VTA also responsible for missing funds
While the state Division of Local Services (DLS) admits there was a breakdown in communication between various state agencies, spokesman Lydia Hill said the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) shares part of the blame for not keeping tabs on the missing assessment funds.
Last month DLS calculated, and outlined in various letters to the VTA, that four Island towns collectively owe more than $300,000 in local assessments intended for the VTA. The Times reported on the financial shortfalls in an Oct. 19 article titled "State flub puts town in arrears to VTA."
Ms. Hill said she is surprised and confused as to why the problem has gone on for so long without any resolution. According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue's DLS records, the VTA has been short money from their assessments since fiscal year 2000.
"If I were a town administrator, I would be very concerned about the level of financial oversight at the VTA," Ms. Hill said in a telephone conversation yesterday. Ms. Hill said the DLS became aware of the discrepancy in July. She said they have no record of communication from the VTA before this summer.
Ms. Hill admitted there was a lack of communication between the DLS and the state treasurer - and that a more efficient procedure has since been implemented - but that it was surprising that the VTA kept operating without making a concerted effort to collect those missing funds.
"If I was one of the town administrators in one of these four towns, I would be wondering why the transportation authority didn't pick this up a lot sooner," Ms. Hill said. "That's four years worth of money, and one would assume that she's getting these assessments because they need the money in order to run the authority."
The Times reported that the four Island towns owe more than $300,000 in local assessments intended for the VTA. Chilmark alone is responsible for $171,074; Aquinnah $67,638; Edgartown $61,664; and Tisbury $37,686, according to numbers supplied by DLS. The unpaid funds date back to 2000.
The way VTA funding works is that each town's VTA assessment is deducted from its state aid, when available. When the town's state aid is not enough to cover the assessment, a shortfall occurs, and the town must pay that amount. Only Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury collect enough in state aid to cover the shortfall each year. Chilmark, on the other hand, receives almost no state aid, so the assessment cannot be taken out of that fund.
The four affected towns had various reactions to the news that they owed large sums of money, and they are corresponding with state officials to schedule payments. Aquinnah and Edgartown said they were particularly worried about the costs and said they might have to schedule a reimbursement plan to pay off the debt.
After numerous phone calls and messages, The Times finally spoke with Angela Grant, head of the VTA, this week. She said she did all she could to alert the proper authorities to the shortfalls, when she first became aware of them, in 2000, but that beyond her written inquiries, her hands were tied.
"It's truly a state lack of communication between the DOR and DLS. It's a problem they created," Ms. Grant said. "The problem lies with the way the system's set up. It fell through the cracks on their end. It's been an ongoing problem for the past six years; it's not new news at all."
Ms. Grant said she has a hard time keeping track of funds that come in from the state, because they are deposited through an electronic payment into an account noting that they are for a local assessment, but do not indicate which town. She said that consequently she does not know which towns have paid and which have fallen short.
Ms. Grant said the last communication she had from local services was a call last week asking for confirmation that she received their letter the week before. She said VTA is now awaiting payment, which depends on when the individual towns pay the state treasurer.