Public safety costs a major factor in Aquinnah budget

Voters will be asked to decide on $110,000 override.

The town budget for Aquinnah increased 5.8 percent. — Michael Cummo

The cost of public safety is a high one in Aquinnah, and a major driver in the town budget, as wages and compensation have increased in both the police and fire departments.

“Those are two big drivers, and they were all part of looking at compensation,” Emily Day, the town accountant, said in a conversation with The Times on Monday.

The net increase in the fiscal 2018 (FY2018) budget for Aquinnah is 5.8 percent, and the overall increase is about $242,000, with a total budget of roughly $4.4 million.

Voters will be asked on May 9 at annual town meeting, and again the following day on the ballot, to decide on a Proposition 2½ override of $110,000. If approved, an override would permanently add to the tax base. If voters reject the override, town leaders could cut the budget, squeezing within the Proposition 2½ limit. But, Ms. Day said, there’s “little wiggle room,” and the town would have to cut services and employee hours. For a property valued at $600,000, the town’s average, an override would cost an additional $81 per year, up from $3,408.

Education and public safety costs are large portions of the budget. Education, between the regional high school and the Up-Island Regional School District of which Aquinnah is a part, was 32 percent of the budget, at $1.4 million, a 10 percent increase, or up about $131,000, from the current fiscal year.

The police department budget made up 14 percent of the town’s total budget, or $626,000, increasing by 8 percent or about $46,000, after police negotiated a new contract with higher pay.

Police Chief Randhi Balain’s salary went from $104,630 to $118,306, increasing $13,676. Wages for Aquinnah’s three police officers, in addition to seasonal officers and paid time-off coverage, went from $427,307 to $457,802, increasing $30,495.

The fire chief, Simon Bollin, also renegotiated his contract, and was approved to receive a $30,000 stipend. He had received a $14,000 stipend prior to renegotiation. The fire department budget increased 27 percent, but made up only about 2 percent of Aquinnah’s total budget at $98,500.

Ambulance services increased almost 6 percent, nearly $15,000, and made up about 6 percent of the total budget. Aquinnah is part of the Tri-Town Ambulance service, along with Chilmark and West Tisbury, and it cost each town almost $278,000 for FY2018. And although each town has an equal share, Adam Wilson, Aquinnah town administrator, said each town doesn’t use the service equally.

“Aquinnah only uses it 12 percent of the time,” he told The Times on Monday.