Selectmen won’t take stand on Tisbury School project

Israel and Loberg want to let voters decide without board’s influence.

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A rendering of the Tisbury School project from the building committee's web site.

The Tisbury selectmen declined to take a stand on the Tisbury School project at the board’s meeting Tuesday night.

Chairman Larry Gomez asked his two colleagues to vote on the project, which will require positive votes on a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion at town meeting and the polls to move forward.

But selectmen Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg balked.

The $47 million project is slated to receive 41.25 percent reimbursement from the state if it’s approved by voters. Still, Israel said not enough was done to keep expenses down. “I’m not in favor of the project right now, as I said,” Israel said. “It’s too expensive. I don’t think our town could afford it.”

He did not want to cast a negative vote on the project, he said.

Loberg, who served on the building committee, said the project should be presented by the school committee. She said she was “ambivalent” about the process, disappointed that only one option could be presented to voters.

“It’s a very good project, but I think we ought to step back and let the town make its decision on it,” Loberg said.

Tisbury School Principal John Custer, sitting in the audience, said the town chose the process and wasn’t stuck with it. “It should be very clear to people, to suggest that the town cannot afford this is misleading and potentially inaccurate,” he said to Israel. “There have been meetings where we’ve asked the finance director, Can the town afford this?”

Israel said it will make it difficult for teachers and other working families to live in town, with a jump in property taxes of $700 to $800 per year. “It’s going to put more pressure on the housing issue,” he said.

Gomez appeared frustrated that his board wasn’t supporting the project. “We’re supposed to be leaders,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Gomez railed against a 25 percent increase in the town’s contribution to the Center for Living. “Why should we pay for this?” he said. Israel suggested having the nonprofit’s leadership in to discuss the need.

In other business, selectmen approved hiring Charles Duquette as a special police officer.

The board also approved an auto rental license for Island Adventure Rentals at 19 Beach Rd.

Selectmen also reviewed a letter that will be sent to Gov. Charlie Baker about Beach Road they requested at a meeting Thursday.

Israel said he is no longer inclined to support a shared use path for the road and wants the state to focus on proper drainage and addressing sea level rise.

The town is waiting for a 100 percent design plan from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. It was first expected in February, then March, and has not yet emerged.

Loberg doesn’t want to see the town lose out. “There are some really good aspects of this project that we really shouldn’t lose sight of,” she said.

Selectmen were also presented with a plan from town administrator Jay Grande to use Strategic Policy Partnership to help with the search for a new police chief. The town will first hire an interim chief, and take its time in searching for a replacement for Chief Daniel Hanavan. The process could take six to 12 months, Grande said.