Changing elected positions to appointed will have to wait

Articles about assessors, town clerk withdrawn at Aquinnah town meeting.


Updated, Friday, 11:25 am*

Two warrant articles related to a much-discussed plan by Aquinnah selectmen to appoint rather than elect town assessors and the town clerk were unexpectedly withdrawn during the town meeting Tuesday night.

Selectman Jim Newman told about 60 voters at the town meeting that the proposal had “encountered some legal issues. We may or may not revisit it.” He said if the plan is revisited, that the proposal might be part of a special town meeting in September. State law requires that changes of this sort must be approved both by town meeting vote and by voters in an election. The law also requires a 60-day separation period between the two votes. The measures were not included on the ballot for town election this week.

The motions to withdraw the two articles that addressed the change from elected to appointed officials were approved by voice vote on Tuesday night.

Voters approved a $110,000 Proposition 2½ tax override, and a $4.4 million town budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017.

As The Times went to press, voters in the town election were considering the override question.

Before taking up the budget, voters heard an overview and warning, prepared by the board of assessors, indicating that Aquinnah tax levy increases have outstripped levy gains statewide and by other Island towns over the past decade.

Voters responded with an hourlong grilling of town officials on a variety of line items, including pay raises for police and fire chiefs, and they scoured departmental expenses in a hunt for savings that continued for much of the 3½-hour meeting.

Several voters, for example, challenged the decision to use $91,000 as a starting salary for the replacement of Adam Wilson as town administrator. Mr. Wilson leaves the position on July 7 after six years. A voter suggested the starting salary be rolled back to $61,000, Mr. Wilson’s starting pay in 2011. She also suggested the selection committee be expanded to include other town officials and at-large members.

Several town officials pushed back on the lower starting salary, asserting that Mr. Wilson does three jobs, as receptionist, chairman of several boards and committees, and town administrator. “You are going to tie our hands in terms of qualified candidates,” Mr. Newman said, adding that he liked the idea of expanding the selection committee.

Voters challenged outlays for repairs to athletic fields in West Tisbury and at the high school, and whether the town’s $6,500 swimming program was needed, and whether it had proper oversight. After several minutes of discussion, one voter said, “If we lose one kid to drowning, all this bickering tonight will be meaningless,” after which voters funded both the swimming and sailing programs.

Town officials participated in the hunt for savings, as Fire Chief Simon Bollin said his department would fund a $6,500 firehouse floor retiling project, for which DPW director Jay Smalley was getting voter pushback. Mr. Smalley withdrew an article which would have funded the project.

Voters got some good news about Community Preservation Act funding, which fuels many town projects. Freshman State Representative Dylan Fernandes told the voters that Aquinnah receives the maximum of matching funds from the state, and that he is co-sponsoring legislation to set matching grants at 100 percent of town CPA amounts. Currently Aquinnah receives an 80 percent match, Derrill Bazzy, Community Preservation Committee chairman, said. Voters passed all six Community Preservation–related articles, with the exception of $1,788 for landscaping the the library pond.

Voters approved a nonbinding resolution to invite the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to display the Fresnel lens, formerly at the Aquinnah Lighthouse, on lighthouse property. The museum currently plans to showcase the lens at its proposed new Vineyard Haven site.

Voters also accepted a new range of pay grades and pay increases steps and a new boundary line between Chilmark and Aquinnah, and agreed to transfer a parcel of town land to the Aquinnah Housing Committee for affordable housing.

Voters approved an article to provide $3,000 for assessor training, and approved the withdrawal of an article for a $23,000 guardrail fence at the Aquinnah Circle.

*This story originally reported that an article for $3,000 for assessor training was withdrawn. It was approved by voters.