MVC prepares to vote on $1.4 million operating budget for FY17

The deadline to file nomination papers for the Martha's Vineyard Commission is approaching. — Martha's Vineyard Times file photo

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) is set to vote next Thursday on a $1,425,940 operating budget for fiscal year 2017 (FY17) that begins on July 1, 2016. The draft budget reflects a modest increase of $5,000, about 0.4 percent over FY16.

“This is my initial budget as director, so I cannot comment about changes or previous budgets,” MVC executive director Adam Turner said in an email Monday in response to questions emailed from The Times. “We are spending $35,000 less than in fiscal year 2015.”

Mr. Turner took over as executive director in August 2015 when Mark London retired after almost 13 years at the helm of the powerful regional permitting and planning agency.

The budget holds one bit of welcome news for taxpayers: Town assessments total $1,012,940, or one dollar less than FY16. Assessments for all seven towns in Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, are based on a formula for equalized real estate valuations from a report dated Jan. 1, 2014, from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

Edgartown taxpayers will pay the lion’s share of the assessment ($373,251); followed by Chilmark ($173,809); Oak Bluffs ($141,869); Tisbury ($141,040); West Tisbury ($132,717); and Aquinnah ($42,207). Gosnold will contribute $8,048.

By law, the MVC must present a budget in January. The process began last October. The MVC finance committee is chaired by the clerk-treasurer, currently John Breckinridge of Oak Bluffs, and includes each Island town’s appointed MVC member.

The finance committee approved the draft FY17 budget at a public meeting on Jan. 7. In addition to a one-page itemized draft budget, the approved four-page document includes a page listing town assessments, and two pages of notes about specific budget items.

A vote on the draft budget by the full commission is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 21. Once approved by the MVC, towns are legally obligated to pay their assessments.

Ups and downs

Decreases in salaries, contractual expenses, and worker’s compensation costs helped offset increases in other areas, such as maintenance, retirement benefits, and other payroll costs.

“We actually spent a little less in salaries,” Mr. Turner noted in his email. “Our only new capital effort is a slight increase in maintenance and the development of a five-year building improvement plan, as the Stone House office is showing its age and needs improvements. This will be acted upon in future years.”

Salaries and employee benefits that include the cost of funding retirement benefits account for the largest share of expenses, approximately 84 percent of the MVC budget. Personnel costs total $1,186,117, an increase of $10,553, or 0.9 percent. In addition, there is $162,328 in health and disability insurance, and $139,795 in pension costs.

Salaries for the MVC’s 10 full-time employees, which include a senior planner, senior transportation planner, water resource planner, coastal planner, developments of regional impact coordinator, GIS coordinator, and affordable housing/economic development planner, total $806,459. Salaries decreased from FY16 by $4,116, or 0.5 percent, due to a reduction in the executive director’s salary with Mr. Turner as a new hire.

Current staff salaries range from $53,628 to $95,459.  Mr. Turner earns $107,454.

The FY17 budget includes a 1.84 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all employees and an average 2.4 percent merit adjustment, according to budget notes. The COLA is determined by averaging increases for employees in all six Island towns from the previous year’s data.

With the search for a new executive director over, the FY17 budget reflects a decrease of $16,500 for fees paid to a recruitment firm and for advertising. Contractual expenses are budgeted at $18,000, a decrease of $16,500, or 47.8 percent, from last year.

The commission increased its line items for maintenance and capital improvements by $5,000 each, from $10,000 to $15,000, in order to more accurately budget for costs to maintain the building, computers, and other equipment. The increase in the capital improvements budget, along with $500 from the MVC’s building reserve account, will be used to repair third-floor walls, fund the installation of a third-floor HVAC system, and install new carpet where needed, the budget notes say.

The commission’s current Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB), the cost for paying a portion of retirees’ medical and dental insurance coverage, will increase by $7,308, or 34.3 percent, with the addition of Mr. London as the third retiree on its rolls.

The MVC plans to continue to increase its annual contribution to the Dukes County Pooled Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB) Trust Fund by $5,000 per year, as it has since FY12, and earmarked a $30,500 contribution in the FY17 budget.

Based on audits and the staff’s experience factor, worker’s compensation insurance premiums have declined over the past two fiscal years, and will drop by $686, or 40.7 percent, to $1,000 in FY17.

“We are and will be proactive in attempting to be more efficient,” Mr. Turner said of the MVC’s staff and operations overall. “Last month we had our attorneys brief the commission on proper hearing record and decision-making process. These efforts hopefully will improve process, reduce litigation, and save funds.”

Targeting issues

The bulk of the MVC’s income comes from Dukes County taxpayers through assessments based on property tax valuation. All seven towns in Dukes County share the cost of planning, which accounts for 65 percent of the MVC’s budget. Regulatory expenses account for 35 percent. The six Island towns share the cost of both the regulatory and planning expenses.

“In my short time as director, we have worked hard to target issues and develop strategies toward addressing them,” Mr. Turner said. “Our work on wastewater contamination and affordable housing illustrates this. We are working with the towns on these efforts.”

In addition to income derived from county taxpayers, grants, contracts, and gifts are projected to generate an additional $363,000, up by $5,000 from last year. As explained in the budget notes, grant revenues vary annually. The current budget is based on the continuation of a four-year contract the MVC has with a MassDOT grant, and a conservative estimate of additional government funding.

The MVC seeks additional grant funding on an ongoing basis, the budget notes point out. However, additional grant revenue usually results in additional costs, such as hiring consultants and interns, and increased expenses.

“In the future we will look for additional revenues in terms of grants and other funding from numerous sources, including federal, state, and nongovernmental funding, such as foundations,” Mr. Turner told The Times. “Already this year, one of our professionals has generated funding through use of a geographic processing system technology.”

Interest and other income remain the same this year as last, at $50,000.

A second line item under income that could potentially have a significant impact on expenses is the general reserve fund, which the commission maintains to “cover urgent, unforeseen expenses during the course of the year.”

In FY15, the MVC allocated $75,000, a separate expense assessed to towns, to replenish the reserve fund. It was depleted in FY12 and FY13 due to expenses that included legal fees and state-mandated contributions to the Dukes County Contributory Retirement System. The commission did not add to the fund last year nor this year.