Tisbury voters will gather Tuesday night with plenty of work in front of them. A total of 57 articles appear on the special and annual town meeting warrants. Voters will also confront a $23,186,156 operating budget for fiscal year 2015 (FY15), an increase of almost 8 percent.
The special town meeting begins at 7 pm in the Tisbury School gym, followed by the annual town meeting. Town hall veterans predict the meeting may consume more than one night.
Town elections will be held on Tuesday, May 13. Polls will be open from 12 noon to 8 pm at the Emergency Services Facility at 215 Spring Street. The only contested race is for the office of town clerk. Voters will also be asked to approve a general Proposition 2.5 override.
Time for an override?
The big ticket item voters will confront is the FY15 budget, which begins on July 1, which is up by $1,706,124, an increase of about 7.9 percent over the $21,480,032 FY14 budget.
Proposition 2.5 limits property tax increases by municipalities to 2.5 percent annually. Overrides to increase the tax levy require two-thirds majority votes of approval for a municipal referendum.
The increase in spending will require approval of a general override. There are three types of overrides, municipal finance director Tim McLean explained to The Times in a phone conversation on Tuesday. A debt exclusion is limited to the life of a debt, and a capital exclusion, to the year in which the expense is incurred. A general override, however, is a permanent change to the tax levy, Mr. McLean said.
Tisbury’s FY13 residential tax rate is $8.48 and the commercial rate $7.87 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
If Tisbury’s general override is approved, the town will be allowed to assess an additional $1,296,084 in real estate and personal property taxes. $1,111,084 would support the town and school operating budgets, and $185,000 would fund capital stabilization funds for the fire, ambulance, and department of public works (DPW).
“In the past, when one town department budget was up one year, another one was usually down to offset it,” Mr. McLean told The Times on Tuesday. “We pinched pennies for many years to make it work, but there were just too many increases this year to be able to do that. It has just caught up with us.”
If taxpayers do not approve the override, Mr. McLean said there are several possible options: Leave the override as is, and schedule another election to try to get it passed; hold another town meeting to make budget cuts and another election to seek a smaller override; or, hold another town meeting to cut across the budget. Another option would be to utilize stabilization money or other funds that the town would not typically use to balance the budget, he added.
Mr. McLean told selectmen several months ago that the town would face a budget deficit this year. He pointed out that although Tisbury has not had a general override since 1987, the town budget has absorbed many added expenses since then for affordable housing, the Charter School, double-digit health care increases, other post-employment benefits (OPEB), and more.
“The department managers we have in place are much more accountable now,” outgoing selectman Jeff Kristal told The Times Wednesday. “I think they really have the taxpayer in mind. I don’t see anybody asking for frill items. And over the last five to six years, we’ve seen a planning effort by all of the departments to budget for capital expenses 10 to 20 years down the road.”
About 41 percent of the operating budget, $9,562,931, pays for education. That amount includes Tisbury School’s operating budget and the town’s share of the regional high school’s budget. That amount does not include expenses such as school debt, Dukes County retirement, health insurance costs for teachers, and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, which cost Tisbury $575,000 last year.
Tisbury School, with an enrollment of 316, has a budget of $6,147,198, an increase of $440,451, or about 7.7 percent, over FY14. The budget for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, which has 151 students enrolled from Tisbury this year, is $3,415,733, an increase of $260,035, or 8.2 percent, over last year.
“Unfortunately, these costs go up,” Mr. Kristal said. “However, [Tisbury School] principal John Custer has done an incredible job in dealing with the building’s deficiencies for so long, and it’s time to address infrastructure and security concerns.”
A rise in the numbers of special education students and the types of services they will require next year, coupled with a reduction in federal special education grants to help cover them has fueled an increase
in expenses shared by schools Island-wide that flow through the superintendent’s office.
Special to annual
In keeping with general practice, the special town meeting warrant includes only non-spending articles. The 22 articles include several lengthy ones regarding zoning bylaw changes, and a proposal to create an Island-wide district of critical planning concern to regulate fertilizer use. The fertilizer article, put before voters in all six towns, will create one set of regulations to protect groundwater and estuaries from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorous runoff.
At the annual town meeting, voters will be asked to take action on 35 articles, most with funding requests attached. A copy of the warrant appears on pages B26-B29.
Capital appropriation requests include $40,000 to replace floor coverings and paint the lower level interior in the Vineyard Haven Public Library and $28,000 for a replacement vehicle to keep in Woods Hole for use by town officials and staff.
An article submitted by the selectmen asks voters to approve borrowing $125,000 to fund an automated “pay as you go” parking fee collection system for the Park and Ride lot off High Point Lane. The selectmen are also requesting $15,000 to make additional improvements in the new parking lot at the former fire station site on Beach Street, and $60,000 to improve the former DPW garage parking lot on Spring Street for use by Tisbury School employees.
Embarkation fee largesse
Voters also will be asked to divvy up $237,175 in passenger ferry embarkation fee receipts. The state-legislature-imposed 50-cent surcharge on one-way ferry passenger tickets is intended to mitigate the impacts of ferry service on port towns such as Tisbury by providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, or infrastructure improvements within or around the harbor.
The 15 items include wages for summer traffic officers, equipment for an emergency operations center in the police department, a new rescue boat for the fire department, an oxygen generating system for the ambulance department, a data network and equipment for the emergency management department, and beautification improvements in downtown Vineyard Haven.
Community Preservation funds
Votes will also consider a lengthy list of projects on which to spend Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, which come from a 3 percent surtax on property taxes and matching funds from the State.
Recommended projects include $75,000 for the restoration of Grace Church’s historic bell tower; $23,500 for the construction of a walkway on Lake Street and a kiosk at the dock, $15,000 to continue the Tashmoo overlook view restoration project, and $15,000 for the preservation of historic town hall permanent records.
Voters will also be asked to contribute CPA funds as Tisbury’s share towards regional and other towns’ projects, including $50,000 to relocate the Gay Head lighthouse; $50,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s renovations of the Marine Hospital Building; $14,000 for historical history preservation by the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society; $10,500 to upgrade the Dukes County Courthouse electrical system; and $10,000 for Martha’s Vineyard Little League to upgrade Penn Field baseball field in Oak Bluffs.
Voters will also be asked to fund the town’s share, $17,433, of the All-Island School Committee’s administrative expenses contract to run the Adult and Community Education (ACE MV) program in FY15.
The program, which forecastsa deficit of $130,000, asked town leaders to place funding articles on annual town meeting warrants this spring that would generate funds to offset that deficit.
Why the late date?
Normally, the four down-Island towns hold town meeting on the same day. in early April. Many Islanders were puzzled to learn that Tisbury’s annual town meeting would be out of synch this year. Tisbury selectmen decided to postpone town meeting based on town clerk Marion Mudge’s recommendation. Since Tisbury bylaws require town elections to be held two weeks after town meeting, Ms. Mudge advised that a later date would avoid having to schedule elections during the Passover holiday or school vacation week.