Whoa, Chilmark says, to state demand
Chilmark selectmen reacted with disbelief Tuesday to a request for more than $170,000 in back local assessments from the Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Authority (VTA) for fiscal years 2000 through 2004.
The state Department of Revenue Division of Local Services (DLS) sent similar letters to four Island towns requesting the back payments. The other three towns are considering their obligations, but the Chilmark selectmen weren't ready to write a check Tuesday for the town's bill of $171,074.
"We can't do that. I don't know where they're coming from," selectmen Warren Doty said. He added that there is no explanation in the letter to the state's town treasurer, dated Oct. 12.
The letter attributed the under-assessment to a "communication breakdown between the Division of Local Services and the state treasurer's office," which led to VTA not receiving its entire local share of contributions. The letter apologized "for the inconvenience" and assured the town that measures have been taken so such an error wouldn't occur again.
Mr. Doty continued, saying that the mistake was not the VTA's, but the state's. "It's a disgrace for their fiscal operation," he said and suggested VTA go to the state for the money.
"It's an unconscionable thing to pay for their mistake this many years past," board chairman Riggs Parker agreed. However, noting that the town staff is researching the matter, he said it could be brought to a town meeting vote later. The bill cannot be put on a town meeting warrant without the selectmen's approval.
Tim Carroll, the Chilmark executive secretary, said he has been checking old records, which are not on the current computer system, and he doesn't yet have all the information.
Mr. Doty was adamant that the town not pay the bill. Chilmark does not receive enough state aid to pay for the assessment as some of the other Island towns do, he noted. He urged Mr. Carroll to respond to the VTA, saying, "The selectmen have seen the letter, and we're annoyed."
The selectmen took no action on the request.
In another state aid matter, the selectmen discussed their continued confusion over the Chapter 70 state aid formula for education. Mr. Doty attended the Island-wide meeting Oct. 18, when representatives from the state Department of Education tried to explain the formula's impact on the Island towns. Mr. Doty said he left the meeting still not understanding it.
At the end of that meeting, Mr. Doty said that state representatives agreed to work with the Vineyard's school superintendent to figure out the projected aid amounts for the Island towns based on the new formula. "No one has given them the formula. It's too complex to explain," he said. He said he does not know how much Chilmark would get under the formula.
Mr. Doty suggested that the selectmen ask one town resident to gather the facts on the issue and report. They agreed to ask Frank Yeomans of the town finance committee to take on that task.
The selectmen also heard a report from Maxwell McCreery of the personnel board, which is recommending that the selectmen adopt a plan for a town shellfish department and revise the shellfish constable's position. To develop the plan, the board suggests the selectmen form a citizen committee that would have at least one person of expertise in marine biology.
"I feel probably local sources could be called upon," Mr. McCreery said. "We would like to get started right away."
The current budget for the shellfish program is about $30,000 to $35,000, Mr. Carroll said. A new department could affect the budget. The deadline for submitting proposals for next year's town budget is Dec. 27.
The selectmen agreed with the recommendation that the shellfish program needs review and discussed possible candidates who might be called upon as resources or committee members. They agreed to establish a committee of five to study the shellfish program. Selectmen Frank Fenner and Mr. Doty will seek the members. "I think the town would support a shellfish department, based on the past year's experience," Mr. Parker said.
In other business, the selectmen approved the personnel board's recommendation to upgrade the pay and grade of the library assistant director, and the youth services librarian.
Finally, they granted a commercial shellfish bay scallop license to Wes Brighton of Menemsha.