Tisbury wraps up annual meeting, approves $20.4 million budget

Despite a three-hour special town meeting the night before, and torrential rain the next day, 126 dedicated Tisbury voters waded out for the annual town meeting on April 13.

They sailed through 36 warrant articles and approved them all, including a fiscal year 2012 (FY12) operating budget of $20,451,676.

The voters agreed with the selectmen’s request to take no action on Article 37, which would have authorized the purchase, for aquifer protection purposes, of property off Holmes Hole Road near a town well.

Voters approved funds for new, needed Department of Public Works equipment, including a refuse truck, small dump truck, and front-end loader.

Two articles connected to Proposition 2.5 override questions that will appear on the April 26 town election ballot also passed.

One would allow the town to assess $85,000 more in real estate and personal property taxes to fund anticipated collective bargaining and employment wage and contract agreements for FY2012.

The other asked voters to begin funding part of Tisbury’s cost for other post-employment benefits (OPEB), that is, retiree healthcare, through additional real estate and personal property taxes for FY2012. The voters’ approval of these two questions must be confirmed in the town election, April 26.

In a follow-up phone conversation yesterday, municipal finance director Tim McLean said that if both overrides pass, it would add about $56 to a property tax bill for a home valued at $800,000, the average price in Tisbury.

The FY2012 budget voters approved includes $20.3 million in budgeted taxpayer dollars and $175,000 from the reserve for sewer betterments. Voters approved all of the articles that would utilize “free cash,” which total $1,120,229 million, including $800,000 to reduce the tax rate and balance the budget. That leaves about $54,000 remaining in free cash until the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Mr. McLean said that although Tisbury usually tries to keep between $100,000 to $150,000 in free cash through the end of a fiscal year, the funds needed to replace the refuse truck required a larger amount than most free cash articles.

OPEB debate continues

Moderator Deborah Medders took her cue from voters and kept the meeting’s pace brisk. Unlike the previous night’s special town meeting, voters kept discussions to a minimum and dispensed with twice the number of articles in about an hour’s less time.

As was the case at special town meeting, the subject of OPEB funds sparked the most debate. Selectman Tristan Israel had argued strongly against the town adopting policies to address OPEB funds for new employees and to establish a reserve towards paying a portion of future liability. Both articles were approved.

Mr. Israel again led the discussion with opposition to a corresponding article on the town meeting warrant that would fund the OPEB reserve with $100,000.

“Times are bad,” Mr. Israel said. “I think we already started last night with a policy to start putting money aside. I just don’t think we can afford it.”

Currently the town tallies up the cost of healthcare premiums for municipal employees, for which they pay 25 percent and Tisbury pays 75 percent. The difference needed to pay for retirees’ healthcare benefits is included as a line item in the annual budget.

“If we’re already funding it properly without adding another bill to our taxes, why do we need it?” Wes Nagy asked.

“Simply put, we are paying now for employees in the past,” FinCom vice chairman Jonathan Snyder explained. “We’re pushing the costs of future employees off on our children. It is an issue of fairness, not to push off on future generations the services we enjoy today.”

Mr. Nagy asked why, if the town had agreed to adopt a policy to fund OPEB liability for new employees, the $100,000 was necessary.

“We now pay an annual cost of people drawing money for healthcare of about a half-million dollars,” FinCom member Bruce Lewellyn answered. “The $100,000 is putting money aside for people 10 to 15 years out, that need healthcare benefits at retirement. These articles are not about setting aside a known amount, but to set aside funds to apply to an amount we know will be higher.”

Mr. Israel countered with the argument that if healthcare costs do rise astronomically, rather than the town tying up its money now, the issue would reach a crisis level which the state government would have to address.

Selectman Geoghan Coogan cut to the chase. “Last night we voted a policy to set aside money every year; this is the article.”

Ms. Medders called for a vote and the ayes were in the majority.

Paramedic quandary

Mr. Israel also led the fray in another of the meeting’s significant discussions about an article for approval to reclassify an Emergency Medical Technician basic position to an EMT-Paramedic position.

Tisbury Police Ambulance Service Coordinator Jeff Pratt submitted the article, which the FinCom approved. As a handout from the ambulance service explained, a current EMT-Basic who received further education paid for by the town is now certified and works as a paramedic, but continues to receive EMT-Basic wages.

The town currently has two EMT-Paramedic positions and by state regulation is required to provide a minimum of one on duty each day and night. When a staff paramedic is not available, the ambulance service uses part-time paramedic staff or pays overtime.

By promoting the EMT-Basic to the paramedic level, the town would pay a salary difference of $7,294, or about $3,100 more than that projected for part-time or overtime pay in FY12. The ambulance service emphasized that the reclassification of the job would not add an additional employee or new benefits, since the person is already a full-time employee.

Mr. Israel said he had hoped Tisbury could initiate discussion about a regional emergency medical service system. “I think we should not vote for this this year and [instead] reach out to these other entities,” he added.

“The reality is we have someone who reached the paramedic level, and the state requires an EMT to work at the highest certified level,” personnel board chairman and volunteer EMT William Cini said. “What we have now is someone working as a paramedic and being paid as an EMT. That’s not fair.”

“It’s money well spent,” Mr. Kristal pointed out. “It will take longer than a year to look at regional solutions. I recommend voting yes.”

“We paid for her education, and we don’t want to lose her to another town,” Mr. Pratt added.

The article passed by a majority vote.

The total voters that tended to the town’s business in the Tisbury School gymnasium represented about four percent of the town’s 2,990 registered voters.