MVC budget will jump 10 percent

The MVC budget is expected to increase by ten percent in the next fiscal year.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) is poised to approve a $1,325,350 operating budget for the 2014 fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2013, an overall increase of 10 percent. The cost of defending legal challenges and funding employee benefits fueled the $122,084 increase, according to notes attached to a copy of the draft fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget.

Under the heading, “Looking back to FY2012 and 2013,” MVC executive director Mark London said, “Given the nation’s financial crisis of the past few years, the MVC’s budgets were pared to the bone so that there was no increase in assessments for FY2010, FY2011, and FY2012. This left virtually no room for unexpected expenses. The MVC managed to work within those severe budget limits in FY2010 and FY2011. However, fiscal year 2012 buffeted the MVC with large and generally unexpected expenses that resulted in a significant deficit, namely $168,544 out of a total budget of $1,404,590. The deficit was essentially caused by higher legal and pension expenses.

That translates into a hike in the MVC assessment taxpayers will confront at annual town meeting. The bulk of the regional permitting and planning agency’s funding comes from assessments to Dukes County towns, based on equalized property valuations.

FY13 assessments for Island towns and Gosnold are projected to increase by $104,084 to a total of $917,350, which is 12.8 percent more than the current fiscal year.

Based on the most recent draft, Edgartown will once again pay the lion’s share, $336,333, compared to $298,512 this year. Chilmark will pay $154,661 compared to $129,376 in FY13.

Aquinnah will pay $35,767, about a $5,000 increase; Oak Bluffs will shell out $130,950, compared to $121,286 in FY13; Tisbury will do about the same, $130,143; West Tisbury taxpayers will be asked to pay $121,075, compared to $107,373 this year; and tiny Gosnold will chip in $8,421.

In addition to income derived from county taxpayers, grants, contracts and gifts are projected to generate an additional $358,000, a 5.3 percent increase, or $18,000 over FY13. Interest is projected to generate $50,000 for MVC coffers.

By law, the MVC must prepare a budget in January. A vote is scheduled for Thursday, January 25.

Salary hikes

Salaries and employee benefits that include the cost of funding retirement benefits will lay claim to the largest share of the MVC budget, $1,060,264, an increase of $65,346 over the current year, or 6.6 percent.

Of that, salaries for the MVC’s ten fulltime employees will account for $734,456. That is in addition to health and disability insurance, $132,064, and pension costs, $128,429.

MVC employees can look forward to a cost of living increase and either a step or performance increase. In an email to The Times, Mark London, MVC executive director said the salary increases are pegged to town and county increases of the previous year.

“Last year, the average overall salary increase in the towns and county was 5.0 percent (2.6 percent COLA and 2.4 percent step) and that is what MVC employees will be getting next year,” Mr. London said. “The budget number is a little less than that, namely 4.5 percent, because I haven’t taken a merit increase for the past few years so our actual salary expenses are a little under the budgeted amount.”

Mr. London is currently paid a salary of $124,987. The next highest paid employee is the senior planner ($83,423) followed by the GIS coordinator ($70,033); coastal planner ($69,399); administrator ($66,227); DRI planner ($62,866); water resource planner ($62,252); affordable housing and economic development planner ($54,908); transportation planner ( $54,159); administrative assistant ($46,532); and interns ($7,892).

The MVC is also preparing to fund post employment benefits, an obligation that buffeted the budget in FY12 and FY13 when the state mandated a $31,851 increase to payments for the Dukes County Contributory Retirement System (DCRS), according to budget notes, “as well as additional payroll expenses for health and disability Insurance, and for post-employment medical insurance.”

Legal doubles

The introduction to the budget describes the factors that pressed on the budget.

“The main unanticipated expense was for legal expenses, namely $196,613 instead of the budgeted $60,000, mostly related to defending the MVC from a series of lawsuits seeking to overturn Commission DCPC and DRI decisions supporting town proposals, notably the Commission’s designation of Special Ways in Edgartown with implications for all Island towns,” Mr. London said.

Mr. London provided the following breakdown to The Times under the heading, Legal fees expended in FY 2013, Lawsuits Defended: Hall v. MVC: $9,604; Hall III v. MVC: $650; Roundabout Matter: $292; Decoulos v. MVC: $23,689; General legal matters $19,723.

The MVC FY 14 budget doubles the legal account from $60,000 to $120,000. Most all other expense categories listed under administration and operating are level funded. In total, administration and operating expenses total $265,086.

The MVC budget process

In October, Commission staff prepares a preliminary draft budget. In November, the preliminary draft budget is reviewed and revised by the Commission’s Finance Committee. In December, the MVC Finance Committee adopts a Draft Budget and presents it to the Commission for consideration. The preliminary amount of each town’s assessment is forwarded to the town’s administrator for inclusion in that town’s budgeting process.

In December and January, as requested, Commission representatives meet the towns’ finance committees to discuss the budget. In January, the MVC Finance Committee may meet again to discuss possible changes to the draft budget.

At the Regular Meeting of the Commission in January (normally held on the third week of January but scheduled this year on January 25) the final budget is adopted. The adopted budget is then sent to each town.