Tisbury Votes for Fire Truck

Also: New Police Cruisers, Cycle; Plan to Join Estuaries Program; Chairs For Katharine Cornell; Overrides on April 27

By ALEXIS TONTI

A host of pricey requests were put to Tisbury voters this week, but in the end they wrangled most over whether to replace the tattered avocado green chairs at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. In the closest vote of the night, the improvements to the historic theatre passed by a margin of 11 votes.

The moment of dissent stood out at an annual town meeting that was marked by limited debate, unexpected generosities and overwhelming unanimity. Tisbury voters approved all 23 warrant articles, including the $16 million operating budget and $1.2 million in capital appropriations.

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A total of 191 voters turned out for the meeting, held Wednesday in the Tisbury School gymnasium. In the minutes before it began residents talked outside in the gathering dusk. A basketball player shooting hoops nearby was the only one indifferent to the business on tap for the night.

With town moderator Deborah Medders at the podium, voters breezed through the warrant in just three hours. Many left after signing off on the big-ticket items, including a new $800,000 aerial ladder truck for the fire department, the most costly item under consideration.

Fire Chief Makes Pitch

Fire chief John Schilling gave a half-hour presentation, including PowerPoint, on the aerial ladder truck. Mr. Schilling painted a vivid picture of the aged vehicle currently used by the department. It has been subject to frequent breakdowns, nearly injured firemen and is so old that mechanics have turned to salvage junkyards in the search for replacement parts.

"It will take us 12 to 18 months to get a new truck, and I doubt the existing one will even survive that long," he said.

"This certainly is expensive, but going without will be even more expensive," the fire chief added, pointing to the likely increase in the cost of homeowners' insurance if the department's safety rating drops.

Jamie Douglas, a candidate for selectman, argued against the purchase. "I don't see evidence of proper financial and logistical planning here. It is not proper government to wait until something is broken, and then go out and raise taxes to replace it," said Mr. Douglas.

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He suggested that regionalization may be a better approach: "I have common sense enough to see that one of these vehicles can serve this Island sufficiently."

"We have had conversations about regionalization in the past, but the current reality is they haven't been successful, and we need the truck now," declared Tristan Israel, chairman of the board of selectmen.

"We have a huge luxury in that we have a volunteer fire department. They have showed us what they need; they take their lives into their hands for us. Once in a while it's okay to be extravagant and give these guys the tools they need to be safe and serve the community in what is virtually a volunteer effort," said Mr. Israel.

The article passed by an overwhelming majority.

Override Vote April 27

To greenlight the purchase of the truck, voters also will have to approve a related ballot question April 27 asking for an override of Proposition 2 1/2.

Discussion about where to store the new truck was fodder for a later conversation about a $60,000 feasibility study for a new emergency services facility. The study will include an assessment of the town's immediate and long-range needs and will consider housing the fire, police and emergency services departments jointly.

Voters also authorized the $60,000 purchase of two new police cruisers, a request they turned down last year. Police chief Theodore Saulnier said that after the sale of the department's oldest vehicle, the new cars will bring the number of cruisers up to four. Residents also signed off on $5,000 to lease a motorcycle for the department and $4,000 to train and equip new officers.

Aase Jones, assistant to the town administrator, took the floor to introduce her request for new chairs. She amended the article to $20,000 after announcing a $5,000 donation from Elizabeth Suppes, trustee of the Nancy Hamilton Fund, which supports refurbishing of the theatre.

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"The Katharine Cornell is a beautiful old theatre, and it is heavily used for public meetings. But these are 35-year-old chairs and some are broken," Ms. Jones said. She drew laughter from the floor when she added: "And of course there's that lovely avocado green color which no longer really matches."

Finance committee chairman George Balco announced the committee's opposition to the article. "Aase is a tough act to follow, but we feel this is one of those things best handled by private funding," he said.

The article passed by a 78-67 vote. Later in the evening funding also was approved to replace the theatre's windows.

Ambulance Services

Residents also endorsed a host of upgrades in ambulance services for the town, part of the new Martha's Vineyard Emergency Medical Service Community Plan.

"This is about bringing critical care treatment to the patient's location," said ambulance coordinator Jeff Pratt. "We live on an Island, and we cannot depend on the next guy to give us paramedics. We have to band together."

In separate articles voters allocated $20,000 for new equipment, including a cardiac monitor and defibrillator; put $40,000 toward funding a full-time paramedic position for the town, and agreed to an Islandwide shared staffing initiative that calls for Tisbury to contribute $6,100 toward nighttime paramedic coverage.

A critical article related to Lagoon Pond garnered strong support, aided by a $10,000 donation from Tisbury Waterways Inc.

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Voters agreed to enroll the pond in the Massachusetts State Estuaries Program - an effort aimed at assessing the overall health and specific nutrient loading capacity for estuaries in southeastern Massachusetts. A comprehensive analysis of the pond with recommendations for improving its health will take about two years.

Although Tisbury must put $20,000 toward the program, the donation from TWI cut the request before voters in half. Shellfish constable Derek Cimeno explained the contribution was earmarked to fast track a study that will evaluate the impact of dredging or widening the channel between the pond and the harbor - information essential to assessing the impact of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge replacement project.

Oak Bluffs also must approve participation in the estuaries program at its annual town meeting.

Near the end of the meeting, after some minor tweaking, voters approved the $16 million budget. Mev Good and Donald Amaral, members of the finance committee, commended officials at the high school and Tisbury School for reining in their budgets.

Afterward, residents filing into the night were met by an orange moon low in the sky. Once away from the school, as they walked to distant parking spots, it was the only light by which to find their way.