Taxis, taxes, telcom top officials' agenda
All-Island selectmen consider proposed Island-wide rules for taxis
Selectmen from the six Island towns met last Thursday in Edgartown to discuss regional issues ranging from outdated taxi regulations to the future of telecommunications on the Island.
The all-Island selectmen's association, has no legal authority, but provides a forum for issues of regional impact.
Oak Bluffs selectman Duncan Ross and Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal presented initial recommendations for uniform taxi regulations, compiled after a two-hour discussion with city of Boston officials who regulate taxis there.
The two selectmen recommended that all cabs have the name of the company on the outside of the taxi in large letters. "One of the problems on the Island is some of the cabs have no lettering at all," Mr. Ross said. "If somebody has a problem, they have no idea who to call."
The selectmen proposed that taxis display a fare sheet and license inside the cab, that they be subject to two inspections per year, and that the companies carry minimal bodily injury insurance.
The initial recommendations call for drivers to wear clean, neat clothing, no tee-shirts. Each driver would be subject to a criminal records check and prohibited from texting while driving.
The selectmen in various towns will consider revising the late-night surcharge. "We're suggesting for a late fee, $5 per trip, for up to two hours after the bars close in that town," Mr. Ross said. Currently, each cab company has different hours and rules for surcharges, but in general, each passenger can expect to pay a $10 surcharge after midnight. Not addressed in the initial recommendations was a common complaint among visitors - that Island cabs have no meters.
"Looking to the future, we're looking to metering," Mr. Ross said. "People are more comfortable with the metering. That's going take some convincing of the cab companies. We're also going to have to bring an expert here to figure out how to charge for parts of mile."
Selectmen will take the recommendations back to their respective boards for discussion.
The local option meals and rooms taxes appearing on many town meeting warrants across the state attracted discussion among the Island leaders. Legislation passed last year gave towns a way to raise new revenue, but increasing the rooms tax from four to six percent, and adding .75 percent to the meals tax. Oak Bluffs selectmen Ron DiOrio asked for a poll to see how other towns are handling the issue. In Edgartown, the rooms and meals taxes were to go before voters at the April 13 town meeting, but following a February 16 public hearing, selectmen voted to withdraw the measures.
"Many of the business people came and made good and cogent arguments," Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck said. Up-Island towns said with few restaurants or inns, the taxes would produce little revenue.
"It was a minimal amount of money, " Aquinnah selectman Camille Rose said. "It just didn't seem to be the right time."
Oak Bluffs plans to have the new tax measures on the town meeting warrant. Tisbury has yet to decide, but the other four towns have rejected the idea.
State representative Tim Madden, who attended the meeting, said resort communities across the Cape are struggling with the issue. "I use to own a restaurant, and I used to own a guest inn," he said. "My suggestion is to reach out to these organizations and see how you can help them."
Mr. Madden suggested that some of the tax revenue might be used to offset licensing fees or other business expenses. "You don't want it to be a divisive issue in the town," he said. "You don't want to pit town against town."
Mr. Madden told the local officials to expect more painful cuts in state aid to local towns. "Your local aid is going to be cut, Chapter 70 (education funds) is going to be cut," he said. "I think you're looking at a maximum of five percent, hopefully less than that. I haven't seen the light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a long, long tunnel. There is a rumor out there that someone has seen a light. I haven't seen it."
The group also heard a presentation from Global Protection Communication Systems (GPCS) about the company's plans to lay a fiber optic cable across Vineyard Sound. The cable would come ashore near Lake Tashmoo, providing high-speed telecommunications services to the Island.
A company spokesman said the fiber optic cable would provide higher speeds, higher bandwidth and more reliable performance for bundled television, phone, and Internet service, at a monthly cost of approximately $100. Several selectmen were skeptical of the company's plans. The project GPCS proposes would be the first such venture for the New York based company.
Chilmark selectman J.B. Riggs Parker asked about the company's financial stability. "We're a private company, we don't show our financials," business development director Chris Lynch said.
"That's precious little assurance," Mr. Parker said. "We're public officials, we answer to voters."
The final order of business was electing new officers. Duncan Ross, the incumbent vice-chairman, was unanimously elected chairman of the all-Island selectmen. Jeff Kristal was elected vice-chairman.
Before adjourning, the meeting acknowledged and praised three members who will not return to their elected offices. All-Island selectmen chairman Diane Powers is not seeking reelection to the board of selectmen in West Tisbury. Nor are Mr. Parker of Chilmark and Kerry Scott of Oak Bluffs.