Funding formulas place heavy burden on O.B., Tisbury

Town leaders say what they’re being asked to pay is not ‘sustainable.’

Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen expressed their concern about paying for the majority of the Island's regional services. — Brian Dowd

The money needed to operate regional services on the Island has grown steadily for the past few years, placing a heavy burden on down-Island towns, and Oak Bluffs and Tisbury want to see a change.

At a joint selectmen meeting Tuesday night — with Oak Bluffs chairman Gail Barmakian and Tisbury chairman Tristan Israel absent — both towns expressed their dissatisfaction with the current regional service formulas.

Oak Bluffs and Tisbury are two of the most populated towns, and and are required to fund large portions of several regional service budgets — the largest being the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The high school’s budget formulas are based on each town’s student enrollment from the October of the preceding year.

With the current formula, Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour said, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury will comprise 54 percent of the high school’s $20 million budget next year. Student population changes significantly affect each town’s contribution to the high school, and each year Oak Bluffs and Tisbury worry if they will be hit with the highest percentage contribution. Both Whritenour and Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande agreed the formulas are not sustainable for either town.

“Every town takes its turn. We call it ‘in the box,’ where, Is it your year to get killed? … I hate to say it, but this is Tisbury’s year in the box,” Whritenour said.

Next year, Tisbury is expected to add 21 students to the high school, while West Tisbury is expected to see a decrease of 14 students. This would increase Tisbury’s contribution to the high school’s budget from 24 percent to 27 percent of the total budget.

“It doesn’t really seem like a way to do it,” Whritenour said of the population formula. “Each town working on its own, we’re never going to get consensus on these types of things.”

Oak Bluffs selectmen Mike Santoro and Greg Coogan agreed, and said both towns would be put in a position where they would have to say no to the funding formulas.

“I think we have to think of ways to get other towns’ attentions. I think that may be a little uncomfortable for a while, because I don’t think anyone’s paying attention to our plight at this point,” Coogan said.

Coogan added that while education is the most important service they provide, a change has to be made. “We have to stand together at some point and say no, and that’s going to be very uncomfortable…” he said. “If we don’t do something dramatic, I’m not sure anyone will pay attention.”

Whritenour said there are ways to access increased state funding, such as a circuit breaker which provides additional state funding to high-cost special education students, but said the best way was to get all Island towns to discuss the issue and find a resolution together.

During the same meeting, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury officials said they have narrowed in on a final draft agreement and job description for a shared building commissioner.

The building commissioner would have purview over both Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, with a local inspector and administrative assistant in each town. The two towns originally proposed the idea at a joint meeting in September, and have been active in moving the process along.

The towns would split the position’s cost of salary, insurance, and benefits evenly.

Oak Bluffs would act as the “lead town” for the position, providing equipment and coordination for performance. Oak Bluffs would include the position as part of its annual budget while Tisbury would pay Oak Bluffs in quarterly installments. The money for Tisbury’s share would have to be appropriated through a warrant article at the town’s annual town meeting in April.

Harbormaster’s getting new office

During Oak Bluffs selectmen’s regularly scheduled meeting, harbormaster Todd Alexander updated selectmen on the project to replace the harbormaster’s office.

The project received a single bid, from Builder System of Sandwich, for the cost of $212,000, which was within budget, according to Alexander.

Along with removing the old office and constructing a new one, the project will also replace several pilings, and construct a new deck. Alexander expects construction to begin in mid-January and continue for a month.

Vineyard Sweet & Treat, a planned ice cream and candy shop, has had difficulty getting a business license due to approval issues from several town boards.

Candace Nichols, an attorney representing Vineyard Sweet & Treat owners Danny Chan and Donald Benefit, asked selectmen why approval for her client’s business application has been delayed for several months.

Whritenour said he met with building commissioner Eladio Gore Tuesday morning, and Gore said he needed to review the project.

Nichols said this marked the third time she has had to get signatures of approval from various town boards because an original application was lost by the town’s building inspector.

Selectman Brian Packish said Nichols should follow up with the wastewater department, building department, and zoning department, and come back to selectmen at their next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 4:30 pm.