Aquinnah voters this week agreed to create the town’s first personnel board and employee classification system but indefinitely postponed a vote on creating four additional affordable housing units.
The action came at a special town meeting on Tuesday night in the Aquinnah town hall.
Town moderator Walter E. Delaney withdrew an article that would authorize the Aquinnah selectmen to sign service contracts with Dukes county to pay a portion of the cost of health care access, county engineer and rodent control programs. The issue must be voted on at the annual town meeting, Mr. Delaney said. The county has decided it can no longer pay the full cost of the three programs and is asking the six towns to chip in to cover half the cost of the health care access program, half the cost of the rodent control program and 100 per cent of the cost of the county engineer. Aquinnah’s share of the proposed cost is $4,545.
Thirty-nine voters spent two hours on a 13-article warrant, approving the use of $47,480 in free cash to retire outstanding expenses from the prior fiscal years, and agreeing to pay $7,100 in state assessments for transit authority service.
In all, voters approved nine items, several with amendments, and postponed four articles.
While the county contract issue was predicted to be the discussion headliner, most of the debate centered instead around the affordable housing plan submitted by the Aquinnah housing committee. The plan calls for the use of the northernmost portion of a 4.2-acre town-owned plot behind town hall to build four affordable rental units and seven parking spots.
Abutters Michael Glasser and John Brett-Smith urged a review of alternate locations. Mr. Brett-Smith and his two sisters own the former Ruth and Linus Jeffers house. Mr. Brett-Smith argued that the placement of the units puts them within 100 to 150 feet of his family’s property. The home has been maintained much as it was when it served as both town post office and general store, he said.
“We appreciate both the need and the work the committee has done and we wish we had earlier notice,” Mr. Brett-Smith said, adding he was concerned about possible flooding from the parking area.
Mr. Glasser, who also lives on Jeffers Way, said the project is not in keeping with the character of the town. He suggested the town acquire buildings in need of repair and convert them to affordable housing. “ We are simply caught off guard by the plan and suggest other options be explored,” he said.
In the end the proposal was postponed, to the disappointment of Derrill Bazzy, chairman of the Aquinnah housing committee. “I just wish we had gotten time tonight to explain our plan in detail. For example, we’ve talked with Mr. Brett-Smith’s sister, and as a result, brought an amended plan tonight which addresses two of his major concerns,” he said, adding: “We are willing to consider moving the site. It’s up to the town.”
In other business voters approved the formation of a town personnel board after some discussion, largely centering on board functions and responsibilities. The town passed a personnel bylaw in 2006 which required eventual creation of the board. Camille Rose, selectman board chairman, said the three-member board is designed to be independent from selectmen, although selectman Jim Newman cautioned that unresolved disputes may ultimately come back to selectmen. “The buck stops here,” he said.
The board will include a nonvoting employee representative.
Voters also approved an amended article calling for the expenditure of $3,500 for engineering services related to the distributed antennae system (DAS), intended to bring cell phone service up-Island. The article sparked some debate because Aquinnah has paid about $10,000 to bring the project forward alone although Chilmark and West Tisbury have recently joined a collaborative three-town effort. A memorandum of understanding which will lead to an inter-municipal agreement is expected to be signed among the three towns for the project.