Season of Annual Town Meetings Continues in Two Island Forums
If Tisbury residents approve more than $2.2 million in proposed expenditures on top of the town's $14.5 million operating budget, taxes for the average homeowner will increase by $160. But the possibility of higher taxes is just one of the issues voters will confront at Tuesday's annual town meeting, at the Tisbury School gymnasium at 7:30 p.m.
Despite a possible five per cent increase over last year's appropriations, most articles do not turn on an override of Proposition 2 1/2, the state law that restricts growth of municipal assessments from year to year. In fact, said town treasurer Tim McLean, the town has the leeway to make an almost nine per cent increase in spending without calling for an override because Tisbury did not use its full tax levy last year, and new construction - which is exempt from Proposition 2 1/2 limits - throughout the year further expanded the tax base.
Town administrator Dennis Luttrell said if the expenditures pass, the tax rate on the average home, valued at $420,000, will increase to $3,234 from $3,074.
"Many towns statewide have had to vote for an override," said Mr. Luttrell. "Tisbury does not. It is a testament to the work done by the town. They have been diligent in keeping costs down."
Selectmen have requested the use of $875,000 from the total $950,000 free cash fund to offset some of the spending.
Two items on the town warrant concern the Main Street Project, a joint effort of the department of public works and the Tisbury Business Association (TBA). Backers seek to make aesthetic improvements to town streetscapes, taking advantage of the opportunity created when the downtown area is dug up this year to install sewer lines for a treatment system.
One item asks residents to approve the use of $439,000 to remove existing sidewalks along Union street, Cromwell Lane and Main street from State Road to Woodlawn avenue, and build a brick sidewalk with rough-edged granite curbing, complete with tree plantings and streetlights.
If voters balk at the price, DPW has prepared an amendment to the article that would cut the money needed to $250,000 by calling for less expensive materials.
Included in the amendment is the establishment of a design review committee to consist of five members - one each from the DPW, selectmen, TBA, planning board and historical commission - appointed by the board of selectmen. The committee would recommend a final design for the project subject to final approval from the selectmen.
"Seventy per cent of Main street looks like it is brick. I would love to see the brick," said TBA president Jeff Kristal. Regardless of residents' final choice for sidewalk material, Mr. Kristal said he would be pleased to see the committee established in order to "involve more people and give everyone a voice."
Proposition 2 1/2 will come into play as residents decide whether to reroute overhead power lines on Main street to install an underground electrical system. If the voters pass both the article and a ballot question on May 7, the town can spend $493,000 to begin the project. But voters will have to revisit the question next year to approve spending up to an additional $1.2 million to actually hook up the underground electrical system.
"The historical commission and the TBA are in favor of burying the power lines underground," said Mr. Kristal. "Doing so will open up the view of the buildings and it will be safer not having the telephone poles in the middle of the sidewalks anymore. It makes sense."
Another item relating to the sewage project was proposed by the board of water commissioners. The item asks for $250,000 to rehabilitate and replace water mains on Main street and Beach Road. Administrator Lois Norton said because the water main is cast iron and more than 100 years old, it makes sense to replace it while the streets are dug up for the sewage system.
Apart from the two Main Street Project items, DPW accounts for nine items. One is the usual $25,000 for fixing up sidewalks, and two others ask for $57,000 and $81,000 to construct sidewalks and repair the roadway on Lake street, which greatly needs it, according to DPW director Fred LaPiana. Another item requests $175,000 for road resurfacing.
One item, put on by petition with more than 150 signatures, requests $3,500 for DPW to survey and lay out a new paved public roadway over a dirt road from the intersection of Lake street and Moonstone Way to property owned by Nstar, the electric company.
The Tisbury town hall could see a revamping if voters approve three items totaling some $69,000. Proposed improvements include repainting, replacing the shutters, fixing the leaky roof and replacing the windows.
Two articles, Mr. LaPiana said, are DPW's typical ones that allow the department to finance its refuse operations. Operations in the next fiscal year require $150,000, and an additional $75,000 is needed to pay off bills accrued over the last fiscal year.
One of the larger expenditures on the warrant is $225,000 for repairs to the Tisbury School's heating system.
There are four items relating to harbor master Jay Wilbur. The most expensive of them calls for $107,500, on top of $25,0000 already appropriated, to build a two-story office building for the harbor master at Owen Park. The proposed 528-square-foot building will provide a full view of the harbor, and would include restrooms and two showers. It would stand where the old one is now, and is designed to fit in with the neighboring beach houses, Mr. Wilbur said.
Other harbor-related items include $25,000 for dredging the harbor breakwater back channel; $2,000 to purchase buoys labeled "No Anchorage" for use in Lake Tashmoo to mark sensitive shellfishing areas; $14,000 to implement a mooring grid for Lake Tashmoo's east side, and $2,000 to purchase dinghy storage racks for Owen Park to help clear up its beachfront.
Also for the waterways is an item requesting $18,000 as the town's share of a grant that will be used to improve docking facilities in Lake Tashmoo.
Aside from the Tisbury police department's usual annual requests - $26,900 for purchasing new equipment and a police cruiser and $2,500 for matching funds for the Islandwide drug enforcement grant - the department has three other articles.
One seeks $4,000 to train police officers, and another $3,000 to lease for a year a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Acting Police Chief Theodore Saulnier said the bike is an important asset when it comes to safety in the town. "It can get to areas faster when we have a lot of traffic," he said.
Also placed on the warrant by a police union-sponsored petition is the Quinn Bill, which provides pay incentives, to be paid by the town and state, for officers who further their education.
Other costs before residents Tuesday night include: $50,000 for a health agent to ease the workload of the town's health officer as he takes on new responsibilities for managing the town residents' septic systems; $100,000 for the purchase of new financial software; $9,500 for fire department equipment; $29,000 to purchase a truck for the shellfish department; $29,000 to purchase a truck for the animal control officer, and a $50,000 transfer into the sick/vacation trust fund.
One nonappropriating article was put on the warrant by petition - to see if the town will include in Tisbury's centralized wastewater system an additional property. Mr. Luttrell said any properties added to the system will cost the town more. He expects such articles to crop up in the future once the system is up and running, as people see the benefits of it.
Two other nonappropriating articles address the issue of affordable housing in town. One asks voters to designate a 2.95-acre, town-owned property on Lambert's Cove Road for affordable housing development. Among other options, a developer could be solicited, Mr. Luttrell said.
Residents can also decide the future of the Lake Street Apartments, four units now managed by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. Voters will decide whether to authorize their conversion to use by only Tisbury residents who meet the criteria for affordable housing. Mr. Luttrell said the town has not yet decided how to treat the current tenants. He said the town will most likely sell the apartments and use the money for other affordable housing projects in town.
Residents will have a second opportunity to use their voice as citizens at town elections, slated for May 7.