Tisbury rejects connector road for a second time

Tisbury voters studied the warrant Tuesday night as they prepared for the long haul. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Tisbury annual town meeting last week was a two-night affair. Having failed to complete their work on April 9, a much reduced group got back to work on Wednesday night, April 10 and finished up before the clock struck 10 pm.

Voters approved a $21,480,032 budget for fiscal year 2014 (FY14), an increase of about 3.04 percent, or $632,824 over the FY13 budget of $20,8847,208.

The budget includes a 2 percent increase in department budgets to cover a 1.7 percent cost of living increase for the town’s union and non-union employees — except for teachers, who will receive contractual increases.

The second night of the annual started at 7:10 pm with 111 voters present, just 11 over the needed quorum. A total of 157 attended, which is about 5 percent of the town’s 3,150 voters, compared to 225 the night before.

The second time was not the charm for DPW director Fred LaPiana who returned to voters for the second year in a row with a request to fund the construction of a connector road in order to decrease traffic congestion in the State Road-Five Corners-Beach Road Tisbury business district, especially during the summer months.

Discussion lasted for about half an hour. Several voters expressed concerns about the need to borrow $1.3 million, in light of other possible future projects.

The vote was 69 to 66, far short of the two-thirds majority necessary to approve a borrowing article. The article’s defeat quashes the outcome of a corresponding Proposition 2.5 override question that will appear on the town election ballot on April 30.

Last year, town meeting voters rejected a request for $3 million to build two of three legs of the connector road. They also nixed a request to reduce the funding to $1.6 million to build the road with one exit.

In the discussion before last week’s vote, selectman chairman Tristan Israel said he was opposed to building only one leg of the road because the purpose of the three legs was to lessen the impact on traffic exiting onto State Road. He also said that Tisbury must give weight to the project’s cost against other big expenditures the town must consider, such as wastewater and dredging.

“I still support the three-tier full plan, and I have huge doubts we’ll have the money or the will to complete this plan later on,” Mr. Israel said.

Michael Loberg, a member of the Board of Health, agreed with Mr. Israel that the project had to be weighed against other priorities, especially in terms of its potential impact on the town’s debt service.

“I don’t think we’re ready to vote until we have a long-term capital plan that looks at our debt-carrying capacity,” Mr. Loberg said, before urging voters to say no.

Bruce Lewellyn, a member of the Finance and Advisory Committee, disagreed. “This is the one item that can tie borrowing to the prospect of infrastructure we’re buying to increase the revenue of the town,” he said. “I think this is something we have the opportunity and responsibility to do, and I urge you to join me in voting for it.”

Clarence “Trip” Barnes, the owner of a moving and storage company in Vineyard Haven, said he was initially against the connector road but changed his mind after giving it a lot of thought.

“I’m in the trucking business, and I go to Edgartown more times a day than you probably go to the bathroom,” he told the audience, raising his voice as a torrential rain storm began hammering the gymnasium roof. “There’s a big bottleneck coming into Edgartown and coming into Vineyard Haven. I think we should move ahead and do it, get it started.”

Back to the drawing board

Voters turned down an article that requested $36,544 to fund Tisbury’s share of $566,000 for architectural design fees for a new office building for school superintendent James Weiss and his staff, a total of 22 people, who now work just across the street from the aging building the superintendent wants to replace.

School business administrator Amy Tierney explained that the money includes the cost of an owner’s project manager, architectural design fees, and other fees that are part of the design process. Voters balked at the building’s estimated cost of $3.5 million. The vote was 81 to 55.

Finance and advisory committee chairman Larry Gomez said FinCom members voted 6-0 not to recommend the article because they thought it was a lot of money to pay for the building’s design. The FinCom also suggested that a modular building be considered. Ms. Tierney said the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School school committee is looking into that option.

Mostly in a yes mood

Voters were not so reluctant when it came to the town’s waterways. Following considerable discussion they agreed to allow the town to borrow $500,000 to fund various dredging projects in Vineyard Haven Harbor and the Lake Tashmoo channel and inlet.

Unlike the borrowing article to fund the connector road, however, director of municipal finance Tim McLean said funding the dredging project would not increase taxes.

“We’re going to borrow this money for five years,” he explained. “We’re going to get our cash flow from the harbor dredge committee, and when the time comes, we may not borrow $500,000. We’ll only borrow the amount that they need, and then the embarkation committee has committed funds from embarkation to pay back this debt, so this isn’t a borrowing that’s going to affect the tax rate.”

Voters also approved about $11,000 in capital expenditures that include new pediatric equipment for the ambulance department, vehicles for the DPW and animal control officer, and a scissor lift for use at the emergency services facility.

Voters willingly dug into a $243,500 pot of money funded by the ferry embarkation fee levied on Steamship Authority passengers to fund a list of projects that included dock repairs at Owen Park, a new police cruiser, traffic officers, and a new fire truck.

They also agreed to appropriate more than $657,000 in funds from Community Preservation Fund revenues, which are raised through a three-percent property tax surcharge and a varying annual percentage of matching state funds.

Requests from the Nathan Mayhew Seminars (NMS) board for funds to replace shingles and a stained glass front window on the organization’s building at 35 Greenwood Avenue and to create a public park next to it generated the most discussion.

“I’m in favor of doing this, but who are we giving the money to?” Mr. Israel asked.

NMS treasurer Rubin Cronig said the Greenwood Avenue property is currently owned by the not-for-profit corporation and its 10 board members, which include him and selectman Jeff Kristal, and cannot be used for profit-making ventures. He said the board’s goal is to make repairs and stabilize the building, and then reopen it to use by the public.

Other projects approved by voters included weathervane repair and window replacement at town hall, and memorial benches at the Lagoon Pond boat landing in honor of former shellfish constable Derek Cimeno, who died in 2009. Affordable housing projects to be funded include phase two of the Lake Street affordable housing project and predevelopment costs for the Island Housing Trust to build community housing at the site next door to the Stop & Shop supermarket on Water Street.

Voters also agreed to transfer $800,000 from the unreserved fund balance to reduce the tax rate.