Town Administrator Is Announced

By ALEXIS TONTI

Tisbury voters this week waded through the special town meeting with little debate, approving the bulk of the articles under consideration, among them a barking dog bylaw, new sewer and septage regulations and a professional enhancement fund for Island teachers.

A bare quorum of about 100 residents came to the meeting Tuesday night at the Tisbury School gymnasium. Town moderator Deborah Medders took the podium only a few minutes past the scheduled starting time.

At the outset Tristan Israel, chairman of the board of selectmen, introduced the new town administrator, John R. Bugbee, former aide to the mayor of Newburyport.

Mr. Bugbee began work at town hall this week.

Of the 20 nonappropriating articles on the warrant, voters turned down only one: a change to the zoning bylaws that would have eliminated the regulations that govern the subdivision of the long, narrow parcels of land known as deep lots.

Planning board chairman Tony Peak explained the origins of the bylaw, which was adopted in 1976 as a means to prevent sprawl in the outlying areas of town. The bylaw allows deep lots to be divided into as many as three lots - even though all three may not have sufficient frontage on a public way - provided they meet a complicated set of criteria.

"This bylaw has been amended two times, maybe even three times, in the past. Its language has not improved. It's garbled, it has been misinterpreted and in some cases has been applied to the town's detriment," said Mr. Peak, adding that 50 per cent of the deep lot regulations are no longer relevant.

But several residents questioned whether eliminating the bylaw would restrict the ability of young families to build homes.

"This would create a hardship for people at the lower end, for children of Tisbury who have to leave the Island. There are a lot of lots out there that meet these criteria, and a lot of people who need these lots. We are talking about our friends and family, who need these houses," said Roy Cutrer Jr.

"This was originally put in there so if a family owned land, they could put a road in and give the lot out back to their kid," said selectman Tom Pachico. "Maybe it's been abused in some cases, but [striking the bylaw] would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water."

Mr. Peak disputed their assessment of the bylaw's usefulness.

"It has been the frequent experience of the planning board that people prostrate themselves before the board in the name of family and friends, to be able to keep them on the Island, and who then sell their lots and move to Florida," said Mr. Peak.

"I'm not saying [the bylaw] is never used to benefit longtime members of the community, but often the benefit is financial. It's not about people being able to stay here in the long-term," said Mr. Peak.

But residents ultimately voted to keep the bylaw on the books.

Animal control officer Sharon Rzemien introduced the barking dog bylaw, which includes four tiers of violations and penalties for barking that lasts more than 10 minutes. She said the majority of complaints in the past year came from the same four neighborhoods, indicative of the need for a more effective means of intervention.

"Right now we have no jurisdiction to stop this other than to bring it to the board of selectmen," said Ms. Rzemien. "I don't know if you've ever been to a barking dog hearing, but a lot of dirty laundry gets aired in public and it's not very pleasant."

She later added: "We always try to work out problems with dog owners, and we would be fair when it comes to writing citations."

After turning down an amendment that would have allowed 30 minutes of penalty-free barking between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., voters approved the bylaw as originally written.

Another article that generated some discussion was a proposal to adopt a small personal property account exemption, under which accounts of less than $5,000 will not be taxed. Assessor Angela Cywinski said the exemption would save time and money for the town, while impacting the tax rate less than one-tenth of one per cent.

"We waste a lot of time preparing bills for $1.35, and then there's sending them and postage. This is about housekeeping. It's about streamlining our process and making a more effective government for everybody," said Ms. Cywinski.

Finance committee chairman George Balco disputed that there would be any savings - especially after an amendment to restrict the exemption to accounts of less than $2,500 failed.

The article passed narrowly, 53-42.

Residents also voted to establish a fund for the Martha's Vineyard Superintendency Union School Committee, to reimburse teachers for sabbaticals, tuition and other professional enhancement opportunities. The Island towns have contributed to an informal fund that fulfills the same purpose for 16 years, but must establish the fund formally to comply with state legislation.

"This is a regional approach to the enhancement of all Island teachers," said Amy Tierney, business manager for the Vineyard schools.

In the past the fund has ballooned to nearly $180,000, but Ms. Tierney assured residents that the fund now will be capped at $88,000, with any unused money returned to the towns at the end of the year. Tisbury's share for fiscal year 2005 is $14,904.

Edgartown is the only town that still must ratify the fund.

Mr. Pachico postponed indefinitely a proposal to lease land at the former septage lagoons for the storage of commercial vehicles and heavy equipment.

The evening's end was punctuated by several articles relating to the new wastewater system. First, voters approved the sewage and septage regulations; they then adopted an amended list of flow rates for property owners in the sewer district.

The flow rates were assigned based on Title V state regulations and are tied directly to the betterment fee property owners will be assessed annually for the next 20 years.

The sewer regulations and the flow rates had been vetted thoroughly at public meetings over the past few months, and both articles passed with few questions.