After more than four hours underneath the big top outside the Tisbury School, residents approved a more than $30 million operating budget, $5 million in roadway improvements, and a number of changes to planning, practice, and personnel that prepare the town for the future.
Back-to-back annual and special town meetings made for a marathon day, with folks convening outdoors for the second year in a row due to COVID restrictions.
The Tisbury operating budget was approved, but not without some questions and amendments related to the legal expenses the town is incurring, along with a request from West Tisbury emergency management director Russell Hartenstein to fund an Island-wide emergency coordinator position.
In light of recent and past events, Peter Goodale asked what area of the budget is accounting for any settlements or legal expenses incurred by the police department. “I don’t know in what budget the settlements show up, or what settlements we pay out for victims of what the police department has caused,” Goodale said. “What are selectmen doing about making sure we get our whole town on the right path?”
Town administrator Jay Grande explained that the legal services budget covers legal counsel to the town, and any other legal expenses would be paid by the town’s insurance. Tisbury finance director Jon Snyder said any money for legal settlements is pulled from the insurance line, and he expects that budget may go up in the coming years.
Voters also approved Hartenstein’s request for an additional $5,000 to the emergency management budget to contribute the town’s share to a part-time Island-wide emergency coordinator position. Hartenstein said this has been a central goal for emergency managers in every town, and the pilot program to create an Islandwide position would establish consistency and allow the Island to find and apply for additional emergency grants.“It’s a huge responsibility for stipend employees to handle this. We have a whole lot of need, but not a lot of funds,” Hartenstein said.
He added that there is a “very clear” job description drafted for the position, and the Island emergency managers have all agreed that the Islandwide coordinator will report to the head of the Emergency Management Directors Association.
Another new town government position was approved by voters — the natural resources assistant. Tisbury resident Lynne Fraker said this position requires more skill than the harbormaster has, and is supposed to cover both the harbor and shellfish departments. She wondered which department the position is accountable to, and how their time will be divided up between duties.
Harbormaster John Crocker clarified that the harbor and shellfish departments are now jointly known as the natural resources department, and the position would serve both under their purview.
Danielle Ewart, Tisbury shellfish constable, said the natural resources department is looking to plan ahead, and “in the future of Tisbury, it would be nice to have somebody who is going to be accountable, and also so I don’t have to keep hiring a part-time seasonal person.”
Finance committee member Nancy Gilfoy said she thinks it’s important to have a more serious authority to enforce some of the rules on Tisbury waterways, instead of part-time staff.
At the special town meeting that preceded the annual town meeting, Tisbury residents voted to allow special legislation for the town to continue employment of fire department employees past the date they become subject to mandatory retirement at age 65. Retired Tisbury firefighter Malcolm Boyd said the strain on firefighters diminishes as they increase in rank, and the experience they gain over the years is a major benefit to the department. “Generally, firefighters are younger fellas and officers are older fellas,” Boyd said. “Captains should never go into a building — lieutenants direct in a building, and that is about as much as they do.”
Select board member and retired Tisbury firefighter Jim Rogers said he honored the law when he reached the age of 65, and left the department. But he said Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland is putting together an operations plan that will limit physical activities for older firefighters. Rogers added that the older, more experienced firefighters bring a lot to the department, and supported the article: “I think this is a very good fit for the town of Tisbury.”
Another major decision by town residents was to adopt islandwide goals in response to the climate crisis that seek to reduce fossil fuel use on-Island by 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2040, and also reach 100 percent renewable electricity use by 2040. The goals include carbon sequestration initiatives like regenerative agriculture and other resource preservation methods.
Peter Goodale said he is concerned that the goals are too lofty, and has severe doubts they are even attainable. “The electric grid isn’t sufficient to provide enough power to the town or the Island in order to completely eliminate the use of fuels for vehicles and homes and such,” Goodale said. He added that many larger trucks and equipment don’t have electric alternatives yet, and is worried that the goals might be asking the impossible of certain industries.
“I think we should reconsider what our goals actually are to make it more realistic.” Goodale said. “My concern really is that goals tend to lead to regulations, and I don’t want to be in a situation where we start mandating things that aren’t possible yet.”
Tisbury planning board member Ben Robinson said the resolution that was put forward by the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committees across the Island and the goals it contains should be seen as ambitions and standards that each town should strive for, rather than stringent ultimatums.
“They are goals,” Robinson said. He referenced an analogy offered by planning board member Cheryl Doble: “If the light in front of you is green, you start driving even though the lights further down the road from you are still red. Some of the solutions are going to have to be developed.”
Even now, Robinson said, the generators on the Vineyard burn through more than 300,000 gallons of diesel each year to back up the grid during peak demands.
He stressed that if the Vineyard meets these goals by 2040, the Island could lower overall energy usage (both electricity and fossil fuels) by a third, even when counting the growth in energy demand.
With the new climate goals, the energy working group of the Island Climate Action Network has developed an energy model that tracks all energy use, and will be the central tool for monitoring progress in sustainable energy going forward.
Townspeople also voted on changes to the Tisbury zoning bylaws, including alterations to the times that restrict excessive noise, light, and odors that affect neighboring properties. Specifically, Tisbury folks wanted to address the issue of contractors making noise late at night or early in the morning, especially on weekends. The town voted to change these restricted hours in residential and business districts to Sunday through Thursday, no later than 10 pm, Friday and Saturday, no later than 11 pm; and Monday through Friday, no earlier than 7 am, and Saturday and Sunday, no earlier than 8 am.
Tisbury select board member Larry Gomez said he is most concerned with landscapers running leaf blowers early in the morning, and disturbing folks who are trying to sleep, such as guests at his bed and breakfast. He added that the issue of contractors making noise at odd hours is a larger issue that needs to be addressed separately by the town.
Tisbury resident Tristan Israel said he is a landscaper, and although he supports not working late at night and having a late start on weekends, the issue isn’t just limited to contractors, and such strict sound and light restrictions would be difficult for some to comply with. “We have people with birthday parties, we have tourists who come. I would vote against making it 10 pm, especially on weekends, I think that’s unreasonable,” he said.