Selectman Jeff Kristal proposes “to relax” restrictions in Vineyard Haven on alcohol sales, allowing patrons to purchase drinks without also being served food. It’s one of several ways the selectman says the town can be proactive in beefing up revenues and keep up with capital needs.
“These changes will not permit a nightclub to enter our town,” Kristal wrote in a letter to fellow board members. “They will simply allow a more normal dining experience while increasing meals tax in the town.”
The board of selectmen never openly discussed Kristal’s letter Tuesday night, but he alluded to it several times. “I’m tired of hearing that we can only do one thing. We can chew gum and walk at the same time,” he said during the meeting. The town can take on more than one capital project at once with proper planning, he said.
“To some degree we have failed our municipal employees, who still remain in ‘temporary’ and difficult working conditions, notably the school, the [Town Hall Annex], and the Katharine Cornell Theater, just to name a few,” Kristal wrote. “Years ago we did promise the employees at the annex that those portables would be temporary working conditions, and that was nearly a decade ago.”
While Kristal said that the Tisbury School remains the priority, he said work needs to begin on funding other necessary projects. In his letter, he proposes to use 70 percent of the new tax on short-term rentals to pay for the Tisbury School debt. The other 30 percent could be used for sewer plant upgrades that would allow for more housing.
During a discussion of town finances, finance director Jon Snyder said the town received its room tax revenue from the state that included August’s receipts. There was no separate breakdown to differentiate short-term rental funds from hotel room taxes, he said. Regardless, the overall numbers showed no significant bump from the same month last year.
That could be because some property owners aren’t yet complying with the law to register and collect the tax, Snyder said. “We had a number of hotel rooms off the rolls last year,” he said, which offers another possible reason for the level amount.
Kristal is also pushing for a change in the town’s zoning bylaws that he says would provide for much-needed upgrades on Beach Road, which he described as “decrepit.” The town needs to be more open to “sensible business development” and “show more leadership” in reworking the bylaws, he wrote.
The board did have a brief discussion about Vineyard Haven’s waterfront. Town administrator Jay Grande told the board he has had preliminary conversations with the state’s Coastal Zone Management about having Vineyard Haven declared a “designated port area.”
He emphasized that it’s just “due diligence” discussions to see if the designation would be of value to the town.
In answer to a question by selectman Jim Rogers, Grande said the designation would allow 25 percent of the port area to be nonmaritime industrial uses. The current zoning on Beach Road requires maritime uses, which limits how the area can be redeveloped, a point brought up by Kristal in his letter and during the meeting.
“Much of Beach Road zoning doesn’t provide a lot of options, and in some ways seems inconsistent with the uses,” Grande added.
Among the pros discussed by Grande is that the change “would streamline, in some instances, the review process.” One of the considerations is making the port more resilient by taking action to address sea level rise because it’s the primary point for supplies to reach the Island, he said.
By beefing up protection in the area, it’s less likely the port would be out of service after a major storm, Grande said.
Projects, police and parking
In other business, the board heard brief descriptions of more than $942,000 in Community Preservation projects proposed by town departments. Community Preservation funds, which are collected from a surcharge on property taxes, can be used for historic preservation, recreation, and affordable housing.
Town clerk Hillary Conklin is looking for $15,000 to preserve vital town records, and the town’s public works department is looking for the bulk of the money for everything from new park benches to a replacement of the Owen Park bandstand. Kirk Metell, the town’s director of public works and facilities, said he is also proposing $40,000 to build sheds surrounding port-a-potties at three locations — Lagoon Landing, Tashmoo Beach, and Lake Street Landing.
The town is also looking to create a $60,000 revolving fund that would be used to provide loans to first-time home buyers.
Though board members had few comments overall, they praised Grande for the revolving loan idea in particular. “I’m in favor of it. I like that program,” Rogers said. It gives new homeowners an opportunity to enter the market and eventually become taxpaying, involved citizens, he said.
Kristal questioned other projects on the list of Community Preservation projects that include $400,000 being sought by three separate Island Housing Trust projects. He said those projects take properties off the tax rolls, and in one case, the town also lost room tax revenue. He encouraged his fellow board members to take a position on the funding. Loberg agreed to put it on a future agenda.
The total number of projects going before the Community Preservation committee is 22, for a total of $1.8 million.
Selectmen unanimously approved hiring Edward St. Pierre as a full-time police officer. St. Pierre comes to police work after having owned and managed his own business. Police Chief Mark Saloio said his business experience would be helpful on what is a young police department.
As he always does, Rogers asked St. Pierre if he’s ever been on the Island in February or March. “No sir, I have not,” St. Pierre said. “I feel it would be somewhat tough, but I’m tough enough to handle it.”
The board will allow leaseholders at a town parking lot known as the Old Fire Station Lot to continue their leases through May 1 to give a town committee more time to explore paid parking at the site. Lease holders will be able to keep the spots for $100 per month.
Meanwhile, the board reappointed the task force that is looking at potential parking solutions for the lot through the end of the year.
Harriet Barrow had asked why that area isn’t being considered to help with stormwater runoff that cascades down Beach Street to Five Corners during storms.
Selectmen chair Melinda Loberg said the state Department of Transportation is looking at a system approved by environmental regulators to divert and treat the runoff, but it’s likely years away.
Grande told the board that the building committee is close to reaching a contract agreement with Daedalus Projects, the owner’s project manager (OPM) for the school. School officials are also about to put out a request seeking bids for an architect to work with the OPM and the building committee. The Daedalus contract would pay the OPM $160,000, Grande said.
“Those are two major milestones ahead of [special] town meeting,” Grande said. Voters will have a chance to vote on two questions on Tuesday, Oct. 15, both having to do with the Tisbury School.
Selectmen voted 2-0, with Rogers abstaining because a family member is involved, to allow Sandy Paws to share the animal control officer’s kennels. Sandy Paws is paying $500, and will add a fence to the property, Grande said.
During a discussion of the town’s financial status, finance director Jon Snyder recommended bringing in a Department of Revenue consultant to look at efficiencies. “It was last done in Tisbury in 1991. I think it’s time we did it again,” Snyder said.
Selectmen unanimously agreed.
“Tisbury finances are pretty healthy, but we do have some big challenges,” Snyder said. Chief among those is paying for the Tisbury School — both the emergency funding that will take funds from the town’s stabilization fund and the renovation project. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School project is another big expense on the horizon, he said. Tisbury’s share could be $25 million, he predicted.
Loberg suggested that each department should start budgeting money for maintenance — something ignored too often. She suggested the board set a policy on what percentage of a department’s budget it should set aside. “I think it would definitely have a modest increase, but it would also help us to sharpen our pencils,” she said.