Small town, big budget in Tisbury

The Tisbury town budget will increase 6.3 percent. for FY 2018. —Michael Cummo

Tisbury’s is a big budget for a small town. The net increase in the fiscal 2018 (FY2018) budget for Tisbury is 6.3 percent, according to Jon Snyder, Tisbury finance director. The overall increase is about $1.6 million, with a total budget of a little more than $27 million.

“We have a year-round population,” Mr. Snyder told The Times. “We have a lot of services, and the school. All the things on the budget, we can’t really trim most of those very much.”

Mr. Snyder anticipated needing a Proposition 2.5 override, but was able to avoid it. The override would have required a town vote, and the outcome of that vote is not predictable, Mr. Snyder said. If approved, an override would permanently add to the tax base. If voters rejected the override, the town could be asked to vote again, “making more of a public case about why this is essential,” Mr. Snyder said.

Alternatively, town leaders could cut the budget, squeezing within the Prop 2.5 limit. But budgets are tight, and nearly three-quarters of the town budget reflects contractual expenses — salaries, wages, and benefits. This leaves the town with less than 25 percent of manageable expenses in which to make adjustments, such as supplies a department might cut back. A town department could use discretion in its activities. For example, choosing when to do a certain project, possibly putting it off until the following year in order to manage expenses.

“We’ve been squeezing manageable expenses,” Mr. Snyder said. “We’ve squeezed until it hurts.”

If an override didn’t pass and the town had to make substantial cuts, it would have to cut personnel — teachers, police officers, staff at the Department of Public Works — limiting the town’s ability to provide services to its residents.

“There are many ways, but every time you cut a person, you put more of a burden on the remaining personnel, and you may end up limiting what we can actually achieve,” Mr. Snyder said.

Tisbury avoided an override using two strategies. First, through market-value growth and new growth, the assessed property value in Vineyard Haven increased enough so that the town will be able to fund its budget and capital needs without exceeding the Proposition 2.5 limit.

“If the assessed value goes up, then — staying under the Prop. 2.5 limit — we have a little bit more room to assess taxes,” Mr. Snyder said.

Last year, voters approved a $350,000 override that it didn’t end up needing after there was money left over from the previous year’s budget, and so that $350,000 became part of this year’s tax base.

“So that helped augment the amount that we could tax,” Mr. Snyder said. “And then we eliminated a few articles and trimmed a few budgets, and got down to below the Prop 2.5 threshold.”

Nearly 40 percent of the budget supports school expenses, a majority of which are for personnel and facilities management costs. The Tisbury School budget is set at $6.7 million, and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) cost to the town is nearly $4.4 million. “It’s a big budget,” Mr. Snyder said. “And that’s true in most towns.”

Insurance is another big-ticket item — health insurance and town vehicle insurance — a $6.9 million price tag. Health insurance costs have steadily increased, about 10 percent every year, Mr. Snyder said.

Smaller pieces include public safety, debt, DPW, and county expenses. Everything else is squeezed into about $4.3 million, which includes costs for things like the library, the board of selectmen, the town treasurer, the board of health, etc.

“Every person has a job here,” Mr. Snyder said. “We’re working people pretty hard, I think. It would be painful to make significant cuts to our budget.”