Authors Posts by Nelson Sigelman

Nelson Sigelman

Nelson Sigelman
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Aquinnah voters took 16 minutes to fill a gaping hole in the 2014 fiscal year budget and clear the way to send out third- and fourth-quarter tax bills without resorting to any budget cuts, one of the options on the table at a special town meeting on January 7.

By a vote of 44 to 4, voters last Wednesday agreed to transfer $59,474 from the town stabilization fund to cover a budget shortfall discovered last month that had left the town at risk of being unable to pay its bills by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015.

Voters went into the town meeting expecting to be asked to make up a $101,564 deficit. However, prior to the meeting, the town accountant received word from the state Department of Revenue (DOR) that it had revised its calculations and the hole was not as deep as first thought.

A motion to reduce the budget number from $101,564 to $59,474 passed easily. Voters were then faced with the choice of transferring the entire amount from the stabilization fund, enacting a series of department budget cuts, or combining cuts and a transfer to cover the entire shortfall. Voters decided to dip into the stabilization fund.

In an executive summary that accompanied the special town meeting warrant, Jim Newman, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the shortfall “will put the town in a position where it won’t be able to cover all its bills by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2015). When this was reported to the state Department of Revenue as part of setting a tax rate for the rest of the fiscal year, they instructed the town to not send out its third-quarter tax bills until the matter had been resolved.”

“We are happy that we resolved the deficit issue and that we got a very good turnout from the residents of Aquinnah,” town administrator Adam Wilson told The Times Thursday morning. “We were able to quickly and satisfactorily get the necessary funds so that the DOR can approve that we are under the levy limit and allow us to send out our third- and fourth-quarter tax bills.”

Aquinnah voters do not have a good track record for turning out for special town meetings. The fact that a total of 48 voters — a quorum was 36 — made their way to town hall on one of the most frigid nights of the year had much to do with a full-court press by town officials.

Mr. Wilson said he worked the phones, social media, and email to wring commitments from voters to attend the special town meeting. “I made a real personal effort to reach out to the community and get confirmation as to whether or not people were going to come to the meeting,” he said.

“I knew I had 40 people who had told me through emails or phone calls that they were coming, so that was a good thing because it was an important issue and we did not want to delay any longer,” he said.

Mr. Wilson added, “It was a bit nippy. Thank goodness the boiler was working in the old town hall.”

The financial problems came to light as the town worked with the DOR to compile its tax recapitulation statement, a requirement of all Massachusetts towns. That revealed tax payments to the town were coming in at less than the amount projected for the fiscal year 2015 budget.

There was just not enough dough to be made in the short Vineyard season.

Flatbread is for sale. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The owners of Flatbread, the popular brick-oven pizza restaurant that occupied a portion of the building that once housed the storied Hot Tin Roof at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, have put their ownership in the building, which they share with M.V. Wine and Spirits, up for sale.

Co-owner John Meehan said Flatbread restaurant could continue if the new owner wishes to continue to operate the Flatbread restaurant as a franchise. “That would be the ideal outcome for us,” Mr. Meehan said in an email to The Times.

Mr. Meehan said the Vineyard community had been very supportive, but it was difficult to survive only in the summer months. “In the months of July and August, our sales eclipse most of our mainland stores,” he said. “The off-season is the real challenge. Staying open year-round was a long-term goal, but our small forays into the shoulder seasons were difficult to manage.”

Flatbread’s 66 percent share in the building is on the market for $1.15 million with Suzanne Lanzone at MVYBroker.

Mr. Meehan said the central location with ease of parking was especially appealing for his restaurant guests. “Running a business on the Island was a dream of ours, and we’re sure we’re not the only ones who have those dreams,” he said.

Brion McGroarty, co-owner with his son of M.V. Wine and Spirits, said he will be sorry to see the business leave. “They are a great group of guys,” he said.

Mr. McGroarty, former owner of the Wharf in Edgartown, knows something about the restaurant business. “I think it was the seasonality,” Mr. McGroarty said.

Years ago, the building was a legendary Island nightspot, the Hot Tin Roof, owned by singer/songwriter Carly Simon. In 2006, Barry Rosenthal of West Tisbury and his brother Arthur purchased the club, and renamed it Outerland.

In 2009 a Vermont nightclub known as Nectars took over the well-known venue in partnership with Flatbread Co., a wood-fired pizza restaurant chain with locations in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Hawaii. In 2012, Nectars departed and Flatbread stayed.

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An oncoming blizzard is expected to disrupt SSA ferry service. – File photo by Michael Cummo.

An online petition calling on the Steamship Authority (SSA) to repeal or suspend rate hikes that went into effect on New Year’s Day had garnered more than 2,000 signatures as of Wednesday. Todd Rebello of Oak Bluffs is behind the petition, posted on the MoveOn.org web site.

Mr. Rebello, a businessman and former Oak Bluffs selectman, said the catalyst for his call to action is the recent drop in the cost of oil, but his unhappiness with the boatline is rooted in spending and management decisions that he insists have not been thoroughly vetted with Island ratepayers, who must contend with a high cost of living, and will feel the brunt of future cost increases.

Mr. Rebello pointed to the debt tied to the cost of a new $40 million passenger/vehicle ferry that will serve the Vineyard route and the estimated $60 million reconstruction of the Woods Hole terminal and relocation of the boatline’s administrative offices.

Beginning Jan. 1, the discounted vehicle excursion fare for Island residents, parking rates at Falmouth lots, and passenger fares for all travelers increased.

Prior to an October vote to approve the hikes, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, told the authority members the hikes were needed to cover increased operating costs projected for 2015, including fuel costs, vessel maintenance, employee salaries, health care benefits, and pension benefits.

In a recent email to The Times, Mr. Lamson pointed to the volatility of fuel prices and ongoing expenses. Mr. Lamson said the 2015 budget projects a net annual income of a little more than $3,000,000, which provides for “a very thin margin of error.”

Mr. Lamson said  if the authority does end up with a larger surplus than anticipated next year, the extra money will automatically flow into the SSA’s special-purpose funds to be used to pay for the cost of its capital projects, which will help keep rates lower in the future.

Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, the SSA’s Martha’s Vineyard member, supports Mr. Lamson’s arguments. In a telephone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Mr. Hanover said any unexpected surpluses would help lower borrowing costs and be reinvested in the boatline. And he noted, “This is the first rate increase in four years.”

Limit fares, traffic

The online petition states: “This past October the Steamship Authority Board voted a rate increase for January 1st 2015. This rate increase was voted to cover anticipated shortfalls in the current fiscal year budget. Included was a budget increase in the fuel oil budget line item of 2.5%. The Authority budgeted nearly $10 million for the current fiscal year for fuel. The fuel and oil markets have declined by roughly 50% since summer. This is now creating a multimillion-dollar surplus and thus should be reason enough to suspend and or repeal the current rate increase.”

Many of those who signed the petition added comments.

A signer identified as Kitty White of Vineyard Haven wrote, “The price increase, for no good reason, works a hardship on the residents of the islands.”

Kevin from Nantucket said, “Come on some of us are just working class trying to get to and from the island to see our friends and family and work.”

Joan Adibi from Edgartown asked for a cutback in rates and cars. “I would also like to see a limit placed on passenger vehicles granted access to Martha’s Vineyard especially during the summer months. Could a fare hike be combined with a slowing of traffic?”

Check in

In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Rebello said he began hearing from people in response to a Letter to the Editor he wrote critical of the rate hikes. That prompted him to examine the issue further. He hit upon the idea of an online petition.

“When I fired that online petition up the first of the year, I didn’t expect that it would get the response that it did,” he said. “The first day it was like wildfire.” Mr. Rebello said he has since been receiving calls and emails from people expressing concerns about a host of issues.

Mr. Rebello said he has listened carefully to the SSA’s arguments in favor of the rate hike, and he is not buying them. He said at the same time that the SSA said it would use any surplus to retire debt, it is preparing to take on $100 million in new debt.

Mr. Rebello said there has been a disconnect between major management decisions and the Island ratepayers. “I think people need to have their say,” he said. “They need to be informed and they need to know what it could potentially cost them down the road. And people need to know if we are talking about an expansion that could promote more traffic on the Island. These are valid issues that need to be aired.”

Mr. Rebello said it is time for Vineyard SSA member Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs to reconnect with his constituency and “check in,” perhaps through public hearings, when there are major matters and large capital expenditures. Mr. Rebello said he respects the time commitment made by Mr. Hanover and the other SSA members in what is a thankless public service.

“I don’t want to undermine Marc by any means, but you have to ask these questions and you have to stick your neck out to ask these questions. Marc is not going to be happy with me because I am challenging the Steamship Authority and he is the representative, but I can’t worry about that relationship, as I am reading the testimonials by people signing the petition saying they are really hurting financially on this Island.”

The former selectman and veteran of many political battles said he has no interest in becoming the Island’s next SSA member or in any appointments.

In recent years, SSA board meetings held on the Island have attracted little attention. Asked how that lack of interest squares with his call for SSA public hearings, Mr. Rebello said, “It takes something to spark public interest.”

A windfall

In a telephone conversation late Tuesday, Mr. Hanover said he was not surprised that the petition had attracted thousands of signatures. He said asking people if they want lower SSA rates is akin to asking people if they want lower taxes or lower electric rates — it is pointless and misleading, he said.

Mr. Hanover said he hates rates increases, but they are part of the larger management picture. The notion, he said, that the boatline can lower rates based on a recent drop in oil prices fails to take into account the potential volatility of the market and the fact that the boatline buys most of its fuel in the summer months.

“This is just a windfall with the oil prices, and I have no clue where they are going to be, and neither do the experts,” he said. “They start doing the budget in June and July. Last June oil was at $115 [ a barrel].” Mr. Hanover said the SSA cannot gamble with prices.

He said any surplus will not disappear. “I’ve got Oak Bluffs coming to me for a park and ride; well, that’s not in the budget. I met with the Oak Bluffs planning board, they want all new signage down there. That’s not in the budget. Tisbury is talking about a study, which they haven’t formally asked for, about moving the whole terminal. That’s not in the budget.”

Mr. Hanover said that he regularly briefs the county commission, his appointing authority, and that the SSA holds two public meetings each year on the Vineyard, often poorly attended. Mr. Hanover said he appreciates Mr. Rebello’s call for more communication, and is happy to speak about any of the issues confronting the boatline and ratepayers before any board of selectmen that would like to invite him.

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Chappy resident and new tackle shop owner Peter Sliwkowski says he plans to build on the foundation of the Edgartown fixture.

Peter and Melissa Sliwkowski, the proud new owners of Larry's Tackle Shop in Edgartown with their dog Minnie.

Years ago, whenever Peter Sliwkowski traveled near the ocean for business as part of the leadership team of Progress Software Corporation, a leading global supplier of business technology, he packed away a fishing rod and built in some time to fish. Sitting at his desk, the avid fisherman said he often imagined what it would be like to own a tackle shop.

On Monday, Mr. Sliwkowski and his wife, Melissa, purchased Larry’s Tackle Shop on Upper Main Street in Edgartown, first opened in 1947 by Larry Myers in the location now occupied by Depot Corner gas station, and run for years by Larry’s daughter Ruth.

Steve Purcell, who has owned the shop since 2008 and managed it prior to that, plans to move to western Mass where he will manage farm properties for a boyhood friend and switch his attention from fishing to hunting. The affable and always helpful Mr. Purcell leaves a loyal clientele and a core staff that Mr. Sliwkowski said will provide a solid foundation upon which to grow his new business.

This week, Mr. Sliwkowski marked the change with a 20 percent off sale for everything in the store. “People love fishing stuff for the holidays,” he said.

In 2000, the Sliwkowskis purchased property on Chappaquiddick, noted for its wonderful shore fishing and beaches. In 2014, with both of their children out of college the couple moved from Sudbury to the small island and became full-time residents. Mr. Sliwkowski, 50 and retired, began working as a shore fishing guide. Conversations with Steve Purcell about how he might grow his business soon led to an invitation to Mr. Sliwkowski to purchase the shop.

An ardent shore fisherman, he participates in the Bass and Bluefish Derby and the spring Catch and Release tournament. He also continues to travel the world to fish: this month he’s heading to Christmas Island in the Pacific.

Mr. Sliwkowski said he looks forward to working with his wife, who has experience in retail sales. Asked about changes down the road, he said, “I have a saying, people don’t hate change, they hate loss.”

He expects to add to the product line, add some fishing clothing and custom rods. He outlined three primary goals: spruce up the store to create a world-class environment; provide a great selection; and make sure everyone has a great customer experience.

Building on his software background, in the future he also plans to revamp the website and be active on Facebook, providing up-to-date fishing reports and photos.

“Steve built a great foundation and a great reputation,” he said. “We’re just taking what he’s done to the next level.”

Asked why he would want to ruin a perfectly good retirement by purchasing a tackle shop, Mr. Sliwkowski said, “I’m an avid fisherman but it’s kind of weird — ten years ago in my corner office I had said, ‘Someday, I’m going to own a tackle shop on the Vineyard and that’s what I’m going to end up doing.’

“I would say, I’m not retired — work is optional.”

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The Island Home sets sail. — File Photo by Michael Cummo

The Steamship Authority moved forward last week with plans for two large capital projects, a new passenger/vehicle ferry that will serve the Vineyard route and the reconstruction of the Woods Hole terminal and relocation of the boatline’s administrative offices.

Meeting last Thursday in Hyannis, authority members awarded a $36,448,000 contract for the motor vessel Woods Hole to Conrad Shipyard of Morgan City, Louisiana.

The overall budget for the project is $40,236,500, which includes the cost of design and engineering services, SSA oversight and SSA furnished equipment. The board has authorized the sale of up to $38,250,000 in bonds to pay for the new vessel.

The single-ended boat will have an uncovered back deck and be capable of carrying 384 passengers and 50-55 cars or 10 semi-trailer trucks. It will serve as a replacement for the aged Governor, which will be sold or scrapped.

The members also approved a report by Betreaux and Iwerks Architects for a feasibility study of the reconstruction of the Woods Hole terminal that includes a proposal to move the SSA’s administrative offices from Woods Hole to a new building that would be constructed on SSA property adjacent to the Palmer Avenue parking lot in Falmouth. Management concluded that the Woods Hole site could not accommodate needed office space and parking.

In a telephone conversation, Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, told The Times that after a rocky start the SSA and community members led by Catherine Bumpus, co-president of the Woods Hole Association, had worked well together and reached consensus on most issues.

The existing terminal building that also houses administrative offices would be demolished, opening up views to the water, and the existing terminal pier would be partly removed to make way for a relocated slip number three. The new terminal would be set back from the water. The price tag for the entire package is expected to be close to $61 million.

Fuel for the fire

SSA officials also told The Times that despite a drop in oil prices, boatline managers have no plans to reconsider a slate of rate hikes approved October 21 that are scheduled to take effect in the new year.

Beginning January 1, the discounted vehicle excursion fare for Island residents, parking rates at Falmouth lots, and passenger fares for all travelers will increase.

In October, Mr. Lamson said the hikes were needed to cover increased operating costs projected for 2015, including fuel costs, vessel maintenance, employee salaries, health care benefits, and pension benefits.

At the October meeting, several members questioned the budget projection for fuel costs, given the current downward trend in wholesale oil prices.

“The market is correcting right now,” SSA treasurer Robert Davis said on October 21. “Talking with our consultant, he is still feeling the $90 range is a good range to be targeting.”

In public comment, Oak Bluffs businessman Todd Rebello, a former selectman, said, “I do believe there is a little fluff in the potential fuel budget that could be significant.”

Mr. Rebello said he did not expect any savings to be passed on to the ratepayers. “You’ll find another place in the budget to plug a hole,” he said.

This week the price per barrel of crude oil had dropped close to $60.

No rollbacks planned

In an email to The Times on Wednesday, Mr. Lamson said at this point he is not recommending that the SSA forestall the rate increases approved in October.

“Fuel is only one of the SSA’s expenses, and we already know that we will be incurring significant unbudgeted increases in our repair costs next year,” he said.

He cited almost $1.4 million in higher than expected costs to replace the dolphins at the Vineyard Haven terminal, repair the older portion of the dock at the Oak Bluffs terminal and dry-dock the Island Home next March.

“In addition, while we may all have opinions as to the range of oil prices that we are likely to see going forward over the long term, no one knows for sure at this point where the price of oil will ultimately settle at in 2015,” Mr. Lamson said. “The Department of Energy’s latest forecast says that WTI crude oil prices are expected to average $78 per barrel in 2015.  If that prediction proves to be accurate (and even the DOE cautions that energy price forecasts are highly uncertain), the SSA might spend around $1,300,000 less in vessel fuel expense next year than projected in its 2015 budget, but that amount will still not offset the unbudgeted increases in our repair costs that we already have incurred.

“Further, given that the SSA’s vessels consume almost 60 percent of their fuel during the months of July through December, it would not be prudent to base all of next year’s fuel price assumptions on the price that we are currently paying, which by most accounts may only be temporary.”

Mr. Lamson said the 2015 budget projects a net annual income of a little more than $3,000,000, which provides for “a very thin margin of error. “Even just a few unexpected events can turn the SSA’s black ink to red. On the other hand, if we do end up with a larger surplus next year than anticipated, the extra money will automatically flow into the SSA’s special purpose funds to be used to pay for the cost of our capital projects, which will help keep our rates lower in the future.”

Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, the SSA’s Martha’s Vineyard member, supported Mr. Lamson’s reasoning in a telephone conversation on Wednesday. Mr. Hanover said the SSA must take into account the volatility of the market and its future capital expenses. He said the notion that the boatline is socking away money at the expense of the ratepayers is not accurate.

For example, he said any unexpected surpluses would help lower borrowing costs.

“This is the first rate increase in four years,” Mr. Hanover said. “Costs have been up 2.5 to 3 percent per year and it is a $1 on a car and 50 cents on a person and it is pretty nominal at best.”

Rob Ranney, the Nantucket SSA member, agreed with his island counterpart. “Of course, there is also no way of knowing how long fuel costs will remain low for now,” he said in an email to The Times. “I don’t know what gasoline prices are on the Vineyard, but here on the outer island I paid $3.95/per gallon for the cheap stuff yesterday to fill up my car.”

Mr. Ranney said the SSA takes a longer view on these issues, “due in part to mandated bond repayment requirements, pension, healthcare and labor costs, maintenance schedules and unforeseen expenses.

“Also, despite outward appearances to the contrary, nobody at SSA likes rate increases, not me, not management, not passengers, not the ports, not anybody.”

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A hunter makes his way through the state forest in search of deer.

Deer hunters are reminded that the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife will staff the deer check station in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest from 10 am to 6 pm, Saturday, the last day of the two week shotgun season.

All deer taken during the Vineyard shotgun season must be appropriately tagged and taken to official deer-checking stations. The state forest check station was staffed daily during the first week, and was by appointment the second week.

Deer may also be checked at the Wampanoag tribal headquarters building in Aquinnah and Larry’s Tackle shop on Upper Main Street in Edgartown. Call for hours.

The primitive firearms deer season begins Monday, December 15, and ends Saturday, December 31. Deer may be checked online during that season.

The Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun club on Third Street in Edgartown will host a blackpowder deer shoot competition from 11 am to 2:30 pm, this Sunday. The public is invited.

 

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The Nantucket. — File photo by Susan Safford

Steamship Authority general manager Wayne Lamson said the discovery of water in a compartment below deck on the ferry Nantucket Thursday morning led to the discovery of a small crack in the hull above the water line.

As a result, the ferry was taken offline for repairs. Maintenance crews repaired the crack. Following a Coast Guard inspection she was back on schedule as of 1 pm, Thursday, Mr. Lamson told The Times in a telephone call.

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The Steamship Authority (SSA) met last week and renewed several agreements and bolstered the late summer, early fall schedules in response to complaints that reservations were unavailable in early fall.

The SSA renewed its contract with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Transit Authority (VTA) to continue providing shuttle service between the Tisbury Park ‘n Ride lot and the Vineyard Haven terminal through December 31, 2016, with one significant change.

In the past, vehicles could remain in the lot for free for seven days. At the town’s request, that period will be reduced to four days.

The VTA shuttle van is expected to leave the town parking lot off State Road 15 minutes before each vessel’s scheduled departure and meet each vessel’s scheduled arrival. In return, the SSA reimburses the VTA for 50 percent of the direct labor and fuel costs attributable to the service plus $200 per month to cover maintenance, insurance, and other indirect costs, according to the SSA.

At the November 18 meeting boatline members also renewed its transportation agreement with the regional school district under which it will provide school-related approved transportation at a fixed price of $60,000 for a one-year period beginning July 1, 2015. The contract rate has remained unchanged for the last four years and represents an approximately 50 percent discount, the SSA said.

Regular travel was also on the agenda Tuesday. Responding to complaints that service was insufficient to meet demand when the summer schedule shifted to fall, the board approved a request to add service on the Vineyard route during the early fall.

The SSA will shift the Katama to an earlier schedule to meet morning demand by changing the 7:15 am, 9:45 am and 12:15 pm departures from Vineyard Haven to 6:30 am, 8:30 am and 11 am “to accommodate Island residents who wish to travel off-Island as early in the day as possible.”

It will also man the Governor with a single crew for the first six days of the fall schedule, “thus making it capable of operating up to 12 hours per day depending upon weather conditions and service demands.”

Looking ahead, the members approved management’s proposed 2015 capital budget which includes 18 new projects. The SSA plans to issue $40 million in bonds for the construction of its newest ferry, Woods Hole, and $6 million in bonds for the construction of new administrative offices.

In addition to those projects, new capital projects include: replacement of three shuttle buses; replacement of eight rescue boats; and security and spam filter upgrades.

The SSA also announced that reservations for the summer season will be accepted by mail and Internet through the headstart program from January 6 to 11. Reservations will be opened to the general public by mail and Internet beginning January 13. Telephone reservations open January 20.

Reservation-only (no standby) days will be every Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from June 19 through September 7, as well as from May 22 through May 26 (Memorial Day), and October 9 and October 12 (Columbus Day), the SSA reported.

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The SSA is adding trips in anticipation of storm disruptions. — File photo by Steve Myrick

The Steamship Authority has canceled the 1:15 pm  trip of the Island Home from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven and her 2:30 pm departure to Woods Hole due to weather conditions this Monday afternoon.

The SSA also cancelled the 1:15 pm sailing of the Nantucket from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole and the 1:30 pm departure of the freight boat Katama from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven.

The 2:45 pm departure of the Katama from Vineyard Haven and the 2:30 pm departure of the Nantucket from Woods Hole are also cancelled.

For more information, call 508-548-3788 or 508-693-0367.

Current Conditions may be viewed at www.steamshipauthority.com/traveling_today/status