PROVINCETOWN — The select board will hear from the Pier Corp. on Nov. 12 about the harbormaster’s budget, money that the town has paid to the Pier Corp. for years. This arrangement dates to 2005, but the agreement defining it expired in 2017. The select board must now either develop a new agreement with the Pier Corp. or bring its money and the staff it pays for under the direct supervision of town government.
The harbor committee has already recommended the second course, advising that the harbormaster’s dept. move into a new division of marine services.
The Pier Corp. began operations in 2003 as an autonomous, public nonprofit corporation, responsible for running town-owned MacMillan Pier, and supervised by an all-volunteer board, appointed by the select board. Before 2005 the Pier Corp. had one employee. The various assistant harbormasters were supervised by a marine superintendent, who reported to the town manager. But after Supt. Chris Flavell unexpectedly resigned in 2004 the town signed its first marine services agreement with the Pier Corp. With that, the lone employee at the Pier Corp. — Pier Manager Rex McKinsey — became a combined pier manager-harbormaster.
This arrangement seemed to promise efficiencies, said Acting Town Manager David Gardner. The responsibilities of that combined position have grown over the years, however, and it has become a point of contention between the Pier Corp. and the harbor committee this year.
On July 16 the Pier Corp. voted to split the position back into two, a pier manager and a harbormaster, each reporting to the Pier Corp. Doug Boulanger was elevated to pier manager, and McKinsey stayed in the harbormaster job. The Pier Corp. instructed McKinsey to study how his time was divided among pier management, supervision of harbor traffic, and other marine municipal work — like dredging, dune restoration, coastal resilience, and harbor access compliance. In August, shortly after he reported back, the Pier Corp. initiated a disciplinary action against McKinsey on unrelated administrative matters.
Control of the disciplinary process rests with the town manager, and Gardner chose to place McKinsey on two weeks of unpaid administrative leave as a penalty.
McKinsey returned to work on Oct. 15 with the provisional title of marine coordinator, assigned to him by Gardner. Don German had been elevated to acting harbormaster in his absence, and McKinsey now reported to town government, rather than to the Pier Corp. His old job was breaking into three, along the lines that McKinsey had outlined to the Pier Corp. back in August, but with uncertainty over who would be reporting to whom.
Who’s the Boss?
The harbor committee has already asked the select board to bring the harbormaster position into town government as well, leaving only a pier manager at the Pier Corp. The new dept. of marine services would include the marine coordinator, the harbormaster, his assistants, and the shellfish constable.
“I firmly believe the harbormaster belongs under the jurisdiction of the town manager,” said harbor committee member Susan Avellar at the Oct. 28 select board meeting. “Somehow, something got convoluted, and if you think the individual in the job had too much to do, then maybe also the Pier Corp. had too much to do.”
Harbor committee member Laura Ludwig added, “A separation of harbormaster services from the Pier Corp. would allow the Pier Corp. to be the facility manager, and allow them to really embrace that role, know who they work with and whom they report to.”
Now the Pier Corp. and select board will hash out the money issue. The harbormaster and assistant harbormasters have been paid principally from the so-called 295 budget, an annual allocation of around $205,000 that the town pays to the Pier Corp. for this purpose.
The Pier Corp. board has argued for years that the allocation is too small. Board member Scott Fraser said at the July 16 meeting that it should be more like $260,000 a year, and that the Pier Corp. has been effectively subsidizing $55,000 in staff salaries out of pier user fees — money that he said ought to be going into long-term maintenance projects. These numbers are all likely to figure in the Pier Corp.’s presentation on Tuesday.
Ultimately, the select board will need to vote on whether to start a new agreement with the Pier Corp. or keep the 295 money and move staff into a marine department, as was done before 2005. Chair Dave Abramson indicated he would like the board to vote on this next Tuesday.