PROVINCETOWN — Two citizen-petitioned articles were added to the annual town meeting warrant before it closed on April 1. One is aimed at closing “equity gaps,” and the other proposes to abolish the Public Pier Corp. “due to mismanagement.”
They will be among the 39 articles residents will consider at the meeting, to be held outdoors on Saturday, May 1.
Article 13 on the warrant, submitted by Donna Walker and signed by 33 people, proposes to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion office at Provincetown Town Hall. Its purpose, the article says, will be to “work to close equity gaps by supporting and promoting social, racial, and cultural equity, diversity, and inclusion in the Town of Provincetown, in both the public and private sectors.” The article says these values are crucial for “a just, healthy, compassionate, and vibrant community.”
The office would be funded by a $136,000 appropriation. But that will require a Proposition 2½ override vote.
“The free cash from fiscal 2020 is already allocated elsewhere on the warrant,” Finance Director Josee Young told the Independent. “Current revenue streams that are coming in higher than our budget estimates — we can’t use those yet. The state comes in at the end of the fiscal year, usually around September, and looks at that as part of a free cash calculation. Only then would that money become available to appropriate as the free cash from fiscal 2021.
“To fully fund the position now, as the petitioner wanted, means it needs to be a 2½ override,” Young continued. Overrides must pass at town meeting by a two-thirds majority and by majority vote on an election ballot.
The Public Pier Corp. has faced criticism for months now, following its Feb. 15 decision to impose fee hikes that will double dockage costs for most users. On March 25, the Pier Corp. voted to delay those hikes until 2022. Nonetheless, Article 14, petitioned by Elise Cozzi with 17 signatures, proposes to dissolve the Pier Corp. “for mismanagement.”
State officials required the five-member Pier Corp. board be created in 2000 as part of a $13.8-million grant to renovate the pier, explained Bill Dougal, who was a finance committee member at the time. The idea, said Dougal, was to take politics out of pier administration.
The legislation that created the Pier Corp. does provide a process for its dissolution. The first step is for the town manager or select board to find that the corporation is no longer needed or has fulfilled its purpose. Then, the select board must hold a public hearing. Following the hearing, the select board must make a recommendation to the town meeting. And voters at the town meeting would ultimately decide if it should be dissolved.
The petitioned article does not spell out any process, and is, in fact, just one sentence, stating, “To see if the town will vote to dissolve the Pier Corp. for mismanagement.”
David Flaherty, chair of the harbor committee and a shellfisherman, said the fees hikes and the reclassification of some fishing vessels like his own will hurt the people who make a living on the water.
“I think the Pier Corp. is missing the boat, no pun intended,” Flaherty said.
Laura Ludwig, a member of the harbor committee who signed the petition, said there are issues that need to be examined.
“The Pier Corp. and harbor committee don’t really overlap at all and that’s been really tricky for people to understand, including the people on Pier Corp. and the harbor committee,” Ludwig said.
Scott Fraser, a member of the Pier Corp. board, said its role is well defined in the enabling legislation and the memorandum of understanding between the town and the corporation. They are on the town website and “anyone who has done their homework should not be confused,” Fraser said.
Already on the warrant is Article 12, submitted by the select board, which would create an advisory committee of two — a fishing boat owner and a charter boat owner — to provide nonvoting representation for user groups on the Pier Corp.
Ludwig noted that, in spite of her support of Article 14, she is committed to working cooperatively with the Pier Corp. and town staff to make improvements without abolishing it altogether.
Part of the reason for the current state of affairs, she said, is “there has been little consistent leadership. We’re all really looking forward to meeting the new town manager.”