Cape and Islands Rep. Timothy Madden and Sen. Robert O’Leary were on the Vineyard Wednesday night to brace town officials for massive cuts to local aid to cities and towns expected in the next fortnight.
At a meeting of the all-Island selectmen held in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven, the legislators also put forward possible methods of wringing out remaining funds from the state and federal coffers.
Much of the news was not good.
“When it comes to money and the state the situation is really bad,” said Mr. O’Leary. He continued: “The governor is going to make cuts upwards of $1.3 billion in the next couple of weeks and a lot of that’s going to be local aid. Some is going to be lottery, some Chapter 70 money.
“We have never done well with Chapter 70 money. But the good news in this whole bad news story is we don’t depend as much on state aid because we don’t get as much of it. But the thing is what little we get we depend on.”
Mr. O’Leary also said this year will see the introduction of a state municipal relief package, though he predicted it will bring with it its own complications.
“This is going to get really messy,” Mr. O’Leary said. “The Cape and Islands towns are going to be probably best positioned to get a lot of the money out of this in the sense that it is going to involve a lot of stuff that would generate revenues in resort communities. But it’s going to pit individual communities against each other. Some of the things that are on the table are depending on penny-on-the-meals tax, the money will stay in the town in which it’s generated and on the Cape and Islands that means a lot of revenue, because we have a lot of restaurants.”
Mr. O’Leary pointed to his own clean water bill, legislation approved last year, as a potential source of funding. The bill set up a revolving fund for the Cape and Islands for sewering projects which help alleviate pond pollution. Mr. O’Leary called it recession-proof.
Though the bill has the most impact on the Cape where most ponds suffer from significant pollution, Mr. O’Leary’s message was for towns to band together and work quickly to produce proposals for the funding.
“There’s a race going on. Falmouth along with Mashpee is looking at a $500 million project. You really have to get going,” he said.
Oak Bluffs selectman Ron DiOrio pitched a wastewater plan for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School as a possible project for funding.
Under consideration for more than two years, the scheme to tie the school in with the Oak Bluffs treatment plant and then send effluent back to the high school leaching field has met with opposition at the town level.
Oak Bluffs voters have been unwilling to fund the ambitious project, which has featured a changing price tag and the complication of the nebulous, and only potential financial involvement of the YMCA.
The school has been operating at capacity on its septic system for more than a year and lies in the watershed for both Sengekontacket and Lagoon Ponds.
Meanwhile permitting for the planned Y across the street from the high school campus depends on hooking into the town wastewater facility.
There has been much discussion of the possibility of the Y tying in with the high school for a fee. Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said yesterday that the project is ready to go pending funding, and that on behalf of the school he has written grants: one to the Massachusetts department of agricultural resources and another to the lieutenant governor’s shovel-ready grant program. Both grants are for $1.2 million, to cover the proposed cost of the project.
“As soon as we have the money we are ready to go,” Mr. Weiss said. “I expect to know by spring whether we’ll have it.”
Mr. O’Leary underscored the importance of acting quickly.
“We need to get maybe this project that you mention in the queue,” he told Mr. DiOrio.
“I’ll see to it that you get updated,” replied the selectman.
Members of the Island commercial fishing industry were on hand to express concern over a bill currently at the state house which would put harsher regulations on commercial fishing of striped bass.
Buddy Vanderhoop, a longtime Island fisherman who said he makes 100 per cent of his income from the trade, said commercial fishing has nothing to do with a dip in striped bass stocks, something he blamed instead on off-shore trawlers.
“It’s the pair trawlers, they’re devastating the forage fish causing the stripers to have to go eat something else,” he said, adding that the trawlers aggravate the issue by dumping tons of fish caught over their quota. “The reason we had no bass here last fall was because the midwater trawlers were off the Cape and the striped bass population was coming down from Maine and millions and millions of pounds — which was documented on the Internet — of bass were killed because they can’t keep them. There was literally miles and miles of dead striped bass on the surface of the water and until something is done with these trawlers the striped bass population is in trouble. You can’t let the recreational people pass this bill, that’s totally ridiculous,” Mr. Vanderhoop said.
A diplomatic Mr. Madden said it is important to keep an open mind on the subject.
“I’ll just echo what Rob said. I sat down with Matt Patrick last week, I told him I couldn’t sign on to it,” Mr. Madden said. “I told him I would listen, but we need some alternative ideas on how to approach the issue because I don’t think anyone wants to see striped bass disappear from the market. So with that I think we need some alternatives, rather than just saying ‘No, we don’t support the bill.’ ”
Jonathan Mayhew pointed to a lack of a reciprocal agreements with other states or towns whose commercial fishermen can fish Island waters, cutting into the Vineyard quotas.
Mr. O’Leary asked how the fishermen were organized. Pointing to the example of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, he suggested that Vineyard fishermen consider forming their own organization to lobby on issues of interest.
“We’re a pretty disorganized group,” answered Mr. Mayhew. “We’re fishermen.”