Chilmark voters joined their peers in Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and West Tisbury in supporting a housing bank.
At town meeting Monday night, voters approved the article on a voice vote, after some extensive debate. The question will be on the town’s election ballot on Wednesday as well. Three towns — Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and West Tisbury — have also supported the housing bank question at the polls. (Tisbury’s election is Tuesday, May 24. Aquinnah’s town meeting and town election are also in May.)
In Chilmark, questions centered on what impact the housing bank would have on Chapter 40B projects, as well as whether the resident requirement was enforceable. Town counsel Ronald Rappaport told voters there could be a residency preference for housing assistance, but not a requirement. An unidentified voter said he thinks the housing bank is “diametrically opposed” to the goals of the Land Bank, and will drive housing prices up.
The housing bank would be funded through a 2 percent transfer fee imposed on the purchaser of a property sold for more than $1 million. So a property sold for $1.2 million would be charged a fee on the $200,000, under the housing bank legislation.
This is a third attempt at a housing bank on Martha’s Vineyard. This iteration was launched 18 months ago by a coalition of Island leaders looking to help the Island’s housing crisis. The steering committee of the Coalition to Create the MV Housing Bank was co-chaired by Julie Fay, former Martha’s Vineyard Community Services executive director, and Arielle Faria, current administrator of the Edgartown affordable housing committee, and resident of the new Scott’s Grove apartments in West Tisbury.
The coalition sought to win support by bringing select board members into the process early, and holding forums over the course of the past year. In the meantime, the Island’s housing crisis has only gotten worse — exacerbated by the proliferation of short-term rentals, and a housing market that was so scorching hot it sent the median housing price from $800,000 to $1.2 million as people sought refuge from the ongoing pandemic on the Island.
In other business, Chilmark voters approved $52,000 for a hybrid SUV for the Chilmark Police Department. Some voters tried and failed to postpone the article.
A $9,000 drone was approved for the Chilmark Fire Department, and $30,000 will be spent to repair the roof and bell tower at the police station.
For Menemsha, $90,000 was approved to repair and upgrade the comfort station. Concerns were raised by voters about nitrogen emissions from the restrooms. Select board member Bill Rossi called the work a “stopgap measure.”
Voters supported $250,000 for the first phase of a public works garage.
Meanwhile, voters approved an article that will change the treasurer’s position from elected to appointed. It still needs approval at the ballot box on Wednesday.
Impassioned remarks arose not just for the housing bank but for an affordable housing development proposed at Peaked Hill Pastures — a concept that would see 10 rental units, two “turnkey” owner units, and two “u-build” homesites realized.
While Peaked Hill Pastures was being deliberated, Dr. Aletheia Donahue, an internist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, shed some light on an essential worker crisis in on-Island medicine, and pleaded for more rental units, as opposed to build sites.
“We have two nurses just in my section of primary care that are retiring in a month,” Dr. Donahue said. “I know two nurses that are moving off-Island because they can’t find houses. Young professionals like that aren’t coming shovel-ready to be able to build a house here. They need to have rentals for us to sustain these kinds of employees. And if we don’t have healthcare, we don’t have a community here, because we can’t farm that out.”
After a lengthy discussion that included some unsuccessful attempts to amend the article, voters approved the Peaked Hill Pastures concept.
When voters were asked if they’ll support $86,503 for a Chilmark School generator, zoning board of appeals member Chris Murphy questioned why the school needed a generator, and advocated for a no vote.
“If the school needs a generator, that means the whole town has no electricity, and there’s going to be no school. So it doesn’t really make sense to be blowing that kind of money on something that has a monthly upkeep fee of like a hundred dollars just in gas that it uses to turn itself on and off once a week.”
Up-Island school committee member Robert Lionette held an opposing view. “I think this is a vital step,” Lionette said.
Lionette pointed out power was lost a couple of times over the winter, and the school had no running water. He also said the generator would support the new HVAC system.
The item passed by a majority vote.
Comm center issue explored
When a $32,822 article came to the floor to fund the Dukes County Communications Center, former Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich wanted the finance committee to explain why it split the item.
Finance committee member Vicki Divoll said the Sheriff’s Department gets its money from the state and from grants primarily. However, under a municipal agreement between the six Vineyard towns and the Sheriff’s Department, maintenance costs for emergency communications and dispatch services are divvied up six ways.
“When we dug into this budget this year, the total sum that was asked for from all the towns was $281,695, of which $32,822 is Chilmark’s share.” Divoll explained each of the six municipal portions and that’s based on a formula of 50 percent being ⅙ for each town and 50 percent being based on call volume. Divoll said after the finance committee examined the overall numbers, “we determined — and I don’t think there’s a lot of disagreement on this — that $40,000 of the sum is in fact not maintenance, and is more likely characterized as either operating or capital, and our agreement was to pay maintenance and not operating and capital.”
Divoll alleged the reason for the $40,000 was because “the system doesn’t provide good coverage in Edgartown.” Divoll said the weak coverage was due to the town’s topography and lack of a tower, and the Sheriff’s Office had to lease a “redundant system” for the Edgartown area from Comcast.
“The system isn’t working as it should, and the coverage isn’t safe,” Divoll said. “The first responders are not able to communicate with each other adequately or with [the] dispatch center.”
Divoll said a temporary solution may be coming where an antenna is mounted on the Dukes County Jail.
Divoll said the $40,000 is expected to be an annual cost that some finance committee members felt shouldn’t be paid by the town — ”we shouldn’t be paying for something that we didn’t agree to pay for.”
Despite the reservations of some finance committee members, Divoll said the committee didn’t recommend a no vote.
Dukes County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Anthony Gould offered some insight on the coverage issue. “There’s a particular issue in the downtown area,’ Gould said. “There’s not a broader public safety issue with the communications system in Edgartown.” Gould said the Sheriff’s Department made an attempt to put communication equipment on the water tower, tried to negotiate with Verizon to “co-locate” on their tower, and has been trying to work with Edgartown to build a tower at the town’s landfill.
“All these efforts have failed,” Gould said. Instead, Gould said, the department “co-located” on the “Chappy West tower.” This, he said, “provided sufficient enough coverage” to transition to a new system.
Gould described the $40,000 figure as “backhaul lease costs from Comcast.” He said the money provides redundancy that supports uninterrupted emergency communications in Chilmark through a type of communication loop.
“Now, it is not our intention to continue with these costs long-term,” Gould said. “It’s a personal project of mine to establish a municipal fiber-optic network on Martha’s Vineyard that is funded through our municipal budgets instead of a warrant article and a lease cost that we pay to Comcast. But it still leaves us where we’re at today. We need to have this redundancy.”
In the end, voters passed the article by a majority vote.
The meeting began on a solemn note with town moderator Janet Weidner reflecting on her recently deceased predecessor, the legendary Everett Poole. After a moment of silence for Poole, select board chair Jim Malkin shared some brief memories of Poole.
Malkin said when he was first elected to the select board and sought annual town meeting advice from Poole, Poole told him, “Well, the first thing you need to know is it’s a tie meeting,” Malkin said. “I said, What’s a tie meeting? He said, You wear a tie.”
Malkin said Poole also told him after annual town meeting, Poole traditionally would retire to his living room “and eat a quart of ice cream,” as he believed it was good for his throat.
Malkin said to Weidner, “Janet, I hope you like ice cream.”
“I do, thank you,” Weidner said.
Updated to include more details.