Aquinnah voters approved a hefty hike in the town operating budget for the coming year and backed a spending package to help restore and ready the Gay Head Light for moving at their annual town meeting Tuesday, but balked at a town bylaw to ban public consumption of marijuana.
“Isn’t there a no smoking law in any public place?” said Juli Vanderhoop, who questioned the need for the bylaw. “Smoke is smoke.”
The meeting saw a light turnout of 50 voters and finished in two hours. Voters unanimously approved 11 articles on a special town meeting warrant and approved most of the 30 articles on the annual town meeting warrant that followed.
The $3.8 million operating budget is up 12 per cent over last year. The bulk of the increase is for the town’s assessment for the Up-Island Regional School district, which is up 35 per cent this year due to increased enrollment. At the annual town election Wednesday, voters approved a $230,000 Proposition 2 1/2 override question on the ballot to help pay for the added education costs.
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said seven new students from Aquinnah in the district pushed the assessment up. “Your’s is up and it’s a big number,” he told voters.
There are now 30 students from Aquinnah in the up-Island district.
The budget also includes a 2.5 per cent cost of living adjustment for town employees. Other spending increases were due to legal costs and a new director of public works.
The meeting began with the special session, where voters approved $45,000 to upgrade an existing fire pumper, $4,500 to buy a new shed for the Philbin Beach parking lot and $1,200 to build a dog pen for the animal control officer behind town hall.
The marijuana bylaw occupied most of the discussion. The bylaw would ban public consumption with a $300 fine for violators.
Police chief Randhi Belain said he put the bylaw on the warrant to prepare for the new state medical marijuana law approved by voters last fall.
“We didn’t want anybody in public consuming marijuana,” he said. “We’re doing it in conjunction with other towns.” Tisbury and Oak Bluffs have both approved bylaws banning public consumption of marijuana. Edgartown rejected the bylaw. Chilmark never considered it. And West Tisbury votes on the question next week.
Aquinnah voters questioned the need and also the details.
James Wallen called it a civil liberties issue.
“We’re passing a law that is stronger than the state’s law,” he said. “You already have no smoking on buses and in schools; that’s not going to change. This is a civil liberties issue here. It’s like the open container issue. We have enough enforcement on civil liberties.”
Sarah Salstonstall questioned the $300 fine for violators. “That’s a pretty steep fine, what’s a fine for an open can of beer?” she asked.
Aquinnah does not have an open container law and therefore no fine, Mr. Belain said.
“I thought that medical marijuana is for the seriously ill with cancer, most of them are not smoking in the playground,” said Barbara Bassett.
“To have a blanket no . . . I don’t think it’s the way to go about it,” Margie Spitz said.
In the end the article was defeated.
Voters were more agreeable when it came to spending on the Gay Head Light, approving $75,000 in a series of articles on both the special and annual warrants. Planning has begun for a project to move the lighthouse sometime in the next two years due to rapid erosion at the Cliffs. Voters approved using money from the Community Preservation Act fund for part of the early work, including $30,000 for a geotechnical engineering study at the Cliffs to prepare for the move, $25,000 in emergency restoration work at the lighthouse, digitizing of historic lighthouse documents and a continuing erosion study at the Cliffs, in its second year. Lighthouse keeper Richard Skidmore said the $5,000 allotted for the study will provide readings from points surveyed. “We’re looking to establish a way to have an early warning system if there was any movement on the cliff top,” he said.
Voters also agreed to spend $34,500 for a new police vehicle, $8,000 on the Vineyard Health Care Access program and $10,000 to replace a water line at town hall. Amendments to the personnel bylaw requiring annual performance evaluations and establishing vacation guidelines for new town employees were approved. An amendment to clarify the use of compensatory time was withdrawn on the town meeting floor. After the meeting concluded, small beacons of flashlights trailed down State Road as some voters walked home.
The annual town election Wednesday saw a light turnout of 65 voters, or 17 per cent of the 369 registered.
The single override question to pay for the town’s share of the Up-Island Regional School District was approved 39 to 26.
Selectman Spencer Booker was reelected to a three-year term on the board with 58 votes. Also elected without contest were: Heidi Vanderhoop, library trustee, 58; Ted Cammann, board of assessors, 47; JoAnn Eccher, planning board, 52; Carlos Montoya, planning board, 45; Betty Joslow, constable, 62 (top vote getter); Michael Hebert, moderator, 59.
Juli Vanderhoop received the most write-in votes for an open seat on the board of health with 13 votes.