Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito made the rounds of Island towns Thursday, signing community compacts and offering the state’s help when it comes to important Island topics like dealing with the effects of climate change.
On her final stop Thursday before catching a ferry back to the mainland, Polito visited the Katharine Cornell Theater, where she signed agreements with both Tisbury and Edgartown selectmen.
Polito also made stops in Oak Bluffs and Chilmark. Polito pointed out that each of the six communities has a different character and a different feel, but there are things that can be shared among them.
“You are a unique place, a beautiful, beautiful part of our commonwealth,” Polito said, even though outside it was overcast and a steady rain was falling. “You have six distinct communities on this Island, and you all have a different character, a different feel and different needs … but yet there are some common services.”
She understands towns want to maintain some local control. “We’re a very parochial state that way,” she said in a brief conversation after the ceremony. “That’s why this is a local program that now everyone is participating in.”
Before the signing ceremonies in Tisbury, Polito said all 351 cities and towns were signing on to the program, which provides grant funding for things like Complete Streets and regional efforts with so-called “best practices” on how to work together.
“I call them all my children, and I love them all equally,” Polito said of the commonwealth’s 351 cities and towns. Tisbury and Edgartown, which was represented by selectman Margaret Serpa, were numbers 341 and 342 to officially sign on. Outgoing chairman Larry Gomez signed for the Tisbury board of selectmen.
In signing the agreements, the state agrees to be a “reliable partner on local aid,” and promises not to pass any unfunded mandates, among other things. Meanwhile, the communities vow to look at regional services and shared resources that could benefit taxpayers. The Tisbury compact also commits the town to look at amending zoning bylaws to allow for increased density and housing opportunities.
The community compacts have been Polito’s pet project. The program has distributed millions in state grants and provided assistance on financial policy, budgeting, housing production plans, master plans, transportation, regional services, and IT projects. “We figure if we can strengthen local government and give you more tools and resources, then you’ll provide more services and through you we make a stronger commonwealth,” Polito said. “We could not do anything without you. You’re on the front lines.”
She pointed out to the three selectmen in the room that she got her start in politics on the Shrewsbury board of selectmen.
Selectman Melinda Loberg took advantage of Polito’s visit to hand her a letter the board already sent to Gov. Charlie Baker. The letter pointed out issues in Vineyard Haven, particularly with Beach Road flooding during storms. Beach Road is a state road.
“We’re looking for help from the state,” Loberg said. “We have two state agencies that are working together or not.”
Gomez added that Beach Road is a lifeline to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital from Vineyard Haven. “If you can’t get to the hospital from here, it’s a five-mile detour,” he said.
“It’s challenging, no question, but we have to come up with some solutions,” Polito said.
Polito marveled at the murals inside the theater. “Just so beautiful,” she said.
Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour said he enjoyed the visit from Polito, and that it went beyond talking about the community compact. He said it was an opportunity to build a relationship with the administration.
“I spent most of the time talking to her about the impact of recent storms,” he said. “They really get it.”
Polito is planning a visit later this spring to talk about some of the coastal issues the Island faces, said Whritenour, who got even more time with the lieutenant governor on the boat ride from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole.
In Chilmark, Polito was greeted by the board of selectmen, three members of the planning board, town clerk Jennifer Christy, and town administrator Tim Carroll.
“We got wonderful face time with the lieutenant governor,” Carroll said. “We are participating with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for a $100,000 grant from the state for a transportation engineer.” The funding will be for regional transportation planning, he said.