Aquinnah Voters Face Financial Questions And a Choice for Selectman in Elections


Money is the main theme in Aquinnah next week when voters will take up the question of how much to spend, or more correctly, how much to overspend when it comes to the state-mandated tax cap.

The annual town meeting gets under way on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. in the historic Aquinnah town hall. Moderator Walter E. Delaney will preside over the session.

When they gather to conduct the annual business of the town, voters will confront a whopping problem: in order to fund an annual town budget of $2.5 million for the coming fiscal year, a $260,000 Proposition 2 1/2 override will be needed. Voters will act on the town budget and separate warrant requests on the town meeting floor, but the corresponding ballot portion of the override request will not come until a special town election on June 16.

Part of the problem can be tracked to a sharp jump in the number of students attending the regional high school from Aquinnah this year. The number climbed from 9 to 16, and the town assessment for the high school jumped accordingly, from $109,000 to $202,000, an increase of 84 per cent. Spending increases are also on deck for the town police department, and assessments are up this year for regional programs including the Martha's Vineyard Commission, the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group and the Tri-Town Ambulance.

And for the first time in memory, Aquinnah will end one fiscal year and begin another with no free cash, and this will add to the money crunch now facing the second smallest town in the commonwealth.

Discretionary spending could be the first casualty. One article that is expected to generate debate is a request for $117,000 to build a two-bay garage to house a new ambulance. The ambulance was recently donated to the Tri-Town Ambulance Association by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and two of the three up-Island towns have agreed to share the operating costs. Aquinnah was picked to house the ambulance.

"It's something that is needed, but this may not be the year for it," said Aquinnah selectman and board chairman Michael Hebert this week.

The 18-article town meeting warrant also includes two zoning bylaw amendments that are aimed at augmenting a detailed set of town land use regulations. One amendment will add a penalty provision to an existing bylaw that restricts tree and brush-cutting in town. Another amendment will require homeowners to obtain permission from the town plan review committee before they install a generator.

Voters will be asked to approve a package of small spending requests that are aimed at upgrading emergency response services in town. The requests mirror articles that have been approved in five other Vineyard towns this year.

Also on the warrant is a second proposed town bylaw about the Patriot Act, but the bylaw is expected to be postponed until a later town meeting to allow time for the selectmen to pursue a legal review by town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport.

Five of the six Vineyard towns, including Aquinnah, have adopted resolutions opposing the Patriot Act this year (the resolution is expected to come before Edgartown voters at a special town meeting this summer). But a proposed town bylaw over the Patriot Act was shelved in West Tisbury last month after Mr. Rappaport said he had problems with it.

At their regular meeting this week Aquinnah selectmen voted to ask West Tisbury and Chilmark to share the cost of the legal review.

The Aquinnah annual town election will be held next Wednesday. There are only two contests: incumbent selectman Michael Hebert is being challenged by planning board chairman Camille Rose, and longtime town moderator Walter Delaney is being challenged by town resident John Walsh. Polling hours are from noon to 6 p.m. in the Aquinnah town hall.