Chilmark voters elected a new selectman, pledged money for studying town ponds and approved a hefty budget hike at the annual town meeting and election this week.

Voters elected real estate agent and Chilmark Store owner Bill Rossi for a three year term to the board of selectmen on Wednesday. Mr. Rossi won with 186 votes. He succeeds longtime selectman Frank Fenner, who did not seek reelection after four terms. A late write-in campaign by Alan Porter earned him 54 votes.

Chilmark voters also threw their support behind the Massachussetts Estuaries Project, both at the ballot and the annual town meeting, and approved raising additional real estate and property taxes to fund the studies of the Menemsha Pond system and Chilmark Pond. The vote was 192 to 56 for the $14,792 study of the Menemsha ponds, and 179 to 69 for the $54,500 study of Chilmark Pond.

A total of 261 voters turned out to the polls, around 29 per cent of registered voters.

In other ballot questions, Chilmark voters voiced their disapproval of the proposed roundabout at the blinker light intersection in Oak Bluffs, with 65 people in favor of the traffic project and 180 against it.

Jonathan Mayhew
Selectman Jonathan Mayhew casts his ballot. — Peter Simon

A ballot question exempting the town from Proposition 2 and a half for borrowing costs associated with construction done on the West Tisbury School also passed 187 to 54.

At the annual town meeting on Monday, voters sped through a 22-article warrant in one hour flat. A total of 135 voters turned out for the meeting at the Chilmark Community Center; longtime moderator Everett Poole presided.

Voters passed nearly every article unanimously and paused only for a bit to debate over whether to continue the town’s participation in estuaries project.

“The results will be something we can use to figure out what to do to reduce nitrogen in all of our ponds,” Squibnocket Pond Association chairman Wendy Weldon said, who made an amendment to reduce the originally proposed $31,767 to $14,792 after private donations were raised for the estuary study of the Menemsha Pond system, which includes Menemsha, Squibnocket, Nashaquitsa and Stonewall ponds. “At this point, in Squibnocket, we know what’s going on in the pond but we don’t know how to fix it and make it better.”

Leonard Jason Jr. had another view.

“It’s bad science,” said Mr. Jason, who questioned the need to spend the money. “Nowhere do they measure nitrogen in the groundwater; they base everything on a computer model . . . if they really want to know what’s going on then they should actually be measuring the groundwater,” he said.

But Frank Dunkl argued the studies needed to be done now.

Frank Dunkl
Frank Dunkl said further study is necessary. — Peter Simon

“We need this information and we need it now . . . clean water is going to be more scarce in the future than oil,” said Mr. Dunkl, a water expert. “You can’t assume in the future that water is going to clean itself. That doesn’t happen . . . clean water is going to very quickly become a crisis.”

In the end voters agreed and backed the spending article, along with another request for $54,500 to fund a similar study of Chilmark Pond. The Chilmark Pond study, while a smaller body of water, will cost the town more money because it is footing the bill entirely. The Menemsha Pond system costs are shared by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the town of Aquinnah.

Both articles were contingent on the approval of corresponding ballot questions for a Proposition 2 and a half override at the annual election on Wednesday. The studies are now eligible for state grant matching.

The estuaries studies, a statewide project to study the health of the ponds, are all expected to be completed by the end of 2013. The town has already pledged $40,000 for the study of Tisbury Great Pond, with no tangible results, although a final report is scheduled for release in June.

Earlier in the evening voters unanimously approved a $7.6 million budget, up 8.6 per cent over last year, with little discussion. Mr. Poole announced he would not read through the individual departmental budgets and the budget was speedily passed.

Voters also approved a series of transfers from the general and stabilization funds for 20 other spending articles, including $15,000 for new fire department equipment and $17,000 for new fire department breathing apparatus, $12,000 for replacement pilings in Menemsha harbor, and $100,000 to put toward post-retirement benefits for town employees.

But the first order of business of the night was to honor Mr. Fenner. Selectman Warren Doty presented the retiring selectman with a certificate of commendation from the state house of representatives.

Mr. Fenner thanked the town employees, his fellow selectmen and the people who elected him.

“Most importantly to me this would never have happened if it hadn’t been for you folks,” he said pointing to the crowd of voters. “I’ll always be thankful for you giving me the opportunity to serve this town.”

Elected with no contest were Leonard Jason, Jr., board of assessors, 207; Frank Yeomans, finance advisory committee, 178; Bruce Golden, finance advisory committee, 180; John Flender, cemetery commissioner, 223; Jane Slater, library trustee, 217; Janet Buhrman, board of health, 198; Keith Emin, tree warden, 226; Richard Osnoss, planning board, 193; Catherine Thompson, planning board, 193; Pamela Goff, land bank commission, 215; Marshall Carroll III, constable, 242 (top vote getter); Keith Emin, tree warden, 226, surveyor of wood, lumber and bark, 11; Julie Flanders, fence viewer, 22.