Tisbury questions Martha's Vineyard Commission budget
The Martha's Vineyard Commission's (MVC) budget, approved last week, came under fire at a Tisbury selectmen's meeting on Jan. 15. During a discussion about Tisbury's assessment for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, Fire Chief John Schilling protested the lack of accountability for administrative expenses by the housing authority and the MVC.
Mr. Schilling was particularly critical of the amount the regional agencies pay for health care costs. He said it was not right that town employees are asked to contribute 25 percent towards their healthcare and benefits packages without expecting the same from county or MVC employees, who contribute 10 percent.
MVC executive director Mark London told The Times this week that the commission had taken steps to reduce health-care costs, but there were legal concerns about offering different contribution rates to different employees. Mr. London also said that if employees pay more for their health care, a benefit tied into their salaries, the MVC would probably have to adjust their salaries to make up for it.
When asked what recourse Island towns have if they are unhappy with the approved FY09 budget, Mr. London said that the commission is an independent agency, with its own finance committee (FinCom), and as such, its budget is not subject to the approval of town finance committees. "We had a draft budget in mid-December and did send it out to some of the towns," he said. "At the request of Edgartown to really sharpen the pencil and look at any additional possible savings that could be done, the MVC FinCom did take a new look and managed to make a few more cuts." In the budget approved last week, Edgartown's FY09 town assessment went up from $247,548 to $274,203.
The MVC budget apparently flew under the radar of Tisbury officials, however. At last week's selectmen's meeting on Jan. 15, selectman Tristan Israel said, "Unless we call our regional authority reps in, we don't see them. We sent a letter out in August to all regional bodies, in addition to the high school, about letting the selectmen know about increases."
Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee added, "I would hope that if the MVC budget is upping our town assessment by more than 10 percent, we would be notified."
In the MVC's FY09 budget approved last week, Tisbury's town assessment for the MVC went up by $17,298, from $104,223 to $121,521, a 16.6-percent increase over FY08.
Tisbury's finance and advisory committee (FinCom) chairman Muriel Mill said on Wednesday that although she received a copy of the MVC budget in December, the selectmen had not asked her for feedback on it.
Mr. London said although it is too late for Island towns to effect changes in the FY09 budget, the MVC would take any suggestions and integrate them into the budgeting process for next year. The MVC's FinCom members include a commissioner from each Island town, as well as Tisbury commissioner Ned Orleans, who chairs the committee as the MVC's clerk/ treasurer.
Mr. Orleans has served as Tisbury's appointed at-large commissioner since 2004. In December, he submitted a letter to the Tisbury selectmen requesting his reappointment for another one-year term. The position was not advertised prior to the selectmen's Dec. 18 meeting, an oversight Mr. Israel said should be corrected next year to open the process to other candidates.
Mr. Orleans was absent from the meeting at which he was reappointed, which occurred in the same month the draft MVC budget was sent to Island towns.
Noting Mr. Orleans's absence, and the lack of periodic reports from him about the MVC, Mr. Israel said the selectmen should let Mr. Orleans know that they would like to see him a few times a year.
Mr. Israel and selectman Denys Wortman voted to reappoint Mr. Orleans to the MVC. Selectman chairman Tom Pachico was absent.
"I think Mr. Orleans represents our town very well," Mr. Israel said after the vote.