Aquinnah seeks to raise legal budget

Litigation with tribe continues to be costly.

Aquinnah selectmen review a letter requesting that the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission review the decision by selectmen to appoint themselves to the board of assessors. — Lucas Thors

Aquinnah selectmen discussed the need for a special town meeting to raise the 2020 legal budget by $125,000.

The need for additional cash in the legal fund comes as Aquinnah continues to engage the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) in litigation regarding the proposed casino. “The only way we can get this money is to do an override question, so we need to have an election,” town administrator Jeff Madison said. 

Madison suggested two options to raise the legal budget. The first would be to raise taxes through a Proposition 2½ override.

The second is to sell a parcel of town-owned land at the end of Pancake Hollow Road that Madison said could yield up to $450,000.

“I think there is a way to raise the $450,000 without too much of a problem,” Madison said. 

“We would then take the $125,000 out of those additional funds that would normally be entered into the town’s general fund.”

Other reasons for the town looking to increase the legal budget include a suit by Wendy Swolinsky, where she is seeking $300,000 in damages for the taking of a shack at the Menemsha Channel, along with the continuing litigation between the town and the Decoulos family — landowners who sought to develop parcels but had no deeded rights of access.

“Every month the Decoulos case costs us anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 per month,” Madison said.

A special town meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 1.

In other business, the Department of Revenue is making a request that the state Ethics Commission review the appointment of Juli Vanderhoop and Gary Haley as assessors.

“They [the department] were concerned with the selectmen appointing themselves,” Madison said. “Originally, town counsel said it would be fine, but the state is questioning it.”

Madison also mentioned that whoever is appointed to the board will have to take the online assessors course 101 training program in order to be certified. “At this point, that has to be done immediately,” Madison said. 

Although the allotted time for certification after being appointed is one year, Madison said he “would not advise” waiting that long.

“Technically, we can take up to a year, but we will not be able to set the 2020 tax rate. There will be no 2020 tax rate until at least two members of the board have been certified,” Madison said. 

Madison suggested waiting to see if the two people being considered for the vacancies, Howard Goldstein and Kayla Manning, agree to serve and take the course.

Haley said he would be willing to take the course, which is supposed to take approximately one hour, according to Madison. 

“We need to wait for the ethics commission to give us the go-ahead,” Madison said.


  1. Two months into the fiscal year the town’s legal budget is exhausted, with further litigation pending, and the revenue producing board of Assessors has been emptied by the Selectmen, in order to fire a long serving Assessor who dared advise them to find federal reimbursement, as provided in the Settlement, or face incessant overrides and spiraling taxes.

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