West Tisbury Shows Town Hall Plans

By JULIA WELLS
Gazette Senior Writer

A $10 million-plus annual operating budget, a laundry list of override requests that adds up to more than $800,000 and a town hall expansion project with a $3.7 million price tag - next week when the voters of West Tisbury gather to conduct the annual business of the town, the prevailing winds are expected to be out of the pocketbook.

"Money is the theme, that's for sure, and I think there is going to be a lot of debate about how we spend our money this year," said West Tisbury selectman John Alley, who is also running for re-election.

"The loss of revenue from the state is going to really hit home this year and yes, I think it's on everyone's mind," agreed Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd, the chairman of the town finance committee who is running against Mr. Alley.

The annual town meeting begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the West Tisbury School; town moderator Patrick Gregory will preside. Voters will face a comparatively tidy warrant this year that includes 27 articles and an array of spending requests for the coming fiscal year.

Topping the list is a proposal to expand and renovate the 132-year-old town hall in the heart of the West Tisbury village. The cost of the project is now tagged at $3.7 million.

Plans to renovate and expand the historic three-story building have been in the works since 1998 and have been marked by a couple of false starts. In the spring of 2001, voters approved $75,000 for a feasibility study and design work. Last year the building committee ran into problems finding an architect and came back to the town asking for more money, but voters balked and told the building committee to regroup.

And it did.

The current plan calls for building two additions, one on the Music street side and the other on the back of the building. The one-story addition on the Music street side of the building would house offices and a meeting room. A three-story addition on the rear would mimic the mansard-roof style of the original building and would include a ramped entrance, an extra emergency exit and rest rooms. The plan calls for renovating the original building as well to update the heating, electrical and fire safety systems.

Voters will be asked to pay for the project through a 20-year bond.

One member of the building committee said this week that the project deserves approval despite concerns about spending in an economic downturn.

"It's a difficult year, obviously, but I think this is a project that needs to be done," said building committee member Joanne Resendes, who is also the principal assessor for the town. "We've spent a great deal of time looking at this, and this plan certainly fits the bill as far as we're concerned," she added.

The town hall building committee will host an open house on Saturday from at the town hall for town voters to view the plans and ask questions. The open house will be held from 10 a.m. until noon.

In other business next week, voters will also be asked to approve a $10.1 million operating budget for the coming year, an increase of nine per cent over last year. School spending is up, both for the regional high school and the up-Island regional school district. The town share of the regional high school budget is up 11 per cent this year, and the share of the up-Island regional school budget is up 10 per cent.

Changes in the way reimbursements are received from state Chapter 70 money left all Vineyard towns in a scramble this week over their school budgets, but amendments are expected on the town meeting floor to clarify the muddle and direct reimbursement money back to the local schools for which it was originally intended.

In West Tisbury this year, school spending is not the only area that will see increases. Money requests are up in many other town departments as well, including the police department, where budget requests are up 13 per cent over last year, and the Lambert's Cove Beach department, where budget requests are up 17 per cent. The total public safety budget is up 11 per cent over last year; the assessors budget is up 11 per cent and requests for general government spending are up 6 per cent. The town share of the Martha's Vineyard Commission budget will increase by 17 per cent.

Town leaders say nearly all of the increases can be tracked to lower state reimbursements and do not represent expansion in town departments.

"This is just the funding for routine, normal expenses - there are no additional staff or hidden programs this year," Mr. Manter said.

Voters will be asked to chip in $6,850 as their share of the administrative budget of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. Similar requests will appear on the annual town warrants in all six Vineyard towns this year, but in West Tisbury the request will also need approval in the ballot box on Thursday as an override question.

Voters will also be asked to approve a handful of non-money articles, including some routine personnel and zoning bylaw changes.

The financial management team was one recommendation that came out of a recent review of town affairs by the state Department of Revenue. The DOR report also recommended that the town discontinue the practice of contracting with an outside company to do property revaluations every three years, and instead conduct the revaluations inside the assessors' department.

Voters will get the chance to make that choice at the annual town election this year when they confront 18 separate requests for overrides to the Proposition 2 1/2 tax cap. The override requests include the bond issue for the town hall renovation project, $337,000 for the up-Island regional school budget and another $221,000 for the regional high school budget. Sometimes known as a "menu override," the long list of requests also includes:

*$62,000 for the police department.

* $53,000 for the triennial revaluation in 2005.

* $20,000 to extend the hours for the free public library.

* $49,000 for two new police cruisers.

* $4,500 for the town share of the Martha's Vineyard Drug Task Force Grant.

All told, the override requests add up to more than $833,000.

Mr. Alley said the selectmen decided to go for separate override requests instead of a general override this year.

"We did it this way on purpose, so voters will have the chance to look at each individual request and decide if they want it or not," he said.