Tisbury Voters Endorse Formula for Allocating Ferry Fee Revenue
By MAX HART
Tisbury voters breezed through special town meeting Tuesday night, approving each of the 12 warrant articles with relative ease. The hard part was getting them to show up.
In the end 106 voters turned out to the Tisbury School gymnasium, but not until nearly half an hour passed while waiting to reach quorum. Finally moderator Deborah Medders called the meeting to order at 7:58 p.m.
It was a quiet start to the Vineyard's town meeting season.
Once under way, Tisbury voters were in little mood to talk. The first five articles on the floor were approved unanimously with no discussion. By the close of the evening, nine of the 12 articles had been approved unanimously and without comment. All were nonappropriating measures.
They included electing Charles Conroy, Janet Messineo and Ronald Rose to the fish committee, adopting a nonbinding resolution to support water quality protection and amending the classification and compensation plan for full-time town employees. Several of the articles were strictly procedural, including authorizing the treasurer to borrow money in anticipation of revenue, allowing the town to obtain bonds and permitting the board of health to enter into mutual aid agreements with other governmental units.
As expected, the article to approve a formula for spending Tisbury's share of the embarkation fee revenue dominated what little discussion there was. This year the town took in more than $276,000 from the fee, a 50-cent surcharge that is tacked onto the price of each one-way passenger ticket on ferries that ply the routes between the Cape and Islands. It is collected by the ferry operators and paid to the town where the trip originated.
State legislation mandates that the money be spent on public safety, harbor services and port infrastructure improvements; any expenditures are subject to approval on town meeting floor.
Under consideration Tuesday was a proposal to divide the revenue among four areas of concern: 20 per cent for Steamship Authority terminal area beautification, 30 per cent for safety equipment and operations, 20 per cent for infrastructure and 30 per cent for capital expenditures.
Ms. Medders introduced the article and immediately amended it to reflect two late changes: the allocation for safety equipment and operations was reduced to 25 per cent, and the one for capital expenditures was increased to 35 per cent. Town administrator John Bugbee explained the changes as well as the process for coming up with the formula.
"This is a comprehensive approach to spending the money," Mr. Bugbee said. "It is a one-year plan that allows flexibility if we want to readdress it next year. We feel the terminal is the gateway to the Island, and I think everyone agrees it is in need of beautification."
The specific expenditures include new police vehicles, new motors for the harbor master's boat and funding for increased traffic officer presence in the Water and Union street areas. Voters will decide whether to approve the spending at the annual town meeting next Tuesday.
Several voters expressed concern for how the formula was created.
Catherine Mayhew wondered how it would impact police presence in the area. John Thayer asked how the money would be reallocated should it not all be spent. And planning board chairman L. Anthony Peak argued that the legislation behind the embarkation fee was meant to defray the costs of being a port town - and said he would rather see the money go toward reducing the town operating budget.
Finance committee chairman George Balco and selectmen Tristan Israel and Raymond LaPorte reiterated that the money was limited to the scope of the legislation and not meant for extraneous spending. After Mr. Israel assured voters that the town was interpreting the legislation as liberally as possible within the confines of the law, the amended article was approved unanimously.
Voters also authorized the town to dispose of the fire department's 45-year-old ladder truck and approved a four per cent raise for seasonal employees. Mr. Bugbee said the wage increase would keep the town competitive when it came to attracting summer help and retaining previous temporary employees. He said the raise reflects increases other towns have made in their wages.
The town will gather again next week for its annual town meeting. That meeting begins at 7:30 p.m., also at the Tisbury School gymnasium.