County manager cautions bosses on budget and dwindling reserve
One week into the 2008 fiscal year and still without an approved budget, outgoing Dukes County manager Winn Davis has advised the Dukes County commissioners not to rely heavily on a reserve account that provides a buffer against unexpected expenses.
The $4.8 million operating budget the county manager presented to the county commissioners last month included several department cuts designed to balance the fiscal year (FY) 2008 budget, which began on July 1. However, individual commissioners were unhappy with some of the proposed cuts and asked Mr. Davis to restore the money.
Mr. Davis said the only alternative source of money that is available is the reserve account, which he compared to a town stabilization fund. He said that restoring budget cuts would leave approximately $50,000 in the unreserved account. "Which is way too low," he said. "It's like a town having no stabilization fund; bad idea."
The budget Mr. Davis initially presented to the commissioners included cuts in the county rodent control department, engineering department, health council and the county manager's salary.
Mr. Davis said that to make the cuts in rodent control and engineering, he cut the salary and the work hours of county rodent officer T.J. Hegarty ($37,877 to $28,988) and engineer Steve Berlucci ($70,500 to $54,461), each by one-quarter.
In another cut designed to balance the budget, Mr. Davis, who is paid a salary of $79,194, did not fully fund his job. Mr. Davis, who resigned and is scheduled to leave August 17, said he expects the search for his replacement to consume six months.
He also eliminated funding for the health and environment department. The department's primary function was water testing but it has been without an employee for some time.
Mr. Davis said that at a recent meeting the commissioners made their preferences known. He was asked to fully fund the one-man rodent control department and make no cuts in public health programs and emergency management.
Mr. Davis's initial budget allocated $40,000 from the reserve fund leaving a balance of $70,000. His new proposal takes an additional $20,000.
"I took their concerns back and came up with the alternative approach to balancing the budget, which I don't recommend, but I gave it to them so they could understand the impact of doing what they wanted to do," he said. "It would require going into our unreserved cash more than I can defend or recommend."
The county commissioners are expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the budget. Because the fiscal year has started, the county is restricted to a one-twelfth budget.
Mr. Davis said his job is to prepare a county budget, then it is up to the county commissioners "to do with it what they will, and beyond that the advisory board."
Last year, the FY 2007 county budget, which ended on June 30, was balanced based on anticipated revenue increases in several county departments that have historically not met their revenue projections.
For example, rodent control, which cost taxpayers $62,899, was expected to produce an increase in revenue from $12,500 to $20,000. In a budget statement dated June 6, 2007, the department's revenue year to date was $12,859.
The engineering department, which accounted for no revenue in FY 2006, was projected to generate $52,500. Revenue year to date is $8,362.
The sale of Cape and Islands license plates, which was expected to generate $115,000, had generated $78,506 for the county as of June 6.
Another major source of county revenue is excise taxes on deeds. The FY 2007 budget showed $185,000 in projected revenue. The FY 2008 budget projects $150,000, while income year to date is $125,155.
Mr. Davis said the FY 2008 budget includes revised revenue projections that reflect the downturn in the real estate market and a fall-off in license plate sales.
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.
In fiscal year 2008, 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.
Once the county commissioners approve the budget, it next goes to the Dukes County finance advisory board made up of one selectman from each town before it is sent to the state's County Finance Review Board for final approval.
At the request of the county commissioners, this week the county manager said that he placed an ad for a new county manager in The Times and the Cape Cod Times. The search for Mr. Davis's replacement comes against the backdrop of an examination of county government by a county charter review commission created by the legislature.
Mr. Davis said that following his departure, county treasurer Noreen Flanders, who is also deputy county manager, would be able to act in his stead.
The ad says that the county is seeking a county manager to oversee county agencies that provide a range of regional services. According to the job description, the county manager oversees the administration of a $3.9 million budget and 73 employees.
Although the county manager serves as the administrative manager for the seven county commissioners, the actual responsibilities are limited.
The Martha's Vineyard Airport, which by statute is under the control of the appointed airport commission and their professional airport manager, represents more than half the county budget. The FY 2008 budget projects airport expenses at $2,623,443 and revenue at $2,739,499. State and federal regulations prohibit any use of airport revenue for non-airport related uses.
The sheriff's department ($505,466), registry of deeds ($262,931), and office of the county treasurer ($234,731) are headed by elected county officials.