In Tisbury: Tisbury Voters Back Main Street Renovation

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Tisbury residents this week green-lighted major structural improvements in town by approving both the initial phases of the ambitious Main street project and the construction of a harbor master's facility at the foot of Owen Park.

In the first session of annual town meeting, 273 of 2,457 registered voters - about 11 per cent - visited the Tisbury School gymnasium to sound off on the town's future. Selectman Ray LaPorte said it was the largest crowd he had seen in 15 years of attending town meetings.

When all was said and done, voters approved a $14,496,931 operating budget, the borrowing of $918,000 for the Main Street Project and the spending of almost $1 million in other capital improvements.

Fred LaPiana, director of the department of public works, introduced the three items on the town warrant related to the Main Street Project, a comprehensive plan to provide aesthetic improvements to Tisbury when the downtown streets and sidewalks are dug up to install sewer lines for a wastewater treatment system.

"We have a big challenge ahead of us," he said. "We have a number of issues to address before we move ahead" with the project.

Addressing the first article related to the Main Street Project, voters took the first step toward borrowing $493,000 to install an underground electrical conduit that provides the opportunity to bury electrical cables that are now overhead. An estimated $1.2 million would be needed to actually bury the cables in the future.

"We can bury the cable five, six years from now," said one resident who supported the expenditure. "But without the conduit you'll never be able to do it."

Travis Tuck spoke in agreement, suggesting it would be "shortsighted" to not take advantage of the opportunity.

"The next time we will have this chance is when we put a subway in to West Chop," said Mr. LaPorte. "It's not going to happen. . . . [P]ut the conduit in."

A resident who opposed the expense charged that it would be unfair to raise taxes for an improvement that would benefit only the business community. But the article passed nevertheless.

Now residents must again vote to borrow the money at town elections on May 7.

There was no debate on the second project-related article, on resurfacing the downtown streets - "to put the streets back together once they are ripped up," as Mr. LaPiana said - and it passed easily.

The final project-related item addressed the materials to be used for the sidewalk. Mike Ciancio advocated concrete, calling the present brick sidewalk "disgusting and nasty."

Anson Krickl, chairman of Islanders for Universal Access, said concrete is the best surface for wheelchair use; others said it is dangerous to use a cane on a brick walkway.

An amendment was adopted downgrading the materials from brick to concrete, at a cost savings of $189,000.

The third article also was amended to provide for a design review committee to consist of five members, one each from DPW, the board of selectmen, the Tisbury Business Association, the planning board and the historical commission. This committee will recommend a final design for the project, subject to final approval from the selectmen, by Sept 1.

Sewer installation is now set to begin after Columbus Day this October.

If the ballot question to install the underground conduit passes on May 7, town borrowing for the Main Street Project will total $918,000.

Harbor master Jay Wilbur opened the second night of town meeting by introducing an article that requested $107,500 - on top of $25,000 already appropriated - for the construction of a harbor master's facility that is to include an observation room, office, bathrooms and showers.

His presentation was met with wide support. Tom Hale, Mr. Wilbur's predecessor for 11 years, said, "There is no question this town gets an enormous amount of income from the harbor. For the visiting yachtsmen who come in and spend a great deal of money the least we can do is provide them with this facility."

Mr. Wilbur "has to have a proper place to work out of," he said.

The article passed unanimously.

Additional articles relating to the harbor passed with little discussion, including $25,000 for dredging the harbor breakwater back channel; $2,000 to purchase buoys for marking sensitive shellfishing areas in Lake Tashmoo; $14,000 to implement a mooring grid for Lake Tashmoo's east side, and $2,000 to purchase dinghy storage racks for Owen Park, to help clear up its beachfront.

Voters also approved spending $18,000 as the town's share of a grant to improve docking facilities in Lake Tashmoo.

In the vein of structural improvements, voters approved $69,000 for town hall. The money will go toward repainting, fixing the leaky roof and replacing the windows and shutters.

An article advocated by the police union prompted spirited debate. Patrolman Dan Hanavan said about two-thirds of the cities and towns in the state have adopted the Quinn Bill, which gives raises to officers who complete selected college-level programs. The cost of such raises is shared by the state and the town.

John Best said the Quinn Bill was a bad fit for Tisbury. He suggested that the $100 million of taxpayer money spent each year yielded few marked improvements in police services in the state. Town administrator Dennis Luttrell said that the cost to the town could exceed $14,000 in the first year.

But it was more than the expense that seemed to sway voters who voted to defeat the article.

"The board of selectmen manage the town, the money, the taxes," said selectman Tristan Israel. "If you approve this article you are undermining our ability to do this. . . . Don't take our management tools away."

Mr. LaPorte said it was a matter of poor timing. "The police department has been a troubled department for a long time," he said. "For the nine months I have served the town, the majority of my time has been spent dealing with various painful issues with the police department.

"We have made a lot of changes and there is lots more to do," he said. "The Quinn Bill might make sense in this town, but it is premature."

Residents did approve $36,400 in police department expenditures for leasing a motorcycle, purchasing a police cruiser, training an officer and providing matching funds for the Islandwide drug grant.

Affordable housing came to the forefront when residents were asked to allow selectmen to sell the Lake Street Apartments, four residential units owned by the town and managed by the regional housing authority.

Mr. LaPorte said that sale of the units would yield money to "bring better housing options for more Tisbury residents."

But confusion soon spread through the gymnasium. Jack Sternbach, chairman of the town's affordable housing committee, asked what would become of the present tenants and offered an amendment to guarantee the tenants can remain after the sale.

Selectman Tom Pachico said, "The details are not worked out yet" regarding disposition of the property if the article were approved. After David Ferraguzzi, who sits on the town's housing committee, said he was disappointed the housing committee was not given an ample opportunity to review the article before town meeting, Kay Mayhew said she had "a serious problem" if the housing committee didn't understand the proposal.

The article was tabled.

Voters did pass an article to designate a town-owned, 2.95-acre parcel of land on Lambert's Cove Road for affordable housing. Selectmen will likely solicit developers for an affordable housing development there.

Residents approved DPW's request of $163,000 for general sidewalk repairs along with improvements to Lake street, but turned down an article placed on the warrant by petition that would have spent $3,500 to survey and lay out a new paved public way leading from the intersection of Lake street and Moonstone Way.

The current dirt path, used as a shortcut, is in poor shape. But planning board chairman Tony Peak said he could not support the road because, even though it has been used for over 30 years, it is not a public way and was intended only for Nstar's access to the power lines.

Mr. Peak said there are other accesses owned by the town that should be fixed up for use instead.

The near $1 million in capital expenditures approved included $100,000 for new financial computer software, $225,000 for installing the Tisbury school's heating system and repairing the ventilation system, $250,000 to repair the water mains when the streets are dug up for the sewer system, $9,500 for new fire equipment, $29,000 for a shellfish department truck and $29,000 for an animal control truck.