Tisbury rejects $3 million borrowing for connector road

Tisbury selectmen, left to right, Tristan Israel, Geoghan Coogan, and Jeff Kristal confer. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Tisbury voters at annual town meeting Tuesday said no to borrowing $3 million to build a connector road between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven (Edg.-V.H.) and State roads. The borrowing article failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority, with 102 votes for it and 97 against.

The big-ticket article came up fifth among the 17 articles out of 33 addressed on the annual meeting warrant. A special town meeting preceded the annual meeting. At 9:55 pm, voters agreed to reconvene last night, at the Tisbury School gymnasium to finish the remaining 16.

The annual meeting followed a special rescheduled from last week, due to lack of a quorum. This time around, the special meeting convened at 7:10 pm with 107 voters, who voted yes on all 15 warrant articles, in about a half-hour. Before they began a Boy Scout color guard led the group in reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

As is Tisbury’s tradition, town moderator Deborah Medders drew numbers from her heirloom ceramic pitcher to determine the order in which articles would be taken up.

Voters approved borrowing funds for loans to approved residents for septic management upgrades, amending the water department’s 1905 charter, establishing revolving funds for park facilities and the Spring Building, and a sidewalk easement for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s new facility on Lagoon Pond Road.

They also agreed to Chris Fried’s request to consider an issue not on the warrant and voted in support of a resolution that calls for a constitutional amendment to overturn a Supreme Court decision. The 2010 ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited money from their general treasury funds on political campaigns.

Connector road goes nowhere

The annual meeting began with a quorum of 221. The connector road question generated about an hour’s discussion. Department of public works director Fred LaPiana and several board of public works and planning board members argued in favor of borrowing the money and building the road now while borrowing costs are low. But, voters said the price was too high, in view of future municipal projects and the town’s existing debt from the nearly complete emergency services facility (ESF).

The connector road would offer motorists the option to cut over from Edg.-V.H. Road along the access driveway now used by Island Food Products near the Edgartown National Bank branch and exit from legs on High Point Road or Holmes Hole Road onto State Road. A third leg of the connector road to State Road via Evelyn Way was proposed for development later.

In a recap of the project’s history, Mr. LaPiana noted that the town sought state funding and was turned down twice before asking voters to fund it. Mr. LaPiana said if the article were not approved, he would seek state funds again next September. While the connector road’s primary goal is to decrease traffic decongestion in the State Road-Five Corners-Beach Road Tisbury business district during the intense summer months, planning board co-chairman Henry Stephenson said the road also was an important component of “smart growth” in the Tisbury business zone.

Treasurer and tax collector Tim McLean estimated the cost of the connector road project would add about $11.60 per $100,000 of property value to taxpayer’s bills. “With the possibility of a new town hall, wastewater plant expansion, and school facility expenditures, this is a very valuable project but you have to make decision if you’re willing to pay for this at this time,” Mr. McLean told voters. “This would be in addition to the fire station debt.”

Tom Pachico and Jon Snyder, who are competing for an open seat on Tisbury’s board of selectmen, were united in opposition to the connector road’s cost. Selectman Tristan Israel said he was in favor of the concept of a connector road but questioned its priority when compared to other projects.

“If the town votes for the road, I’m going to support it,” Mr. Israel said. “I believe it is important and the selectmen will work to support it.”

Mr. LaPiana said although the $3 million price tag would cover the construction of the High Point Lane and Holmes Hole Road legs, another option would be to do the project in two phases, starting with $1.6 million to complete the Holmes Hole Road leg.

Jim Norton made a motion to amend the article to approve borrowing $1.6 million to complete the Holmes Hole Road leg. Mr. Stephenson, however, said although he thought the town should fund the connector road at the $3 million amount, he did not want the project to get into an “all or nothing situation.”

He asked whether the town could reconsider the $1.6 million funding option if the article was initially rejected. “Procedurally, town meeting has the option to bring anything back for a vote until the meeting adjourns,” Ms. Medders said. Mr. Norton’s amendment was defeated in a voice vote. After some additional discussion, a voter called the question, and the article failed to achieve a two-thirds majority in a standing vote.

Wage increases for union employees

Voters approved the other 16 articles they addressed, including two related to union contract negotiations with the Tisbury Employee General Union. One requested the transfer of $100,000 from free cash and $138,000 from the salaries line item in the DPW’s Fiscal Year 2012 (FY12) budget to fund a union contract for fiscal years FY12 and FY13. The second asked taxpayers to shell out an additional $90,000 to fund a new step on the wage scale in the new Tisbury Employee General Union contract.

In response to several questions from voters, Mr. McLean explained that since 32 of Tisbury’s 52 union employees have been at the top of the wage scale for some time, the new step would be added at the top. The funds for the contract settlement include a zero percent cost of living adjustment for FY11, 2 percent in FY12, and 2 percent in FY13. The 2-percent COL adjustments and extra step add about $43,000 and $85,000, respectively, to the budget for the two years. Mr. McLean said it averages out to about a 2.25-percent annual increase overall.

Since the extra step on the wage scale is retroactive, Mr. McLean said it could not be funded as part of the regular budget. It requires the passage of a proposition 2.5 override ballot question at town election on April 24.

Have you seen the Rat Man?

Voters also approved the town’s $20,847,208 FY13 operating budget. During discussion about some of the line items, Joe Tierney questioned why the town is paying Dukes County more than $3,000 a year for integrated pest control by program director T.J. Hegarty.

“I rarely see the Rat Man.” Mr. Tierney said. “Can anybody speak for the Rat Man?”

“Like it or not, we do have rats right here in Tisbury – some of them are four-legged, too,” board of health member James Pringle responded. Mr. Pringle said the board of health frequently uses Mr. Hegarty’s services for rat control around Vineyard Haven harbor and along Beach Road, and also for mosquito control.

Mr. Pringle and Dukes County commissioner Melinda Loberg said Mr. Hegarty’s services are both necessary and cost-effective for the town. “May I remind everyone, we are talking about the position, not the person,” Ms. Medders interjected.

Voters also approved the transfer of $234,000 from passenger ferry embarkation fee revenues, the purchase of town hall annex trailers for $160,000, and a $40,000 comprehensive facility-needs study for Tisbury School.

Among many comments she made during the meeting, Margaret Wolontis, a long-time town meeting attendee known for her outspokenness, expressed her dismay at the turn of events. “This town is amazing,” she said with a frown. “They just approve everything. For somebody who’s been around a long time, it’s quite a change.”

The final tally for voters who attended both meetings was 222, about 7.5 percent of the town’s 2,929 registered voters.