West Tisbury voters nix balloons

Retiring tax collector Brent Taylor applauded, her position eliminated.

West Tisbury slogged through 56 articles in just under 4½ hours Tuesday night at the 2018 annual town meeting. When the starting gavel fell at 7 pm, 250 of 2,524 registered voters had convened in the West Tisbury School gymnasium, town clerk Tara Whiting said.

West Tisbury voters weren’t afraid to make six-figure changes. They approved a $400,000 Proposition 2½ override, and unanimously approved the amended free cash, which is money not used from the previous year’s budget, of $554,000 to reduce the tax levy. However, the Prop. 2½ override is contingent on the subsequent passage of a ballot question in Thursday’s election.

All three marijuana-related articles passed, including cultivation parameters, which succeeded by a single vote of the two-thirds majority needed — 66 to 32. Voters indefinitely postponed a proposed bylaw governing electric generators, and shot down another governing cargo containers by a vote of 125 to 15.

West Tisbury poet laureate Emma Young read her five-stanza poem “The Time” at the commencement of the meeting. Afterward moderator Dan Waters announced the upcoming West Tisbury poet laureate would be Spenser Thurlow.

Waters took up a student-driven ban on intentional releasing of lighter-than-air balloons out of order, bringing it to a vote at the beginning of the warrant.

“The reason I find this compelling is this was placed on the warrant by petition by the sixth grade. I think especially in this day and age, it’s important to get young people involved in the legislative process as soon as possible,” he said.

During debate, an amendment from the floor sought to raise the associated fine from $100 per balloon to $1,000 per balloon. The amendment received applause, but attorneys for Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplan, and Hackney — town counsel — demurred. They informed the moderator the fine strayed too far from the sum on the warrant. The fine was lowered to $300 per balloon, but failed to garner amendment votes thereafter. Vineyard Conservation Society executive director Brendan O’Neil, who otherwise spoke in favor of the article, called the $300 sum into question. West Tisbury School students Sydney Emerson and Clare Mone also spoke in favor of the article. It passed unanimously with the original $100 fine.

Tuesday night was the swan song for the elected position of tax collector in West Tisbury. Voters approved an article which combines the positions of tax collector and treasurer into a single appointed position. However, the article is contingent on ballot action at the town election. Retiring tax collector Brent Taylor, a 41-year veteran, received a standing ovation for her service to the town. Selectmen chairman Skipper Manter presented her with a bouquet of flowers as applause rolled on.

In the original West Tisbury annual report of 1892, the collector of taxes was James F. Cleveland, Whiting told The Times Wednesday. In a further accolade, West Tisbury dedicated the 126th Annual Report (2017) to Taylor, the last tax collector of West Tisbury.

Also a recipient of a standing ovation Tuesday night was recently retired Police Chief Daniel Rossi, who gave over two dozen years of police service to West Tisbury.

Manter, a member of the police department, spoke highly and humorously of Rossi. “He started off at a patrolman, then became a sergeant, then went right by me to become chief — which I don’t mind,” he said to a round of laughter. “It’s fine to work under him. He’s a fine individual, a true leader of the department over the years.”

The cold war between West Tisbury and Chilmark over Up-Island School District funding didn’t spill over onto town meeting floor when a $23,262 appropriation (West Tisbury’s share of $284,375) for Chilmark School heating and ventilation work came to a vote. The article passed without debate. Voters unanimously passed $17,152 for fire alarm upgrades to the West Tisbury School.

With the successful passage of another article, Fire Chief Manuel Estrella III got $60,000 for a new command vehicle.

“I think the voters should understand that currently the fire chief supplies his own vehicle, and that the only expense the town bears is to pay for his gas,” treasurer Kathy Logue said from the floor. “That’s not right.”

Chief Estrella thanked the voters and received a round of applause.

Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden came in support for a request for $36,580 to fund the county communications center. The finance committee, which was originally against the article, came to support it after language was amended to make the town’s financial support contingent on the support of the other Island towns. After Manter asked Ogden how similar requests fared at other town meetings Tuesday night, Ogden said it was a rout. West Tisbury voters subsequently shot down the article.

Town clerk Whiting briefly took over as moderator for an article seeking $50,000 to restore the historic Mayhew Peddler’s Wagon. Voters said yes.

At the end of the night, voters sent a message to the legislature when they voted in favor of authorizing a petition to protect drinking water from herbicides and pesticides. Among those who spoke in favor of the petition was Nicola Blake, a scientist.