Education costs drive increases in the 2016 West Tisbury town budget

The tax rate will likely increase from $5.41 to $5.70 for fiscal year 2015.

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West Tisbury School. — File photo by Janet Hefler

Updated Thursday, February 12, 4:33 pm

West Tisbury is looking at increases in the town budget and the tax rate for fiscal year 2016. Many property owners will see a decrease in property value assessments, which will mitigate but not eliminate the effects of the rate increase.

The 2016 preliminary budget is projected to be just under $17 million, a $1.07 million increase, or 6.7 percent over 2015, according to a report presented by town accountant Bruce Stone to the selectmen at their Feb. 4 meeting. Mr. Stone said then that the proposed budget exceeds the annual levy limit set by Proposition 2 ½. The selectmen plan to continue budget talks at future meetings.

The largest single increase is Up-Island Regional School District spending, which is up nearly $752,000 — 11.8 percent — over the current year. The second largest increase is West Tisbury’s portion of the preliminary Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget, $127,335, up 5 percent. The third largest increase is library spending, with a total increase for personnel and other expenses of $87,000.

Tax rate

Principal town assessor Dawn Barnes told selectmen that pending state Department of Revenue approval of the latest property value assessments, the tax rate for West Tisbury real estate will increase from $5.41 per $1,000 of valuation to $5.70 for fiscal year 2015. She said that the tax on the average town property, valued at $960,563, would increase by $278, from $5,197 to $5,475.

Ms. Barnes told The Times last month that overall property values have decreased since the last revaluation by about 5.6 percent, due in part to a relatively flat real estate market the past several years. She said the decrease in assessed values has contributed to the increase in the tax rate, which is set by the state, since the tax rate is a function of budget costs and assessed property values.

In a related matter, selectmen voted unanimously to continue the single tax rate for all properties for the 2016 fiscal year. The selectmen are required by state law to make a decision annually on whether to create separate tax rates for businesses and/or for year-round residents.

Ms. Barnes said that the board of assessors will produce a complete analysis of the residential exemption option and its implications prior to next year’s rate decision. She said that of 2,384 parcels of land in the town, just over 1,400 might qualify for a residential exemption if it were to be instituted.

Of Island towns, only Tisbury gives year-round residents a tax break — their homes are valued at 18 percent less than seasonal residents, and a there is a commensurate lower rate for businesses. The prevailing argument for the break is that it helps compensate year year-round residents for the additional costs of living on the Island, according to Tisbury tax assessor Ann Marie Cywinski.

In other business, selectmen voted unanimously to recommend an increase in the highway department superintendent’s stipend from $17,000 to $22,000. Selectman and chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, who brought the issue before the board, said the $5,000 increase puts the compensation closer to but probably still a great distance from what the town would have to pay a replacement, whenever the current superintendent, Richard T. Olsen, steps down.

The Mill Brook

Selectmen also voted unanimously to award the Mill Brook watershed study contract to the ESS Group Inc., on the recommendation of the Mill Brook watershed management planning committee. ESS, the only respondent to the request for proposal (RFP) for the study, was previously contracted to prepare an engineering and environmental study of the Mill Pond, which they submitted in January 2012. Concern over the future of the Mill Pond has sparked the watershed study.

ESS submitted a bid of $45,000 — $15,000 more than the $30,000 approved for the study at town meeting — but committee member Selena Roman said that ESS agreed to complete the study for the allocated amount using the help of volunteers and other organizations to collect the data. Ms. Roman said that ESS agreed to establish the protocols and methodology, provide the equipment and materials, and help manage volunteers. Committee member John Christensen said the committee is in the process of contacting state and local organizations who have indicated they will provide assistance for the yearlong study. The groups include the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and nonprofits that own or manage conservation land in the watershed. He said the committee expects these groups will handle about 50 percent of the collection tasks.

Committee member Prudy Burt said that all of the groups that own land or conservation restrictions on land in the watershed have done baseline biological assessments of those properties, which can be used in the study.

In answer to a question from selectman Richard Knabel about when there might be a watershed management plan — the goal of the study — Mr. Christensen said the committee has begun the process of developing the plan from the data once it is collected. He said the committee estimated that it will need another $25,000 to complete the plan, including about $10,000 to hire a consultant. He also said that in order to properly manage the watershed in the future, there will be a need for long-term monitoring after the study is complete. Selectman and committee member Cynthia Mitchell said that she expected the request for more funds would be made no sooner than the 2016 town meeting.

In other business, Selena Roman, who volunteered to serve on the town’s energy committee, was appointed to that committee by a unanimous vote.

Selectmen unanimously approved the formation of a five-person committee to study the future needs of the highway department. The establishment of the committee is the result of discussions at previous selectmen’s meetings about the condition and plans for the Old Courthouse Road building used by the department.

A previous version of this story incorrectly implied that the new tax rate was for fiscal year 2016. It is for the fiscal year 2015.