Tisbury reviews ferry embarkation fee project requests

File photo by Susan Safford

The Tisbury embarkation fee advisory committee (EFAC) is considering a list of 20 requests from several town committees and departments to fund projects with Steamship Authority (SSA) passenger ticket surcharge fees. The committee will make recommendations to voters at annual town meeting this spring.

The list includes salaries for seasonal police officers to direct traffic around the SSA terminal, beautification projects around downtown Vineyard Haven, and harbor dredging. In the past, the embarkation fee has been used to purchase a new fire truck, a police cruiser and an ambulance.

The state imposes a 50-cent per passenger ticket surcharge on all passenger ferry operations that carry more than 100 passengers. The money is distributed on a quarterly basis to eight SSA port towns, including Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Falmouth, Nantucket, and Barnstable.

The law requires that embarkation fees be used only for mitigating the impact of ferry service on the city or town. Those uses include providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, and infrastructure improvements. Town officials have applied the definition broadly.

Tisbury usually receives about $245,000 annually in embarkation fee funds, according to treasurer and tax collector Tim McLean. At annual town meeting last April, Tisbury voters approved a laundry list of six items totaling about $243,500.

This year’s funding requests total $353,175. With embarkation fee revenue for fiscal year 2015 (FY15) expected to be about $240,000, that leaves a cut of $113,175 and some hard decisions for the EFAC.

“We’ll have a meeting at the end of the month or in early January to discuss the requests, and then make some value judgments,” Selectman Tristan Israel, who serves as the board’s EFAC representative, told The Times in a phone conversation Monday.

Mr. Israel said there may be more money. “We have a committee policy that after 18 months, money for any previously approved projects that goes unspent will go back into the embarkation fee fund and be used towards something else.”

The projects

In the past, Tisbury town officials have used the legislation’s definition to include almost any emergency services spending. For example, in 2005, voters spent $239,395 to help purchase a new fire department pumper truck and a new police vehicle, reasoning that they could be needed to respond to a ferry-related emergency.

Last week, selectmen reviewed the EFAC’s list of FY15 embarkation requests. Most of the project requests came from the town’s fire, police, emergency management, ambulance, and harbor departments.

Among the requests, police chief Dan Hanavan asked for $55,000 in salaries for additional summer traffic officers in the vicinity of the SSA, and ambulance coordinator Tracey Jones asked for $45,000 for wages and uniforms for four additional EMTs for the summer season.

Fire Chief John Schilling requested $20,500 to replace a utility rescue boat and $11,875 to replace personal protective equipment. Harbor master Jay Wilbur asked for $18,000 to replace the harbormaster’s vehicle, $15,000 to improve the patrol boat’s fire fighting equipment, and $10,000 to replace dinghy docks at Owen Park.

Emergency management director Chris Cini requested $2,600 for a computer data network and hardware. The town’s beautification committee requested $14,000 for flowers and plantings and their maintenance on Main, Water, and Union Streets, from spring through fall. The dredge committee asked that $50,000 be earmarked for the town’s dredge debt and/or stabilization fund.

Making the decisions

The committee will put together a list for the selectmen, who will vote on a final list and send it back to the committee for final review and recommendations. Voters make the final decision to approve or disapprove projects at town meeting.

Finance and advisory committee representative Jynell Kristal, the wife of selectman Jeff Kristal, is the committee chairman. In addition to Mr. Israel, the current committee members include Harbor Management Committee representative Melinda Loberg, and at large representatives Peter Goodale and municipal finance director Tim McLean.