Chilmark voters breezed through their annual town meeting on Monday night without batting an eye, approved a $5.7 million budget and voted in favor of the Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank and two versions of a renewable energy resolution along the way.
But when they came to the final vote of the evening -- whether to use $23,000 from the community preservation committee's open space reserve fund to fight an invasive reed in Chilmark Pond -- the debate began over how to vanquish the mighty phragmite.
Most of the 162 voters who attended the meeting stayed put to hear both sides of a lively and heated discussion on the topic, and in the most evenly split vote of the night, residents issued their only rejection of the night to the requested expenditure.
It was a rousing end to an otherwise staid evening.
Moderator Everett H. Poole banged the gavel a few minutes past 7:30 p.m., and again almost exactly two hours later, after voters had tackled the 27-article warrant.
An air of contentment reigned. When it came to the town's operating budget, there was some discussion, but not much.
Judy Jardin began the discussion, wanting clarification on the funding for administrative support within town hall. She reminded selectmen of last fall when voters rejected the personnel board's attempt to hire an administrator to oversee and coordinate operations, and she wondered if a newly reorganized staff was merely a ploy for a larger bureaucracy.
"I don't think we need another administrative position in town," she said.
But selectman Warren Doty assured voters that a new position has not been created and that the personnel board was offering a financially responsible proposal to consolidate administrative support. Fellow selectman J. B. Riggs Parker added that the only byproduct of the consolidation was an additional three hours per week.
Mr. Doty also said that in its annual financial audit from the state this year, the town received the highest marks possible. A round of applause greeted that remark.
School committee member Susan Parker offered the only other amendment to the budget, requested a $48,550 reduction in the education budget, bringing it to $1,971,619. Happily, voters approved the amendment before approving the budget in a unanimous vote.
In total, voters spent less than 20 minutes deliberating on the $5,755,397 operating budget.
Many of the remaining articles elicited barely a whisper of dissent: Almost three-quarters of the requests passed unanimously.
Saving money was a common theme throughout the night, one that clearly delighted voters. At one point early in the evening, executive secretary Timothy Carroll amended an article, lowering the $9,500 for health insurance to $2,000. The amendment and article passed unanimously.
Moments later when it came time to approve spending $8,200 for a new all-terrain vehicle for the fire department, fire chief David Norton stepped up to the microphone to withdraw that request as well.
"Mr. Moderator, I would like to eighty-six this article," he said to laughter. It turns out that a grant had come through, Chief Norton explained, and the vehicle was coming to town without burdening taxpayers.
"You mean postpone this indefinitely?" Mr. Poole responded.
"Yeah, that too," Mr. Norton replied.
And when an article came up requesting the transfer of $50,000 originally earmarked for the capping of the landfill into the town's stabilization fund, Mr. Doty had the pleasure of telling voters that the money was left over from the project. He also added that after months closed to the public, the dump would reopen as soon as June 1.
With that news, town meeting erupted into a loud ovation.
The non-binding resolution to support the creation of a housing bank generated comments that proponents of the affordable housing initiative were not happy to hear.
Michael Halbreich question the language of the resolution, wondering if the one per cent transfer fee on real estate sales over $750,000 would hurt younger homeowners. He proposed eliminating that language.
"I want to ensure that we don't add a burden to people who can't afford it," he said, noting that a one per cent fee on a home bought for $700,000 and sold for $800,000 is really an eight per cent tax on the profit.
"But I approve of the concept," he added.
Harmony Spongberg also had questions about the language and urged an amendment to omit the percentage.
Candy DaRosa, a board member to the Island Affordable Housing Fund, argued against the change, and Mr. Doty agreed.
"We need to be in concert with the other towns, and I think we should leave it as is," he said.
Voters agreed, shooting down the amendment and passing the resolution amidst some scattered voices saying nay.
Voters also agreed on two non-binding resolutions dealing with renewable energy on the Island. One was sponsored by the Vineyard Energy Project, and the other by two selectmen, Mr. Parker and Frank Fenner.
The real fireworks came when Mr. Poole read the final item of the evening: a request to use community preservation money to kill phragmites that have infested Chilmark Pond.
It was the fourth part of an article requesting town approval to spend CPA funds: voters had just agreed to spend $55,000 to fund the year-round rental assistance program, $13,000 to preserve historic vistas and $17,000 to restore stone walls leading into the center of town.
But when it came to a proposal introducing potentially devastating chemicals into town waters, tensions rose.
Chris Murphy rose first to argue against it, saying it had more to do with clearing people's view lines than preserving the pond.
"We can call it an invasive species if we want, but this town is full of invasive species," he said, sparking laughter from the crowd. "The town should not put money into this. Putting poison into the pond is a no-brainer."
"We are not talking about dumping thousands of pounds of poison in the pond, Chris," Mary Jane Pease replied. "This species is destroying a very valuable wetlands resource. It has been described as a circum-polar disaster. Getting rid of it is part of preserving our ponds and beaches, but maybe you don't believe in dune restoration either."
Mrs. Pease, who lives on Chilmark Pond, and conservation officer Russell Walton also argued that more conventional methods of destroying phragmites, like dredging or covering with tarps, did not work. Mr. Walton confirmed that using the herbicide has been the only effective method.
"People have suggested everything short of tactical nuclear devices," he said.
With weapons of mass destruction off the table, voters rejected the request in a standing vote, 71-50.