No beer/wine, just dollars and sense in Tisbury

No beer/wine, just dollars and sense in Tisbury

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A fiscal year 2011 (FY11) operating budget of $20.08 million and an annual town meeting warrant with 41 articles await Tisbury voters on April 13. The meeting starts at 7 pm in the Tisbury School gymnasium.

For voters dreading lengthy debates, the beer and wine question won’t be one of them, as it was in 2009.

“The reason is because it’s not the subject matter of an article; it is a matter that is on the ballot,” town moderator Deborah Medders explained in a phone call Monday. “That’s not to diminish how people might feel about the subject, but town meeting is for discussion of articles.”

A yes or no question on whether the town should grant licenses for selling beer and wine in restaurants and inns will be put to voters on the annual town election ballot April 27. They also must address five other ballot questions and elect town officers at the polls at the American Legion Hall.

The annual warrant, printed in today’s Times and posted online at mvtimes.com, includes four capital exclusion items and one capital appropriation override item, as well as articles to appropriate money from the town’s passenger ferry embarkation fee receipts and Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds.

Tisbury’s proposed FY11 $20.08 million operating budget includes $19.9 million in budgeted taxpayer dollars, plus a transfer of $175,000 from the reserve for sewer betterments, town finance director Tim McLean said this week.

There also is a warrant article requesting the transfer of $850,000 from the town’s unreserved fund balance, or “free cash” to balance the budget and reduce the tax rate.

As Mr. McLean explained, at first glance it appears that Tisbury’s $20.08 million FY11 operating budget is a decrease compared to the $20.2 million FY10 budget. However, the FY11 budget total does not include the water department’s budget, which for the first time is accounted for separately in an enterprise fund established by voters last April.

Consequently, the town operating budget includes a water usage charge of $20,000 for municipal departments for the first time this year, under the selectmen’s department budget. Finance and advisory committee (FinCom) chairman Larry Gomez said Tisbury’s FY12 budget would include water usage charges for individual departments based on water bills this year.

Behind the budget bumps

According to a voter guide prepared by Tisbury’s FinCom, the FY11 budget, covering July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, has an overall decrease of 1.1 percent.

Mr. McLean said for comparison purposes, since the FY11 budget does not include the water enterprise fund, its $1.2 million should be subtracted from the FY10 budget total. The resulting difference is an increase of about $945,000, or 4.94 percent, in the FY11 budget.

The majority of the increase can be attributed to two line items, Mr. McLean said. One is the town’s debt service, which increased from $1.2 million to $1.8 million because of borrowing funds to build a new emergency services facility (ESF), and the second is an increase about $156,830 in Tisbury’s share of the high school budget.

“It looks like our budget is up five percent, which technically it is, but as I say, the debt [for the ESF] we expected, and the high school, we have no control over, so we’re up about three-quarters of a percent for the entire rest of the budget, which is a pretty minimal increase,” Mr. McLean said. “I don’t want the taxpayer to think we’re up five percent because we let the budget run amok.”

Mr. McLean said the town borrowed money at the right time, when rates were low, and in three years, the debt service will decrease as other debt rolls off. As for the increase in high school costs, Tisbury’s share is up about 5 percent because of the way costs are apportioned among the six Island towns, using the statutory assessment methodology mandated by the state department of education.

Although the number of students from Tisbury enrolled at the high school remained the same in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, enrollment in some Island towns went down this year. That made Tisbury’s enrollment and corresponding assessment proportionately higher for FY11.

In response to the FinCom’s request for zero percent budget increases, committee chairman Larry Gomez said, “I don’t think there was any town department that went over its budget. I think all expenses stayed at either zero or less, and that’s two years in a row they’ve done that.”

How the budget adds up

The largest shares of Tisbury’s operating budget 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 $8.17 million, or 40 percent of the FY11 operating budget.

Educating approximately 296 students at Tisbury School, based on the Oct. 15, 2009, school census, will cost $4.98 million, up from $4.88 million in FY10 for an enrollment of 306 in 2008.

Tisbury’s assessment for the regional high school increased from $3.03 million in FY10 to $3.19 million in FY11, with an enrollment of 170 students from Tisbury in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

In addition to schools, salaries, wages, and benefits for town employees account for a sizable portion of the total budget.

The town’s personnel board and the various unions and employees negotiate most of the increases, often in multi-year contracts. Negotiations between the town and employee unions are currently in progress for the coming contract period.

This year the town’s personnel board recommended no cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase for full-time managerial and professional employees in FY11. The only change to the classification plan is the addition of two water department positions that were not previously reflected.

Tisbury uses the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all urban consumers in the Boston-Brockton-Nashua region as guidance for determining COLA percentages. Personnel board chairman William Cini said this year the board waited for the CPI published in February, in order to get numbers as accurate and as close to the date of town meeting as possible.

“The COLA for that period actually came out as zero,” Mr. Cini said, adding that a COLA should not be confused with salaries and benefits negotiated in labor contracts for municipal employees in unions. Some employees will receive salary increases due to step increases and longevity pay. The personnel board did add two water department positions to the classification plan

Article 21 asks voters to approve spending $225,000 to fund the Tisbury police department’s union contract arbitration award, which also requires approval of a capital appropriation Prop. 2.5 override question on the town election ballot.

“That includes $125,000 of money that we were talking about to pay retroactively to settle the contract for fiscal years ’08,’09, and ’10,” Mr. McLean said. “Because everybody budgeted zero in salary increases for FY11, we included $100,000 to supplement the police department’s FY11 budget. If the article passes, even though they are not getting an additional raise in FY11, we’re going to owe them their new rates.”

The personnel board also did not recommend any wage increases in the FY11 classification and compensation plan for non-union part-time, seasonal and temporary employees, last amended at town meeting in 2007.

For casual labor, minimum wage for remains at the FY09 rate of $8.14 an hour and maximum wage at $10.53 an hour.

At the request of the ambulance department, the personnel board added a position for paramedics to the classification plan, with a minimum wage of $23.50 an hour and a maximum of $27.50. Mr. Cini said because there is no job listing or pay scale, the ambulance department has been unable to hire a part-time paramedic to provide coverage when someone was sick or on vacation.

“We looked around at various rates, and created a new rate for a part-time paramedic so one could be employed as needed,” Mr. Cini said.

At a time when many towns are struggling with skyrocketing insurance costs, Tisbury’s total insurance costs in FY11 are up by $10,000, due to an increase in FICA/Medicare.

“We had a lot of people switch to other less expensive plans,” Mr. McLean said. “The rates actually went up about eight percent this year, but we were able to hold the line.”

Under the public safety heading, police, fire, ambulance/EMT, and emergency management services add up to more than $1.9 million, including the proposed settlement funds for the police contract. The police department FY11 budget is $1.31 million, up by 1.6 percent over last year’s budget of $1.29 million. The fire department and ambulance/EMT department budgets both had modest increases of about $2,000. The emergency management budget, $7,500, is the same as FY10.

Capital exclusions and appropriations

Four capital exclusion items on the warrant include $120,000 for a department of public works (DPW) refuse truck, $75,000 for a generator for Tisbury School, $20,000 for painting the exterior of the Tisbury Senior Center, and $20,000 to replace the body of a DPW sander truck. Those items also require approval of Prop. 2.5 override ballot questions.

In addition to the town’s annual county assessment, Dukes County requested funds from Tisbury to participate in the county’s pest control and Vineyard Health Care Access programs. The funds would come from the town’s “free cash.”

Other “free cash” article requests include $3,000 for tree removal done last month on the property of Thomas and Ginny Payette to preserve the Tashmoo overlook view; $15,000 for additional costs of relocating the town hall annex; $7,185 for three new computers for use by the public, a printer, and a computer management system for public access for the library; $10,000 to hire, equip and train police officers to fill vacancies; and $15,000 to study Tisbury’s town government structure.

Article 26 asks voters to approve entering a two-year agreement with the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club to exchange use of a 1.2-acre parcel at end of Owen Little Way, assessed at $253,000, with a .8-acre parcel owned by the yacht club, assessed at $246,000, for purpose of establishing an improved public swimming area, and to appropriate $5,000 from free cash for legal fees. There would be no change in property ownership.

Another article requests $10,000 from free cash for the design, permitting and construction costs for repairing the Owen Little Way drainage outfall.

The selectmen and emergency management director Richard Townes requested $3,604 from free cash for Tisbury’s share of the cost to participate in a county-wide reverse E-911 system for emergency notifications to town residents, provided all six Island towns agree to join and pay their share.

Mr. McLean said Tisbury now has about $1.18 million in “free cash.” If voters approve all of the articles that will utilize “free cash,” which total $1.02 million including $850,000 to balance the budget, he said there would be about $154,541 remaining until the fiscal year ends on June 30.

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