County budget ready for review
The Dukes County Commission has approved a $1.8 million budget for the 2010 fiscal year that began on July 1. That figure represents a seven-percent decrease over last year's budget.
The seven elected Dukes County commissioners delayed action on the budget while waiting for state lawmakers to take action on a proposed shift of responsibility for county sheriff departments. That bill won approval of the state legislature last week. Governor Deval Patrick is expected to sign the measure this week.
According to budget documents, the county will shed liability for Sheriff's department retiree health benefits, and realize new income from the lease of Norton Point Beach, accounting for most of the reductions.
Available for public inspection, the fiscal year 2010 county budget is based on the assumption that Governor Patrick will sign a bill transferring seven county sheriff departments to the state on October 1, but the transfer is now scheduled for January 1, 2010,
That means the county will have to pay for those retirement benefits until the end of the year, realizing a savings of $48,898, not the figure of $74,532 indicated on the budget cover sheet, and not the figure of $97,796 reflected in the individual budget department detail for retiree group insurance.
The county recently signed a lease with the Trustees of Reservations for the Norton Point Beach that will bring in $45,000 in revenue. Last year, using a formula that gave the county a percentage of the Trustees' net revenue, the county earned $12,875 for renting the beach.
The individual department for county commissioners will increase to $153,914, or 22.3 percent. That increase mostly reflects the salary of the county manager and executive assistant, who both began full time employment part way through the previous fiscal year, following a period when the county was without a permanent manager.
The budget shows reductions in nearly every other county department, including a $31,505, or 51.8-percent decrease in the budget department labeled "miscellaneous." The cuts come from line items labeled "auditing and accounting services" and "miscellaneous contractual services." County treasure Noreen Mavro Flanders said part of the reduction is because the county has told Island towns it will no longer absorb the cost of certain ambulance communications for local emergency services.
The administration building, which houses the county offices near the Martha's Vineyard Airport, is budgeted for $21,955, a cut of 25.5-percent from last year's budget, reflecting lower line items for fuel, repairs and maintenance, miscellaneous contractual services, and insurance.
A total of $4,158, or 4.4 percent, was cut from the health care access program, which helps Island residents get health care benefits under the state's universal health care laws, among other services.
The county treasurer's department, the largest department under direct control of the county commission, is slated for a cut of $3,742, or 1.4 percent. The total budgeted for that department is $255,152.
The Dukes County Advisory Board, made up of one selectman from each Island town, will hold a required public hearing on the county budget next Thursday, August 13. The hearing is scheduled for 3 pm at the county administration building, located at 9 Airport Road.
The county has not yet closed its books on the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009. County Manager Russell Smith says that year-end adjustments approved by the County Advisory Board, coupled with revenue projections, indicate that it will end the year with a surplus. Revenue projections, which are still being adjusted, total $2,015,454. A total of $1,916,921 was budgeted for last year, leaving a surplus of $98,533. That surplus will go to the county's unreserved fund, the equivalent of a town's free cash account.
Under the new legislation transferring the Dukes County sheriff's department to state control, employees of the Sheriff's office will become state employees. County property, including the Dukes County jail and communications center, will become state property. The legislation includes a provision that allows the county to buy back the jail for a nominal fee if the state ever decides it does not want to utilize the property as a jail.
"For the sheriff's department it provides a predictable and stable funding source," Sheriff Michael McCormack said. "I think it's going to be a seamless transfer. There won't be any visible changes in the operation of the sheriff. It will be behind the scenes, in the way the budget is funded. There really should be no concern about loss of services."
Sheriff McCormack said a lot of work has to happen before the transfer on January 1, including transferring of property, inventory of property, and defining the way budgets are handled and bills get paid.
Services and assessments
The seven elected, unpaid members of the Dukes County Commission exercise general legislative powers. They preside over a county government headed by a paid county manager who has full control over the administration of county services.
Although included in the county budget, the Sheriff's Department, the Registry of Deeds, both headed by elected officials, and the Martha's Vineyard Airport, under the statutory control of the county-appointed airport commission, have self-sustaining sources of revenue.
County departments and services over which the county manager exercises direct control include rodent control; county beaches such as State Beach and Norton Point; health care access services, and veteran's services.
Most of the money for county services directly under the control of the county manager comes from individual town assessments, based on real estate valuation. Last year, assessments to Vineyard towns totaled $797,364. Edgartown paid the largest share, $277,209, followed by Chilmark, $130,373; Oak Bluffs, $125,478; Tisbury, $122,808; West Tisbury, $114,799; and Aquinnah, $26,697.