Advisory board approves a draft Dukes County budget
The Dukes County finance advisory board has approved a draft $4.6 million county operating budget for fiscal year 2007, which begins on July 1, 2006.
The draft budget, which now goes back to the seven county commissioners for any changes and their final approval, includes a two percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for county employees.
County commissioners and advisory board members had said repeatedly they wanted to include a COLA in the 2007 budget, but had struggled to find a funding source, as they worked to close a $77,000 gap in the budget.
Last week, county manager E. Winn Davis proposed that a COLA could be paid for with money that the county expects to receive if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approves a land deal between the county and the airport. If approved, the agreement would free up approximately $160,000 that is currently held in an escrow account.
Mr. Davis said that he was confident that the money would become available within the 2007 fiscal year. He proposed that the county earmark $50,000 of the money for a two percent COLA. The advisory board members approved the plan.
The Wednesday night advisory board vote was preceded by a lengthy debate over a county proposal to generate $50,000 through new fees charged for the services of the county engineer. County officials had proposed that the towns pay the county engineer an hourly fee of $50 for work that qualifies for state reimbursements under the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
Tristan Israel, advisory board member from Tisbury argued adamantly against the additional charges, calling it "double dipping." He said that the TIP work should be covered by the annual county assessment that the towns pay every year. "Call it what you want, but this is a $50,000 charge to the towns because you [the county] are in a budget crunch," said Mr. Israel.
Art Smadbeck, advisory board member from Edgartown, championed the budget and defended the additional fees for the county engineer. "This is a valuable service," said Mr. Smadbeck. "I would rather see us keep it and pay a subsidized fee for it than lose it altogether."
After more than an hour of back and forth, Mr. Smadbeck proposed a revised fee structure for the engineering department. Instead of different hourly rates for different types of projects, the towns would pay a flat rate of $35 an hour for engineering services. The proposed fee structure would not change the bottom line of the budget, and TIP projects would still be paid for with an additional fee on top of the town's annual assessments.
The other advisory board members voted to amend the budget to include the new fee structure. After further discussion the board voted unanimously to approve the draft budget.
The advisory board, which includes one selectmen from each Island town, must still approve the final budget before it goes to the state for approval. The advisory board members include Mr. Smadbeck, Mr. Israel, John Early of West Tisbury (chairman), Michael Dutton of Oak Bluffs, Warren Doty of Chilmark, and Jim Newman of Aquinnah, who was not present at last Wednesday's meeting.
The seven towns of the County of Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, pay 16.5 percent of the county's operating budget through annual assessments. County taxpayers payers pay nearly 40 percent of the budget that does not include the airport.
In fiscal year 2007, the seven towns that make up the county will be charged the following annual assessments: Aquinnah, $28,039; Chilmark $147,764; Edgartown, $252,801; Oak Bluffs, $117,499; Tisbury, $106,372; West Tisbury, $108,152; and Gosnold, $8,901.