West Tisbury voters will confront their third — and what many hope will be the final — decision on renovation of their old town hall when they convene for the annual town meeting on Tuesday night.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the West Tisbury elementary school. Town moderator Pat Gregory will call the meeting to order, as he has since 1991.
The annual town election will be held on Thursday, April 10 from noon to 8 p.m. at the public safety building.
Town officials say the $5.1 million town hall renovation project is do-or-die this year; they also say it is the best researched and most detailed plan since the idea first came before annual town meeting 11 years ago.
And town hall committee members believe they have exhausted all the time and the money available for designing the project.
“This is the fourth attempt in more than 10 years. We know the last attempt failed because of scale and expense,” said Chuck Hodgkinson, chairman of the town space needs committee.
Mr. Hodgkinson recalled that he cautioned voters at the annual town meeting last year not to vote $150,000 in development funds if they did not intend to vote for a $5 million plan this year.
The $150,000 was approved.
“Future attempts to use the town hall as the town hall will likely be abandoned unless there is another group willing to do it,” Mr. Hodgkinson said this week.
“We’ve been working on this for two and a half years and this plan meets voter size and cost wishes. It’s been approved by town financial and preservation committees,” he added.
Approval would come through a two-step process. Voters must approve the renovation plan by a two-thirds majority on the town meeting floor. A corresponding ballot question must also be approved by a majority vote at the town election two days later.
The ballot question would exempt $4.8 million in bond money for the project from the provisions of Proposition 2 1/2, the state tax cap.
On Tuesday night voters will be asked to approve a $13 million town operating budget for fiscal year 2009, an increase of 1.1 per cent over 2008.
Most department budgets were submitted flat or below last year. The town also will save nearly $60,000 thanks to lower school assessments and another $30,000 in the town’s expense share of the tri-town ambulance system, which began billing customers covered by insurance a year ago.
Only the library, with a six per cent increase for additional hours to comply with state library recommendations, shows more than a nominal increase.
Also noticeable on the 52-article town warrant this year are requests to release some $1 million in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding for a variety of projects.
The town has squirreled away more than $1.2 million in Community Preservation Act money over the last two years; the money comes from a three per cent levy on property taxes and matching state funds.
This year voters will be asked to earmark Community Preservation Act money for affordable housing, open space projects, including dredging of the Mill Pond, and $500,000 in debt service for the town hall project.
The warrant also includes a 30-year town plan to fund past, present and future liability for town employee health care coverage at $150,000 per year.
A number of regional cost-sharing articles are on the warrant. Voters will be asked to join the other five towns in sharing the cost of a county engineer, the Island health care access program and the pest management program.
Voters will be asked to consider changing their town meeting date on a one-year trial basis by moving it to a Saturday morning next year. The idea behind the article is apparently to attract more voters.
They will also be asked to approve a measure requiring the use of paper ballots to vote on any annual town meeting article if 20 or more voters present ask for a secret paper ballot.
The town finance committee recommends a three per cent raise for town employees but does not recommend a new eight-step wage scale for that is five per cent per step higher than the current seven step scale. The plan also adds an additional step that is 10 per cent higher than the existing top end of the wage scale.
Instead the finance committee recommends the town spend $15,000 for a consultant to prepare a classification and compensation plan in concert with the town personnel board. Proposed wage scale salaries range from nearly $27,000 at the bottom of the first step to more than $91,000 at the top for full time employees.
Five affordable housing articles are on the ballot totaling $775,000 for lot acquisition, home construction and rental and second mortgage subsidies. Community preservation funds would be tagged for the projects.
Voters will also be asked to spend $250,000 from reserve funds The finance committee to build three apartment units at Sepiessa Point, plus $45,000 to fund pre-development costs for three single family affordable homes on Bailey Park Road.
The finance committee does not recommend spending $50,000 from reserves to underwrite second mortgages on affordable units and opposes a plan to spend $400,000 in reserves toward construction of affordable housing on State Road.