At their annual town meeting Tuesday West Tisbury voters knocked back an article that would let a minority dictate the pace of future meetings, using secret ballot voting. Then as if to prove a point, they dispensed with a 45-article warrant in a little under three and a half hours.
Voters also approved a $13 million town budget, granted two new special ways, and accepted a reduced cost of living salary adjustment (COLA) for town employees.
Town moderator F. Patrick Gregory began proceedings shortly after 7 p.m., declaring a quorum with 245 voters, eleven per cent of registered voters, in attendance.
Finance committee chairman Al Devito proposed reducing colas for town employees from 3.6 per cent to two per cent in an amendment.
“These are in fact tough times, But if you parsed the other towns . . . my understanding is this is average. I think this is fair,” he said. Most voters agreed, narrowly approving the measure in a voice vote.
Daniel A. Waters, the town poet laureate, came to the end of his three-year term delivering a final, comic poem titled Letter From a Small Town, which related the West Tisbury winter moth plague to the federal economic bailout.
The post will be filled by Fan Ogilvie.
Also leaving this year is Prudence Whiting, who will step down after 12 years as town clerk.
Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter delivered a speech thanking Ms. Whiting for her service.
“This is a tribute to an individual, our town clerk,” began Mr. Manter, and was met with a collective mournful sigh from his audience. “Every member of the public has sung her praises. She has consistently been the top vote-getter in town elections and deservedly so. We wish her well when she retires and when she can’t sleep instead of worrying whether the voting machine will work or not or about the occasional petulant citizen we suggest she just count sheep.”
Voters decided to keep the town clerk as an elected post, though treasurer Katherine Logue argued in favor of appointing future town clerks.
“This is nothing against the two current candidates,” she said, “but it expands the applicant pool beyond West Tisbury, and it assures the town the candidates have the required skills.”
Finance committee member Sharon Estrella disagreed.
“I find this insulting; we have good people in town,” she said, adding: “There are only three positions left we can elect. Do we want to give up this piece of our rights?”
The proposal to loosen the rules for secret — or Australian ballot — was rejected with several voters arguing the pace of town meeting should not be dictated by any less than the majority.
Executive secretary Jennifer Rand warned residents to get up to date on their property taxes.
“Most of you will have got this year’s tax bill by now,” she said. “We are trying to collect all delinquent taxes, stuff you may not even know you owe. Call the collector if there’s a chance you have any. Permits will not be given out until delinquent taxes are paid. We know those permits are near and dear to people.”
The $13 million budget passed with just two items flagged: school budgets from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the up-Island school district and the line item for the shellfish department.
The personal service line of the department budget was increased from $3,850 to $5,000 to add to the stipend of shellfish constable Tom Osmers. Mr. Manter pointed out that some of this figure is shared between Mr. Osmers and his deputies.
An amendment to zoning bylaws was approved, giving special ways added protection. Two new ways, Stoney Hill Path and Chicamo Path, were given special designation. The article passed despite some voter concern about liability for residents with property intersected by the ways.
“You’re taking my rights and using it for whatever you want and I’m responsible for someone taking a dune buggy and injuring themselves,” said voter J.C. Murphy.
But Cynthia Wansiewicz, special town counsel from the law firm Reynolds, Rappaport and Kaplan argued the issue was strictly a zoning concern and would not grant additional public access.
“There’s some confusion about access and liability but this is simply a zoning overlay district,” she said.
Voters approved seven out of eight articles related to Community Preservation Act requests. One requesting $55,000 to design and construct a brick sidewalk in front of town hall was indefinitely postponed. But $100,000 will go toward renovation of town hall, $30,000 will go to design and plan the renovation of the First Congregational Church and $66,000 will be put toward rental subsidies for town applicants to the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental conversion program.
The passage of two affordable housing requests was hard-fought.
One article requesting $170,000 to reduce the cost of a State Road project was vigorously opposed by several voters, including Chuck Hogdkinson.
Mr. Hodgkinson argued that the cost of the State Road home construction proposed by the Island Housing Trust was greater than some being offered by commercial contractors.
Phillipe Jordi of the Island Housing Trust explained that the project used green construction technology and would save money in the long term.
The subject came up again with another funding request, this time for $50,000 designated to support energy efficient construction for West Tisbury residents with annual earnings at or below the area average income.
After several voters questioned the fund, saying it had no specific purpose, Island Affordable Housing Fund executive director Pat Manning was called on to defend the article.
“The next step in affordable housing for us is to maintain affordability,” he said. “I promise you we’ll be respectful with this money.”
“This is nothing to do with John Abrams,” said Mr. Manning, referring to the co-founder and president of South Mountain construction company, which has been involved in several affordable housing projects.
“There are several different contractors,” Mr. Manning said.
Acting on a request from the planning board, voters indefinitely postponed a proposed bylaw to regulate wind turbine construction. Another zoning bylaw amendment, this one concerning loud pool equipment, did pass.
Voter Ebba Hierta proposed making the amendment even stricter.
“It has the potential to be a big problem,” she said. “I used to live off-Island and the constant din from neighbors’ [pool] filters. I don’t think this goes far enough.”
She suggested strengthening the language to require that the pools be “inaudible” to neighbors.
Facing concern that such language would be difficult to enforce, Ms. Hierta suggested a compromise: pool equipment must be installed in a sound-insulated enclosure.
Voters agreed, approving the resulting bylaw amendment.
At 10:30 p.m. the meeting adjourned.