Chilmark takes up lean budget, up just 2.83%
Fishing will figure large when Chilmark voters gather Monday at 7:30 pm in the Chilmark Community Center for the 2007 annual town meeting.
The 24-article annual town meeting warrant includes proposals designed to revitalize the town's shellfish resources and a request to revisit the town's definition of a commercial fisherman, always something of a linguistic Gordian knot, when the issue is raised for public discussion.
Chilmark heads into annual town meeting sticking to its thrifty ways. The proposed fiscal year 2008 annual operating budget is $6,043,060, an increase of $166,498, or a 2.83-percent increase over the FY 2007 budget of $5,876,562.
Voters return to the community center on Wednesday from noon to 8 pm to elect town officers. The only contest is for a three-year term on the board of selectmen (Election results will be posted on mvtimes.com as soon as they become available).
Incumbent selectman J.B. Riggs Parker, a resident with a long record of town civic involvement, faces a challenge from Karsten Larsen, a life-long commercial fisherman and a newcomer to elected politics.
Budget barely budges
According to finance committee member Douglas Sederholm, the board of selectmen have kept a tight rein on town expenses. Selectman Warren Doty agreed. "I was
like the Grinch," he said of budget
Increases are balanced by cuts in department expenses. As a result, the budget increase was held to $166,498.
Salary increases in the FY 2008 budget are fueled by an across-the-board 3.6 percent cost of living increase for town employees, contractual obligations and new hires.
If the budget is approved with no changes, the selectmen's expenses would rise from $135,133 to $140,232, an increase attributable mostly to a rise in the salary of the executive secretary and receptionist/assistant. The assessors' salaries would rise from $53,948 to $58,395 on increases for the assistant assessor and temporary clerical help.
Police department salaries rise from $441,895 to $468,823. Fire department salaries increase from $54,550 to $57,050. Harbormaster salaries go from $90,562 to $97,631.
Beach salaries rise from $206,364 to $235,700. According to Mr. Doty, the town plans to hire an additional lifeguard for Squibnocket Beach, an increasingly popular spot.
The cost of providing employee benefits will get more expensive in FY 2008, rising from $585,181 to $658,041, in part to cover the associated benefits for new employee positions.
Several department budgets increased as a result of added expenses. The largest jump was for comfort station expenses. The cost of maintaining the Menemsha bathroom facility would rise from $31,510 to $61,410.
Bu that number is deceptive, because the cost of trash removal was moved from the harbor category to the comfort station category. As a consequence, harbor expenses plummeted from $73,140 to $53,265.
Ambulance service expenses would rise from $109,344 to $135,126, a result of advanced services approved last year.
The tax collector's expenses would rise from $13,497 to $14,525. Legal expenses would rise from $50,000 to $60,000. Library expenses are up from $54,150 to $68,200.
Some department expenses dropped. For example, the town clerks' expenses would go from $5,120 to $3,765. Planning board expenses drop from $15,600 to $14,875. Housing committee expenses would shrink from $26,907 to $23,917.
There are also savings in the category of waste collection/disposal expenses. That number goes from $203,832 to $169,133.
Cost under the heading of total general government rise from $852,108 to $917,948.
Total public safety increase from $1,005,103 to $1,068,970.
The other big claim on the budget is education. Chilmarkers will see a short-lived savings in the total school assessment when they take up their annual budget. The regional high school district assessment rises from $320,641 to $366,628. The Up-Island District assessment drops from $1,473,480 to $1,374,401. In total, educating Chilmark children would cost taxpayers $1,741,029, a drop of $53,092 from FY 2007.
But that figure is based on the current, shared school funding formula and not the state's so-called statutory formula, already adopted by Oak Bluffs. The state formula is expected to add approximately $70,691 to Chilmark's high school assessment.
When it comes time to take up the annual warrant. Mr. Doty said he suspects there will be some questions regarding the escalating costs for a new fire department brush breaker. Mr. Doty said that when it was first proposed, the all-wheel drive truck was originally going to cost taxpayers approximately $200,000.
The price tag is now approaching $415,000. "That's a lot of money," he said.
Chilmarkers will also be asked to spend to improve shellfish propagation in town waters, an effort that would have the added benefit of helping to clean the water, said Mr. Doty.
The multi-prong effort includes an article to create a five-member shellfish steering committee; an article to establish the position of a full-time shellfish propagation officer and appropriate $50,306 to fund the position; and an article to appropriate $15,000 to fund the first year of a five-year shellfish restoration plan.
Those expenses would be in addition to the $73,045 included in the operating budget for the town shellfish constable, shellfish department expenses, and Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group assessment.
Mr. Doty said that rebuilding the town's scallop, oyster, and quahog stocks would benefit the town's recreational and commercial fishermen and would improve overall water quality.
The town's fishing future is also expected to be part of the discussion when it comes time to take up the recurring question of what makes someone a commercial fisherman. Chilmark voters tackled that nettlesome issue back in 1996, but changes in state and federal regulations as well as the Island's commercial fishing landscape have prompted calls for another look.
The proposed article would toss the earlier definition overboard and make the job of defining a commercial fisherman the annual responsibility of the selectmen.
Fishermen who meet the adopted criteria would be able to take advantage of harborfront privileges reserved for commercial fishermen, including low rents for town-owned property on Menemsha harbor.
Access to the water is a valuable privilege in the congested harbor. The town currently leases nine lots along the town bulkhead to businesses that include Larsen's Fish Market, Menemsha Texaco, and individual fishermen. The town leases seven smaller lots on the east side of the spit of land that divides Menemsha Basin from Menemsha Creek. Rents range from $10 to $900 a year.
Climate change, another hot-button issue, will be presented to voters in the form of an article that has as its goal the creation of a district of critical planning concern with an overarching set of regulations that would govern future energy use on Martha's Vineyard.
Voters will be asked to begin the process of creating the Island-wide DCPC, which would fall under the superseding authority of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), the Island's powerful land use regulatory body.
Energy DCPC articles in one form or another appeared on four other town meeting warrants. Only Edgartown refused to follow suit, after town leaders questioned the timing and lack of public process.
In Aquinnah, where the DCPC initiative originated with selectman Jim Newman, Aquinnah voters, at a special town meeting on March 7, supported a nomination by selectmen of a DCPC designation, but only after dropping language that referenced "new or renovated structures which demand high amounts of non-renewable energy, for example, structures having more than 2,000 square feet of interior space within their weather walls at ground level."
Tisbury voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar article, asking selectmen to forward a nomination to the MVC.
Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury voters approved warrant articles that asked voters to support the appointment by selectmen of three representatives to draft a nomination with proposed guidelines and regulations for an Island-wide energy DCPC.
The article that will be presented to Chilmark voters also seeks to appoint three representatives, but it also differs in one respect. It requires that any draft guidelines and regulations created by the committee be approved at a town meeting prior to sending the nomination to the MVC.
Town boards, taxpayer groups, and the MVC may nominate critical districts. Once a nomination is presented to the MVC, the MVC votes to accept or reject it.
If the nomination is accepted, a moratorium on the issuing of development permits of all sorts goes into effect. It may allow for exceptions by special permit. The next step is a vote on whether to accept the DCPC designation, followed by the creation of new regulations that must be approved by voters at town meeting. The entire process may take up to one year.