Tisbury selectmen reviewed in detail Tuesday requests from town department for a share of the money generated by Steamship Authority (SSA) ferry embarkation fees. Selectmen reminded project proponents that the the money may only be used for purposes outlined in the legislation that created the fund.
In a back and forth process, last month the town’s embarkation fee advisory committee reviewed a list of funding requests totaling $353,175. After trimming the list, they recommend the town fund six projects totaling $243,000.
Tuesday, selectmen took up the same list of projects. One point of contention was funding of projects outside the normal department budget process, which includes finance and advisory committee (FinCom) review.
The embarkation committee plans a final review and, based on the selectmen’s advice, will make a list of projects to be presented to voters at spring town meeting.
Municipal finance director Tim McLean expects the available embarkation fee revenue will total about $240,000.
Tisbury selectmen questioned several requests they said more appropriately belonged in department budgets. These included an ambulance department request for $45,000 for wages and uniforms for four additional summer EMTS; a police department request for $36,000 for a new vehicle; and a beautification committee request for $14,000 for projects in downtown Vineyard Haven.
Selectmen had already agreed on other embarkation fee priorities. These include $50,000 for dredging debt and/or a stabilization fund for dredging, and another $55,000 for summer traffic officers in the vicinity of the SSA terminal, an expense funded in past years.
“With far more requests for funds than funds available, we have to have a rational justification for what our priorities are,” selectman Jonathan Snyder said.
The state imposes a 50-cent 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 and Oak Bluffs.
By law, embarkation fees may only be used to mitigate the impact of ferry service on the city or town. Those uses include providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, and infrastructure improvements.
In the past, Tisbury used embarkation fees to purchase a new fire ladder truck, a police cruiser, and an ambulance.
“As a point of clarification, the departments that you have before you in the past have been encouraged with these types of items to pursue funding through embarkation, as a way of not going through raise and appropriate,” fire Chief John Schilling reminded the selectmen. “It was a direction to our departments to keep these things off of raise and appropriate and out of our budgets.”
Selectman chairman Jeff Kristal said, “I think what’s happened in the past was when a department got a ‘no’ in embarkation they went back and either did it in their budget or in a warrant article to cover that shortfall of funds they had.”
Mr. Schilling countered that if the FinCom requests a zero percent budget increase, department heads could not simply take the amount requested for items sought from embarkation funds and add it to their budgets.
“So we’ll look forward to the board’s support when we need to come before the FinCom with increased budgets?” he asked the selectmen.
“You’ll get it from me, for all of those things that are needed,” Mr. Kristal said. “This is the year, unfortunately, that we’re probably going to have to have an override.”
In other business, the selectmen voted to add two at-large members to the Housing Trust, approved a lodging house application for the Charles & Charles at 85 Summer Street, and wrote in support of the Island Housing Trust’s application for a Chapter 40B permit to build an affordable apartment project on Water Street, next to the Stop & Shop. They also approved a six-month performance merit review for Tisbury Police Lt. Eerik Meisner and the appointment of Lari Rega as a crossing guard.