The Aquinnah selectmen signed an agreement with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) this week to coordinate emergency services for the town for the coming year. The joint town-tribe agreement was first established in 1995 to help coordinate police, fire, emergency medical, and natural disaster services.
The agreement has gotten better each year, said tribe natural resources director Bret Stearns at the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night.
The tribe will contribute $14,500 to the town budget this year, up more than $5,500 from last year. The money is used for emergency medical training for public safety officials, and to pay for the emergency response needs of the town.
By next year, Mr. Stearns said the tribe hopes to have two full-time employees working as rangers under his supervision. Their duties would include patrolling tribal lands, providing visitor and safety information, and monitoring the Gay Head Cliffs. “There are a million projects that they will be involved with while they’re patrolling property and assisting my department,” said Mr. Stearns. He said one ranger would be a trained EMT and the other would be certified in CPR and be a trained first responder.
Mr. Stearns said the town in recent years has had some problems with people using clay from the Cliffs (an illegal activity), and the role of the rangers will be to help educate people about the need to protect the Cliffs as an environmental and historic landmark.
Police chief Randhi Belain said members of the police department also met with the tribe to hash out a coordinated plan for crime prevention and educational programs, shared use of emergency vehicles, and regular meetings among the police and fire chiefs and various tribal employees. “I’m happy with it, and I hope the board is too,” Chief Belain told the selectmen.
He requested that some of the money contributed by the tribe be used for the purchase of a trailer to attach to a police vehicle. The trailer would be useful in emergency situations where a person needed to be removed from a beach, the chief said. “It would enhance our response down there, getting people off the beach,” he said.
Selectman Camille Rose agreed. “I know we desperately need that,” she said.
In other business, housing committee chairman Derrill Bazzy asked the selectmen to consider forgiving a $1,700 tax debt owed to the town by June Noble. Town voters agreed to buy a piece of land on State Road owned by Ms. Noble at a special town meeting in November for $115,000. The 1.1-acre property is worth about $300,000. Given the discount sale price, Mr. Bazzy said it seemed fair to forgive Ms. Noble her tax bill.
But Ms. Rose said it may not be legal. She said she recalled contacting the Massachusetts Department of Revenue some years ago with a similar question. “As I recall, there was no mechanism for forgiving [a property tax bill],” she said.
The selectmen said they would explore other options, but they could not agree to include a tax bill forgiveness clause in the purchase and sale agreement. The land is planned for use as an affordable homesite.
The selectmen also voted to appoint Camille Rose as chairman of the board.
By MEGAN DOOLEY