Tisbury takes up $24 million budget, multiple overrides

The $24.2 million budget is up by 4.7 percent over last year.

File photo by Ralph Stewart

Veteran Tisbury meeting goers predict it will take at least two nights for voters to wade through a total of 54 articles on the special and annual town meetings warrants. Voters will be asked to take action on a range of issues that include putting the department of public works under the selectmen’s control, adding new town positions, and a $24,286,835 operating budget for fiscal year 2016 (FY16), an increase of about 4.7 percent over last year.

Voters begin work at 7 pm Tuesday in the Tisbury School gym. Town elections will be held on Tuesday, April 28, with contested races for the planning board and board of selectmen.

Voters also will be asked to approve a general Proposition 2.5 (Prop. 2.5) override and four debt-exclusion Prop. 2.5 overrides, which correspond to warrant articles.

The debt exclusions involve bonds to fund Tisbury’s share of Dukes County government’s purchase of the former VNA building for use by the Center for Living; the design, engineering and costs to install underground utilities on Beach Road; the purchase of two parcels at the corner of Main Street and Greenwood Avenue for a library parking lot; and construction of a new Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools (MVPS) administration building.

Overspending

The big ticket item voters will confront is the FY16 budget, which begins on July 1. The total is up by $1,098,640 over the $23,188,195 appropriated in FY15.

Prop. 2.5 limits property tax increases by municipalities to 2.5 percent annually. Overrides to increase the tax levy require a two-thirds majority vote of approval.

The general override being sought for additional Tisbury School operating budget funds involves a permanent change to the tax levy, municipal finance director Tim McLean explained to The Times in a phone conversation on Tuesday. The debt exclusion overrides are limited to the life of a debt.

Tisbury’s FY15 residential tax rate is $8.92 and the commercial rate $8.34 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Based on FY15 property values, if voters approve all of the funding requests on the warrant and the FY16 budget, Mr. McLean estimates that the tax rates would go up by about 30 cents over the current rates.

To put that into perspective for taxpayers, he said, “Taxes on a half-million property would go up $150 and a million-dollar property would go up $300.”

Mr. McLean had warned the selectmen several months in advance of town meeting last year that Tisbury would face a budget deficit, requiring a general override. Voters subsequently approved the town’s first general override since 1987.

Mr. McLean said he still has the same concerns this year about budget deficits.

“We’re spending more than we’re generating in additional revenue — frightfully so,” he said. “I don’t see how that’s going to change unless we do something dramatically different, and I don’t know what that is, to be honest with you.”

Mr. McLean said the town could have sought a bigger override. “If we didn’t have a little extra money in the health insurance budget and a couple of other things, instead of just the school budget being an override, we could have conceivably had another half-million-dollar override.

“We had some other offsetting pluses that save us from that this year, but I think next year there could be another override,” he said.

He added, “Plus, you have all these other demands from outside agencies that are asking for town funds. The pressure on the budget is huge — and on the taxpayer.”

Nonetheless, based on votes at many town meetings past, Mr. Mclean agreed that Tisbury voters are prone to say yes to most spending requests.

“I think they are, because when you think about the things they’re talking about, such as the elderly or the schools, it’s hard to say no,” he said. “And then they get their tax bills and they’re in sticker shock. It’s a real dilemma.”

Dividing up the dollars

About 41.7 percent of the operating budget, $10,126,659, pays for education. That amount includes Tisbury School’s operating budget and the town’s share of the regional high school’s budget. It does not include expenses such as school debt, Dukes County retirement, health insurance costs for teachers, and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, which cost Tisbury about $600,000 in FY15.

Tisbury School has a budget of $5,353,326, an increase of $307,943, or about 6 percent, over FY15. A ballot question will ask voters to allow the town to assess an additional $208,929 to fund the school’s operating budget, starting on July 1.

“Due to dwindling School Choice funds, the FY16 budget does not include the use of any School Choice funds to offset the general budget,” Tisbury School principal John Custer said in an email in response to questions emailed from The Times. “The most significant increases to the FY16 operating budget are $12,376 to fund a School Resource Officer position, and increasing the building maintenance line by $20,000.”

Special to annual

In keeping with general practice, the special town meeting warrant includes only nonspending articles, totaling 16.

Among them are the selectmen’s request that voters approve a home-rule petition to allow them to ask state lawmakers to place the Department of Public Works (DPW) and its functions under the selectmen’s control. The selectmen also want to replace the elected Board of Public Works with an advisory board that they would appoint.

Selectmen want to bring the DPW into the town’s management structure to coordinate aspects of management that are currently handled by different parts of the town’s organization. For example, as personnel director, town administrator Jay Grande handles the DPW’s personnel issues, while the DPW’s board oversees the department’s operations.

Voters also will be asked to divvy up $240,000 from the passenger-ferry embarkation fee receipts. The state-legislature-imposed 50-cent surcharge on one-way ferry passenger tickets is intended to mitigate the impacts of ferry service on port towns such as Tisbury by providing harbor services, public safety protection, emergency services, or infrastructure improvements within or around the harbor.

Community Preservation funds

Voters will be asked to consider 20 projects under article 20 on which to spend Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds, which come from a 3 percent surtax on property taxes and matching funds from the state.

In addition to local projects, voters will also be asked to contribute CPA funds toward regional projects, including $57,540 to relocate the Gay Head Lighthouse; $35,000 to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s renovations of the Marine Hospital building on Lagoon Pond Road; and $57,510 as Tisbury’s share of the cost to replace the track at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Only one project, a request for $150,000 from the Island Housing Trust to fund the first half of costs to build an affordable apartment building on Water Street, did not receive Tisbury’s finance and advisory committee’s (FinCom) recommendation. Chairman Larry Gomez said the FinCom’s consensus was that the project is not in a good location and would not be money well spent.

Other FinCom rejects

Mr. Gomez said the FinCom also voted not to recommend two articles that correspond to ballot questions. Article 24 asks the town to pay $306,720 as its share of the $1.6 million cost of the Dukes County government’s proposed purchase of the former VNA building at Breakdown Lane for use by the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living and its senior day-care program.

Although the FinCom is supportive of the program, Mr. Gomez said, the committee’s concern is that the purchase price is just the tip of the iceberg and doesn’t include renovations and other related expenses, such as the need for increased staffing if the program expands.

The FinCom also voted against article 26, which proposes that the town spend $900,000, to purchase two properties at the corner of Main and Greenwood for library parking. “We didn’t think it was a good idea, No. 1, because of the location in a residential area, and No. 2, the purchase price doesn’t include the cost to improve the lot,” Mr. Gomez said.

The FinCom also did not recommend Article 10, which asks the town to pay $15,042 as its share of the Healthy Aging Task Force program to provide information for seniors, caregivers, families, and service providers through a referral website and phone-based service. Mr. Gomez said the committee agreed that “we already have senior centers that are supposed to do that.”

Mr. Gomez said he shares Mr. McLean’s concerns about budget deficits.

“We have to take a closer look at what we spend our money on, and start making some tough choices, as well as saying no to some requests,” he said. “It’s all good today, but in five years when we’re still paying for it, people are going to forget what we’re paying for.”