Plans made to form all-Island finance committee
Island taxpayers fund many regional bodies across the Island, such as county government, the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA), and the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC). However, town finance committees do not review those budgets, which are funded by each town's assessment presented to voters at the annual town meetings in the spring.
Individual voters, and the finance committees charged with advising voters on financial matters, are often unaware of the details fueling the various assessments. In the case of Dukes County, the assessment does not even appear before voters.
A Times survey shows that the Island towns were charged nearly $13 million in fiscal year 2006 to fund just six regional bodies, including the MVC; county government; the Martha's Vineyard shellfish group; the VTA; the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority; and the regional high school.
As a way to provide additional oversight for spending on these and other regional budget items, a group of finance committee members from across the Island is looking to create a formal, all-Island finance committee, dubbed the Martha's Vineyard Finance and Advisory Association.
Joe Alosso, Oak Bluffs finance committee member, is spearheading the effort.
"No single town can do anything about these budgets for these regional bodies," said Mr. Alosso. "They are just there, and they get approved. What we are hoping to do is put together a group that will look over these budgets and then report back to their respective finance committees."
Mr. Alosso said that the all-Island finance committee would function much like the all-Island selectmen's association, which has no legal authority, but provides a forum for issues of regional impact. He said the all-Island finance committee would include finance committee members from each Island town who would act in an advisory capacity to their respective boards.
"I think accountability and the sharing of information are two things we're hoping to achieve," said Mr. Alosso. "We want to take a look at these budgets that normally just show up and get passed, and really make sure that we are getting the most bang for our buck."
Borrowing the language from the agreement that led to the creation of the All-Island Selectmen's Association, Mr. Alosso has drafted a resolution that would create the finance and advisory association. He said that he would present the resolution to representatives from the town finance committees at a meeting on Nov. 7.
"We have been meeting very unofficially off and on, and that has been great, but we want to be official, and we want people to take us seriously," said Mr. Alosso.
George Balco, Tisbury finance committee member, said that he supports creating a regional finance and advisory association. "Anything that gets us together to discuss items of mutual interest is helpful," he said. "It puts us all in the same ballpark so we can share information and hopefully it will give each town a little more strength to hold its own against regional bodies that tend to get overpowering."
Both Mr. Balco and Mr. Alosso said that the budget for the office of the Vineyard superintendent of schools would be one of the first items up for discussion. Mr. Alosso said that the superintendent has already invited the fledgling association to a meeting next month to discuss the budget.
"In the past, the superintendent's office has gone before each of the town finance committees, but it ends up being six different presentations," said Mr. Alosso. "You end up with one town asking questions and another town asking questions, but we never know what the other towns are asking. Meeting as an all-Island board will give us a way to be more unified."
Among the other regional budgets, Mr. Alosso said he would like to see the all-Island finance committee look at the Dukes County budget. "We're all very curious about the county budget," he said.
The fiscal year 2006 county operating budget is $4.45 million. More than 16 percent of the budget, $750,762, comes from an annual assessment paid by the towns that make up Dukes County, including the six Island towns and Gosnold. Those assessments come straight from the state's Cherry Sheet deductions. The county finance advisory board, which includes one selectmen from each town, must approve the county budget, before it is sent to the state to be ratified. The advisory board voted unanimously to approve the budget in August.
Mr. Alosso said, "The county goes through the county process, but the assessments just show up on each town's cherry sheet and we have to pay it every year. That's what this whole association is about, looking at these budgets that nobody ever sees."