West Tisbury has lean budget, a hefty warrant, $4.5 million for town hall
West Tisbury voters will assemble on Tuesday, April 8, for their annual town meeting to consider an operating budget up about one percent over the current year and 53 warrant articles, including a multi-million dollar request to fund the renovation and restoration of the town hall.
The total 2009 fiscal year (FY) operating budget, which begins on July 1, is slightly less or slightly more than $13 million. The final number will depend on whether voters choose to maintain the current employee wage scale or adopt a new wage scale that adds an additional salary step increase.
The warrant articles ask voters to raise and appropriate an additional $230,977 and to appropriate for various projects and purposes or transfer to reserves $530,342 from free cash.
Beyond those sums, voters will also be asked to approve more than $1 million in projects funded by Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, money already raised through a property tax surtax and matching dollars from the state, and set aside another $500,000 for future projects.
Town meeting begins at 7 pm in the West Tisbury elementary school gymnasium. Voters go to the polls from noon to 8 pm Thursday in the West Tisbury Public Safety building.
Even if every warrant article is approved on April 8, town expenditures would raise the tax levy by 1.1 percent, well below the two-and-a-half-percent limit imposed by Proposition 2.5, and voters at the ballot box will not be asked to approve an override.
They will, however, have to approve borrowing $4.5 million for the renovation and restoration of the town hall, which does fall under Prop 2.5, if the town hall warrant article (Article 26) passes.
"If you look at the whole budget, we did well this year," Al DeVito, chairman of the town finance advisory board, told The Times during a review of budget line items.
The current operating budget is $12,894,567. If voters follow the advisory board's recommendation and approve the current wage scale, the FY 2009 budget would be $12,987,599. That would rise to $13,025,915 if voters decide to move from seven to eight steps on the town salary scale.
Both versions of the budget reflect a three-percent cost of living adjustment. Mr. DeVito said that while the differential between both budgets is not that great the advisory board chose to be conservative.
There are only a few areas of the budget that show a marked increase. The police department expenses would increase from $848,955 to $878,879 or $886,535, depending on the wage scale used.
The library will increase from $318,879 to $341,331 or $346,021, an increase related to increased staffing.
The costs associated with benefits for town employees will rise by $63,553, mostly due to a sharp increase in the cost of health insurance. In total, employee benefits will jump from $636,770 to $700,323.
Voters will spend less for several departments. For example, the cost of total general government will drop from $1,124,538 to $1,108,868, under the current wage scale.
Insurance reimbursements will reduce the cost of the Tri-town ambulance assessment from $124,862 to $95,706.
School spending, the biggest bite out of the budget, will also decrease from the current total of $7,835,742. While the up-Island regional school assessment will rise from $5,513,823 to $5,553,733 in FY 2009, the regional high school assessment drops from $2,321,919 to $2,221,881, making total school spending $7,775,614.
Town hall returns
The town hall project, which has a long and contentious history, will once again take the floor to be presented, questioned, and debated. This year's plan is estimated to cost just over $5 million, which is to be raised by borrowing $4.4 million and using free cash and CPA funds for the rest. The town hall building committee calculates that by borrowing funds as the town retires older debts, the burden on the taxpayers will remain nearly constant and little or no new taxation will be required.
For the first time this year, West Tisbury will spend some of its CPA funds. The CPA committee recommends setting aside $525,000 for future projects, and spending approximately $1 million on affordable housing, open space, and historic preservation. Recommendations include $775,000 on five affordable housing initiatives, $139,000 on the Mill Pond and walking paths along some town roads, and $100,000 per year for five years toward the town hall restoration project.
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.
Three articles ask town taxpayers to pick up a share of the costs for the three county departments previously paid for entirely by the county.
Voters will be asked to pay $6,310 for the Vineyard Health Care Access Program (Article 41); $4,932 for the Integrated Pest Management Program (Article 42); and $9,230 for the county engineer (Article 43).
The money would be in addition to the town's FY 2009 county assessment of $111,999, money that is not subject to town meeting vote.
Wages, petitions, and other business
Several warrant articles ask the town to take new actions.
Article 35 proposes to amend the town bylaws to permit 20 voters to demand a written (secret) ballot on any question. In past town meetings, motions made from the floor seeking a secret ballot have been defeated.
Article 45 asks whether the town should hold its annual town meeting on a Saturday morning next year. A non-binding resolution (Article 49) asks voters whether raising a wind turbine at the West Tisbury School is a good idea.
A taxpayer petition (Article 52) asks the voters to "communicate to all Island school administrations, school committees and town governments that they see significant value in providing education in the performing arts in Island schools." A separate article (Article 50) asks the town to make a grant of $4,641 to the high school "for the purpose of maintaining the FY08 level of staffing in the music department."
The last item of business of the evening comes before voters by petition, this one signed by 11 taxpayers, asking, "Shall the Town of West Tisbury withdraw from the Up-Island School District?"
Along the way, taxpayers will as usual be asked to fund projects not in the regular budget: money for extra library hours and fire department equipment, a brush chipper for the highway department, a new vehicle for the police, a shed for parks and recreation, and small amounts for the paths-by-the-roads committee.
There will also be the usual housekeeping details: transferring funds, entering into agreements, paying a bill forgotten and now overdue, and spending money on the roads, which will be reimbursed by the state.