future, but has not yet been approached by West Tisbury.

Total public works will account for $370,826 in spending, a 7.71 percent increase.

Total human services, which includes social services, the label for several programs that include Vineyard Health Care Access and the Up-Island Council on Aging, will increase by 31.32 percent, to $203,585.

Culture and recreation, which includes the library and beaches, will account for $594,404, a 4.95 percent ($28,056) increase.

Other assessments ($173,809) is the category used for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission assessment. The Dukes County assessment, $82,491, is not subject to approval and does not appear on the operating budget.

Employee benefits and insurance will lay claim to $1,359,525, a 2.11 percent increase.

On tap

Voters will confront some familiar issues on the annual town meeting warrant. These include requests to fund the construction of the new Squibnocket Beach parking area, and beach restoration. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is currently reviewing plans to restore Squibnocket Beach to its natural state, move the town beach parking lot to higher ground along the access road that now leads to the existing lot, and construct an elevated access road over a wetland to an exclusive subdivision as two separate developments of regional impact (DRIs).

A measure to amend the human resources bylaw by extending the probationary period for new year-round employees from six months to one year for police officers is intended to have town bylaws conform to state regulations governing police officers.

Chilmarkers will revisit the previously contentious issue of allowing restaurants to serve beer and wine. An article submitted by petition would allow selectmen to issue beer and wine licenses to restaurants with seating capacities of not less than 50 people, to serve beer and wine with meals.

Chilmark is the last remaining dry town on the Island. Currently, restaurant patrons bring along beer and wine when dining out, in restaurants and along Menemsha Beach.

The arguments in Chilmark echo the pitched battle fought in Tisbury, which voted in 2010 to allow restaurants to serve beer and wine, with no ill effects, according to town officials. Those in favor cite the convenience for up-Island diners and the added income for Chilmark restaurant owners battling a short season. Those opposed say that allowing the sale of beer and wine would negatively affect the character of the town.

Mr. Rossi said he thinks the question of beer and wine will generate considerable discussion on the floor. He does not think allowing beer and wine to be served in restaurants would affect the character of the town, but he expects the article will generate significant opposition from voters who may think it represents too much change and a break with tradition.

FinCom steps in

The finance committee, by a vote of 3-2, voted not to recommend the town spend $29,000 to fund a 1 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) to town employee wages. The FinCom vote was based on a formula the town earlier adopted, which tied COLA to a government index that this year was minus 0.07. Selectmen chose to establish a base of one percent, irrespective of the formula dipping into the negative.

The FinCom also voted not to spend $8,568, the town’s share of the Healthy Aging Task Force FirstStop website. FinCom member James Malkin told The Times the committee determined that for the cost, the project would not provide any significant benefits for its intended audience.

FinCom members, mindful of West Tisbury’s concerns about rising school costs, also voted not to recommend the the town contribute $26,220 to the cost of improving the West Tisbury School playground. Mr. Malkin said it seemed very expensive for a playground, and an inappropriate expense.

The Community Preservation Committee will ask voters to transfer $33,000 to the Island Housing Trust (IHT) as Chilmark’s contribution to the $600,000 cost to acquire approximately 5.9 acres of land at Kuehn’s Way in Tisbury plus $100,000 for design costs. The IHT plans to construct 22 affordable apartments at the location.

Voters will also be asked to spend $75,000 to replenish Chilmark’s rent-subsidy program, which is managed by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and subsidizes property owners who agree to provide year-round rentals in lieu of summer rentals.

Regional projects also include a request for $5,000 as Chilmark’s contribution to replace wooden ramps with concrete ramps at the Martha’s Vineyard Skatepark, located near the YMCA in Oak Bluffs.

An effort to preserve historic houses is behind a proposed amendment to the zoning bylaws.

A historic house is defined as “any one of the historic structures listed in the appendix to the 1985 Chilmark Master Plan (as may be amended from time to time), which is classified as either pre-revolutionary or federal and Greek revival eras to Civil War.”

Homeowners would be required to seek a special permit from the zoning board of appeals prior to any renovation, remodeling, or rebuilding which changes the exterior of a historic house. The historic commission will review the proposed changes, and determine whether the changes “preserve the integrity of the historic features of the exterior of the house,” and submit its report to the ZBA.

A historic house may be converted into a guesthouse even if it exceeds the 800-square-foot limit.

Voters will also be asked to create a bylaw prohibiting plastic checkout bags effective Jan. 1, 2017: “If a store provides checkout bags, they may only provide recyclable paper bags or reusable bags.” Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Tisbury have already passed a similar measure.

In other business, voters will be asked to spend $23,000 to increase the size of the photovoltaic array on the main roof of the Community Center; spend about $33,000 to purchase and equip a new police vehicle to replace the 2010 Ford Expedition; spend $44,000 to purchase a town pickup truck for the highway department; authorize the widening of Basin Road to create a three-foot-wide pedestrian path along the paved surface; authorize the widening of the Menemsha parking lot section of Basin Road along the entire east and north sides by five feet; spend $23,000 to purchase and install additional boardwalk in Menemsha; spend $11,000 to construct a dirt parking area north of the comfort station; and spend $11,130 to fund the town’s share of the administrative expenses of the All-Island School Committee’s contract for adult and community education (ACE MV) in FY17.