Oak Bluffs says whoa on Martha’s Vineyard Commission budget action


Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton asked the Martha’s Vineyard Commission yesterday to delay approval of its 2010 fiscal year budget, so that selectmen may have more of an opportunity to review it.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is scheduled to discuss and vote tonight on a $1,168,885 budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2009. By law, once the budget is ratified, the member towns are obligated to pay their assessments, which this year total $803,885.

The only town to meet with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to review the budget, which was finalized in late December, was Edgartown.

Mr. Dutton said that many of Martha’s Vineyard’s selectmen, including those in Oak Bluffs, would be away Thursday attending a conference. He wrote, “Given the amounts the towns are assessed by regional entities and given the state of our budgets for 2010, I believe it is important that the selectmen at least have an opportunity to attend and comment upon the Martha’s Vineyard Commission budget prior to its adoption… Also, I am asking that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission send the proposed budgets to Martha’s Vineyard selectmen and FinComs prior to the vote.”

Mr. Dutton told The Martha’s Vineyard Times yesterday he had not seen the budget and was unaware that it contained a three-percent cost of living increase (COLA) and one percent-performance increase for Martha’s Vineyard Commission employees. In an effort to hold the line on its budget and avoid layoffs, Oak Bluffs does not plan to include COLAs in next year’s budget. Edgartown has announced a similar plan to withhold COLA adjustments.

“We are trying our best not to increase our salary line items over and above what we are contractually obligated to do,” said Mr. Dutton. “We are trying to avoid a layoff, and certainly it makes it difficult when any regional body does something over and above what the respective towns are doing.”

Yesterday, Mark London, Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director, told The Martha’s Vineyard Times that any decision to postpone certification of the budget would be up to the commission members. He said Edgartown was the only town to request a meeting.

Mr. London said the Martha’s Vineyard Commission prepared its draft budget based on what it thought the towns were doing. “We were told, for example, that Edgartown was going to have a four-percent COLA, plus their step increases and longevity increases. Subsequently, they changed their minds.”

Asked why the Martha’s Vineyard Commission proposes to increase salaries when many taxpayers are not receiving pay raises or in some cases may be losing jobs, Mr. London at first said that was a policy question better answered by a commission leader. Then, he added that it was the difference between public service and private enterprise. “Some people go into business and they make millions of dollars,” he said. “Some people go into public service and they won’t make millions of dollars, but on the other hand they generally will have more steady employment. So, different kinds of work offer different kinds of advantages and disadvantages.”

Christina Brown of Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard Commission chairman, drew a distinction between town employees, who benefit from annual step increases, and Martha’s Vineyard Commission employees, who do not. She said the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has hard working employees, and it is only fair that they be treated like other public workers.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is a regional land use permitting and planning body with broad powers to regulate development on Martha’s Vineyard. The bulk of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s income comes from Dukes County taxpayers through individual town assessments based on property tax valuation.

The FY 2010 assessments by town are: Edgartown, $276,747; Chilmark, $130,468; Oak Bluffs, $125,573; Tisbury, $122,648; West Tisbury, $114,522; Aquinnah, $26,799; and Gosnold, $7,128.