Chilmark budget up 5.6 percent for FY 2018

Major factors include education, health insurance, social services, retirement, and harbor department.

The proposed Chilmark budget for FY 2018 would see a 5.6 percent increase. —Edie Prescott

Chilmark voters will be asked to spend 5.6 percent more for the town’s fiscal year 2018 budget, according to numbers provided by Ellen Biskis, Chilmark town accountant.

The budget is going up to $9,588,773 from $9,076,737 in fiscal year 2017, but won’t require a tax increase above the town’s levy limit.

There was a 1 percent cost of living adjustment, and a 3.5 percent increase, to employees for step raises, which combined to make a 4.5 percent increase reflected in budgeted salaries.

“So that means, with the built-in 4.5 percent with the salaries, all the expenses really stayed pretty much level,” Ms. Biskis told The Times Tuesday afternoon.

Despite fairly similar year-on-year expense levels, there were increases in other areas of the town budget.

The police department, for example, got a new chief, and the human resources department advertised for a higher-level salary than the previous chief made, accounting for a 3.4 percent increase.

This is reflected in the 5.4 percent increase in the total public safety budget, with the fiscal year 2018 budget for total public safety at $1,611,465 as compared with $1,528,733 for fiscal year 2017.

The Tri-Town Ambulance service assessment went up $17,000. This does not include the desired purchase of a new ambulance, as “that’s not necessarily affecting the budget” and will come out of a special revenue fund.

Ambulance service charges had a big increase of almost $18,000 from 2017 to 2018, but Ms. Biskis said that some can be offset with the insurance reimbursements that come after an ambulance makes a delivery. This year, however, the insurance offset was lower, so on top of budget increases, the budget is higher.

In terms of the health insurance increase, “we had a few employees who opted out of health insurance in the past who are now opting in,” Ms. Biskis said.

The harbor department also had a sizable increase, jumping 24 percent from $66,675 in 2017 to $82,625. This is due to the harbor department including in its budget for the first time a line for replacing pilings in the harbor, which in the past would have been a separate capital request.

Selectmen “will typically have a separate warrant article for replacement of pilings, but this year they included a $30,000 line item in the budget for replacement of harbor pilings, as they realized that should be an annual cost of maintaining the harbor,” Ms. Biskis said.

Education is up 9 percent, which was primarily at the high school as the town now has eight students there, which is a 32 percent increase, from $623,883 to $825,586.

In the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) line item, there is a budget implication. The warrant article asks for $41,532, “for the purpose of reducing the Up-Island Regional School District’s Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability.” If approved, these funds will be placed in the budget line item Education-Expenses for the UIRSD. This can only happen if the other two member towns of the district, West Tisbury and Aquinnah, approve their proportionate shares of the $208,286 total.

Highway maintenance received an additional $17,000 in 2018 for salaries in order to have temporary employees for work like roadside maintenance. They may also help with managing traffic in the summertime, as well as putting up signs and clearing road shoulders.

The social services department had 14 percent increase, with $279,442 and $318,628 in the budget proposal. Social services expenses come exclusively from external parties — it is not a Chilmark internal department.

“It’s our participation in Council on Aging, and that’s kind of run through West Tisbury,” Ms. Biskis said.

Another factor for the increase in the social services budget is that for the first time this year, the Vineyard Healthcare Access Program was moved into the town budget and not addressed as a separate warrant article, because it has been a regular “thing” for many years.

“We expect it to be a recurring expense,” Ms. Biskis said.

Ms. Biskis said that the same is true for the debt expense as it relates to the new building that the Center for Living purchased, which is expected to be a recurring expense, “so it makes sense to make it part of the budget,” according to Ms. Biskis.

Interestingly, the Chilmark beach department budget is down about $15,000, as the beach committee felt beaches were overstaffed in the beginning and end of the summer season and reduced that expense.

The library budget is also up about $15,000, which reflects an increase in salaries.

The remaining large increase is due to the employee benefits contribution. On paper this is only a 6 percent increase, but the dollar amount is significant at $1,228,418, up from $1,158,526 in 2017. Typically this yearly increase is larger, at 10 percent to 15 percent, according to Ms. Biskis.

The health insurance section of employee benefits is up 11 percent, and that primarily accounts for the approximately $69,760 increase in the combined active employees, elected officials, and retiree health insurance line items, from a total of $615,000 to $684,760.