MVC FY07 budget rises slightly, as do Island town assessments
Heading into the second year of an Island-wide planning effort, the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) recently approved an operating budget of $1,229,213 for fiscal year 2008 (FY08), which begins on July 1. This represents about a 1.2 percent increase over the FY07 budget of $1,214,923.
The MVC worked with the all-Island finance committee to create a new budget presentation format this year. In addition to an overall budget, the MVC budget and the budget for the Island Plan, the commission's major regional planning project, are detailed separately.
In looking at MVC budgets over the last four years, the spending plan for FY08 represents a 43 percent increase since FY05, when actual spending totaled $857,492. MVC executive director Mark London said that payroll costs, which amount to more than half of the MVC's expenses, account for the biggest budget increases. In fact, the FY08 payroll costs alone, $853,964, almost equal the MVC's total FY05 expenditures.
While payroll costs rose 6.6 percent overall, salaries increased by 4.5 percent, including a 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment and 1 percent performance reward. Payroll costs also include $138,050 for health and disability insurance, which increased by 10 percent over last year.
Pension plan costs increased by 14 percent, and health and disability insurance and retirees insurance by 10 percent over FY07.
The budget also includes $70,000 towards legal expenses, an increase of $20,000 over last year. The budget explanatory notes state that legal expenses were more than anticipated in FY06 and FY07 due to several new lawsuits filed against the MVC. One of them involves an appeal filed by Tisbury Fuel Services. Although a lower court upheld the MVC's denial of a development of regional impact application by the company to build a gas station on State Road in Vineyard Haven, Tisbury Fuel Services appealed the decision to a higher court.
The bulk of the MVC's income for the next fiscal year, $769,213, comes from Dukes County taxpayers through individual town assessments based on property tax valuation. The MVC's increase in town assessments amounts to a 2.4 percent increase over FY07 assessments of $750,923, down from an 8 percent increase in FY06 when the Island Plan first got underway.
All seven towns in Dukes County share the cost of planning, according to their relative equalized valuation. The regulatory portion of the budget is divided among the six Island towns, as the MVC's regulatory authority does not apply to Gosnold.
"For the town assessments, we managed with great difficulty to keep the overall increase to under two-and-a-half percent, even though the cost of living increase is more than that," Mr. London pointed out.
The total of FY08 town assessments is $769,213, compared to $750,923 in FY07. Edgartown taxpayers will pay the largest share, $253,577 (33 percent), followed by Chilmark, $148,361; Oak Bluffs, $118,120; West Tisbury, $108,388; Tisbury, $106,762; Aquinnah, $28,062; and Gosnold, $5,943.
The MVC town assessments are included as line items in the individual towns' operating budgets voted on at annual town meeting. In addition to town assessments, other income for FY08 includes grants and contracts, donations, and interest. A four-year grant from MassHighway and the Federal Transportation Department provides $230,000 every year to the MVC to cover all traffic-related issues on the Island and to fund a full-time transportation planner.
The town assessments also include a total of $40,000 towards the Island Plan, the MVC's largest single planning expense. In keeping with its primary role as a regional land use planning agency, the MVC initiated the Island Plan in 2005.
The MVC estimated that the cost would be $120,000 in the first year and $180,000 per year for the second and third years. Actual spending for FY06 came in at $54,000, due to a delayed start-up. In FY07, $180,000 was budgeted for the Island plan and $120,000 for FY08.
The goal of the three-year project is to address a whole range of issues such as growth, open space, water quality, housing, economic opportunities, traffic and transportation, affordable housing, and the future identity of the Vineyard through possible programs and regulations.
In October 2005, the MVC appointed a 20-member steering committee, chaired by Edgartown MVC commissioner Jim Athearn, to oversee the preparation of the comprehensive Island Plan. Last spring, the steering committee invited Islanders to participate in an online survey about what they thought should be the plan's priorities and key issues. Two public forums were held over the summer.
The steering committee identified four themes for the plan - community, ecology, economy, and land - as well as 10 topic areas, including housing, transportation, and water. Working groups on livelihood and commerce, housing, natural environment, energy and waste, and water began meeting last fall. Five more groups will be formed this spring.
"The work groups are hunkering down to sort out goals, objectives, and possible strategies," Mr. London said. "Our aim is to have some preliminary proposals for discussion with the broader public by the late spring. The steering committee is working on coordinating efforts between the various topics and has started to focus on specialty areas, particularly development and growth, and how it affects everything else."
In addition to town assessments, the Island Plan is funded by grants and donations from foundations and individuals. The FY08 Island Plan budget includes a line item for $80,000 towards contractual services for studies and consultants.
"This all depends on fundraising efforts underway," Mr. London said. "There is $40,000 coming from town assessments, and the rest from grants and donations. We are constantly assessing our available funds, and will not be doing studies unless we get grants and donations to pay for them."
Mr. London said he and staff members will attend Island towns' finance committee meetings if requested to answer questions about the MVC budget.