Dukes County budget seeks hike in town assessments

Dukes County budget seeks hike in town assessments

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With the start of the new fiscal year just one month away, the Dukes County Commission has signed off on a $1,525,210 million spending plan for fiscal year 2015, which begins July 1.

That represents a decrease of $139,028, or 8.4 percent, from the fiscal year 2014 budget, which totaled $1,664,238.

Even as the budget drops, the total the county collects from the six Island towns and Gosnold in the form of an assessment will rise 2.5 percent, the maximum allowable under the Proposition 2.5 limit. The town assessments will rise from a total of $491,739 to $504,032 (see table). The increase follows two consecutive years of substantial decreases in town assessments, as a result of surplus funds returned to the towns.

Under the equalized valuation formula, Edgartown taxpayers will continue to contribute the lion’s share of the assessment, $183,871, followed by Chilmark at $84,228.

The proposed spending plan includes a 2.2 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for county employees, in addition to any step raises due under the county compensation and job classification plan. The COLA is based on the the average increase in the six Island towns during the previous fiscal year.

The county finance advisory board was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the budget at 5 pm Wednesday, May 21, in the Oak Bluffs library.

Employee costs are by far the largest part of the county spending plan. According to salary figures detailed in the proposed budget, the top four highest paid county employees will make $354,015 (see table). That figure is 23.2 percent of the spending taxpayers will fund in the coming fiscal year, but does not include the cost of employee benefits. The total cost for all county employees, including salary, health insurance, retirement benefits, life insurance, longevity pay, and benefits for retired county employees is $1,230,106. That represents 80.6 percent of the entire spending plan.

Town costs rising

Unlike the past two fiscal years, when the county had unexpected and unforeseen surpluses, there are no provisions in the draft budget to return some of the surplus to the towns. The county will have $275,746 in its unreserved fund balance when the fiscal year begins.

Each town’s county assessment comes directly from state aid to the towns, known informally as “cherry sheets.” The assessment cannot be amended on town meeting floor and does not show up on the individual operating budgets presented at town meetings.

Taxpayers must rely first on the county commissioners to exercise fiscal oversight and ultimately on the members of the county’s finance advisory board, who approve the county budget. The advisory board includes one selectman from each town.

“I think it’s a good budget,” said Lenny Jason of Chilmark, chairman of the county commission. “I think it’s fair; I think it’s accurate.”

Art Smadbeck, Edgartown selectman and acting chairman of the county advisory board, said while he has some questions, he is satisfied with the proposed budget. “I think overall, it’s in line,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Revenue down

In addition to town assessments, the major sources of county funding include deed transfers, licence plates, and contractual services. The county budget projects that overall revenue will decrease 9.0 percent.

Fees collected for specialty Cape & Island license plates are projected to drop from $110,000 to $105,000, or 4.6 percent. Under a shared cost formula, the amount of money that the Martha’s Vineyard Airport and the Registry of Deeds pay the county for providing accounting and other services is expected to drop from $135,000 to $127,686, or 5.4 percent.

Registry of deeds revenue is expected to drop from $220,000 to $210,000, or 4.6 percent.

Service and support

Although she serves as the administrative manager for the seven county commissioners, the actual responsibilities of county manager Martina Thornton’s job are limited.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport, which by statute is under the control of the appointed airport commission and its professional airport manager, represents more than half of the county budget. State and federal regulations prohibit any use of airport revenue for uses unrelated to the airport.

The sheriff’s office is under state control. The registry of deeds, and the office of the county treasurer are county departments headed by elected county officials who do not answer to the county manager and have direct control over their employees.

In terms of day-to-day supervision and responsibilities, the county manager oversees two people in two departments: the county manager’s office, and veterans’ affairs.

The county commissioner’s department budget is $192,816. Ms. Thornton earns $75,594, and her administrative assistant earns $47,059.

Asked what services the county provides to taxpayers, Ms. Thornton replied in an email with a long list of every organization, property, board and commission that falls under the county umbrella, or uses meeting space in county buildings.

“It’s many things,” Ms. Thornton said. “It’s easy to say it’s just the treasurer’s office, and manager’s office and veterans services, health care access, but there is more to it. Not only do these departments, and my office, do many various things, but there is also the grant programs that I manage from my office. I deal with the mosquito control project, we have the youth task force that works under the county umbrella. There is a long list of services.”

Ms. Thornton said her responsibilities include chief executive officer of the county, preparation and administration of the county budget, oversight of county personnel, negotiation and execution of contracts, capital asset management of the Dukes County Courthouse, administration building, and other county assets.

She also said she procures goods and services for Island-wide use, such as heating oil and mapping software, and administers county grant programs.

Treasurer

The office of the county treasurer is budgeted at $264,861 for fiscal year 2015. Treasure Noreen Mavro Flanders earns $101,400. She supervises an assistant treasurer who is paid $75,021. The assistant treasurer splits time between the treasurer’s office and the position of parking clerk. Ms. Mavro Flanders supervises a financial administrative assistant who earns $54,132. The administrative assistant also splits time between the treasurer’s office and the parking department.

Ms. Thornton listed the responsibilities of the treasurers office as management of about 100 funds, accounts payable, accounts receivable and payroll. Also listed were accounting for various grants, and for the sale of licenses and permits.

Parking deficit

The Martha’s Vineyard Parking Clerk department’s budget will increase by 13.5 in fiscal year 2015, to $88,594, due to the addition of 10 hours per week to the schedule of a part-time administrative clerk.

The parking clerk processes parking tickets and fines for all six Island towns. The towns pay the county $1.50 for each ticket processed. In the current fiscal year, 2014, the department projects $70,000 in revenue, with expenses of $78,057. For the coming fiscal year, the department projects $72,000 in revenue, with expenses of $88,594, a deficit of $16,594.

Registry

The Registry of Deeds is headed by Diane Powers, who is elected by Dukes County voters. The total budget for the department, which is responsible for recording deed transactions and other legal documents, is $311,673.  The registry budget is slated for a 2.5 percent increase in fiscal year 2015. Ms. Powers earns $102,000. She oversees three clerks, who earn $56,467, $53,489, and $47,869, respectively. The department has budgeted $14,000 for overtime pay.

The seven county commissioners are Mr. Jason of Chilmark, Leon Brathwaite and John Alley of West Tisbury, Christine Todd and Thomas Hallahan of Oak Bluffs, Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg of Tisbury. Ms. Loberg, who was recently elected to the Tisbury board of selectmen, said she intends to resign her seat on the county commission.

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