with permssion, MV Gazette

by Sam Bungey

Aquinnah ended the Island political season on a big yes this week, approving all warrant articles at Tuesday’s annual town meeting, then voting to approve a $100,000 override and backing all candidates in the town election Wednesday.

walter and ronald
Moderator Walter Delaney (left) and town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport.

Voters approved a $3 million budget, increased education costs and made their way through 16 articles in less than two hours at the last Vineyard annual town meeting of the year.

Finance committee member Isaac Taylor presented the budget and appealed to voters to back the ballot override question.

“I’ve been doing this for nine years and I’m quite sure we haven’t seen departments come in with purse strings so tight,” he said, adding:

“Voting no means redoing the budget somehow and we can’t afford to. We’re just on the line of being responsible and not sacrificing quality of services.”

Once moderator Walter Delaney led voters line by line through the budget, voters picked out several items where savings might be made as an alternative to further taxing residents with an override.

Voter Wendy Swolinsky drew attention to the cost for Aquinnah’s $100,000 share of the tri-town ambulance service budget. Aquinnah, West Tisbury and Chilmark pay equal shares of the cost to run the volunteer emergency services group, which provides the region with 24-hour service. Ms. Swolinsky argued that her town, with its small population, was paying over the odds.

carolyn Feltz
Clerk Carolyn Feltz.

“What services does Aquinnah get, maybe we should ask for a helicopter?” she quipped, inquiring about the number of service calls from Aquinnah fielded in the last year. The answer, from police chief Randhi Belain, was 27.

Ms. Swolinsky quickly did the math. “Can we do better than $4,000 an ambulance ride?” she wondered.

Joe Corbo asked if the cost could be paid on a per-case basis. Selectman Jim Newman said that the pay structure would be examined, but obviously the town couldn’t have a helicopter.

Mr. Corbo also weighed in on a $16,000 annual tax rebate provided to nearby homeowners affected by waste from the failed oyster propagation project from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).

The town began giving shoreline residents compensation last year, in response to the oyster bags and other litter associated with the project which was abandoned by the coordinators of the shellfish propagation project. The cost will be incurred by the town again this year, though responsibility for cleaning the pond lies with the tribe.

Former selectman Jeffrey Madison delivered scathing comments for the tribe’s behavior over the project.

”I took my son to Herring Creek today and what I saw there was appalling. It’s important the tribe realize what they’ve done to that body of water. It’s absolutely disgusting, there’s literally a quarter acre of plastic,” he said.

richard skidmore.
Richard Skidmore.

Mr. Newman said a cleanup operation is scheduled for next Tuesday.

School costs, the largest item in the budget at over $900,000, also came under scrutiny. In total Aquinnah’s share of the high school and up-Island regional school district budgets is up $50,000. Aquinnah pays for elementary education on a per capita basis in the up-Island agreement. As a small town Aquinnah might stand to save under another tax formula. If the towns adopted a formula provided by the state Aquinnah would save on the budget as would Chilmark, but West Tisbury would have to shoulder a far larger amount. The current method requires the unanimous support of the three towns. A no vote from Aquinnah would void the regional agreement.

“It’s not the nice way but it’s the financially responsible way to go for the town,” said Ms. Swolinsky

Voters stuck with the agreement regardless.

Several Islandwide measures which confronted voters in other towns last month were carefully examined by Aquinnah voters.

A request to file legislation which would allow towns to research the establishment of an Islandwide post retirement benefits pool was dissected by conscientious voters.

Said Mr. Madison: “I’m glad this work is being done but I don’t want to get into a position where we’re going to have to be the good guy or the bad guy again, with all due respect to the other towns they have had a lot more employees for a much longer period of time.”

Elsewhere was a request, approved by all other towns, for the school superintendent’s office to apply for legislation to allow them to sell property on Pine street in Vineyard Haven to pursue a move to a new location.

Several voters expressed wariness about approving a seemingly procedural request, only to be presented with a large bill when the new office is bought.

Selectmen Jim Newman, Spencer Booker, Camille Rose.

Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss, who attended the meeting, said he could not guarantee the new office wouldn’t cost more than the revenue produced by selling or leasing the current building, but that he would be back to ask for the additional cash before anything was spent.

The question of whether to fund the Islandwide pest control management program went to a standing vote, with one voter branding the service a big waste of money, but ultimately it passed, 25-19.

The final article calling for a ban on genetically modified foods (GMO) from Aquinnah garnered the most resounding support of the night.

It was approved unanimously and inspired several comments condemning the methods of big argibusiness and expressions of support for the petition.

The petition is work of board of health member Richard Skidmore who spoke in favor of the bill on the town meeting floor and Noli Taylor, a member of the Island Grown Initiative. A letter from Ms. Taylor was read into the record by Isaac Taylor.

As part of the measure voters also endorsed a petition to the federal government to introduce labels on all GMO produce.

With all 16 articles approved, the meeting adjourned shortly before 9 p.m.

At the annual town election the following day turnout was moderate and there were few surprises.

Voters approved the $100,000 override 76-50.

And a campaign to write-in town planning board member Carlos Montoya for the selectman seat held by Jim Newman failed.

Mr. Newman secured 105 votes, while 25 write-in votes went to Mr. Montoya.

A total of 135 voters, or 34 per cent of registered voters, turned out to vote.

In other results Ted Cammann secured 80 votes to complete the final year — the elected portion — of his three-year term as assessor.

And there were two write-ins for the empty board of assessors seat. Hugh Taylor beat out Walter Delaney in a nail-biter, 10 to 8.

Elected without contest were: Betty Joslow library trustee, 126; Berta Welch, planning board, 127; Jerry Weiner, board of health, 113; Carlos Montoya, land bank commissioner, 68.

Ms. Welch was the top vote-getter.

Analyzing his victory yesterday Mr. Newman endorsed the view that the result of his race amounted to a referendum on the subject of a recent controversial proposal to build a performing arts stage at the Aquinnah Circle, which he vocally opposed.

“I think that the vote yesterday should mean there aren’t many people in support of the project — 105 to 25, that’s convincing,” Mr. Newman said.

Perhaps voter enthusiasm for the incumbent selectman trumped the desire for a performing arts stage at the Circle?

“No, it’s that they really don’t like the Circle idea,” he insisted.