The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) is set to approve a $1,455,478 operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year (FY) that begins on July 1, 2014. The amount reflects a nearly 10 percent increase over the fiscal year 2014 budget, which also included a 10 percent increase over the previous year.
The increase will be reflected in the MVC assessment taxpayers will confront at annual town meeting this spring as a line item over which they will have no control. Once approved by the commission, towns are legally obligated to pay the assessment. Because Edgartown is the Island’s largest town in terms of real estate value, it will see the largest increase, approximately $48,000.
By law, the MVC must present a budget in January. A vote is scheduled for Thursday, January 23.
The MVC budget hike is fueled by an increase in overall costs, that includes legal fees and salaries ($55,128) and a one-time reimbursement of $75,000 to the depleted MVC general reserve fund in keeping with MVC policies, according to notes that accompany the draft fiscal year 2015 budget. The commission maintains the general reserve fund “to cover urgent, unforeseen expenses during the course of the year.”
The commission depleted the general reserve fund in FY 2012 and FY 2013, MVC executive director Mark London said, due to unforeseen expenses that included legal fees and state-mandated contributions to the Dukes County Contributory Retirement system.
The bulk of the MVC’s income comes from Dukes County taxpayers through town assessments based on property tax valuation. All seven towns in Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, share the cost of planning, according to their relative property valuation.
FY14 assessments for Island towns and Gosnold are projected to increase by $130,128, from a total of $917,350 to $1,047,478, an increase of just over 14 percent from the current fiscal year.
Based on the most recent draft, Edgartown will once again pay the lion’s share, $384,043, compared to $336,333 this year. Chilmark will pay $176,600 compared to $154,661 in FY14. Aquinnah will pay $40,840, up about $5,000; Oak Bluffs will shell out $149,526, up from $130,950; Tisbury falls just short of Oak Bluffs at $148,604, up from $130,143; West Tisbury is up $17,175 from last year’s $121,075. Gosnold will chip in $9,615.
In addition to income derived from county taxpayers, grants, contracts, and gifts are projected to generate an additional $358,000. Interest and other income is projected to generate $50,000.
Total income is projected to be $1,455,478, an increase of $130,128, or 9.8 percent.
Under the heading, “Looking back at FY 2013 and 2014,” executive director Mark London said that in 2013 the state mandated an increase of about $32,000 to payments for the county retirement system and legal fees were $24,782 more than the budgeted amount of $60,000.
“Although the Commission was able to absorb much of the additional expenses with cost savings in other budget categories, the unforeseen expenses resulted in a budget deficit of $24,439,” Mr. London said.
“The commission had a deficit in FY 2012 as well, mainly due to unexpectedly high legal fees 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 and a Special District in Aquinnah, with implications for all Island towns.”
Mr. London said that for the past several years, the MVC maintained the legal budget at $60,000 in order to avoid increases to the towns.
“After it became increasingly evident that this amount was inadequate, the legal budget was increased to $120,000 for FY 2014,” he said, the same amount budgeted for FY15.
Mr. London said for FY 15, “The commission budgeted a normal modest increase in ongoing annual costs, resulting in an annual increase of $55,128.”
The $75,000 used to replenish the General Reserve Fund, he said, results in an overall budget increase of $130,128, roughly 9.8 percent, “the majority, which is the one-time reimbursement of the General Reserve Fund.”
Salaries and employee benefits that include the cost of funding retirement benefits will lay claim to the largest share, $1,114,733 of the MVC budget, an increase of $54,469 over the current year, or just over 5 percent, built on a 2.13 percent cost of living increase (COLA) and a 2.40 percent merit adjustment.
Of that budget, salaries for the MVC’s ten full-time employees will account for $771,266, an increase of $36,810. That is in addition to $140,571 in health and disability insurance and $133,547 in pension costs.
The commission has 10 staff members, the same number it had a decade ago, the budget notes point out. Staff salaries are adjusted based on the average of the towns and county increases for the previous fiscal year, according to Mr. London.
Salaries are determined according to the Commission’s Salary Policy, according to the budget notes. “This includes an inflation component (a COLA adjustment) and a merit increase (based on job performance and experience; equivalent to the purpose and cost of the grade-and-step system generally used by towns on Martha’s Vineyard).”
Under the proposed budget, Mr. London’s salary would increase to $128,224, followed by the senior planner, $87,830; GIS Coordinator $73,956; coastal planner, $72,280; administrator, $69,832; DRI Planner, $66,236; water resource planner, $65,456; affordable housing and economic development planner $57,967; and administrative assistant, $48,726. The newly hired transportation planner would earn $67,688.
What do they do
Some of the planning projects the MVC is working on now include completing a pre-disaster mitigation plan, fertilizer regulations, transportation projects, facilitating implementation of the recommendations of the housing needs assessment, and continuing efforts related to water quality in coastal ponds.
“We had a slight reduction in the number of DRIs (development of regional impact) last year, but the fact that two were particularly complex, Stop & Shop and the Alliance Church, meant that the workload was about the same,” Mr. London wrote in an email to The Times.
According to the MVC’s 2013 annual report, 35 projects were reviewed “in some manner,” by the MVC, ten were full DRIs reviewed with public hearings and approved with conditions (one of which was a Discretionary Referral that was accepted for DRI Review) and one was a full DRI that was denied. Six were minor modifications of existing DRIs that were approved and remanded back to their towns without DRI public hearing review, one was a project referred to the MVC for concurrence review that was sent back to the town without DRI public hearing review, three were previously approved DRIs returning to LUPC for approval of aspects of their plans, one project was granted an extension, one project was withdrawn before any decision was made, three were referred but were deemed by Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) to not trigger the DRI Checklist and were sent back to their town, and one was referred as a Discretionary Referral which was later withdrawn by the referring board. Two applications are on hold at the applicant’s request and six are still under review.
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 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. At the regular meeting of the Commission in January, the final budget is adopted.
The appointed and elected voting members of the commission are:Clarence (Trip) Barnes of Tisbury, Josh Goldstein of Tisbury, Nathaniel (Ned) J. Orleans of Tisbury, Erik Hammarlund of West Tisbury, Brian Smith of West Tisbury, Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, Christina Brown of Edgartown, Madeline Fisher of Edgartown, James Joyce of Edgartown, chairman Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs, John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs, Katherine Newman of Aquinnah, Camille Rose of Aquinnah, Leonard Jason of Chilmark, Joan Malkin of Chilmark, and Douglas Sederholm of Chilmark.
When asked about what taxpayers in Edgartown, who will pay the largest share, can expect from the 10 percent increase in the MVC budget, Madeline Fisher cited numerous projects and planning that she would like to see put into motion.
“I’m fairly new to the commission so it’s difficult for me to answer,” she said. Commissioner Fred Hancock said that while an influx in legal fees and other costs have contributed to the 10 percent increase in budget, there is more than what meets the eye.
“A lot of people’s perception of the commission is that we just do DRIs, which is not the case,” Mr. Hancock said. “There’s a lot of activity that I think people aren’t aware of that happens. The staff of the commission does a lot of work in terms of maps and housing assistance. We are the only agency on the Island that has a staff of planners. We help write grants and help get money for individual towns. That’s what I would tell taxpayers.”