Cash surplus for Chilmark; sand deficit for Squibby

The Chilmark select board declined to put Squibnocket Beach nourishment on the special town meeting warrant. — Rich Saltzberg

Town administrator Tim Carroll informed the Chilmark select board Tuesday night the town was estimated to have $800,000 in free cash for fiscal ’22.

Select board member Warren Doty asked if the free cash, which is the town’s remaining unrestricted funds from the previous fiscal year, had been certified yet.

Carroll said it hadn’t been. However, he said, he was sure the town accountant had an accurate estimation, though she wouldn’t “commit” to a figure until it was state-certified. 

“That’s the most we’ve ever had,” Doty said.

Carroll said that was the accountant’s thinking too.

Carroll warned some of the cash isn’t recurring because it was derived from proceeds of a tax taking. He attributed some of the cash to short-term rental tax revenue. 

Select board chair Jim Malkin described town accountant Ellen Biskis, who wasn’t present at the meeting, as a “very good and conservative accountant.” 

“If she’s willing for you to say 800,” Malkin said, “I’d be very comfortable with that 800, even if it’s recurring or not recurring. But that number would be real, and it’s probably low.”

Reached Wednesday, Biskis said that while the tax-taken property proceeds and the short-term rental tax were “significant” pieces of revenue, there were other factors in the accumulation of free cash. 

For instance, Biskis said, harbor revenue was up $86,000, and beach revenue was up $25,000. Short-term rental tax revenue grew by 146 percent, Biskis noted. In fiscal ’20, it was $144,000, and in fiscal ’21, it rose to $355,000, she said.

Biskis confirmed she was hesitant to peg free cash at $800,000 until the Department of Revenue certifies the money. She likened the process to filing a tax return, where there can be many variables that can affect the final number. 

In other business, the board approved a draft special town meeting warrant with $521,000 in proposed spending and a $950,000 bond request for HVAC work on the Chilmark School. Of the $521,000 in spending, $250,000 is anticipated to come from free cash. The meeting is slated for Nov. 6 at 1 pm. 

Carroll told the board the conservation commission wishes to place a nourishment project for Squibnocket Beach on the warrant due to sand erosion. Carroll said if the sand was taken from elsewhere on the Vineyard, the total cost was estimated at $25,000. Malkin discounted the idea, noting sand accumulates and ebbs in natural cycles at the beach. He also said the beach committee should make the recommendation. Doty said the project was presented too late, as the present warrant had closed. The subject was tabled.