Tisbury voters shrugged off the prophets of financial doom in Washington and among their own ranks, and overwhelmingly endorsed two costly town initiatives at Tuesday night’s special town meeting.
By a margin of 131 to 24, they agreed to a plan to move the town fire, ambulance and emergency services to a new site on Spring street, opposite the Tisbury elementary school where the town hall annex now stands.
Voters also agreed to buy 11 acres of land for a new solid waste disposal site, a step toward consolidating all the Island’s solid waste disposal efforts. The lease/purchase deal for the land could involve borrowing up to $1.2 million, although it will likely cost less than half that.
Voters were clearly in a mood to say yes. They approved 10 of the 11 articles on the warrant, and some even wanted to go ahead on the eleventh, despite the fact that the article’s proponents themselves wanted it deferred for further consideration.
The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. and ended at almost 10 p.m. The first four articles — a couple of fiscal housekeeping items, one proposing a change in the starting time of annual town meeting from 7:30 to 7 p.m., and one to include a member of the library board in town cabinet — were approved with no discussion.
The proposal to designate the new site for the emergency services facility took up the bulk of the meeting. Some 80 minutes was spent on presentations, discussion, clarification and debate before voters took action on the threshold question of whether the new site was appropriate.
There was applause and a smattering of cheers when the votes were tallied and the result announced by moderator Deborah Medders.
Having resolved the siting issue, the matter of money took just a few extra minutes. Voters agreed to borrow $640,000 for the first phase of the project, including design, planning and project management.
There originally were three articles related to the plan: one to approve the new site, one to approve the money for it and a third which sought $60,000 toward the construction of a municipal office to temporarily replace the town hall annex.
But planning board chairman Tony Peak said the board wanted to take no action on the article so other options, such as renting or buying other office space, could be considered.
After voters agreed to set the article aside, they heard a presentation from the proponents of the new emergency services facilities.
The proponents said the current site of the fire station on Beach street is in the most heavily trafficked part of town, hard for firefighters to get to, and then to get equipment out. Furthermore, they said the station is in poor repair and not big enough to house larger new fire trucks. The ambulance station, at police headquarters beside the Stop & Shop parking lot, is even more inconvenient and also too small.
The Spring street site will allow sufficient space to consolidate the emergency services in one place, with better access and more centrally located, they said.
Fire chief John Schilling and ambulance coordinator Jeffrey Pratt addressed the concerns of some school parents that emergency vehicles could be a hazard near the school. They emphasized that their drivers were well trained, and that it could be advantageous in the event of accidents at the school. “Ladies and gentlemen,” said Chief Schilling, “we’re in the public safety business. We take that seriously.”
Mr. Pratt pointed out the school was the town’s designated shelter in case of major emergency.
“I urge you to support this warrant article tonight,” he said.
There was some objection to the plan, but based mainly on cost considerations and not safety issues.
Margaret Wolontis, in one of several lengthy contributions to the discussion, said people need to be aware the country is in a recession. Several other speakers also cited the economic climate. Trip Barnes agreed, saying the country was in deep financial trouble “and so are we.” He also said he would “go to the mattresses” if the plan meant cutting into the school’s playground.
Town treasurer Tim McLean agreed that the national financial picture was not very rosy, but he said municipal bonds were actually now very attractive to investors. He said the town was now carrying about $8 million in debt, and had bonding capacity of some $50 million.
The new facility is the first step in a plan to revitalize the town’s public infrastructure, which Mr. McLean said could ultimately cost $15 to $17 million over a period of several years.
Voters also agreed to authorize selectmen to enter into a lease/purchase deal to acquire 11 acres of land next to the Edgartown transfer station for a new waste disposal facility. Department of Public Works director Fred LaPiana explained the intricacies of the deal, which calls for Tisbury and Oak Bluffs to rejoin the other four Island towns in a single waste disposal district.
The land cost is $1.4 million, which would be split between the two towns. The details of the deal are complex, involving a three-year lease of the land at a cost of some $100,000 per year. The land may be bought at any time during that period, with the lease payments applied against the purchase price.
Mr. LaPiana said he was confident Oak Bluffs would come onboard, in part because it would be uneconomic for them to go it alone once all the other towns were joined in a single district.
Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton also spoke briefly, assuring voters that the town selectmen were behind the plan, and that finance committee members were prepared to fight for it on the floor of town meeting.
Despite the complexities, voters accepted the plan quickly and the article passed unanimously.
In the only other major business of the night, voters also agreed quickly and unanimously to accept a road easement and property swap which puts in place another piece of land needed to build a connector road from Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road to State Road.