with permission, MV Gazette

By SAM BUNGEY

Aquinnah voters will be asked to approve a $3 million budget at their annual town meeting Tuesday and will then face a $100,000 general override on the election ballot the following day, to help pay for it.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the old town hall. Moderator Walter Delaney will preside.

Despite sustained efforts from town leaders to slash the budget over the past several months, fixed costs, including $940,000 in funding for schools, pushed up the bottom line up by more than $100,000 over last year.

Several months ago letters were sent from selectmen to all departments requesting level funding and where possible ten per cent cuts in budgets. Significant cuts were made across most budgets and employees will receive no cost of living adjustment to their salaries.

“We tried everything to create a lean budget,” said selectman Jim Newman. “It’s these fixed costs that are drowning us.”

The result is that voters will be asked to agree to a tax increase in the midst of a recession.

And if that wasn’t enough, they will also be asked to ban genetically engineered food.

A citizen petition, which comes with a stamp of approval from the board of health and makes up the warrant’s final article, calls for a moratorium on the growth of genetically modified organisms in the town of Aquinnah. Voters are also asked to endorse a petition to the federal government to introduce labels on all GMO produce.

Resident and board of health member Richard Skidmore is behind the petition along with fellow resident Noli Taylor.

“Genetic engineering is an important issue for anyone who cares what’s in their food. When I go into the supermarket I don’t have a choice about what I buy because nothing is marked. That’s why mandatory labeling is important,” Mr. Skidmore said.

He said the problem is not with traditional agricultural methods but with modern cross-species methods of engineering.

“I’m not talking about putting a shoot into another stalk. I’m talking about putting a shoot into a pig,” he said. Mr. Skidmore added that scientists have recently included human genes with rice, and jellyfish and chicken DNA in potatoes.

Elsewhere the warrant is relatively straightforward and noncontroversial. Nevertheless it represents a series of essential votes for the town, Mr. Newman said.

“There are no controversies now that the Circle question has been taken out,” said Mr. Newman, referring to a proposal, voted down by selectmen Monday, to construct a performing arts stage at the Aquinnah cliffs. “But every article is important.”

Indeed the main question will be whether to approve the budget, a question dealt with at the beginning of the warrant. Article two asks voters to approve the necessary appropriations to cover town operating costs, with the exception of some $14,000. The article proposes to take this money from a waterway special revenue fund, which can be used for public safety expenses, to fund small perce ntages of the police, fire and shellfish budgets.

The largest single cost in the budget, money for schools, would rise some $50,000 to $930,000 for the coming year, with the main hike at the elementary level. The elementary school assessment will rise from $560,00 to $608,000 while Aquinnah’s share of the Martha’s Vineyard regional high school is $325,000, up from $318,000.

Other budget increases are far less significant, though some department budgets feature small increases, including the shellfish department. Mr. Newman argued that the cost is a necessary one.

“We really need to support the shellfish department which helps sustain Menemsha Pond,” he said of the department’s $30,000 budget.

Elsewhere on the warrant three articles deal with $74,000 in Community Preservation Act funding recommendations for various town projects.

Projects include $12,500 for the ongoing effort to restore the old town hall, $10,000 for the extension of a brick walkway at the Cliffs, and $8,000 to restore trim at the Gay Head Community Baptist Church.

Community preservation money comes from a combination of property taxes and state money.

The annual town election will be held the following day. The ballot features no contested races for seats in six departments.

But while there are no official challengers for Mr. Newman, who is running for a third term, a low-key campaign to write in planning board member Carlos Montoya for the seat appeared to be underway at press time yesterday.

Mr. Newman said he saw an e-mail sent May 3 urging voters to write in Mr. Montoya. Asked yesterday if he was running a write-in campaign, Mr. Montoya demurred.

“Not that I know of,” he said, though he added that he had heard some people intend to write him in.

“Some people want to see it happen,” he said, “I’m certainly not campaigning and people know that.”

But if elected he would consider taking the position.

“As a matter of principle you have to respect that kind of thing,” he said.

Late yesterday e-mails were circulating among a group of 30 residents who last week sent a letter to the selectmen opposing the Aquinnah Circle proposal, which Mr. Newman also opposed. The e-mails warned of the write-in campaign and urged the support of Mr. Newman.

Elsewhere on the ballot the only candidate running for the first time is Ted Cammann, who is unopposed for one of two seats on the board of assessors. There is no candidate for the other seat.

Also running unopposed are: Carlos Montoya, land bank commission; Berta Welch, planning board; Betty Joslow, library trustee; and Jerry A. Weiner, board of health.