Dukes County commissioners agree on $1.6 million county budget

The decision to schedule a public hearing on the budget mid-day Tuesday, June 30 was met with some displeasure.

Dukes County commissioners discuss moving forward with the FY2016 county budget.

The Dukes County commissioners met last Thursday and approved a fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget that includes the first payment toward the purchase of the former VNA building for the Center for Living and the creation of a new county department, Martha’s Vineyard Senior Services.

The budget calls for no increase in the town assessments, the amount of money town taxpayers pay directly for county services, which totals $491,739.

In the previous three years the county has returned portions of the assessment, which are not subject to review at annual town meeting, to the towns.

There was no discussion Thursday of the decision issued Monday in Dukes County Superior Court which found for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission on all counts in its lawsuit against the county. The only mention of the airport came when County Manager Martina Thornton announced that the airport commission had approved the airport budget.

According to Ms. Thornton, the county spent $55,000 on the lawsuit, which began when the airport commission went to court to rebuff continued county interference in airport affairs, which Justice Cornelius J. Moriarty II said violated state statutes and agreements known as grant assurances.

‘Some of us work’
The county commissioners voted to recommend the budget. The next step in the budget process is a public hearing and approval by the county advisory board, made up of one selectman from each town. The initial decision to schedule that hearing in the middle of the workday, at 2 pm Tuesday, June 30, at the Vineyard Transit Authority office building, located in the Martha’s Vineyard Airport business park, was met with some unhappiness.

County commissioners Tristan Israel of Tisbury and John Alley of West Tisbury took issue with the timing. Mr. Israel, owner of a landscaping business, said he may not be able to attend because the meeting is planned for mid-afternoon on the Tuesday before the Fourth of July.

“I will say, because a lot of us work, and 2 o’clock in the afternoon on the week before Fourth of July, which is a big work weekend — why are we doing this at that time?” Mr. Israel, a Tisbury selectman, asked his fellow commissioners.

“This is when the county advisory board scheduled their next meeting and so if we want to hold a public hearing together …” Ms. Thornton trailed off.

“It is what it is,” Mr. Israel said. “But [next year] we ought to at least talk to [the county advisory board], because if the public wants to come to the meeting, some of us public work.”

“Part of the public’s cut off at two in the afternoon,” Mr. Alley said.

“This is bread and butter time,” Mr. Israel said.

On Wednesday, The Times learned that the public hearing had been rescheduled for July 1, the first day of the fiscal year, at 2 pm in the VTA office building.

A new space for the Center for Living
Following a public hearing with no comments, county commissioners unanimously voted to purchase the former Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building at 29 Breakdown Lane in Tisbury, to be used by the Center for Living. Excess space in the building may be leased to outside parties, Ms. Thornton told commissioners, but those parties cannot be chosen or solicited for until the county officially owns the building. Ms. Thornton said that she did not yet have a signed purchase and sale agreement, and that it was contingent upon a signed intermunicipal agreement.

The commissioners voted to issue a $1.6 million bond for a 10-year term to cover the purchase price and improvements to the building. This year’s budget allots $50,214 for the Martha’s Vineyard Senior Services department to facilitate the program.

Budget details
For the third year in a row, county assessments, the amount the towns pay directly to support county operations, will remain unchanged. Once again, Edgartown taxpayers will pay the largest share under the equalized valuation formula.

Edgartown will pay $179,389, Chilmark will pay $82,491, Oak Bluffs will pay $69,844, Tisbury will pay $69,414, West Tisbury will pay $64,577, Aquinnah will pay $19,076, and Gosnold will pay $6,944.

County revenue will decrease 6.7 percent from FY 2015, from $1,726,233 to $1,609,676, and spending will decrease 7.9 percent, from $1,723,703 to $1,587,452.

Employee salaries are largely on the rise. Employee salaries will receive a 1.75 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase. A number of employees will also receive step increases, including department heads.

Ms. Thornton’s salary will increase to $79,993. Her assistant’s salary will rise to $50,284. A part-time intern will be added to the staff at a cost of $7,500.

The elected longtime county treasurer, Noreen Mavro Flanders, will see her salary rise by 2.35 percent to $103,785.
The elected registrar of deeds, Dianne Powers, will also earn $103,785.