Tisbury voters rejected the controversial $3 million connector road proposal at their annual town meeting this week, ultimately convinced by critics of the project that it was too expensive for the town.
Long in the works and planned as a relief valve for traffic congestion on the busy State Road corridor, the project envisions building a system of bypass roads between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven and State Roads with outlets at High Point Lane and Holmes Hole Road on State Road. Tisbury department of public works director Fred LaPiana said the town hoped to add a third outlet at Evelyn Way using state aid money after property issues were negotiated along that route.
Previous attempts to obtain grant money for the project were unsuccessful, leaving the town with the prospect of needing to foot the entire bill for it.
“This is a tough issue,” said Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel on the first night of the annual town meeting Tuesday. “There certainly is an upside to building this road and I’m in favor of the concept . . . but I think we have more important priorities to deal with.”
Jon Snyder and Tom Pachico, who are both running for an open seat on the board of selectmen, also spoke against the plan and called it too costly.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people and learned a lot more about what our outlook over the next 10 years will be with capital expenditures and at this point I do not fully support this,” said Mr. Snyder, a member of the town finance committee, which unanimously supported the article. “It was a lot more attractive when we had the possibility of attracting some state money.”
“I think we can do it for a heck of a lot less than $3 million,” said Mr. Pachico.
Mr. LaPiana warned that the cost of the project would only grow with the rising cost of asphalt if the town decided to take it up again in the future. He argued that voters had a brief window of time to take on new debt amid ongoing obligations for the new emergency services building and before other capital projects come onto the horizon, such as building a new town hall or expanding the sewer system.
“I hate to say this but I don’t think we’re going to be successful [attracting state funding] next year,” Mr. LaPiana said. “So it really is up to us if we want to go forward with this project.”
In the end the vote was 102 to 97 in favor, falling well short of a needed two-thirds majority.
When the town meeting reconvened for a second night on Wednesday, selectman Jeffrey Kristal moved to reconsider the article, but the motion failed.
Voters also approved a $20.8 million anntal town operating budget and almost $600,000 in Community Preservation Act spending over two nights. A total of 221 voters turned out on the first night at the Tisbury School gymnasium, completing just half the 33-article warrant before recessing for a second evening; 101 voters turned out on Wednesday night for the final session.
Mr. Israel proposed level funding the town’s dues to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as payback for the commission’s refusal to use Dukes County’s accounting services last year during a period of staff turnover at the commission. But some balked at the idea as too petty.
“I just can’t let this go by,” said David Ferraguzzi. “This is so piddling as to be ridiculous, to tell you the truth. I can’t believe we’re going to vote $3,000 down because they didn’t let us do their books.”
Voters agreed and approved the MVC budget in full.
Voters also approved nearly $600,000 in Community Preservation Act spending in 19 separate sub-articles, but not before questioning whether the CPA had outlived its usefulness.
Projects approved on Wednesday night for CPA funding included plans to restore the Nathan Mayhew Seminars Campus, the Vineyard Playhouse, the Tashmoo Spring Building and the cranberry bog barn on Lambert’s Cove Road.
Taxpayers are assessed a three per cent surcharge on their property tax bill to fund Community Preservation Act spending, an amount that has been matched by the state to a declining extent in recent years.
Peter Goodale suggested the town could have funded any of the projects on their own through normal appropriations, without taxing residents first.
“It’s essentially just a tax creating a slush fund and now we sit here and try to find ways to spend that slush fund,” Mr. Goodale said.
Mr. Pachico took aim at the use of CPA money for low-income rental assistance.
“How long can taxpayers afford their own mortgages when your helping subsidizing other peoples rent?” he said.
“It’s just part of giving back,” countered Dan Seidman. “This isn’t a handout, it’s a helping hand.”
Voters also agreed to borrow $1.25 million to build a second water storage tank next to the existing one on High Point Lane, described as a public safety measure that would help in fighting fires and in managing the town’s water pressure, especially when the existing tower undergoes repairs next year. A new water main for the State Road business district will also go in at a cost of $400,000.
Voters also approved a $40,000 space needs study for the Tisbury school, $160,000 to purchase the trailers currently leased for the town annex, $234,253 in transfers from the town’s ferry embarkation fee receipts for downtown beautification and public safety items, $75,000 to build a playground at the Lake Street Park, $225,000 to permit and design a system to carry wastewater outside the Tashmoo and Lagoon Pond watersheds, and $17,000 to model nutrient loading in Lagoon Pond.
Voters also quickly dispatched a 15-article special town meeting warrant that failed to attract a quorum last Tuesday.
The annual town election will be held on Tuesday, April 24.