Chilmark Voters Gather For Town Meeting, Election
By MAX HART
When Chilmark voters convene for their annual town meeting on Monday night, they will take up a slim 22-article warrant, a lean operating budget for the coming fiscal year and a short spending list consisting of mostly housekeeping items.
In other words, nothing shocking in this town that prides itself on old Yankee thrift.
Moderator Everett H. Poole will preside over the meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center.
Among other things voters will consider a $5.9 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year, up just 1.5 per cent from last year. Spending requests on the warrant include $13,750 to pay the town's second installment toward the three-year Massachusetts Estuaries Project for a study of the Tisbury Great Pond; $8,000 for computer upgrades at town hall; $5,000 to buy acoustic ceiling panels for the community center; $2,000 to pay an old bill for water testing; and $1,500 to fund the Martha's Vineyard Cultural Council.
The largest request is for $120,000 to pay for resurfacing and repairs on town roads. Town leaders are proposing taking the amount from free cash and combining it with another $80,970 in state aid to repave approximately one mile of Middle Road.
Voters will also be asked to approve transferring $200,000 from free cash, old warrant articles and the waterways improvement account to help defray the cost of repairing the West Dock in Menemsha. At a special town meeting last September, Chilmark voters approved borrowing $750,000 for the project. If the $200,000 transfer is approved on Monday night, the amount of borrowing will be reduced to $550,000. A corresponding debt exemption Proposition 2 1/2 override question will come before voters on the ballot at the annual town election Wednesday.
A number of the requests on the annual warrant include routine money transfers. Voters will be asked to approve the transfer of $75,000 in free cash to the town stabilization fund and $30,000 in free cash to the fire department stabilization fund.
Voters will also consider several nonspending requests, including a nonbinding resolution to protect water quality in town, a request to authorize the Tri-Town ambulance committee to begin charging for ambulance runs, and two new bylaws aimed at improving public safety. The first would require all houses in town to have clearly marked numbers and each road to have appropriate signs, while the second would impose fines for false alarms in private homes.
The town operating budget is nearly level-funded from fiscal year 2006, and is marked by decreases in education spending as well as reduced costs in benefits and insurance for town employees. Education spending is down nine per cent overall, reflecting a smaller number of students from Chilmark attending the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School and a lower assessment for the Up-Island Regional School District. The town assessment for the regional high school dropped 26 per cent from $432,670 to $320,641 while the up-Island regional school district assessment will fall from approximately $1.54 to $1.47 million, a decrease of four per cent. Health benefits and insurance for employees are down 2.3 per cent, in contrast with last year when the town saw a 15 per cent increase in benefits and insurance.
The budget includes a four per cent cost of living increase for town employees. Spending on public safety, including police, fire, ambulance and harbor services, will increase seven per cent. Debt service is up 25 per cent from last year at $440,82. Most of the increase can be tracked to the construction project on the West Dock at Menemsha.
At the annual town meeting last year, the longest and most contentious debate of the evening centered on whether to spend $23,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds for an herbicide to kill phragmites, an invasive species that is choking parts of Chilmark Pond. Voters rejected the spending request. On Monday evening, voters will be greeted by a different request from the community preservation committee - to spend $55,000 in CPA money to fund the year-round rental assistance program and add $15,000 to a stone wall historic restoration project, which began last year.
Voters will also head to the polls for the annual town election on Wednesday.
Chilmark voters will consider contested races for two town offices when they head to the polls for the annual town election Wednesday, including a challenge for the board of health seat vacated by longtime respected member Matthew E. Poole.
Jan Buhrman has mounted a write-in campaign for the three-year board of health term against candidate Robert B. (Bart) Thorpe, while two-term incumbent selectman Frank M. Fenner Jr. faces a challenge from Steve Gallas, a former housing committee member and volunteer firefighter.
Polls will be open from noon to eight p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center.
Mr. Fenner first won election to the board of selectmen in 2001, when he filled the unexpired term left vacant by Herbert Hancock, who died while in office. Mr. Fenner was born on the Island and has owned and operated several businesses; he currently runs The Galley restaurant in Menemsha with his sister, Barbara. He is the former owner of Island Rubbish Service, which he sold to BFI in 1993.
Discussing his tenure on the board this week, Mr. Fenner said he feels strongly that the current leadership is moving the town in the right direction while also keeping a keen eye on controlling taxes and spending. He cited improvements to town buildings such as the library and Menemsha School, the cost-effective move of the police station into the old Menemsha school and the creation of a preschool as positive steps for the town. Perhaps above all, he said, the selectmen have learned to work well together, something that should not be overlooked.
"I am happy with the way the board works with each other," he said. "We have an open working relationship, and we have been successful at picking things off that keep the town running smoothly. I want to continue to work to accomplish our goals."
Some of those include the capital plan for the town and keeping the town's infrastructure in good shape. Preserving Menemsha harbor is another of the board's top priorities, he said.
"We really need to look at the harbor and work on it to make sure we maintain the fishing heritage and keep it the great place that it is," he said. "We have worked with fishermen to try to make it a working harbor, and we will continue to work toward that."
Mr. Fenner also acknowledged that providing affordable housing may be the town's greatest challenge in the future, but expressed confidence that the Middle Line Road project will be successful. The project - the first town-sponsored affordable housing development in Chilmark - is slated to be built on 20 acres of land off Tabor House Road. An array of problems with the project bid, however, has lately delayed progress.
"It's not a question of if the Middle Line project will happen," Mr. Fenner said. "But this is something new for the town and it needs to be done right. The town has voted in favor of the project and we are moving forward with it, but we have to take into consideration the legal questions that could impact the entire town."
Mr. Gallas has a different view on the issue.
The challenger has lived in Chilmark for the last 15 years, or, he is quick to clarify, has rented homes in Chilmark for the last 15 years - a fact he said illustrates the central theme of his campaign: the lack of affordable housing in Chilmark for town residents.
"I have lived down more dirt roads than most people," Mr. Gallas said this week. "And my frustration at the town's lack of leadership in creating housing that is affordable to people like me, where I can have a home, inspired me to run. We needed affordable housing two years ago, not three months form now, not three years from now. Why aren't we moving forward with this? That is why I am running."
Mr. Gallas, who owns a window washing business, had been a member of the housing committee for six years until he stepped down at the beginning of the year. He also served as a cemetery commissioner for four years and has been a volunteer firefighter since 2001.
Since he started working on the housing committee, Mr. Gallas said he has taken a half dozen workshops on the Community Preservation Act (CPA), and has argued that the board's concerns about using CPA funds to pay in part for the Middle Line project are misplaced: "I worked on the housing committee from the very beginning, before there even was a housing committee." Mr. Gallas said. "I worked on the resident homesite bylaw, the bylaws to develop Middle Line, and the Community Preservation Act was designed to be flexible. It is there for just the opposite reasons of snaring towns. And we have all this CPA money and we still have not used it for what it was meant for."
In the other contested race, Ms. Buhrman and Mr. Thorpe are eyeing the seat vacated by Mr. Poole, who decided not to run for reelection after 16 years of service. Both candidates said they are running for office because they want to give back to the community.
Ms. Buhrman - who has run her business, Kitchen Porch Catering, out of Chilmark since 1990 - said her experience in food preparation combined with a history of researching public health issues led her to her decision to run.
"I feel like I am well-qualified and am at a good time in my life to give back to the community," said Ms. Buhrman, who has lived in town since 1987. "I am concerned about health issues, with everything from burial regulations to the health of ponds and fisheries, and I feel I have a strong background and a strong interest to serve the community well."
Ms. Buhrman said she also wants to encourage members of the Island's Brazilian population who work in the service industry to enroll in food preparation courses. Working within the community, she said, illuminated the need for cross-cultural training.
"It is certainly something that needs attention," she said.
Ms. Buhrman lives with her husband, Rich Osnoss, and their two sons. She is also the librarian at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School.
Mr. Thorpe is a developer who has a lot of experience working with the board of health; he is no stranger to requesting permits to build septic systems for homes.
"It was just one of those things where I am getting to the point where I can give back," said the farmer and builder of his decision to enter the race. "Once I heard Matt was not running again, I thought, ‘I know a little bit about it, I'll run.'"
Working in construction and development, Mr. Thorpe said he did not foresee any conflicts of interest regarding his role on the board.
"I have no problem stepping aside if I am in conflict," he said. "I have no problems leaving decisions that involve anything I might be involved with to the other two board members."
Mr. Thorpe is married to Julie Flanders, a real estate broker. The couple has one daughter, Isabella, who is three years old.