In an overview of the Tisbury budget presented to the selectmen Tuesday night, municipal finance director Tim McLean said that as it stands right now, the town faces an estimated budget deficit of $1.2 million.
Tisbury selectmen Jonathan Snyder and Tristan Israel spent about 90 minutes Tuesday night scrutinizing the town’s fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget, department by department, in preparation for annual town meeting in April. Mr. Snyder served as the chairman in the absence of Jeff Kristal, who was on vacation.
“That gives us $700,000 in free cash to offset the deficit, and leaves us probably with 11 override articles over $35,000,” Mr. McLean said. “We would use the rest of the free cash that we had to fund all of the articles, $35,000 and under. That’s just the first pass.”
Mr. McLean said the numbers are not final yet, such as insurance amounts that have changed, and he used last year’s figures for the department of public works (DPW), which has not submitted its FY15 budget yet.
Under Massachusetts law, Proposition 2.5 limits property tax increases by municipalities to 2.5 percent annually. Overrides to increase the tax levy require a two-thirds majority vote of approval for a municipal referendum.
Mr. McLean said that if the town used all of its free cash to offset the budget, a deficit of $620,000 would still remain, and voters would face 33 override articles on the ballot. To avoid overwhelming voters, he recommended using only $550,000 in free cash and adding some of the funding requests made in articles to the budget.
“We’re going to have a general override, one way or the other,” Mr. McLean said. “So we can either minimize the general override and have a whole bunch of articles, or we can maximize the general override and try to keep a minimum number of additional articles as overrides.”
Mr. McLean said Tisbury’s budget deficit has been a long time coming.
“We’ve been holding the departments to a certain level of basically no increase for the last six, seven, eight years,” he said. “We knew we were coming to this at some point in time, and this is the year that it’s happening.”
Although Tisbury has not had a general override in over 20 years, Mr. McLean said the town budget has absorbed many added expenses during that time for affordable housing, the Charter School, double-digit health care increases, other post-employment benefits (OPEB), and more.
Mr. McLean said that from his perspective, a general override article is better than a targeted override article. “I think we’re all in it together, and I think the best way to fund it is that we all work with the override together, rather than targeting certain departments and pitting one department against another,” he said.
With that said, the selectmen reviewed department budgets and requested more information about several budget figures, including ones for legal counsel, comfort station personnel, fuel for police department vehicles, ambulance and EMT personnel, and the harbormaster’s boat repairs. The selectmen requested town administrator Jay Grande to ask representatives from Tisbury School, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to explain their budgets at a future meeting.
In keeping with Mr. McLean’s earlier suggestion, the selectmen went through a list of town meeting warrant articles, some they initiated and others from town departments they oversee, and discarded many of them.
“If we don’t pass that override, the budgetary consequence to the town will be severe,” Mr. Snyder said at the end of the budget discussion.
“We’ll have to make cuts,” Mr. Israel added.
In other business, the selectmen continued a public hearing regarding Café Moxie’s application to change from a year-round beer and wine license to a seasonal one. They also voted to authorize the DPW to exceed its FY14 snow and ice removal budget, and to increase the Tisbury Police Department’s detail pay from $40 to $44 an hour to match the new State Police rate, as agreed to in the union contract.