Aquinnah Voters Face Town Meeting Vote On $2 Million Budget

By JOSHUA SABATINI

The last town meeting of the Island's political season takes place in Aquinnah on Tuesday, when residents will gather in the town hall at 7 p.m. to vote on a $2,056,058 operating budget and 14 warrant articles.

Although predicting the need for a Proposition 2 1/2 override, selectmen are in the dark as to the exact status of the town's free cash.

Marjorie Spitz, Aquinnah's accountant, told the Gazette this week that she was late in filing the balance sheets with the commonwealth and is awaiting certification of the free cash amount from the state Department of Revenue.

Miss Spitz said it is likely the town meeting will not close on Tuesday, but will reconvene in June. The selectmen have scheduled a possible meeting on June 18 for a Proposition 2 1/2 override vote.

There are 10 articles on the warrant Tuesday requesting a total of $128,689 in free cash, as the selectmen are assuming that money is on its way.

Last year, the tax rate in town was $3.49. Miss Spitz estimated that for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the tax rate may increase to $4.40 after an override of approximately $275,000.

Carl Widdiss, chairman of the selectmen, told the Gazette yesterday the board will be asking for an override to pay the elementary school assessment of $634,563, up from last year's $517,449. If the override passes, said Mr. Widdiss, voters may not have to meet again in June.

"We have seen a consistent increase in [the elementary school assessment] over the years. It is a matter of catch-up," said Mr. Widdiss.

"It is tough to meet the two and a half every year," he added.

One article before Aquinnah voters is a result of the town's adoption of the Community Preservation Act last year, establishing a community preservation committee and fund. Residents will reap the preservation benefits recommended by the committee if they approve spending $93,000 from the fund. The money would be used for the purchase of open space property as recommended by the Aquinnah conservation commission, historic restoration at the Gay Head Cliffs, the purchase of land for affordable housing per recommendations of the town's housing committee, the purchase of playground equipment, to fund technical services to the town's housing committee and to pay for expenses of the preservation committee.

The only article not relating to money on the warrant deals with affordable housing covenants, and has already been approved by the other five Island towns.

The article allows the Island towns in conjunction with the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority to establish deed restrictions that designate properties as affordable housing in perpetuity. The petition includes asking the legislature to raise the standard for middle-income persons and households from 80 per cent of the county's median income to 150 per cent of the median income as stipulated by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. For a family of three, $79,500 would be 150 per cent of the Dukes County median income.

Of the 10 articles relating to the use of free cash, the largest requests are $45,000 for the purchase of a new ambulance for the Tri-Town Ambulance Service, followed by $37,938 for the purchase of a new four-wheel-drive police vehicle.

In the same vein of public safety, another article requests $19,100 for an emergency generator for the old town hall and police station. Mr. Widdiss said the generator makes sense because the town hall is Aquinnah's disaster relief site.

There are two articles just under the $10,000 mark. One requests $9,391 for highway construction improvements, and another asks for $9,451 to cover one-third of the cost of providing paid emergency medical technicians to staff two ambulances.

Other spending articles before voters are the following:

$3,500 to provide hot water in the school house sink for library use, $2,200 to purchase a new computer for the head librarian, $1,000 for the Aquinnah Cultural Council that will be matched by the state, $6,500 for replacement of a furnace at the fire station and $1,000 for landscape materials for the playground and fire station area.