West Tisbury approves Tri-Town Ambulance formula

Voters honor the late Kent Healy with a standing ovation. 


West Tisbury’s special town meeting attracted 44 voters to West Tisbury School Tuesday night. 

Before voting on the warrant articles, West Tisbury select board chair Skipper Manter said a few words in memory of former select board member Kent Healy, who died earlier this month

“He lived a wonderful and full life, right up to the end. His energy never lapsed, his memory never lapsed … our prayers go out to him and his family,” Manter said. Rather than a moment of silence, “which seems sad and tragic,” Manter asked those in the audience to rise and give a round of applause for what Healy had done for West Tisbury. All of the voters obliged. 

The biggest issue voters decided was whether to accept the new cost-sharing formula for the Tri-Town Ambulance service, which was presented to up-Island select boards during a joint Zoom meeting in October. The formula would have the up-Island towns pay a third of 75 percent of the budget, while the remaining 25 percent will be split based on each town’s call volume. The allocation of revenue generated from insurance reimbursements will follow the same formula in the budget. Tri-Town Ambulance Chief Ben Retmier explained the formula to the voters, and was on standby in case any questions arose. 

Town leaders were mixed in their views on the formula during the debate that preceded the vote. “I’m not comfortable having to pay more taxes to help Aquinnah get by with their financial challenges,” Manter said. He said he would be more in favor of the formula if West Tisbury was directly using more of the ambulance service’s resources, rather than primarily on-call volumes. 

West Tisbury finance committee chair Greg Orcutt questioned why the formula change was needed. 

“It’s been the same for 43 years. Before we pick up another 50 to 80 thousand dollars in additional debt, I’ve got questions, and I don’t think they have been answered at this point,” Orcutt said.

West Tisbury select board member Cynthia Mitchell, who is also on the Tri-Town Ambulance committee, pointed out how the budget and ambulance requirements have increased over the decades, making cooperation among the up-Island towns necessary to make Tri-Town Ambulance a functioning service. 

West Tisbury finance committee member John Christensen pointed out the population and economic disparity that exist between Aquinnah and West Tisbury, which makes it reasonable for West Tisbury to carry a heavier load.

“Aquinnah has no industry. They have almost no fully year-round businesses,” Christensen said. “We have plenty of businesses that are growing here … we have industry in West Tisbury.”

West Tisbury finance committee member Doug Ruskin said he has “two hats” when he looks at the formula. He is against the formula if he thinks of the issue from a financial perspective, but supports it from a Martha’s Vineyard community perspective. He had hoped this issue would wait until the annual town meeting so more voters could have a say in it. 

West Tisbury treasurer Katherine Logue said the formula needed to be decided now because the towns are putting together their budgets for the next fiscal year, and it would not be feasible to properly plan for the formula if the decision came at the annual town meeting. She said West Tisbury pays more than Aquinnah for the Up-Island Council on Aging activities, and it was time for the same concept to be applied to the ambulance service.

“I would urge you all to use your community hats,” Logue said. 

A couple of voters also weighed in on the formula, and were in favor of the concept. 

“We ought to do the right thing and support the town of Aquinnah,” voter Mike Bellissimo said. 

Voters approved the cost-sharing formula by a majority vote. 

Up-Island school facility issues were also on the warrant. One was West Tisbury entering into an inter-municipal agreement with the Up-Island Regional School District to help finance Chilmark School’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system renovations, while the other was whether to spend $257,370 to cover a part of the costs of replacing West Tisbury School’s roof. The total cost of the project is estimated at $643,713.

Voters unanimously approved entering into the inter-municipal agreement. Voters also unanimously approved spending money on replacing West Tisbury School’s roof. 

In other business, voters postponed voting on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s request for $5,000 toward an Island-wide storm tide pathways study and mapping project, because the commission believes it has the money for the project. 

Voters also considered changes and additions to West Tisbury policies. One is a program in which veterans and individuals at least 60 years old can do volunteer work for the town in exchange for reduced taxes, which voters unanimously approved. Additionally, voters unanimously approved allowing the West Tisbury town clerk to adopt a Massachusetts general law dealing with voter registration. Under the law, if the voter registration deadline falls on a Saturday, the clerk is allowed to treat it as a Friday or a Monday. This would allow voters to register on a Friday or a Monday, rather than requiring them to do it on a Saturday.