County doubles down on stormtide mapping

Commissioners agree to additional contribution for MVC project.

The Center for Coastal Studies is working with the MVC and the town of Oak Bluffs to map stormtide pathways in preparation for storms and sea level rise.

The Dukes County Commission Wednesday agreed to increase the county’s contribution amount for the stormtide pathways mapping project currently being undertaken by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

According to county manager Martina Thornton, the county advisory board (CAB) suggested revisiting the amount of money that will be contributed for the project, which seeks to increase coastal resiliency and improve emergency response after major storms and flooding.

Initially, the county had voted to approve approximately $25,000 for the project, to be allocated from the Martha’s Vineyard license plate program — a county-managed initiative.

But the CAB suggested that the commission fund the maximum contribution — a total of almost $75,000, including the money that has already been allocated.

Liz Durkee, climate change planner for the MVC, said the remaining balance in order to complete the funding for the project is $24,000.

She said the MVC has already received $8,000 from Tisbury, $1,000 from the Rotary Club, and $17,000 from in-kind services. Durkee explained that the MVC was late getting on town meeting agendas for this year, but they are anticipating having the stormtide project on Oak Bluffs’ special town meeting agenda, and Chilmark “may be putting an article on” for $5,000 in their fall town meeting.

She said she hasn’t heard back from Aquinnah or Edgartown regarding their meetings.

Currently, Thornton noted the remaining balance in the license plate fund is $100,000, stating that it’s a separate fund from the county operating fund, and is earmarked for economic development and tourism.

The county receives about $100,000 each year from the license plate fund, and if there is money remaining at the end of each year, what’s left is given to the towns based on the regional assessment formula.

Several commissioners wondered why the county is being asked to fund such a significant portion of the project, and why the towns aren’t funding more.

Durkee said she believes the CAB felt the stormtide pathways mapping was a regional resilience project, and the county would be a good partner for the MVC.

Commissioner Keith Chatinover said he supports funding the necessary amount, but in the future, he would like the towns to pay, as the county budget is much more limited.

“I would like to see the towns pony up for this, but I would rather our money go to a really important project than go to town coffers for, in my opinion, no reason,” Chatinover said.

Commissioner Leon Brathwaite suggested that if Durkee is heading back to Island towns to request funding, there should be a condition of acceptance that the county’s contribution can be offset by any additional municipal contributions.

The additional funds were unanimously approved.

Durkee thanked the commission, and said she will be back sometime after the project end date on June 30 to present results.

In other business, commissioners went over the FY23 draft budget, which, according to Thornton, is balanced, with a surplus of $8,600.

Currently, there is a zero-percent contribution to Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB), which constitutes a large portion of county overhead.

Thornton said she received correspondence from the county OPEB representative saying he strongly encourages commissioners to consider contributing in this budget cycle.

As the budget stands, there is an increased assessment to the towns of the maximum 2½ percent, but with the majority of the county budget being driven by salaries, and with the significant salary increases required by the personnel bylaws, Thornton said, she is happy to present a balanced budget.

The draft budget includes $1,830,160 in projected revenue, and $1,821,558 in projected expenses.

She noted that the personnel board met recently to discuss the proposed pay scale for county employees, which includes a recommendation for a cost of living adjustment (COLA) of 1.8 percent.

Commissioners accepted the COLA unanimously, and Thornton said that by their next meeting, they should be prepared to approve a budget and recommend approval by the CAB.