MVC budget rise modest
In an early round of the Vineyard's municipal budget season, the Martha's Vineyard Commission last Thursday approved a $1,167,625 operating budget for fiscal year (FY) 2011, which begins on July 1. The total is an increase of $6,128 over the budget for the current fiscal year.
For the second year in a row, Edgartown taxpayers will see an increase and Chilmark taxpayers will see a decrease in the annual assessments they pay to the Island's powerful regional planning and regulatory body.
Last year, Island officials roundly criticized the MVC for including a three-percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) and one-percent merit increase in the FY 2010 budget, at a time when towns and taxpayers, many on fixed incomes or self-employed, were being buffeted by the recession.
The new budget contains no COLAs but does provide for merit raises averaging 2.5 percent for the commission's 10 employees. Some will get more and some less, according to MVC administrator Jeff Wooden, based on performance evaluations.
In its budget notes, the MVC said, "After the towns and other entities have adopted their budgets, the commission is committed to revise the MVC salary adjustment to be aligned with the average of the other entities."
The MVC does not include in the salary line item an additional $25,700, which the MVC calls a "salary adjustment for health." That money will be used to insulate employees from a change made this year in the share they are required to contribute to pay for health insurance premiums.
In the past, the MVC contributed 90 percent and employees 10 percent toward the cost of health insurance. The commission has changed that ratio to a 75-25 split, the same proportion used by Island towns.
"The economic situation continues to place great strain on the commission and the towns," the MVC said in the budget introduction. "The commission's anticipated grant revenue projections continue to be significantly lower than before the crisis. This has resulted in a significant effort to restrain expenses."
The FY 2011 total operating budget of $1,167,625 reflects a $6,128 increase over FY 2010. The MVC trimmed costs on the administrative side of the ledger, eliminated the salary for a summer intern, and changed insurance plans.
The largest hike was in legal fees, up from $46,000 to $60,000, to accommodate an active lawsuit and projected legal costs associated with wind energy regulatory activities on land and water.
The budget does not include a separate accounting for the Island Plan, the ambitious multi-year planning effort completed last year at a cost of more than $300,000.
Income is described as the total of town assessments ($794,125), interest/other income ($45,000) and grants/contracts/gifts ($328,500).
The bulk of the MVC's income comes from Dukes County taxpayers through individual town assessments based on property tax valuation. All seven towns in Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, share the cost of planning, according to their relative equalized property valuation. The regulatory portion of the budget is only divided among the six Island towns, as the MVC's regulatory authority does not apply to Gosnold.
Edgartown, the Island's largest town in terms of total property valuation, would see its assessment rise from $274,203 to $286,829 in FY 2010. Aquinnah, the Island's smallest town, would see an increase from $26,553 to $29,539.
Chilmark's assessment drops from $129,269 to $120,146; Gosnold's from $7,063 to $6,870; Oak Bluffs' would decrease from $124,419 to $118,757; Tisbury goes from $121,521 to $118,721 and West Tisbury from $113,469 to $113,264.
Island taxpayers, who pay the bill for the regional planning agency, have no say over the assessments that appear as a line item on their respective town's budget presented at annual town meeting in the spring.
In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mark London, MVC executive director, rebuffed the notion that the salary adjustment was a raise and said the point is that the overall compensation remained the same. "If health care costs do not rise faster than other costs there would be no difference," he said. "In that health care costs are anticipated to rise faster than other costs, we anticipate a savings in the longer term."
Mr. London referred budget policy questions to John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs, MVC clerk-treasurer. Reached by telephone, Mr. Breckenridge told The Times he preferred to receive questions in writing by email and would be happy to respond.
Mr. Breckenridge was asked several questions, including why the "salary adjustment for health," was not included in the salary line item and what he might say to taxpayers about the budget increase, at a time when many taxpayers will see no raises and are attempting to cut costs.
Mr. Breckenridge responded with an edited version of remarks he said he made to elected officials in Edgartown and Chilmark and before the MVC last week, prior to formal adoption of the budget. His complete remarks are available here.
About the salary adjustment, Mr. Breckenridge said, "Last week we presented our budget to joint meetings of the boards of selectmen and finance committees in Edgartown and Chilmark. I am pleased to report that they did not express major concerns and were supportive of the steps we have taken to hold the line with our budget.
We handled the transition in the healthcare split in the same way that it was done a few years ago in Oak Bluffs and now under consideration by the County, namely by offsetting the change from 90/10 to 75/25 with a salary adjustment for health care.
"To be transparent and with the advice of Island Fin Com members, this is shown as a separate line item in this year's budget. The commission felt that the current overall compensation of our employees is reasonable and, with respect to health care, the total compensation for each employee remains exactly the same in the Fiscal 2011 budget year."
Regarding the budget increase, Mr. Breckenridge said, "The overall budget total remains virtually unchanged from last year, increasing by only $6,128, and the overall assessments to the towns decreased by $2,372."