Tisbury Annual Town Meeting Confronts $16 Million Budget

By JONATHAN BURKE

Headlining this year's 22-article annual town meeting warrant in Tisbury is a total budget of $15,856,073, an increase of nearly a nine and a half per cent over last year's $14,496,931.

Town moderator Deborah Medders will gavel the meeting to order at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 1, in the gymnasium of the Tisbury School.

According to Ray LaPorte, chairman of the selectmen, there is little in this year's budget likely to generate argument. Tim McLean, town treasurer, agrees.

"We had a pretty smooth budget process this year. Everybody pretty much held the line. But then again, town meeting is fun. The things you don't think are going to be controversial are," said Mr. McLean.

One area where things could heat up, according to Mr. LaPorte and Mr. McLean, is the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School budget. Tisbury's share of the high school's costs is $2,492,014, up by $318,165.

Expecting a sharp decrease in state school aid this year, school committee officials may ask the town for more. According to Mr. McLean, to help towns adjust to decreases in school aid that will continue into the future, the state has earmarked additional funds for the towns as "transitional mitigation" monies.

"As far as I'm concerned and the selectmen in Tisbury are concerned, we are not sure that the money is going to get here. If there is another round of cuts, transitional mitigation is an obvious place to cut," said Mr. McLean.

Educational costs account for the largest share of the budget. The Tisbury School's bill this year is $3,915,139, approximately a five per cent increase over last year, bringing the town's total education expenditures to $6,407,153.

Other large pieces of the pie, with hefty increases over last year, are insurance costs and debt payment. For insurance, the budget allocates $1,951,500, up from $1,692,000. Total debt payments for 2004 are $1,300,000, an increase of $150,000.

The police department budget provides funding to hire two new full-time police officers. Police department leaders have sought the new positions ever since the selectmen reduced the size of the department to 11 in 1999. Reductions in other portions of the police budget mitigated the cost of the new officers. The proposed police budget is $983,554, an increase of less than one per cent.

Outside the annual budget, articles likely to attract attention are an article to fund the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, a capital appropriations article and an article to spend $50,000 on a town-wide infrastructure study.

Abbe Burt, Tisbury representative to the regional housing authority and chairman of its board of directors, said the agency currently relies on private donations.

"We need a dedicated source of funding. It's a public agency and it should be funded publicly," said Ms. Burt.

Ms. Burt dismissed arguments that the town would be better off addressing affordable housing totally independent of the housing authority. She noted that the housing authority is the only Island agency that provides rental units.

"We own them, we rent them and we collect the rents. We get the tenants and we maintain the units," she said.

The capital appropriations article covers about $500,000 in expenditures for items ranging from computer hardware to road resurfacing and a new street sweeper.

The finance and advisory committee has recommended that items funding a sidewalk along Pine Street Road abutting Oak Grove Cemetery and a roof for the fire station not be passed.

George Balco, finance committee chairman, said an adequate sidewalk already exists inside the cemetery's boundaries. He said $30,000 is not well spent on a new roof for the fire station.

"The fire house's days are probably numbered. The building is not really sound. A new fire truck probably won't get in there anyway. Repairs should be made, not a new roof," he said.

Mr. Balco said he supported the concept of a town-wide infrastructure study, but that in his opinion, the article had not been thought through yet.

"I mean, they're asking you for money but they don't tell you what they're going to do with it," he said.