Edgartown selectmen ask Martha's Vineyard Commission to reconsider raises for its staff
The Edgartown selectmen Monday added their voice to calls from other Island elected officials for the Martha's Vineyard Commission to reconsider staff raises called for in its $1.2 million budget.
At the invitation of selectmen, Edgartown Martha's Vineyard Commission member and chairman Christina Brown attended the Monday meeting.
"We would greatly appreciate reconsideration," board chairman Art Smadbeck told Ms. Brown. "We have carpenters out of work, tradesmen having a rough time."
The board questioned the Martha's Vineyard Commission's decision to include staff pay increases totaling four percent in the 2010 fiscal year spending plan, which begins on July 1. The Martha's Vineyard Commission approved the budget on January 22, with a three-percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) and a one-percent performance increase.
Edgartown's selectmen and financial advisory committee members recently voted against COLAs for Edgartown town employees. Oak Bluffs has also decided against COLAs, while several other Island towns are considering doing so, as part of their cost-cutting measures.
"I will take that message back," said Ms. Brown. "We're going to hold off certifying the budget." She told the board that the commission is required by law to approve its budget by the end of January, but had not yet certified it. She said the Martha's Vineyard Commission would use that gap in the budget process to talk to Island towns.
Ms. Brown said the commission wants its salaries to be in line with similar regional planning agencies and local towns, noting that the commission does not have a schedule of step raises as towns do. She also said the commission had reduced its budget by 8.8 percent this year.
That reduction is linked to the winding down of the Island Plan, a three-year effort to create a guide for the Island's future.
Selectman Margaret Serpa pointed out one instance where Martha's Vineyard Commission employees enjoy greater salary benefits than any Island town. The Martha's Vineyard Commission pays 90 percent of its employees' health insurance premiums, while local towns pay 75 percent.
"That also merits consideration," said Ms. Serpa.
"It's the taxpayers who have to foot the bill," said Mr. Smadbeck.
Town administrator Pam Dolby said the majority of Edgartown's employees will receive no step raises this year.
Ms. Dolby noted that while the commission's overall budget was reduced, the town's share of Martha's Vineyard Commission costs went up.
The bulk of the Martha's Vineyard Commission's income comes from Dukes County taxpayers through town assessments based on property tax valuation.
Edgartown taxpayers pay the largest share of Martha's Vineyard Commission costs, more than twice the amount paid by any other town. In FY 2010, that assessment will rise from $274,203 to $276,747.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission assessment appears as a line item on the operating budget presented to town voters in the spring. No adjustments are possible by town voters.
"The voters don't have any say in your budget. It gives you even more responsibility to be as fair as you can be," said Mr. Smadbeck.
Following the meeting, The Martha's Vineyard Times asked Ms. Brown why the Martha's Vineyard Commission's focus is on salary comparisons with other agencies and towns, rather than on the demands imposed on taxpayers.
"It always is," said Ms. Brown. "It's not a question of more. No, the focus starts with, all employees should be treated fairly and given reasonable pay increases.