Dukes County Commission, advisory board approve $1.6 million budget

A discussion about the inclusion of the airport budget prompted one commissioner to call a Superior Court Justice “a second-rate jurist.”

The Dukes County commissioners and the county advisory board approved the proposed $1.6 million county budget. — Photo by Monica Busch

The Dukes County commissioners and the county advisory board (CAB) met jointly Wednesday and approved a proposed $1.6 million county budget without any changes Thursday afternoon.

The county advisory board, made up of one selectman from each town, passed the budget unanimously. Two county commissioners did not. Commissioners John Alley and David Holway abstained.

Mr. Holway did not explain his abstention, though Mr. Alley said it was because he was late to the meeting that day.

The discussion over the airport budget reflected the latest ruling in the long-running battle between the airport and county commissions. By state statute, the airport is a separate entity over which the county has no control.

In a decision handed down June 8 in Dukes County Superior Court, Justice Cornelius J. Moriarty II said the county commissioners, County Manager Martina Thornton, and County Treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders may not interfere in airport affairs.

In his 18-page decision, dated June 8, Justice Moriarty continually returned to the legal foundations that underpinned previous court rulings in favor of the airport commission — namely, that the Airport Act that established the authority of the airport commission supersedes the County Charter, and that the grant assurances which the county commissioners signed, and which prohibited their involvement in airport affairs, mean something.

On Wednesday, Oak Bluffs selectman and CAB member Walter Vail said he didn’t believe the bodies should vote to approve the airport budget, which is listed underneath county finances on the budget spreadsheet, at the meeting.

“I wouldn’t vote yes for the airport budget because I don’t see why we do that, and I’ve said that before,” said Mr. Vail.

“If I read the judge’s statements, it seems to me that we have no business even talking about the airport,” Mr. Holway said.

“That was my understanding, too,” Edgartown selectman and CAB member Art Smadbeck said. “I don’t see any need to vote on anything.”

“Even if we voted on anything, I think we’d be in violation of [the judge’s] orders. I’d like to move to strike the airport from the county budget,” said Mr. Holway.

County Commissioner Leonard Jason and County Treasurer Noreen Flanders, who have been at the heart of the county-airport legal battles, disagreed.

Ms. Flanders said she agreed “that there can be no interference and that sort of thing,” but that the airport is part of the county financial statements.

“There is a little bit of an umbrella,” she said. “If you don’t want to vote on it, well whatever, and just take it as presented, I could understand that. But I don’t think I’d strike it.”

“I think it’s too premature to just strike it from the county budget,” Mr. Jason, Edgartown and Chilmark building inspector, said. “I realize that the judge said a few things, but it really was a second-rate jurist that made the decision. I think the airport is owned by the county, and I think we should vote on this budget.”

Justice Moriarty’s ruling echoed earlier rulings by Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin and Justice Robert Bohn, all of whom have ruled against the county over the course of the past 10 years.

The room fell quiet as no one seconded Mr. Holway’s motion to remove the airport from the county budget. This struck the motion from the table.

The County Commissioners voted first. After their approval, the CAB took the floor for a final discussion.

Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, West Tisbury selectman and CAB member, brought up several questions about emergency management, legal retaining fees, and county employee salaries. All of his questions were ultimately satisfied, and the CAB approved the budget unanimously.

July 1 marks the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year (FY16).