Chilmark sails through town meeting

School funding articles spark deliberation; size increase for guesthouses tabled.

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Chilmark voters weren’t in a mood to dawdle Monday night. In roughly one hour and 15 minutes, they cleared 29 articles and headed home. Town clerk Jennifer Christy counted 148 registered voters in attendance.

Only a handful of articles triggered debate, most dealt with education funding. The Chilmark School got $227,500 for heating and ventilation work by a standing vote of 137-9, and $70,550 by majority vote for playground renovations. Voters were unanimous in supporting $2,858 for alarm upgrades at West Tisbury School. However, extensive debate didn’t yield a blank check for a high school stabilization fund. The article was postponed.

Seven Proposition 2½ overrides for Island social services and Chilmark budgetary expenses passed unanimously, and are now contingent on being supported at the annual town election on Wednesday, April 25.

Voters unanimously approved a $10.1 million fiscal ’19 operating budget, and unanimously agreed to postpone a bid to increase the permissible footage of guesthouses. Chilmark voters dealt another setback to Sheriff Robert Ogden’s bid to garner funding for the Dukes County regional communications center by postponing a request for $22,333.

Everett Poole, Chilmark’s venerable town moderator, began the 2018 annual town meeting with a moment of silence for the late mariner Gregory Mayhew. Poole noted Mayhew was the Vineyard’s last representative in the Massachusetts legislature.

Voters then proceeded to cruise through the first 18 articles with unanimous approval. Funding for a Chilmark School heating and ventilation system was the first descent into debate, while funding for a high school stabilization fund triggered the most extensive commentary. The stabilization fund required an affirmative vote by at least four Island towns to be ratified, finance advisory committee member Adam Debettencourt told the audience. Since three towns already voted in favor of the fund, one town voted it down, and another town voted to table it, Chilmark was pivotal, finance advisory committee chairman Marshall Carroll later said.

Selectman Jim Malkin saw little merit in the stabilization fund proposal, and likened it to an empty bucket.

“The request to the finance committee and to the town is to create a stabilization fund with no money earmarked for it, no projects earmarked for it, no governance tied to it, and basically it’s to create an empty bucket, as we saw it, in anticipation for future use,” he said. “Be certainly happy to support the high school when they come forward with projects that need funding, and deliberate and make decisions based on specific projects and specific needs. But this is a general request to set up again a bucket with no accountability, no process, and no particular funds tied to it. On the basis of that, at least, it’s my opinion that this project’s premature, and I would vote no.”

Robert Lionette, a member of the high school committee, urged voters to support it, saying the school committee “would review this as we do our budgets that we present.”

Lionette went on to say the problem is with “safety and health” related building issues between $100,000 and $1 million that don’t justify issuing bonds. He described the school budget as not “lithe enough” to manage those issues, and likened the adoption of such a financial vehicle to the stabilization funds the Island’s towns employ. Funding for the stabilization fund would come as an annual line item in the school budget, dependent on given projects, Lionette said. As such, each town could exercise oversight, he said. Lionette said in the past he’d come out against the stabilization fund, but further scrutiny of the idea changed his mind. “The more I’ve looked at it the more I think that this is a good step forward for us,” he said.

Soon after Lionette’s time at the microphone, a request came from the floor for the moderator to invite Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools Superintendent Mathew D’Andrea, a nonvoter, onto the floor to speak about the stabilization article. At least one cry of “no” could be heard among voters.

“According to the rules, if there’s one person that doesn’t want it, I can say no,” Poole said, “but let’s hear it.”

“I think Robert Lionette hit the nail on the head,” D’Andrea said. “We have a tremendous amount of maintenance needs at the high school, and we’re looking at the most effective way of dealing with these issues.”

The school committee made its stabilization fund pitch to the finance advisory committee in February, Carroll said Tuesday morning. Carroll said he viewed the stabilization fund as another mechanism to maintain a politicized maintenance status quo, where the wrong parties were managing school buildings.

“I’d like to break the chain where we maintain these [school] buildings through the tenant,” he said. He said he preferred maintenance funds come from requests made by a facilities manager, in much the same way maintenance money for other town buildings is allocated.

D’Andrea fielded questions from several voters, but was unable to sway the room. Voters tabled the request.

Voters went on to say yes to a new boat for the harbormaster, and approved $10,000 toward the Menemsha Traffic Plan.

Voters unanimously approved $80,000 worth of highway funds for work on the Menemsha Hill Triangle or, as Poole put it, “Ralph Tilton’s Corner.”

Before the meeting closed, selectman Warren Doty pointed out Poole’s long tenure as moderator had caught the attention of the Boston Globe. The audience responded with standing ovation. In the din of applause, Poole’s gavel could be heard hammering the podium for order.