Take a careful look
The budget for Dukes County government activities under the direct control of the county commissioners is $653,000, which is just 14 percent of the county's $4.6 million annual spending. Eighty-six percent of county spending is overseen by others, mainly the airport commission and the state government. And thank goodness for that, because who would want the airport, the treasury, the Registry of Deeds, the sheriff's department, or the airport to be in the grip of the county commissioners?
Of the $653,000 that the county controls, $207,000, or 32 percent, is accounted for by the office of the county commissioners, including their appointed manager, and by the associate commissioners and the running of the county's administration building. In exchange for the mess the county commissioners have made of nearly everything they control, Vineyard taxpayers pony up about $770,000.
Having done their jobs poorly heretofore, the seven commissioners want more money to spend next year. To balance a fiscal 2007 budget out of whack by about $80,000, the commissioners propose to increase rates and add fees for some county services. The county finance advisory is considering the budget right now, and taxpayers should watch carefully. There is no justification for added fees in the rodent and engineering departments, as the county would like to do, and there is every reason to demand cutbacks and efficiencies, especially in the office of the county commissioners.
Plus, the likely costs of the judgment in the county's lawsuit with its own airport commission and two employees of the airport will be several hundred thousand dollars, money the county doesn't have. And planning for these costs is not part of the fiscal 2007 spending proposal.
The budget for rodent control is $61,303, for engineering services $75,550. But these services might be provided by independent private contractors, or more efficiently, in the case of the engineer who has proven himself valuable, by the towns agreeing among themselves to pay the engineer directly, bypassing the county altogether.
On the revenue side, we suspect that the county budget is in fact more out of balance than the commissioners admit. The advisory board members should look carefully at past revenue side budgets for such things as rodent control and beach stickers. In each case, one year's budget has proposed significant increases in anticipated revenue, even though in the prior year the department failed to realize the lower revenue targets that had been projected. What then justified increasing revenue targets? Only the need for a virtually balanced budget.
The rodent control budget is a case in point. Revenue as of the end of last month was perhaps $8,000 (the records are ambiguous), against a $12,500 target. The expense side budget for the current year was under $60,000. The fiscal 2007 proposal calls for $20,000 in revenue, a two-thirds jump, and spending will rise above $61,000. It is not reasonable to think the department will reach the 2007 revenue target. We suspect revenue inflation lurks elsewhere in the county budget as well.
The county deserves the careful consideration of voters and taxpayers, represented in this instance by the county finance advisory committee. By its performance, it has earned the very strictest scrutiny. County government is contentious, expansionary, confused, and inefficient. It cannot count on the continued indulgence of Vineyard voters, many of whom now see it for the shambles it is.