Chilmark selectmen delay action on community center fees

Board also pushes back paying for maintenance of 911 system.

The Chilmark selectmen are contemplating raising usage fees for the Chilmark Community Center, specifically for the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival. — Gabrielle Mannino

Updated Jan. 25

In the 90-minute public meeting of the Chilmark board of selectmen Tuesday, the vast majority of time was spent on two issues — the use of and amount of required usage fees for the Chilmark Community Center (CCC), and the cost-sharing formula among the Island towns for a new 911 system to be operated by the Dukes County Sheriff’s office.

At issue is the amount of fees that would be charged to organizations or individuals using the community center for large gatherings. The board voted in new rates at the last selectmen’s meeting. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (also known as the Chilmark Film Festival), held annually in March, will be charged a $600 a day usage fee and $200 a day pre-event setup fee beginning in March 2019.

“While most people in town enjoy the Chilmark Film Festival, there is use and stress on the CCC facility,” chairman Jim Malkin said. “One resident suggested to me that we put the cost onto the tax base, and I do not think it is appropriate to put that on the tax base, because not all taxpayers enjoy the benefits of the film festival or go to the film festival.”

Selectman Bill Rossi said, “I think that is a little low for the impact on the town, but I acknowledge the ‘value added’ for our town.” Malkin said there are as many as 200 people going to each separate film each day of the festival, and those crowds impact the CCC as well as the Chilmark School parking area. “It is a large and valued event, but I have not finished evaluating the cost, and I am not ready to decide on the increase after this year.”

When the discussion was opened for public comments, Chris Murphy said, “I think all of the fees are very high. To charge $1,000 for a local kid to get married there is a punishment. This town group [the Film Festival] will be getting a 50 percent raise in the cost of doing business, because in the past you did not charge for the setup dates. If any of your departments came to you and said they want to raise their budget by 50 percent, you would laugh them out of the room.”

Murphy added, “The CCC is there to be a benefit for the community, not to be a cash cow for the town in any way, shape, or form.”

Film Festival artistic director Brian Ditchfield was thanked for the improvements to the community center paid for by the Film Festival in the past.

“If we, in that weekend, are using 20 to 25 percent of the facilities resources, I am comfortable paying that percentage,” Ditchfield said. “I want to be fair to the space. It is why we have invested in it in the past, and want to invest in it in the future. And I just want to be sure that the price that is set is not penalizing other community arts organizations.”

Rossi responded, “There is a big difference between an annual fundraiser and really, I know you are a nonprofit, but it is a commercial event — a big commercial event,” he said. “That is what we are looking at. The community center historically has not been used for commercial events. To your credit, you have grown your business, and now I define it as a commercial event.”

Ditchfield said the festival breaks even. “It is not like we make our annual budget on that event. I want to be clear, this is not a cash cow for the organization,” he said. “But I agree it is a large event that puts a strain on the facility.”

Selectman Warren Dotty said the facility should not become a wedding venue. “This notion that we may have become a destination for weddings is something I have thought a lot about. And we want to control that,” he said. “At the same time a local person wants to get married and they love the community center, that is different than someone calling up from New York and saying, ‘I want to have my wedding there next September.’”

Malkin said the deed that gave the town use and ownership of the facility says “‘for the use and enjoyment of the residents of Chilmark.’ That helps me for, like, weddings from anywhere, but it is not straightforward.“

After a 35-minute discussion, Malkin tabled the topic to an unspecified future date. The selectmen then approved the waiving of the $50 community center fee as requested by the M.V. Charter School (for its variety show), the Yard’s $100 fee waiver request for a music and dance program, and the fee waiver request for the Island Insight Meditation Community Retreat (free to the public in April).

Sheriff makes his pitch

Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden told the selectmen the $4.6 million cost of building a new 911 communications system for the Island will be borne totally by the state, with completion expected to take five years.

The cost of maintenance of the system, however, is something he’s asking Island towns to share. The sheriff’s department is now proposing a 50/50 “compromise” maintenance formula under which all of the Island towns would share equally in 50 percent of the maintenance of a new 911 communication system.

The other 50 percent of the maintenance costs would be borne by the towns, based on the town’s usage of the system. In the first year of operation the maintenance cost of the system is expected to be $237,000. By the time the system is completely built, the annual maintenance cost may reach $338,000.

“There has to be six-town consensus. Everybody has to agree to it,” Ogden said.

The sheriff told the selectmen that the Oak Bluffs selectmen had raised the question of governance, and the department is creating an advisory committee: “We are open to anything and all things that are being presented by the towns. We just need to be sure that we get a consensus on the Island so we can send that message to the state.”

Malkin said he had two issues. “If this is a state issue, for the state to say that they will pay for the infrastructure but not the maintenance, I don’t get that. If it is a state expense, it is a state expense. I do not understand that logic.“

Ogden agreed: “This is a state system, and they should pay. But they have given us no indication that they are willing to pay to maintain the system beyond the development of it.”

Malkin said there are multiple regional expenses — “the only way that I can come down on this logically is user fees. The user pays.”

The Sheriff’s Department finance director, Peter Graczykowski, said that since initial conversations with the state two years ago, the financial formula has improved for the Island: “We got the state to recognize the emergency situation here on the Island.”

Rossi said a 50/50 split, which would have the towns split the total costs and allocate shares to each town, and have the other 50 percent based on call volume, was the fairest way to divvy up the costs.

Graczykowski asked if the selectmen were willing to endorse the 50/50 formula for placement on the town meeting warrant. Doty said he was not ready to vote on the formula. The selectmen tabled the discussion until their Feb. 5 meeting.

In other business, Chilmark resident Clark Goff presented the selectmen with sketches of what a potential new Tri-Town EMS system building might look like on the site under consideration behind town hall. The selectmen discussed and approved forwarding Goff’s design elements along to the architects. Town administrator Tim Carroll suggested that if at town meeting the purchase of the property is approved, the selectmen need to appoint a building committee to move the project forward.

Finally, retailer L.L.Bean, of Portland, Maine, also requested permission from the town to do a photo shoot in Chilmark in late September or early October. “This is one of the largest photo shoot requests we have ever had,” Doty said. “There will be a significant amount of equipment and a significant crew. “

The selectmen unanimously approved the L.L.Bean request, with limits on the number and types of vehicles, and prohibiting the obstructing or closing of public areas, including Menemsha Beach.

“I am being really honest and not trying to be politically correct,” Rossi said. “I think it is kinda neat.”

Updated to correct that the board already voted in fee increases and to clarify several statements made by Malkin. -Ed.