Budget of $17.6 Million Tops Annual Town Meeting Warrant

By MAX HART

After making short work of the nonappropriating side of town affairs this week, Tisbury voters will head back to the elementary school gymnasium for the annual town meeting Tuesday night, this time to tackle finances for the upcoming fiscal year.

They will be greeted by a 21-article warrant featuring a $17.6 million budget and more than $1.5 million in spending requests, including almost $600,000 in capital spending and close to $300,000 in embarkation fee money allocation.

Voters will confront only one request to override Proposition 2 1/2, the state-mandated tax cap. A corresponding question will appear on the ballot at the annual town election April 18.

Moderator Deborah Medders will preside over the meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

Last year, 166 voters, or just six per cent of the total 2,674 voters registered in Vineyard Haven, turned out for the annual town meeting.

The $17.6 million operating budget marks a 5.3 per cent increase over last year - which Tisbury finance and advisory committee chairman George Balco last week described as lean and mean. The majority of the increase reflects typical salary and school education budget increases. The overall school budget rose three per cent, while the town's assessment from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School climbed 10 per cent - a jump due to the high number of Tisbury students enrolling as freshmen in September.

The spending of embarkation fee revenue also will be at the forefront of the discussion.

This year the town took in more than $276,000 from the fee, a 50-cent surcharge that is tacked onto the price of each one-way passenger ticket on ferries that travel between the Cape and Islands. It is collected by the ferry operators and paid to the town where the trip originated.

Last week, voters approved a formula-based method for spending the money, dividing the revenue among four areas of concern: 20 per cent ($55,236.50) for Steamship Authority terminal area beautification, 25 per cent ($69,045.62) for safety equipment and operations, 20 per cent ($55,236.50) for infrastructure and 35 per cent ($96,663.88) for capital expenditures.

On Tuesday, voters will be asked to sign off on individual expenditures.

Among the more than $55,000 earmarked for beautification, Tisbury plans to design and landscape a new pedestrian plan for the Water and Union street area. Among hopes for a more attractive entrance into town, the plan also calls for adding signs to direct travelers to Main street, and to guide them on a walking tour of historic Vineyard Haven.

Town leaders also want to improve the Park and Ride facility, by adding a new shelter, a concession stand and replacing confusing signage.

The majority of the $69,000 appropriated for safety equipment and operations would go toward additional traffic officers to help ease the congestion at Five Corners. The town has budgeted $40,000 for traffic officers, as well as an additional $10,000 to hire, train and equip officers to fill vacancies. The remaining $19,000 is earmarked for the installation of a new telephone system in the police department and the purchase of a foam trailer for fighting fuel-based fires. Infrastructure funds will go to the sidewalks, curbing and crosswalks around the SSA terminal area.

The nearly $97,000 designated for capital expenditures would cover several big ticket items, including two police cruisers, two outboard motors for the harbor master's boat, and the renovation of an old police Chevy Tahoe for the town' paramedic transport service.

Thanks in part to the embarkation fee funds, Tisbury faces only one Proposition 2 1/2 override request: a $250,000 bond for the underground burial of utility wires on Union street. The department of public works hopes to remove telephone poles from Union street as part of the Main Street Project currently under way.

Drawing from the tax base, the town will ask voters to approve more than a dozen other requests. The town will also ask voters to approve total of $595,000 in capital appropriations.

Some of the other large item capital expenditures include:

* $165,000 to be put toward the restoration of the town hall in the historic Katharine Cornell Theatre;

* $90,000 for a dump truck for the public works department;

* $30,000 for a fuel tank at the public works facility;

* $25,000 to replace existing paved sidewalks;

* $21,000 to replace the floor at the Tisbury Senior Center

Voters also will be asked to consider four separate spending requests by the harbor master's office totaling $6,500, including money for replanking the dock at Lake Tashmoo, replacing worn out personal flotation devices and buying a copy machine.

Among the noncapital expenditures, voters will be asked to spend $5,000 to lease a new motorcycle for the police department, pay off more than $7,000 in old bills, spend $36,000 on a full-time emergency medical technician and add $50,000 to a new sick/vacation fund for town employees.

In addressing one of the lone nonappropriating articles, voters will revisit granting an easement over town-owned land to the Manter Trust. The school committee, which hopes one day to use the land for teacher housing, recommends the action while the planning board, which wants to preserve the land, has come out against it. The finance committee has remained neutral on the subject.

Voters rejected a similar request in November.