The town of West Tisbury is currently facing an approximately $315,000 Proposition 2½ override, according to town administrator Jennifer Rand, who called the town’s budget picture “deplorable.”
Selectmen worked their way through the proposed town meeting warrant Wednesday, and discussed some of the budget burdens that need to be addressed.
A large portion of the conversation had to do with the town’s share of an approximately $670,000 to restore additional Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) operating service to the entire Island.
The additional cost imposed on Island towns was borne out of a monthlong driver strike, and a decrease in ridership.
The VTA is asking West Tisbury voters to approve approximately $92,000 (the town’s share of the overall cost, based on ridership).
Rand said the proposed VTA warrant article is based on language from 2005, when selectmen last voted on VTA funding.
Included in that language is a sentence stipulating that the town would only appropriate the money if the other five towns did as well. “The last sentence in the article is ‘provided the other five towns vote in the affirmative to endorse this program,’” Rand said.
She suggested providing the money anyway, so the town could receive some service restoration, even if the other towns vote the article down.
Selectmen chair Skipper Manter said one town voting to not support the VTA article would create a domino effect.
“Let’s say one of the down-Island towns doesn’t support their share? How does that affect what we are trying to accomplish?” Manter asked.
“It’s not just the bus that runs to West Tisbury and back again; there are routes. If the town doesn’t vote their share, it’s not like the bus is going to drive right by them.”
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell asked whether it would be possible to have a town vote in support of the article independently, and receive service separately.
“If you don’t have more money for the other towns on the route, is that realistic for that to happen?” Mitchell asked.
Lauren Thomas, VTA office manager, said she didn’t have any solid answer, but thought that scheduling changes would be necessary to accommodate towns separately.
“I’m not on the scheduling end, but we would restore as much service as we could to that town,” Thomas said.
“I think we need a better answer than that,” Mitchell responded.
If a town votes to restore additional service, Thomas said, that town would have a higher percentage of weighted input on the advisory board.
Thomas said she would discuss the question of individual towns having service restored with VTA administrator Angela Grant, and include it at the advisory board meeting on Feb. 14.
Along with the additional cost of possibly restoring VTA service, a number of other articles were discussed by selectmen, including building maintenance for the town hall, funding for the Dukes County Sheriff’s communication system, and multiple county services.
Rand said that in 2017, the town allocated $138,000 for improvements to the high school and superintendent’s building, but Oak Bluffs did not vote to appropriate their share. “So that one died on the vine,” Rand said.
According to Rand, the town could redirect those funds toward paying down the override. “Even with a redirect, we will still need an override of roughly $315,000, without question,” Rand said.
In a later phone call with The Times, Manter said it’s too early to determine an accurate measure of how individual citizens’ tax bills will be affected based on the town’s average property value.
“If I gave you a number now, it wouldn’t be accurate,” Manter said. “We think we can reduce that number [the override] within the next month.”