West Tisbury selectmen justify override request

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While there are no contested offices in this year’s annual town election, the town of West Tisbury will — for the first time in 14 years (2004) — need to turn to its voters to pass a Proposition 2½ override question in order to support the budget for the coming fiscal year. This ballot vote is scheduled for Thursday, April 12, 7 am to 8 pm, at the Public Safety Building.

The town and the Island have seen significant growth since 2004. The number of year-round residents has increased by some 20 percent, and we have also seen an increase in seasonal residents both in number and length of time spent on-Island. Such growth has brought higher demand for services. At the same time, the need to upgrade or replace deteriorating public buildings and other town assets has affected the capital budget and — most significantly — included capital project–related operational increases in our annual budgets over the same time period.

To date, West Tisbury has met its public obligations through careful planning, managing to avoid budget overrides. Increased budget demands are clearly not unique to West Tisbury — in fact, the other five Island towns have chosen to meet them by collectively passing 50 permanent override questions for $7.6 million over the same 14-year period.
West Tisbury’s override question this year is not due to one or more new large requests for funding, but rather to a cumulative effect that has built over time:

  • To ensure adequate facilities for the foreseeable future, West Tisbury has built or extensively renovated the town hall, library, police station, and highway garage. In the process, usable facility space expanded from 11,800 square feet to over 20,600 square feet, a 75 percent increase — new space with much more sophisticated and complex systems that require ongoing professional maintenance. The town is committed to maintaining its capital assets, including its roads and buildings, as it has found that deferring maintenance only leads to greater problems and higher costs down the road.
  • Expanded services across all areas of the town increased the number of year-round benefited staff positions from 31 to 37. These include the year-round highway department (town roads) with the addition of two employees, and one each to the library, Council on Aging, police, and building departments. Total weekly hours of staff time, including year-round part-time staff, have increased 32 percent, from 1,100 hours per week to 1,460.
  • The town has aggressively confronted the problem of the unfunded liability for health insurance benefits for its retired workers. This liability, termed other post-employment benefits (OPEB), was neglected for years, but now West Tisbury has funded an amount equal to roughly half of its obligations, far more than any other Island town or school district. Regional entities are now following suit, and increasing their assessments to the towns accordingly. The total amount in West Tisbury’s FY 2019 budget attributable to OPEB is over $700,000 — $200,000 for West Tisbury, and over $500,000 within assessments from other regional entities. In 2004, $0 was being put away to meet these future obligations.
  • Changes in Island demographics and the identification of unmet needs, particularly for our growing aging population, have caused an increase in Island-wide programs, for which West Tisbury is requested to pay a share. As reflected in the line-item budget and in warrant articles, FY 2019 includes assessments for eight separate purposes, and a total of some $140,000 that did not exist in 2004. On top of that, other regional assessments, including required advanced ambulance services and expanded affordable housing opportunities, have grown at a rate far higher than the town’s own budget. Fully 62.5 percent of next year’s proposed operating budget is attributable to assessments from regional services, outside the direct control of the town and its boards and committees.

To make a final but crucial point, because the increases in the town’s overall budget in recent years span a broad spectrum of services provided to and for the town, the Island and our year-round and seasonal residents and visitors, we — the board of selectmen and the financial management team — are in strong agreement that it would be unfair to single out and attach the override amount to one or a few departments or entities or warrant article requests. Therefore, we have framed the ballot request as a general override of $400,000 to support the FY 2019 budget as a whole, including our share of all regional entities (the schools being the largest among them). Even with the projected override for next year, since 2006 West Tisbury has achieved the lowest percentage increase in its tax levy among all Island towns, and ranks lower than the statewide town average.

We will continue to find savings and efficiencies within our operations, such as the proposed reorganization and combination of the treasurer and collector departments, or the considerable savings already achieved in the town solar project at the landfill. Through continued careful planning led by the town’s financial professionals, combined with the hard work of all town departments and regional partners to develop reasonable and responsible budgets, and with the ongoing support of our voters and taxpayers, we are confident that the town of West Tisbury’s record of sound fiscal management will be strong well into the future.

Skipper Manter,
on behalf of the West Tisbury board of selectmen and financial management team