The selectmen predicted it would be a noncontroversial annual town meeting this year in Aquinnah, and they were almost right.
After long debate on Tuesday night, voters could not agree on terms for selling a town-owned piece of land, and the end result was that the land will not be sold — at least for now.
The back-to-back special and annual towns meetings began with the presentation of a plaque to outgoing moderator Walter Delaney, who gaveled his last meeting to order after 35 consecutive years. “It’s been a big achievement to be here, and do this in such a small town,” said Mr. Delaney. The meeting was then turned over to Michael Hebert, who was nominated from the floor as moderator and was also elected to the position in the annual town election Wednesday.
Between the two warrants there were 45 articles.
The article to establish a minimum bid for the sale of a landlocked parcel off Lighthouse Road wound up being the major issue of the evening. The minimum bid was to be set at $600,000, or the lowest assessed value of the property. Another article called for half the sale proceeds to be used for an affordable housing program for Aquinnah residents, pending another town meeting vote.
Abutters would be given preference in the bidding process; there is no legal access to the land.
The 3.6-acre parcel was acquired by the town some 25 years in a tax-taking. The selectmen sought approval to sell the land at a town meeting two years ago, but the article was rejected.
“We need to get it back on the tax rolls,” said selectman Jim Newman after the meeting. “We have worked really hard to put ourselves in a good financial situation, which we have finally done. This additional money would have just cemented it.”
On Tuesday the selectmen backed the article, saying that the discussion has been going on for some time, and it’s time to act. Town assessor Angela Cywinski said the outlook is optimistic for the sale of the year since the housing market has begun to bounce back. But voter Roxanne Ackerman questioned why the town didn’t use the land itself for affordable housing.
“We’ve got lots of people that would probably do well to have affordable housing lots. Maybe we could revisit that,” she said. But Mr. Newman said that was never an option, because the land has no access.
There were four articles related to the sale of the land. In the end all four failed, amid widespread voter skepticism.
“For the town to use it for affordable housing, it would probably take 20 years,” said June Manning.
An article submitted by the police department requesting $35,000 to purchase a new hybrid four-wheel-drive police cruiser also sparked discussion, after police chief Randhi P. Belain asked to amend the amount to $28,000, and specify that the new cruiser be a non-hybrid sport utility vehicle. Mr. Belain said he originally submitted an article asking for just that, but the selectmen changed the article.
“My rationale was, he already had an SUV, and we need to wake up in terms of the concerns for the environment,” said Mr. Newman later this week. “Hybrid is the way we need to go eventually . . .[and] this was the perfect opportunity to do it.”
But Chief Belain told voters the vehicle would not accommodate necessary police equipment, or withstand certain terrain on the Island. “I don’t think that the hybrid is what the police department is looking for,” he said, adding: “It’s just not functional for the police department.”
In the end, voters agreed and Chief Belain’s amendment and the article were approved.
Voters swiftly approved a $2.9 million operating budget for the coming year.
They also approved several spending articles using Community Preservation Act money, including $15,000 for emergency restoration and repairs to the Aquinnah Lighthouse, $10,000 to extend brick walkways at the Cliffs, $6,000 to extend the boardwalk at Philbin Beach, and $16,850 to support the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental assistance program.
Another $28,000 was approved for highway construction and improvements, and $50,000 to establish a post-employment benefits fund to pay for health insurance for retired employees. A request for $24,500 was approved to be used for gas and fire inspections, and voters approved $38,000 for the triennial property revaluations.
Voters also agreed to pay $4,100 for the town’s share of the Vineyard Health Care Access program, $1,200 for the county pest management program, and $1,600 for a window restoration at the Duke’s County courthouse, an Islandwide project. They agreed to contribute $15,000 for window and roof repairs at the West Tisbury School.
Other spending articles were approved for new equipment for town offices, including $2,500 for a new photocopier, $2,500 for a new computer for the board of health, and $3,000 for a new computer for the town accountant.
Voters also agreed to spend:
• $3,000 for clerical and administrative support for the planning board;
• $900 to restore the floor at the old town hall;
• $5,000 to repair the Moshup Trail culvert;
• $2,500 for emergency response training for the police department;
• $500 to install a reverse 911 system;
• $999 to cover a wage deficit for library employees;
• $7,000 for a new ride-on lawnmower;
• $4,000 for repairs to the circle rest rooms;
• $8,000 for maintenance at Menemsha and Squibnocket Ponds;
• $7,480 for gas monitoring at the town landfill.
By MEGAN DOOLEY