At Large : Your info, their info
The four largest towns have completed annual meetings. Three of them have also been to the voting booths and made leadership choices. For these towns, the fiscal 2010 die has been cast. Among the four, budgets will total $83 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Preliminarily, what conclusions might one draw?
Spending. Town finance committees and selectmen (the municipal chief executives) deserve high marks for presenting voters with carefully trimmed budgets and modest non-budget requests. Pressure naturally fell on personnel costs in each town, and Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, Edgartown, and West Tisbury found ways to keep valuable municipal workers employed, honor labor contracts while treating unorganized workers fairly. Municipal payrolls are collectively the biggest on Martha's Vineyard. Workers regard municipal jobs as safe havens, and in this budget season of difficult decisions they have proven to be so. One might argue that wage reductions, unpaid furloughs, four-day weeks, further reduced cost of living benefits, or even layoffs would have done taxpayers a needed service, but in general town budgets that resulted in tax levies that grew less - and in some cases considerably less - than allowed under Proposition 2.5 mean that the hard work of budget building has been done in a serious and reasonable way.
Outside the budget, voters elected to spend on important projects: For instance, planning for a connector road in Tisbury, between State Road and the Edgartown-Vineyard Road; dredging of Sengekontacket in Edgartown and in Oak Bluffs. Taken as a whole, and bearing in mind that half of the money the towns will spend in FY2010 will come from taxpayers who demand little, get less, and don't get to vote at town meeting, municipal forbearance in these four towns must be commended.
Bloodletting. With the exception of Tisbury, voters kept the rhetorical shivs in their pockets. In Edgartown and West Tisbury, the discussion and debate moved quickly through the gauntlet of decisions, and there was time for good humor and even laughter. In Tisbury, the wet/dry debate had a scolding quality to it that left restaurant owners and other business folk resentful at their treatment by beer/wine opponents in the two hours of debate. Voters without a direct interest in the outcome of the battle must have wondered why an argument over whether to allow the town to decide the question in the privacy of the ballot box next spring should have had the apocalyptic tone adopted by some of the debaters.
Dukes County. Withering Dukes County - now court-less, estranged by its own monumental historic fecklessness from hands-on control of its own airport, chronically underfunded even given the dearth of important things it has to do, and soon sheriff-less - has elected to gradually shed two of its actual (as opposed to legacy) responsibilities, namely rat control and health care access. That's forward-looking management of the sort the 18-month long Dukes County Charter Study Committee must have had in mind when it recommended that voters leave things mostly as they have been. Two important signals: voters in all four large towns have acknowledged the importance of the Health Care Access Program and agreed to fund it. Of course, they could agree on such a thing independent of the expensive drag of county government and organize the effort among themselves, but in any case they have agreed to support the program. So, the municipal contributions will be sucked into the county maw, where the treasurer's office alone consumes $250,000 of the entire annual budget. On rat control, three towns acquiesced, and one - the one that gets the gold star, Oak Bluffs - said no.