Tisbury voters face $19-million warrant
Tisbury voters will take action on a fiscal year 2009 operating budget up 7.6 percent over last year and an annual town meeting warrant with 44 articles on April 1 - no fooling. The meeting starts at 7:30 pm Tuesday in the Tisbury School gymnasium.
Included on the warrant are two debt exclusion items and seven capital appropriation items, as well as articles to appropriate money from the town's passenger ferry embarkation fee revenues and Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. The town's proposed fiscal year 2009 (FY09) $19.8 million operating budget represents about a 7.6 percent increase, or $1.4 million, over FY08.
Taxes are projected to generate about $16.8 million for the town in FY09, according to Tisbury tax collector and treasurer Tim McLean.
Assuming voters approve all of the articles that will utilize the town's unreserved fund balance, or "free cash," including $1.1 million to reduce the tax rate, Mr. McLean said about $280,000 will remain.
On April 15, Tisbury voters will go to the polls to vote on four ballot questions, including one requiring a Proposition 2.5 override, and to elect town officers. The long-awaited beer and wine question, the subject of much controversy over the past three years, appears as number four on the ballot. Voters will say yes or no to allowing beer and wine sales in licensed restaurants.
This year, Tisbury's Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom) requested that town department heads hold FY09 increases to 3.25 percent, with the exception of salaries, according to chairman Muriel Mill. "I don't think we had anybody who didn't meet it - or didn't meet it with a good reason as to why they couldn't," she said in a recent phone call. "We think everyone worked hard and did an outstanding job."
FinCom committee member Jonathan Snyder put together a Voter Guide, which includes budget numbers provided by Mr. McLean and the FinCom's recommendations on all special and annual town meeting warrant articles.
How the budget adds up
The largest shares of Tisbury's $19.8-million operating budget, up from $18.4 million in FY08, go towards education, employee benefits, and public safety.
The budget for Tisbury School and the town's assessment for the regional high school, which include a portion of the shared expenses for the superintendent's office, account for about $7.83 million, or 39.5 percent, of Tisbury's FY09 operating budget.
Educating approximately 297 students at Tisbury School (based on the 2007/2008 school census) will cost $4.75 million in FY09, up from $4.53 million in FY08.
Tisbury's assessment for 186 students at the regional high school increases from $2.8 million to $3.08 million. The 9.8 percent jump is due in part to a controversial mandatory state statutory formula for determining town assessments in regional school districts that results in a bigger bill for Tisbury.
Since the town did not approve the regional high school committee's decision to use the statutory assessment method last year, one article asks voters to approve additional funding to cover Tisbury's FY08 assessment for the high school.
If approved, $124,100 from free cash and $117,000 from funds received from the state's "pothole" aid will be appropriated to fund the additional $241,100 owed for Tisbury's FY08 assessment. If not approved, the expenditure will be added to the tax rate.
Salaries, wages and benefits for town employees make up about 40 percent of the budget total, excluding schools, according to Mr. McLean. In FY09 full-time town managerial and professional employees will receive a three percent wage increase. Seasonal employee minimum wages will increase from $8 an hour to $8.14 this year, and maximum wages from $10.35 to $10.53.
The town's share of group insurance, including MediCare and health and life insurance, comes to $2.93 million, up by about 5.4 percent.
Under the public safety heading, police, fire, ambulance/EMT, and emergency management services add up to more than $1.76 million.
Personnel needs and contractual obligations for salaries and benefits account for most of the increased costs.
The fire department budget increased the most, up from $149,195 to $190,161, about a 27 percent jump.
Salary increases account for the bulk of that increase, up from $103,295 to $136,111.
Last year voters turned down a ballot question to establish and fund a new position of full-time fire chief. As a result, Chief Schilling proposed restructuring how all of the department members were paid and developing a process to handle shift coverage for his time off.
His budget reflects an amended salary schedule with stipend increases department-wide that he submitted to the selectmen in January. The changes are being made to reflect training mandates and the time commitment required to meet those recommended standards, Chief Schilling explained.
The police department budget increased by 1.55 percent to $1,275,289, the ambulance/EMT budget by about 6.85 percent to $284,926, and emergency management by about 9 percent to $7,500.
The warrant, published in today's issue of The Times, includes an article asking voters to approve capital appropriations toward several major expenditures for maintenance, expansion, and improvement of municipal facilities.
The largest expense, $590,000 for rebuilding Veterans Memorial Park, is a debt exclusion item requiring voters to approve a Proposition 2.5 override ballot question. The proposed project includes new irrigation and drainage systems, fill, topsoil, and sod, bleachers, scoreboards, nets and backstops, trash receptacles, and water fountains.
Other capital appropriations include $45,000 to construct and equip an addition to the Tisbury Animal Control Facility, $5,000 to replace town hall windows, $7,500 for a computer and software for the finance director, $7,000 for an optical scan ballot reader, and $10,000 for repairs to the town hall annex garage.
Two other items in the article may sound familiar to voters, who rejected the expenditures last year when they appeared on the ballot as Proposition 2.5 overrides. Once again, voters must decide on whether to spend $70,000 on exterior repairs and exterior painting of the police station, and $50,000 on the reconstruction of approximately 500 feet of sidewalk on William Street.
The FinCom recommends approval of all of the capital appropriation items.
Spending embarkation fee receipts
Voters also will be asked to spend $255,108 from the town's passenger ferry embarkation fee revenues. The 14 items included in the article were recommended for funding by the town's newly created embarkation fee committee, which reviewed requests submitted by town departments.
The committee approved Harbormaster Jay Wilbur's requests totaling $61,800, a major portion of the available funds, including $60,000 to replace the Owen Park dock and $1,800 to fund the design of improvements to his office building to provide visual oversight of the harbor.
FinCom members voted unanimously against recommending the latter, because they felt there are less expensive ways to monitor the harbor, perhaps through a video camera system.
The committee did recommend approving the rest of the items in the article. Among those, ambulance coordinator Jeffrey Pratt requested $30,600 to purchase a new stretcher, stair chair, two defibrillators, and a laptop computer and software, and pay for tuition, books, and travel expenses for a paramedic student.
Other expenditure requests include $50,000 to fund the wages of four or more summer traffic officers and to upgrade training, equipment, and uniforms for all seasonal police department employees, $37,500 as the town's share of a Homeland Security grant to be used towards a new generator at Tisbury School that would service the emergency shelter, and $20,000 for a new bus shelter at the Water Street loop.
Dukes County requests
A proposal from Dukes County asks for $21,898 in addition to the town's annual county assessment. The request is part of an effort by the Dukes County commissioners to shift department costs to Island towns in order to close a gap in their FY09 budget.
The county request for more money will be presented in the form of three articles. In turn voters will be asked to contribute $9,873 for the cost of a county engineer; $5,275 to pay for the one-person pest management department; and $6,749 for the health-care access department.
In December the county commissioners decided to erase a fiscal 2009 budget deficit by cutting the rodent control and health-care departments by 50 percent and eliminating the county engineer. The cuts were made with the intention of asking taxpayers in Island towns to make up the difference in the first two departments and fully fund the county engineer. Ultimately, the commissioners intend to ask the towns to fully fund all the programs.
At the same time the commissioners cut the departments, they added $15,000 to the county commissioners' department, raising the line item to $190,389, in order to boost the salary for the currently vacant position of county manager.
The FinCom recommends funding Tisbury's share of the pest control program and Health Care Access Program, but not the engineering program. In past discussions about the town's return on investment for the county's engineering program, the selectmen said they thought it might prove more economical to hire an engineer on an as-needed basis.
Community Preservation Funds
Voters also will be asked to approve $561,250 in funding recommendations from the CPA Committee for seven projects. These include rehabilitation and preservation measures at Tisbury Town Hall, an irrigation system at Veterans' Memorial Park, and partially funding the Island Affordable Housing Fund's construction of a water line to the Bridge Commons affordable housing project on State Road, as well as some other affordable-housing related items.
The FinCom does not recommend approving funds to construct four historic flat-bottomed boats for Sail Martha's Vineyard's sailing programs because they would serve a limited number of citizens and the money would be better spent elsewhere. Because of a split vote, the committee made no recommendation on approving funds for renovating the Tashmoo Spring Building.
Connector road progress
Two other articles concern roadway easements for a connector road between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and State Road. Voters approved the location at a special town meeting in November 2005. The connector road system will utilize three entrances off State Road, on Evelyn Way, High Point Lane and Holmes Hole Road, and a single entrance off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road near Island Food Products.
Voters will be asked to approve $50,000 to fund engineering, surveying, and legal services to acquire a roadway easement from Holmes Hole Road to the Tisbury landfill and to begin negotiations for acquiring an easement through Evelyn Way.
A second article asks for approval to allow the town to purchase a portion of property owned by NSTAR for $7,500, and to authorize a roadway easement across property owned by Island Food Products in exchange for 14,650 square feet of adjacent town property.