The town of Tisbury collected $240,000 from the 50-cent levy paid by most passengers on ferry tickets last year and an embarkation fee committee, formed this year in response to controversy over past spending ideas, is in the process of developing final recommendations for where the money should go.
The committee will take its decisions back to the selectmen who will have final sign-off ahead of the annual town meeting in April.
The ferry fee, devised by Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O’Leary and Rep. Eric T. Turkington and now in its fourth year, applies to all ferry travelers except those on organized student trips, return car excursions, or those who buy commuter books.
The fund was proposed as a compensatory measure for port towns to mitigate the impact of hosting ferry services between the Cape and Islands.
But how to spend the money has become an annual squabble, especially in the town of Tisbury.
Past years saw disagreements between selectmen and Senator O’Leary as well as the Steamship Authority who argued that proposed items — such as a new ladder for the fire department — had a tenuous connection at best to the harbor.
The five-member advisory committee which includes a representative from the finance and advisory committee and the board of selectman, and Ralph Friedman as chairman, was devised to keep the quibbling to a minimum. “There’s always a to-do about how to spend the money,” said Thomas Pachico selectman and embarkation fee committee member, by telephone this week. “The committee’s job is to avoid the scrambling around on the town floor at annual meetings.”
The committee has made final recommendations on several items including a $60,000 refurbishment of the Owen Park pier to install lights and emergency electricity. The project came up for discussion at selectmen’s meeting Tuesday. Tisbury building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick spoke to selectmen about the public safety needs of the dock. “I am hoping and praying that selectmen will support the articles that Jay brings forth,” said Mr. Barwick, referring to harbor master John (Jay) M. Wilbur 3rd who also attended the meeting.
Also under consideration by the committee are several items for the Tisbury ambulance service totalling $78,000, including a stretcher, stair chair, laptop computers and defibrillators.
The committee will also recommend that the embarkation money cover part of a $590,000 plan to restore Veterans Memorial Park. If approved by selectmen and town voters, the ferry fee money will pay for drainage costs associated with the project.
Also on Tuesday selectmen approved a late file application to replace the Tisbury School emergency generator. Submitted by Tisbury emergency management director Richard Townes, the request for a new generator still needs to go through the financial advisory committee. The embarkation fee committee will then vote on whether to recommend covering 25 per cent of the cost, with the balance to be covered by an emergency management grant from the state department of public safety. Mr. Townes spoke to the school’s need on Tuesday night, warning: “Half the school is currently not covered by the generator.” Selectmen Tristan Israel echoed the sentiment, pointing out that the school is Tisbury’s designated emergency shelter. “It’s good to have if the ferries aren’t running,” he said.
In other business, selectmen took special note of a public meeting planned for next week on beer and wine sales in town. The meeting is Tuesday at 6 p.m in the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
A home rule petition to allow the limited sale of beer and wine in restaurants has been approved by the state senate and currently sits on the desk of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. If the governor signs the bill it will come back to Tisbury voters for final approval at the annual town election in April.
Mr. Pachico said Tuesday’s meeting will be the last chance to publicly discuss the issue. “If you want to come and say you hate beer and wine, this is your chance. Do you love beer and wine? Come and have your say,“ the selectman said, making a direct plea to the MVTV cameras recording the meeting.