Tisbury punts again on harbor regulations

Board, school committee uneasy about emergency school-repair language in warrant.

Selectmen chairman Tristan Israel and selectman Melinda Loberg take part in the discussion over waterways regulations. - Rich Saltzberg

In a test of civic endurance, Tisbury selectmen slogged through nearly five hours of debate Tuesday night, first in joint session with the school committee, and then with members of the harbor management committee and marine stakeholders, before adjourning their open meeting to enter executive session at about 8:45 pm.

Despite long hours spent by harbormaster John Crocker, two town committees, a maritime consultant, the selectmen, and town hall staff over the past few years, agreement on a final draft of Tisbury’s Waterways Regulations update couldn’t be reached. After listening to comments on the 14-page waterways draft, the board voted unanimously to continue the hearing on the draft until the May 14 selectmen’s meeting. The board also stipulated in the vote that any written or emailed comments pursuant to the draft must be received by the selectmen’s office by noon on May 10. The vote marked the final time captaining the issue for selectmen chairman Tristan Israel, who is not seeking re-election in April.

Israel said he hoped notes from the evening’s discourse could be used to modify the draft, especially regarding clerical errors, but also areas where consensus was strong. But on items such as livea-board regulations, where there was substantial disagreement and criticism, he acknowledged there was more work ahead. “On Tristan’s tombstone, it’s going to say he died waiting,” he joked.

“I just want to say I know the reaction to us not finalizing everything this evening is concern,” selectmen Melinda Loberg said, “because we have not been very good at incorporating new regulations in a timely fashion that have been recommended before. But I just want to say very publically, we had a strong intention to finalize these waterways regulations and do it in a very timely fashion, and get them published and on the website.”

During the board’s meeting with the Tisbury school committee, selectmen found there was concern over a portion of an $800,000 Proposition 2½ debt exclusion warrant article for potential work on the Tisbury School. The board previously modified the language of the article to include “extraordinary” emergency repairs.

“If an emergency repair comes up, it’s not the school committee or the board of selectmen’s call on spending that money,” committee member Colleen McAndrews said. “That money has to go in front of the taxpayers … I don’t think that’s appropriate to be in there.”

Selectman Jim Rogers said he wasn’t “warm and fuzzy” about including the modified language in the first place: “When someone gets up on town meeting floor and says,” Rogers said, “Well, how much are you going to spend on emergency repairs? Don’t know. I have no idea. And what’s an emergency repair? What’s an emergency to me might not be an emergency to Jay [Grande, town administrator], so I think there’s a lot more planning that needs to be done …”

Tisbury School Principal John Custer agreed with Rogers about the difficulty in defining what constitutes an emergency. “As a taxpayer, quite frankly, it feels a little too unknown,” he said.

Asked what the $800,000 warrant article figure might translate into for Tisbury homeowners, Tisbury treasurer and tax collector Jonathan Snyder told The Times it would constitute about a 10 cent increase on the tax rate. For a house assessed at $850,000, that would mean about $85 more on the tax bill. A debt exclusion raises taxes on a temporary basis for the duration of the period to pay off the borrowed amount.

School committee chair Amy Houghton said she was worried about what the Department of Public Health might demand when they come by the school on April 12. “There may be things that they require us to do immediately,” she said. Failure to do what they ask on short order could result in staff and pupils being prohibited from the building, she said: “And that is a real possibility.”

The Tisbury School was found to have water intrusion problems and mold, among other deficiencies, based on an evaluation commissioned by the Martha’s Vineyard Education Association.

The board and the committee tabled the issue and agreed to meet again at 9 am on April 3 to further hash out the modified language and other funding issues relative to potential work on the school.