A light turnout of agreeable West Tisbury voters Tuesday night approved nearly all of the 37 articles at the annual town meeting, including a $2.45 million police station and a $15,000 Mill Pond watershed study. But they would not agree to spend money on two unrelated countywide programs: pest management and an ongoing window replacement project in the county courthouse.
A total of 156 voters turned out for the meeting, which finished in two hours. Voters went to the polls Thursday for the annual town election; there were no contested elections on the ballot but there was a Proposition 2 1/2 debt exemption question for the police station project.
The day after the meeting, the town selectmen said they would ask voters to revisit the two county spending questions at a special town meeting scheduled for next month. “The voters did not hear what they needed to hear last night, and I believe the county manager feels the same way,” selectman and board chairman Cynthia Mitchell said.
On Tuesday voters readily approved a new police station for the public safety complex in North Tisbury. Capping nearly two years of planning, voters agreed to back the new 5,600-square-foot facility. Construction was originally estimated at $2.8 million, but after opening construction bids late Tuesday afternoon, building committee chairman Norman Perry amended the amount to $2.45 million on the town meeting floor.
Police chief Dan Rossi appealed to voters to support the project.
“I think it’s time. The town has grown, the police department has grown, we are in need of a new police station and having a true public safety facility in town of West Tisbury,” the chief said.
His sergeant, Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd, who is also a town selectman, had another view and argued against the new facility on grounds of design and aesthetics. “I’m most uncomfortable with the outside appearance — it just does not say West Tisbury,” Mr. Manter said. “I think we can do better.” In the end the article carried 133-3. Approval in the ballot box yesterday was still needed for the project to go forward. Poet laureate Justen Ahren set the tone for the meeting at the outset with a poem inspired by the Mill Pond. Voters easily approved a $14.7 million operating budget for the coming year, up two per cent over last year, and a two per cent cost of living increase for town employees.
Voters agreed to spend $15,000 on a yearlong watershed study for the Mill Pond, which will examine the health of the pond and river system from Tea Lane in Chilmark to Town Cove in West Tisbury. The question of what to do about the historic pond if anything, has been debated among town officials for several years. Mill Pond committee member and engineer Kent Healy said the study was necessary to get a better “understanding of how the water flows . . . . [and] the effect of human activity on the water.” He also said: “No significant project should be planned without the understanding of the watershed.”
The study is now expected to begin in June.
Voters also approved a package of affordable housing initiatives including $242,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to add three more rental units onto the Sepiessa Point apartments. There are currently four units. Other initiatives included $38,000 to help pay for administrative expenses of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority and $58,000 in rental assistance, a transfer of $20,000 from free cash to the West Tisbury Affordable Housing Trust Fund for future affordable housing projects and $52,700 to the Island Housing Trust to assist with second mortgages.
Voters also approved $12,000 in CPA monies to have the infield of Manter Memorial Baseball Field renovated, either with new grass or maintaining the existing gravel, committee chairman Cheryl Lowe said.
The easy flow of approvals stopped when it came to discussion of spending on county programs. Voters decided to not fund the town share of the Integrated Pest Management program this year.
“I would object to funding anything at the county level at this stage until they get their house in order,” said Doug Ruskin, speaking on the pest management article.
On Wednesday the selectmen decided to place a similar $9,000 article on the special town meeting planned for May 21. if voters approve, the money will go either toward the county program or be used for a town-managed private contract.
A $10,000 spending request to go to
ward a window replacement project at the county courthouse was also turned down. Approval is needed from all six towns for the work to proceed. The article, funded by CPA monies, will be placed on the May special town meeting warrant if the community preservation committee approves.
Other approved spending articles included $18,5000 for a new pickup truck for the highway department and $39,000 for the town’s share of purchasing a new ambulance for the Tri-Town Ambulance Service. Voters also approved $32,000 for the town’s share of a design scheme for a new Vineyard schools superintendent’s building.
And as the national debate about gun control heats up around the country and in Washington, D.C., West Tisbury voters added their own expressions at the end of the night Tuesday, voting to support a nonbinding resolution to back the federal bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, calling for a ban on assault weapons.
“This is very important and we have to take a stand or where is the next death going to be? Where is the next slaughter going to be?” said Barbara Day, who sponsored the petitioned article.