Annual Town Meeting Set for Next Week in Tisbury

By ALEXIS TONTI

For months Tisbury selectmen and Steamship Authority officials have sparred over how to use revenue collected through the passenger embarkation fee - now it is town residents' turn to have their say in the matter.

As part of the 27-article town meeting warrant, Vineyard Haven voters will decide next week whether to use that money to buy a $300,000 pumper truck for the fire department and a $30,000 cruiser for the police department.

Annual town meeting begins Tuesday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. in the Tisbury School gymnasium.

The vehicle requests are part of the almost $680,000 in capital appropriations and $16.6 million operating budget that voters will be asked to approve. The budget is a four per cent increase over last year, the bulk of which is due to rising health care costs.

Several articles appear on town meeting warrants Islandwide, including a nonbinding resolution to create a Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank and a pilot program to expand service offered by the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA).

"The town overall has consistently done a very good job at keeping our expenses to a minimum. And we continue to grow our revenue - just look at the embarkation fee," selectman Tristan Israel said. "People lose sight of the fact that the fee is a tremendous asset for the town, one that over the years will bring in a substantial amount of money. People may quibble over its use, but they shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it is a positive thing."

The 50-cent ferry fee was added last year to the price of one-way passenger tickets on ferries traveling between the Cape and Islands. The money is collected by the ferry operators and then paid to the town where the trip originates.

State legislation mandates the money must be earmarked for public safety, harbor services and port infrastructure improvements, and the Tisbury selectmen are confident that the purchase of a pumper truck and cruiser falls within the confines of the legislation.

In 2004 the fee generated almost $270,000 for the town.

On Tuesday voters will consider whether to put the majority of that money - about $239,000 - toward the purchase of the pumper truck; the rest of the truck cost would be paid for through an unreserved fund transfer.

The plan to buy the pumper truck is part of the fire department's overall capital planning program. The 25-year-old truck had been slated for replacement several years ago, but was bumped back in the priority list when the department's ladder truck began to fail. Voters took care of that problem last spring when they approved the purchase of an $800,000 aerial ladder truck.

"The fire department had an aging fleet, and this is another vehicle that is badly needed," Mr. Israel said. "In the past pumper trucks have aided in a number of situations - even with the Steamship Authority - so the tie-in with the embarkation fee money is certainly more than appropriate."

The rest of the embarkation fee revenue would go to a $30,000 sports utility vehicle cruiser for the police department.

In separate articles, the police chief is also asking for $5,000 to lease a motorcycle for the department, $10,000 to train and equip new officers and $2,500 in matching funds for Vineyard Haven's share of the Islandwide drug enforcement grant.

Also under capital appropriations, the public works commissioners are seeking $75,000 for the installation of underground ducts along Union, Church and William streets. The roadwork would extend the system of ducts already installed underneath Main street. The ducts allow for the future underground placement of any new electric, telephone or cable wires.

The public works commissioners are also asking for $35,000 to fund a survey of a proposed road system connecting upper State Road and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road. The system would cut northwest off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near the Edgartown National Bank and NStar power lines and then split into multiple branches, filtering traffic to State Road at three different points.

On the waterfront, voters will be asked to appropriate $10,000 to install a mooring grid in Lake Tashmoo and inner Vineyard Haven harbor; $4,500 to construct a third dinghy dock at the Lake street landing in Lake Tashmoo, and $40,000 to perform maintenance dredging of the Lake Tashmoo channel.

In addition, voters will be asked to endorse a nonbinding resolution to create a Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank, dedicated to raising money to support affordable housing on the Island. The housing bank - modeled in the same vein as the Martha's Vineyard Lank Bank - would be generate its funds via a one per cent fee assessed to the seller in real estate transactions exceeding $750,000.

Voters also will be asked to take on a new VTA assessment to pay for a two-year pilot program. Each Island town is being asked to contribute to the $410,000 program, in an amount based on the same formula that governs the annual VTA assessment. Vineyard Haven would give as much as $90,000.

The pilot program is two-pronged.

First, the VTA would institute year-round van service dedicated to residents traveling to the Seniors' Day Program in Edgartown.

Second, VTA bus service along certain fixed routes - which currently operate for only part of the year - would be extended into the off-season. That change would have a ripple effect, expanding the public transportation available to residents with disabilities who use the VTA paratransit service, also known as The Lift. (State and federal laws mandate that the VTA provide comparable service to people with disabilities who live within three-quarters of a mile of any fixed bus route.)

"Paratransit is an important issue, and one that has been publicized and in the forefront during the past year," said Mr. Israel, who sits on a subcommittee that is studying the issue. "And as the baby boomers get older certain resources are going to be strained, and we have to look at viable and creative solutions.

"I don't know that [this program] is going to be a panacea, but it's a start and seems to be the most expeditious way to go in the short term - to launch the program, evaluate its success and continue to talk about long-term solutions," he added.

On several fronts voters will be asked to support emergency medical services.

The town ambulance coordinator is asking for $27,000 to fund start-up costs - including the purchase of a cardiac monitor and defibrillator - for a new ambulance transport service to bring patients from the Martha's Vineyard Hospital to off-Island facilities. The town already owns an ambulance that can be used for the service.

A separate article asks for $18,000 to fund a paramedic training class for two students. The decision to upgrade ambulance services Islandwide to include paramedics - the highest level of emergency care - was made at town meeting last year.

"The good thing is we are not going to have to go to an override, since we withdrew the article about building a new fire station," Mr. Israel said. "But we have a lot of work to do - even without that. And you never know at town meeting what will spark the big discussion."