Aquinnah mostly said yes at annual town meeting

Aquinnah voters stand to be counted at annual town meeting Tuesday night. – Rich Saltzberg

In the last of the Island’s annual town meetings, Aquinnah voters went to work Tuesday night, and over the course of three hours passed a $4.1 million operating budget for the next fiscal year and 43 of the 44 articles on the warrant presented to them.

With 62 registered voters in attendance — a quorum required 36 — moderator Michael Herbert was able to start the meeting on time at 7 pm. Debate was not long in coming. Budget items generated the most heat.

Several voters took issue with a 5 percent pay increase for town administrator Adam Wilson. A standing-vote motion to reduce the increase was defeated. A subsequent motion to address the same subject via Australian ballot was also defeated.

Selectman Jim Newman, who said the town administrator had performed well for the town, found the focus on Mr. Wilson’s salary unpalatable. “It sounds sort of vindictive to me, actually,” he said.

Voters unanimously approved a $450,000 appropriation to purchase a pumper truck for the fire department. Speaking in support of the article, Fire Chief Simon Bollin said the town’s current truck, a 1994 model, is hobbled with a faulty pump system. He estimated the cost of replacing that truck’s pump at between $100,000 and $130,000.

Despite the apparent savings compared with buying a new truck, Chief Bollin argued that replacing the pump on the current truck ran the risk that other parts of the truck, such as the drivetrain, would fail and trigger further costly repairs. He added that replacement parts for the current pumper were scarce, and that they could pose a safety risk.

“I don’t want to put our guys in a truck that has pieces out of a junkyard,” he said.

Chief Bollin said whereas the current pumper carries 3,200 gallons of water, the new pumper stows 32,000 gallons worth of foam — a significant boost in suppression capability.

When asked by resident Richard Skidmore whether that foam was green — environmentally friendly — Chief Bollin said that when the salespeople for the product come to pitch it, they drink it to prove its harmlessness.

Voters tabled a request from the housing committee to “authorize the transfer of the care, custody, management and control of a parcel of Town-owned land located on State Road.” The intent was to pave the way for the land to be used for affordable housing.

A letter read into the record by town moderator Michael Herbert argued that ownership of the six-acre parcel in question, which was identified as Map 9, lot 153, on assessor’s records, was in question. In the letter, trustees of the estate of Shirley Jardin questioned Aquinnah’s right to the parcel, arguing that Ms. Jardin’s heirs are descendants of the former owners of the parcel and have a claim on the title. Edward Belain Sr., who claimed a connection to Ms. Jardin’s estate, requested that voters hold off on approving the transfer until a clear chain of ownership can be legally verified.

Town counsel Ron Rappaport said, “The issue of the ownership of this lot came before the town meeting in 1988.” Mr. Rappaport said he was asked to determine ownership at that time.

“We did look into the title, and we determined that the title is in the name of the town,” he said. Despite Mr. Rappaport’s assurance, voters agreed to table the article, the only article not approved Tuesday night.

Voters unanimously approved changes to the town’s zoning bylaws to bring them into accord with FEMA floodplain regulations and maps.

By a 31-to-13 vote, voters cleared the two-thirds majority needed to pass Article 30, which legalizes accessory apartments and two-family dwellings for use as affordable housing.

Provided affordability conditions are met, the new bylaw permits the construction of in-law-type apartments and two-family homes. In either case, such dwellings may only house “persons domiciled on Martha’s Vineyard year-round who the Aquinnah Housing Committee determines are eligible to rent, as demonstrated by income, residency, and other documentation required by the Aquinnah Housing Committee.”

Voters said yes to the prohibition of overnight anchorage in Aquinnah’s portion of Menemsha Pond. Harbormaster Brian Vanderhoop pointed out that the law does not apply to vessels seeking shelter during foul weather or for other emergency reasons.

“If I want to sleep in my dinghy overnight I can’t do it? You can’t have fun in dinghies anymore?” Angela Waldron asked. Her question was answered with laughter from all over the room.

Aquinnah became the fifth of the six Island towns to support a plastic bag ban. Aquinnah resident Liz Witham proposed an amendment to authorize the board of health to grant up to a one-year waiver to businesses unable to immediately comply with the law. That amendment was approved.

“We are really concerned about plastic in the ocean. As an Island community we should really be great stewards of the ocean,” Vineyard Conservation Society staffer Samantha Look said on behalf of the article. The article passed unanimously to applause.

The town meeting wrapped up a little after 10 pm. Spencer Booker, who finished up his third and last term on the board of selectmen, was also recognized with a hearty round of applause for his service.

Aquinnah voters went to the polls Wednesday to choose between Macey Dunbar and Gary Haley for a seat on the board of selectmen.