The Tisbury board of selectmen is asking the state to scrap a plan for a shared-use path (SUP) in favor of a symmetrical plan on a section of Beach Road.
In a 2-1 vote with selectman Melinda Loberg in opposition, the board ended months of contentious debate and repeated public comments from Beach Road property owners in opposition of land takings to make way for the SUP.
“You’re making a terrible mistake,” Loberg said quietly as the vote was taken.
Earlier, as Loberg spoke in favor of putting off the decision, Frank Brunelle, a Beach Road resident who has organized a petition against the SUP and spoke out about it repeatedly, left the room after blurting out, “You’re crazy.” He slammed the doors of the Katharine Cornell Theater as Loberg continued to make a case for further delay.
But chairman Tristan Israel and selectman Jim Rogers had heard enough. Israel drafted the letter stating that plan developed by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) failed to meet some of the objectives sought by the town and a symmetrical plan would “eliminate adverse land takings.”
“We realize there has been an extensive effort on this project by MassDOT and do appreciate that much of that work will still be viable in implementing the symmetrical plan,” Israel said quoting the letter. “We don’t want to lose state funding, but we also want to do what we believe is best for our town and our hope is that you continue to work with us to get this project completed.”
Rogers, the swing vote, had said he was waiting for more information. He said a recent meeting between selectmen and the planning board was helpful, but he often spoke out against land that would be taken by eminent domain to make way for the SUP.
“I think I’ve made it very clear, I am diametrically opposed to taking property unless people choose to agree to taking that property,” Rogers said.
There are too many unanswered questions. “I don’t think we’re ready,” Rogers said. “There are things to be worked out.”
Both Rogers and Israel offered hope that there could be compromise from MassDOT and the $4.3 million project could still be completed. “This letter lets them know the town of Tisbury is not quite ready yet,” Rogers said. “I want to make sure we get the best project for the maximum number of citizens.”
Loberg called the letter “premature,” and suggested the state would walk away and spend the money elsewhere. “I am not ready to give up the ghost and say [this] to the state, who has told us very frequently they have used all their design money for this project,” she said.
Chief makes cuts
Police Chief Mark Saloio, just four weeks on the job, told the board he’s had to make staffing adjustments to deal with overtime spending.
Just five months into the fiscal year, the department has spent 81 percent of its overtime budget. “That’s unacceptable,” he told the board.
The department has been understaffed for months with two officers in the police academy, which has taxed the eight officers, forcing them to juggle overtime shifts. Some shifts have been reduced from three officers to two officers, with the exception of upcoming busy holiday weekends, and the department has eliminated optional training, the chief said. “Nothing that jeopardizes public safety,” Saloio said.
Israel noted that the department has been operating lean, in part, because the town wanted to give the new chief a chance to hire as many of his own officers as possible.
Saloio said the amount of overtime has taken a toll. “The officers are tired,” he said. “They’re working a tremendous number of hours, and it becomes a concern for me. I want them to be on top of their game.”
What went unsaid is that the department budget is paying for two police chiefs. Retired Chief Daniel Hanavan still had about $80,000 left on his one-year contract when Saloio took over as chief. Saloio is being paid $155,000 per year, according to his contract, which will pay him about $90,000 through the end of the fiscal year. So the chief’s line item is at $170,000 for this fiscal year, rather than the $135,000 budgeted for Hanavan.
“Those parameters were put into place before I started,” Saloio said. “I’m looking at our budget status now. In light of the overtime expenditures we’ve had, this is the best way to mitigate it.”
Saloio also discussed a need to restructure the department, something he’s already set about doing. Saloio said the structure that includes a lieutenant, recommended several years ago by the town’s paid consultant, is not needed, and instead the department needs sergeants to oversee patrol shifts.
“We need sergeants more than we need the lieutenant position,” he said. “I’ve taken steps to remedy that.”
In a follow-up interview, Saloio told The Times, Lt. Eerik Meisner is now a sergeant. He could not say exactly how much that’s saving the department, but said it’s significant because sergeants are paid hourly while the lieutenant is a salaried position.
Job performance was not part of the equation, Saolio said. “It’s nothing negative with regards to anyone,” he said.
Meisner, who applied to be chief and was not a finalist, declined to comment.
Saloio is advertising for two full-time trained officers. The deadline for applicants is Friday, and he’ll be interviewing candidates with two other chiefs, he said.
“The sooner we get people in the door, the better,” Saloio said.
Any surplus in the budget line item for officers is misleading because new officers will have to be hired at a higher rate, and two officers in the academy will require a pay raise if they’re hired, he said.
The chief talked about the need to do more field training of officers, something two officers on the department have expressed an interest in doing. He’s also working on new policies and procedures, including a process for promoting officers, that follow “best practices” nationally, he said.
Rogers and Loberg praised the chief. “I think it’s great,” said Rogers, whose son left the department to work for West Tisbury. “I think this is where we need to go.”
“You’re very methodically checking off boxes that we’ve been made aware of that we need to pay attention to,” Loberg said.
In other business, George Balco of the DPW advisory committee urged selectmen to bring forward concerns raised by the committee about the Land Bank purchase of land on the shore of Tashmoo on Herring Creek Road. Among the concerns are the need for more lifeguards, assistance in maintaining the road, and a lack of restroom facilities.
Loberg, who owns interest in land adjacent to the parcel, recused herself from the discussion.
Both Rogers and Israel said they want to make sure the Land Bank will make the property available to the public.
Town administrator Jay Grande was asked to put a meeting together to raise some of the issues.
The board also approved some holiday festivities planned by the Vineyard Haven Business Association, but not before one board member balked at a food truck for one of the events.
Sarah York, president of the association, and Elaine Barse, explained that on two Sundays — Dec. 9 and 16 — hayrides will be offered in Vineyard Haven from 11 am to 2 pm. During the event, music will be played, York said.
The association is also planning one of its First Fridays on Dec. 7. Like other First Fridays in the summertime, the association plans to have music, art exhibits, and a food truck on hand.
The board unanimously supported the events, but in a separate vote Rogers objected to the food truck, saying it might cut into takings of restaurants that stay open and pay taxes throughout the year.
Despite York saying that the restaurant owners in Vineyard Haven supported the event, Rogers voted against it.
Fire Chief John Schilling and Grande will look at whether the $75-per-day fee to rent the Emergency Services Facility meeting room is enough. Schilling said the fee hasn’t been changed for five years, and the room’s furnishings are starting to show wear from the use.
Schilling said the $4,600 taken in last year doesn’t begin to show the demand for the room, because nonprofits and town boards are not charged to use it.
Talk of setting up a revolving fund to collect fees and use them for maintenance on the room was pretty soundly rejected, though Grande’s been asked to review the possibility of setting up a fund and policy for rental of all town buildings.