Chilmark voters, known for their thrifty ways, will be put to the test at their annual town meeting next week when they are asked to spend extra money on a variety of projects from affordable housing to education.
The meeting begins on Monday, April 28 at 7:30 p.m., in the Chilmark Community Center. Moderator Everett H. Poole will preside.
The annual town election will be held on Wednesday; polls are open from noon to 8 p.m. at the community center.
On Monday voters will take up a warrant of 27 articles, including a $6.7 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year, an increase of $500,000, or 8.4 per cent, over last year.
Voters this year will be asked to approve three separate overrides to Proposition 2 1/2, the state law which limits the annual increase in a community’s tax levy to 2.5 per cent. An increase of some $450,000 in education expenses is the main reason for the override. Education spending will increase 24 per cent overall this year.
“We have a huge increase in the school budget,” said Warren Doty, chairman of the selectmen, during a public hearing on the override requests on Tuesday night. Superintendent of schools Dr. James H. Weiss, who attended the meeting, said the increase can be tracked to a rise in the number of Chilmark students in the public school system. Next year, 33 Chilmark students, an increase of seven, will attend the high school. Thirty-one will attend the West Tisbury school and 26 will attend the Chilmark school. “We haven’t added staff or budget, it’s because our percentage [of students] is growing,” said Mr. Doty.
The majority of the education budget will be absorbed into the general town budget. But voters will be asked to approve an override of $78,000 for educational expenses.
Two other separate override requests relate to funding for the county budget. Voters will be asked to spend $12,790 to cover part of the operating costs for the county pest control and health care access programs. If voters agree, Chilmark will pay $5,600 toward the pest control program and $7,200 for the health care access program.
The county, which has experienced its own budget squeeze, has decided to cut funding to both programs.
Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, West Tisbury and Edgartown voters have all agreed to pay their share for the programs. Aquinnah voters will take up the issue at their annual town meeting on May 13.
Voters in Chilmark last approved an override in 2004.
The annual town meeting warrant this year partly reflects the changing times and increasing technological needs of a small town.
One key item expected to draw debate is a request from the United States Coast Guard to replace an existing 48-foot public safety antennae atop Peaked Hill with a 100-foot tower topped by a 13-foot antennae. Planned as part of a national system called Rescue 21, the tower is intended to replace outdated technology and function as a nationwide maritime 911 system for coastal waters. The plan also calls for replacing an existing fiberglass hut with a larger one made of concrete.
At the meeting Tuesday night, Thomas A. Tansey, Rescue 21 environmental manager, said the system will improve the Coast Guard’s ability to locate mariners in distress, improve communication between federal, state and local first responders and reduce coverage gaps in local waters. Senior chief petty officer Stephen Barr, the Coast Guard officer in charge of the Menemsha station, spoke in favor of the proposal. “I see nothing but good things coming from this,” he said.
The cost of the project is $800,000. Chilmark and Dukes County, which houses equipment at the site, will be asked to contribute up to an additional $20,000.
The project drew a mixed response. Chilmark harbor master Dennis Jason and selectman J. B. Riggs Parker, a recreational boater himself, spoke in favor of it. “There’s massive confusion over the present system,” Mr. Parker said. “I realize it’s a tower, I realize it’s high, but it’s no higher than any of the windmills going in.”
But a number of abutters questioned the placement of the tower on top of Peaked Hill, a half-acre of land bought in 1975 by the Vineyard Open Land Foundation. The town later bought the conservation restriction on the property. The site, at 311 feet, is the highest point on the Island and is bordered by 71.6 acres owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. Walking trails connect land bank and open land foundation properties with a nearby 20-acre parcel owned by the town.
“Speaking on behalf of the abutters, we all agree with Rescue 21,” said David Carlson, a seasonal resident. “But this is a conservation piece of land that we have spent a lot of time to save and protect. It is almost tripling the size and scale of that site.”
Mr. Doty agreed. “If this installation was being put in an industrial area, or a parking lot, or a place that seemed fitting, I’d agree with it in an instant,” he said. “But it’s a conservation area and there are residents nearby. It’s a difficult thing to do on land established by the open land foundation and with conservation restrictions. This is a 360-degree view. It could be one of the great, special parts of Chilmark, but it’s not because there’s an industrial structure there.” He posed a series of 12 questions to Coast Guard representatives on Tuesday and hand delivered a set of nearly 20 more from concerned residents.
Among other things, Mr. Doty questioned whether the Coast Guard had explored alternative locations for the tower. They had, Mr. Tansey replied, but he said other areas, including federally owned land in Menemsha, would not be high enough or structurally sound. If voters reject the project, Mr. Tansey said the Coast Guard will return to the drawing board. He said there is no fallback plan, but said the project is national in scope and will continue with or without participation from Chilmark. “If we couldn’t do it here, we will go someplace else,” he said.
Also on the technology front, voters will be asked to amend town zoning bylaws for wireless communication. In February, Chilmark selectmen signed a memorandum of understanding with Aquinnah and West Tisbury to share the cost of installing a distributed antennae system (DAS), a network of small antennas set atop existing telephone poles or other poles. The system is aimed at improving cellular telephone service up-Island.
Affordable housing is also on the docket. Voters will decide whether to launch a mortgage assistance program using $60,000 of Community Preservation Act funds, and they will be asked to spend $376,400 from Community Preservation Act funds to put in roads and utilities for the Middle Line Road Affordable Housing Project, as well $132,500 to install 10 wells for the project.
Other miscellaneous requests include money for a new freezer at the Chilmark Community Center and to restore historic stone walls along South and Meeting House Roads.
The annual town election Wednesday includes the three override requests.
There are two contested races on the ballot. Perry C. Ambulos will challenge incumbent Michael Renahan for a seat on the board of health. Three people are running for two seats on the finance advisory committee: Frank L. LoRusso and John Maloney, who are both incumbents, and Carol Petkus.
Town meeting moderator Everett Poole, who on April 14 marked his 31st year in the post, is not up for reelection, but he is up for a raise. A proposed increase in Mr. Poole’s annual salary from $55 to $100 marks the largest increase — 81.8 per cent — in the budget.