Aquinnah takes up budget $100,000 short
Aquinnah voters will be asked to dig deep next week. Town leaders need taxpayers to hand over an additional $100,000 to cover operating expenses for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
On Tuesday, voters gather at 7 pm in the Aquinnah old town hall to take up a bare-bones, 16-article annual warrant (available at mvtimes.com) that includes a $2.9 million operating budget.
On Wednesday voters go to the polls to elect town officers in an election with no races and to decide on a Proposition 2.5 request for an additional $100,000 in taxes.
The Aquinnah operating budget will rise by approximately 3 percent to $2,899,621 in fiscal year (FY) 2010. Much of that increase is attributable to school expenses, regional assessments and insurance costs.
At the same time, the town has seen revenue drop, said Jeff Burgoyne, town administrator. Parking lot revenue and interest payments are off.
In years past so-called free cash has provided a last-minute life ring. Town accountant Marjorie Spitz said the town has not received a certified figure from the state Department of Revenue, but in any case it would be a minimal amount and not enough to cover cash needs.
The rise in fixed costs and Aquinnah's traditional reluctance over the years to approve Proposition 2.5 requests has left the town with little breathing room.
The warrant includes an opportunity for voters to decide to maintain the current up-Island Regional School District agreement, already agreed to by Chilmark and West Tisbury, or opt for the state's so-called statutory assessment method.
In a telephone conversation Tuesday, selectman Camille Rose said selectmen and department heads cut the budget "right to the bone." The salaries reflect only step increases and no cost of living adjustments (COLAs), she said. In many cases, departments are level-funded or below this year's budget.
Ms. Rose said that despite efforts to restrain costs and look at every line item in the budget the town still needs an additional $100,000. "Which is a little scary," she said. "If it gets turned down by the voters I don't know where we are going to go for the money. I know it is a cliché but we are literally going to be looking at cutting services which are kind of minimal as it is."
With hindsight, Ms. Rose said the town might have been wise in the past to approve Prop 2.5 requests. She said one alternative may be to look at some regional costs, and that includes the Shellfish Group assessment. "But that's only $30,000, and if voters decide to accept the statutory assessment for the up-Island school district we could save another $40,000 there," she said, "but traditionally they have honored the agreement."
The FY 2010 budget that will be presented to voters includes numerous department cuts. For example, the town saved $7,000 on the line item identified as consultant fees in the selectmen's department. In all, the cost of general government will decline by $50, from $461,952 in FY 2009 to $467,970 in FY 2010.