Voters in West Tisbury Reject Money Articles a Second Time

By MANDY LOCKE

There was something oddly familiar about the political week in West Tisbury.

On Wednesday at a special town meeting, just as at town meeting six weeks ago, voters approved spending items.

And yesterday, in a special town election, just as at the town election six weeks ago, voters vetoed that spending.

The result:

* No money to continue funding a police officer position created three years ago through a federal grant; voted down 277-99.

* No funds to cover increases in police department budgets for insurance and cost of living increases; voted down 234-141.

* No $53,000 to hire a consultant for a real and personal property valuation update; voted down 236-134.

* No $12,000 to hire another consultant to draft a compensation and classification plan for town employees; voted down 255-116.

* No purchase of a vote tabulating system; voted down 227-143

* No new funds for town hall redesign; voted down 246-128.

Each of these allocations required a Proposition 21⁄2 override vote - permission to exceed the town's tax rate more than a modest percentage from the previous fiscal year.

On the town meeting floor April 8, 355 West Tisbury voters approved nearly all of the $800,000 worth of override requests.

This Wednesday, town leaders again pleaded their cases, this time to a gathering of only 84. Yesterday, 376 votes were cast, 19.7 per cent of the electorate.

Beth Toomey, police chief, described to the Wednesday meeting the work and needs of her seven-person department.

"We're a proactive department. We skillfully assist families in crisis. There's a lot we can't talk about," Chief Toomey said, noting that the needs of and temptations for children have dramatically changed in the 10 years she's served with the small town's law enforcement arm. Drugs, from crack cocaine to heroin, are making their way into the grasp of the town's teens, the chief said.

The department asked the town to pick up a $38,500 tab to continue funding an officer's position to have a presence both in the West Tisbury School as well as the regional high school. Chief Toomey hired an additional officer three years ago after securing a competitive federal community policing grant. The grant ends this year, and the chief says she will be forced to lay off the lowest ranking officer if the town did not commit funds to the continuation of this post.

"This is not extra. This is something we've depended on for three years," the chief said, noting that the town avoided substantial overtime pay for the core officers by adding an additional officer.

One voter questioned the need for a sizable police department in a quiet, rural community.

"I think $600,000 to fund a department in a town that doesn't even have a main street is ridiculous. We have 10 times the officers per citizen that many urban areas do," said voter Sam Hopkins, complaining that town leaders called another meeting during a busy season for Islanders.

But Richard Hammond, a computer teacher at the high school, attested to the need for a police presence in the regional school.

"I often see a police officer off in a corner talking to one kid. I don't know what they're talking about, but I'm sure it's really helping that one kid," he said.

Most voters at the meeting didn't question the need to continue funding an officer, but expressed concerns about a seemingly redundant vote - questioning why leaders proposed the same articles that voters killed in April.

"We voted on this already and here we are being asked to vote on the same thing," said resident Robert Potts.

"I'm worried about the process. We have half the number of people we did at the annual town meeting. It doesn't seem like this is appropriate. Please talk to this so I can feel comfortable voting on it," said Joy Robinson-Lynch.

Town counsel Ronald Rappaport told voters that articles can return time and again to the town meeting floor, either by initiative of town selectmen or voter petition.

Selectman John Early said that town leaders found each of these funding proposals important enough to ask for reconsideration.

At the meeting, the request to bring West Tisbury into the 21st century by purchasing a $6,000 computerized election tabulating system passed with little fanfare except a standing round of applause for Joan Jenkinson, who retired her ballot box authority in April after 20 years of volunteering to count paper ballots by hand.

There were items beyond financial concerns at the special town meeting.

In a rather unexpected turn, West Tisbury residents denied a neighbor and benefactress' request to reduce public access hours for Uncle Seth's Pond.

Mary French, whose family donated the Lambert's Cove Road access and beach front to the beloved fresh water pond in the 1960s, asked voters to modify closing hours from 9 p.m. to 7 p.m.

"I'm the old dragon who lives next door," she said. "The Island was a different place when we gave the pond to the town. You all know that. We'd love to have a quiet dinner on our porch every once in a while, and noise really resounds across the pond," she added, noting that anyone who uses the pond that late at night could likely use it during the day.

But several late-night swimmers quickly corrected Mrs. French, saying that by the time their day's work is complete, it's nearly dark. They then head to Uncle Seth's Pond for a quiet swim.

Mrs. French also requested a few amendments to the language of the proposed article - changes she said would allow fishermen to remain after closing. But town counsel said he couldn't be confident the new language would fly with necessary state agencies.

Voters rejected the change in hours, 43 to 29.