Martha's Vineyard Commission approves budget, tackles DRI checklist revisions
The Martha's Vineyard Commission started the New Year with resolve on Jan. 17, adopting a revised, leaner fiscal 2009 (FY09) budget and reviewing proposed changes to the development of regional impact (DRI) checklist as well as the results of a study on how to expedite the Island's land use permitting processes.
Turning first to the FY09 budget, Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans, who heads the MVC finance committee (FinCom) as clerk/ treasurer, brought news of some budgetary belt-tightening. Last month after working with the MVC staff, Mr. Orleans said the FinCom had agreed to recommend a 4.4-percent increase in town assessments to the full commission. On second thought, Mr. Orleans said, they decided to take another look at the numbers, and as a result trimmed $6,500 from the budget under administration and operating costs, including advertising and communications, equipment contracts, purchases and repairs, and maintenance.
The $1.3 million FY09 budget approved last week includes the following town assessments: Aquinnah, $26,533; Chilmark, $129,269; Edgartown, $274,203; Gosnold, $7,063; Oak Bluffs, $124,419; Tisbury, $121,521; and West Tisbury, $113,469.
Although the MVC had been able to hold down town assessment increases to 2.5 percent in years past, Mr. Orleans said the FinCom members felt they could not go lower than a 3.5-percent increase for FY09 because of payroll increases in health and disability insurance and pension contributions.
MVC chairman Douglas Sederholm added that the overall budget decreased by 7.6 percent, which somewhat offsets the payroll increases.
Health and disability insurance costs will rise by about 26 percent for FY09, according to estimates provided by the Cape Cod Municipal Health Plan, subscribed to by the Island's municipal employees and educators, as well as the MVC staff and county employees.
However, unlike Island municipal employees and educators whose contribute 25 percent of their health insurance premium costs, the MVC staff and county employees contribute 10 percent. The discrepancy has not gone unnoticed, raising comment at a Tisbury selectmen's meeting last week (see related story).
In reviewing the budget, Mr. Sederholm pointed out that although the overall increase in the FY09 budget over FY08 is 4.3 percent and the increase in town assessments is 3.5 percent, some towns will bear more of the burden, due to an increase in real estate valuations. Edgartown's MVC assessment, for example, will rise by $26,655 due to an increase of about $2 billion in the town's recent real estate revaluations, he said.
Town assessments are based on a percentage of equalized property valuation. "With a total valuation of about $6.17 billion, among all six towns, Edgartown bears the greatest burden because of the greatest valuation," Mr. Sederholm explained.
After some discussion about changing the budget format, which follows the recommendation of finance committees Island-wide, the commissioners agreed it would be better instead for the MVC staff to provide a quarterly update showing actual expenditures as compared to the amounts budgeted. The budget was approved unanimously and is available here.
DRI checklist changes
"We had a pretty busy year," Mr. Sederholm remarked, following his quick recap of 27 DRI projects reviewed by the MVC in 2007. DRI analyst/planner Paul Foley provided the commissioners with a detailed summary of the DRIs, 16 of which were approved with conditions, and none denied. The other DRIs were remanded back to the towns, withdrawn, or granted extensions.
Mr. Sederholm asked Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) chairman Christina Brown to provide an overview of changes to the DRI checklist recommended by the committee.
Ms. Brown said the biggest change proposed, in response to discussions with town boards, is under the heading, "developments presumed to be developments of regional impact." In the past, the rule was, "Once a DRI, always a DRI."
The LUPC's proposed change would mean that development on properties for which a previous DRI application has been denied, withdrawn, or for which a previous DRI approval has expired without implementation, would not automatically be referred for review, unless it also meets the criteria for having regional impact.
As an example, Ms. Brown explained, suppose 10 years ago someone proposed building a hotel on some land, and the project went through the DRI process, was approved, and never built. Under the proposed checklist change, if ten years later the present owner came back with a request to divide the vacant property into two lots, which would not require review as a DRI, the project would not automatically be referred to the MVC just because it underwent DRI review in the past.
In addition to several definitions, which have been added, expanded or clarified, the proposed DRI checklist changes add the words "with concurrence" to a number of items, which will make for a shortened review, Ms. Brown said. The intent is to help town boards send only those projects with large regional impact to the MVC, she added.
The latest version of the proposed revised DRI checklist, dated 12/10/07, is available here. Ms. Brown encouraged the commissioners to review the draft checklist in advance of a public hearing scheduled for Feb. 21.
Under the MVC's governing legislation, Ms. Brown said the proposed DRI checklist revisions must undergo a public hearing, which is set for February 21 at 7:45 pm. Following the hearing, the DRI checklist will be submitted to the state's secretary of energy and environmental affairs for approval.
In other business, Mr. Sederholm appointed MVC Oak Bluffs commissioner Richard Toole as LUPC chairman and MVC Edgartown commissioner Jim Athearn as chairman of the Planning and Economic Development Committee for the next year.