Chilmark voters approve ownership of Squibnocket Beach

Special town meeting also agrees to spend $476K on harbor upgrades.


Updated Nov. 28, 4:30 pm

Chilmark voters unanimously and speedily passed a 16-article special town meeting warrant on Monday night, including language making Squibnocket Beach town property in perpetuity. The town had held a 99-year lease on the beach property.

About 70 voters at the Chilmark Community Center also approved an additional $100,000 to complete restoration of Squibnocket Beach and its parking area, including construction of a causeway, a subject of town debate and litigation for nearly three years. The additional cost reflects price increases during the three-year period, according to the warrant. The project will now cost approximately $443,000 from available funds.

Voters approved $776,500 in spending, including $476,000 on repairs at Menemsha Harbor,  replacing the electrical system at Dutcher Dock, the commercial fishing bulkhead, and the yacht dock ($350,000) and replacement of 42 pilings at town docks in Menemsha Basin ($126,000). The Menemsha funding for the yacht dock, also known as the transient dock, is to upgrade the electrical service, which was the subject of concern for most of the summer after a group of West Tisbury children experienced the “tickle” of electricity while at Crab Corner on a field trip. The popular area was closed while town officials investigated the source of the electrical issues.

Voters needed only 20 minutes to approve the warrant with the knowledge that the funds were coming from a higher-than-expected surplus or “free” cash account in the town treasury.

Under terms of Article 1, in which the town takes ownership of Squibnocket Beach as a town beach in perpetuity, the town granted permanent easements to two abutters who own land adjacent to the beach.

In other votes, the town updated the town’s 20-year-old town employee pay classification chart,

approved $130,000 for pay increases and fringe benefit costs in fiscal year 2018, and authorized the town to begin seeking easements for construction of walkways at Basin and Crick Hill roads and at North and Basin roads.

Voters also approved of two articles totaling $40,000 to improve the Menemsha Shuttle lot, payment of two bills remaining from FY2018 for nearly $3,000, approved $10,000 for tree removal on town roads, approved $3,000 to hire an electrical lighting consultant for planned improvements to the Chilmark Community Center, and approved $3,000 to provide record storage shelving for the Chilmark Public Library.

Articles providing for $7,500 for incidentals like mileage, Steamship tickets, advertising, and related to the FY2018 revaluation process also passed.

One voter asked early in the meeting for an explanation for the source of funds for the $776,500 in proposed spending at Monday’s special town meeting. “We have more available funds than we normally have at this point,” selectman Warren Doty said. “More than $900,000 that have accumulated in a half-dozen ways, from savings in department budget which have been returned, from refunds, so we have a higher surplus than normal.”

Even with the spending, the town will have money in the bank. “We like to go into winter with a surplus of $200,000 to $300,000, and we will be able to do that,” he said.

After the meeting, town treasurer Melanie Becker and town accountant Ellen Biskis provided some detail on the cash surplus. “Department heads turned in about $150,000 to $170,000 in unspent budget funds, Tri-Town Ambulance remitted $30,000, and the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, which manages the Middle Line Road affordable housing, turned over $70,000 in rental revenue.

“We were able to pay $30,000 interest due on the Middle Line project debt, and apply $40,000 to reduce the debt,” Ms. Biskis said.

Also, the town received higher than projected revenues from fees and licenses, she said, noting the town followed state Department of Revenue guidelines that suggest a town budget revenue income conservatively.

Updated with details of the source of the surplus.