Chilmark readies for Monday town meeting

Election set for Wednesday, harbor posed to open for transient vessels.

Menemsha Harbor will open to transient boaters on June 15. — Rich Saltzberg

On Monday at 5:30 pm, Chilmark voters will be the first Vineyarders to hold their annual town meeting during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Barring foul weather, the meeting will take place under open skies, on the basketball court outside the Chilmark Community Center. 

Voters are required to wear masks at the meeting, and six-foot social distancing is mandatory. Chilmark constables will monitor and assist throughout the meeting. The 18-article warrant was abridged to contain just fiscal items. There are no bylaw changes or other items of law. Articles related to the new fire station and Tri-Town headquarters have been relegated to a special town meeting, expected to take place in the fall. 

Two capital projects on the warrant must also be approved at the annual town election on June 10, as they are debt exclusions. Both concern school repairs and upgrades. The first project is a $169,136 replacement of windows at the Chilmark Elementary School. The second project asks for $5,216 as Chilmark’s contribution to a dust collection system at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. 

Other items on the warrant call for routine expenditures for the fire and police departments and various contributory sums to Dukes County social services. An article covers Chilmark’s portion, $33,470.79, of fiscal 2021 Dukes County Emergency Communications Center maintenance costs, and is contingent on all six Vineyard towns approving their shares. Another article contains a number of Community Preservation items, including a $25,000 payment to the Field Fund, Inc., “for the purpose of restoring the baseball field at the Chilmark School.” 

Chilmark town administrator Tim Carroll told the selectmen Tuesday night voters will be able to check in at a pair of tents that will handle surnames A through K, and L through Z. Chairs for voters will be spaced six feet apart, Carroll said.

“It works out to be 120 chairs on the basketball court,” he said. “At town meeting we’ve had 200 people, but we’re hoping we’ll be closer to our 25-person quorum this time. We’ve cut back the warrant to be noncontroversial, but there’s still the budget, and there’s still other things that need to be voted that people need to speak about.”

Carroll noted the layout will be designed so that voters enter from one side and leave on the other side, with Porta Potties on each side. The Chilmark Community Center will be locked. 

“We need to ask everybody to stay home if you’re sick,” he said, “and to please respect other people’s desire to be socially distant. I know it’s normally a time to get together with people and sit, say ‘hi’ and reacquaint yourselves, to come up and see the moderator at the front table, but we’re going to ask that when you come into this … to be all business this time [and] to check in and proceed to a seat.”

Carroll went on to say, “We really cannot have any mixing, because while some people might not feel that’s a threat to them, there’s other people who are seriously concerned about their health and safety, and we’re trying to respect everybody because we need to have this town meeting happen in order to move forward with our business.”

Carroll stressed the town is not planning to distribute masks, but a small number will be available in a pinch. A printed annual report will not be ready in time for town meeting, he said, but he hopes to put a PDF version of it online shortly. 

If there is a weather cancellation, it will be decided by 11 am on Monday by moderator Everett Poole, Carroll said. 

Selectman Warren Doty, who is unopposed, tops the annual town election. The election has no competitive races, and two ballot questions. It will be held in the Chilmark Community Center on Wednesday from noon to 6 pm. Town clerk Jennifer Christy told the board the election will utilize the whole interior of the Community Center, as opposed to just the lobby, as has been customary. The center will be sanitized every hour, she said. The ramp at the entrance and various places inside will have six-foot separation marks for voters to stage themselves before they proceed to various points in the process. 

“I have issued over a hundred absentee and early ballots, and applications are still coming in,” Christy said. She says she expects those ballots will markedly reduce the number of voters who show up in person on Wednesday. 

In other business, the board of selectmen voted unanimously to permit harbormaster Ryan Rossi to open Menemsha Harbor to seasonal transient boating on June 15, in accordance with guidelines developed in consultation with the board of health.

Rossi said he met with the board of health on Saturday. Per agreement with that board, he noted any staff he may hire in the harbor department for the season must quarantine for 14 days if they come from out of state, and all harbor staff must carry a pocket-size vial of hand sanitizer with them at work. Rossi told the board he expects to install a handwashing station by the harbormaster’s shack for staff “so when they come back from tying boats up, they’ll have hand soap and be able to wash up before entering the harbor office again.” Reservations have begun, he told the board, but he doesn’t expect a lot of boats at the transient dock until the end of June. 

Rossi told The Times that Offshore Engineering recently completed emergency bolt repairs to the commercial wharf, and annual piling repairs around the harbor.