Tisbury Faces $17.6 Million Budget

By MAX HART

No overrides. No surprises. No worries?

That seems to be the general consensus regarding Tisbury's nearly $17.6 million operating budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Abating insurance costs, stabilized debt payments and a little help from Tisbury's embarkation fee funds all helped keep the budget to a manageable 5.3 per cent increase over last year.

The annual town meeting is scheduled for April 4.

"We have stayed pretty lean and mean," said George Balco, Tisbury finance and advisory committee chairman. "There really is not a lot of fat here."

As in almost every town, education represents the bulk of the budget.

The Tisbury School budget increased 2.5 per cent from last year to nearly $3.78 million. Combined with the superintendent's office budget of $539,638, the total school budget is roughly $4.32 million - a three per cent increase from last year's appropriation.

"The one thing that stands out is the high school assessment, but that is only because we have more students going into the high school," Mr. Balco said. "You can't do much about increasing pupil counts."

In fact, Tisbury's share of the high school budget rose to nearly $2.5 million - $243,194 more than last year's assessment, a 10 per cent spike.

The finance committee has endorsed the school budget - a shift from last year when committee members, citing unnecessary increases, openly disputed the figures on the town meeting floor.

One factor that has helped to keep operating expenses down is the ferry embarkation fee revenue, which totals more than $275,000 this year. The revenue stems from a 50-cent surcharge that is tacked onto the price of each one-way passenger ticket on ferries that ply the routes between the Cape and Islands. It is collected by the ferry operators and paid to the town where the trip originated.

Spending of the money is subject to approval on town meeting floor; state legislation also mandates that it be spent on public safety, harbor services and port infrastructure improvements.

In Vineyard Haven this year, voters will be asked to put the money toward two new police cruisers, a traffic officer dedicated to the area around Water and Union streets, new outboard motors for the harbor master's boat and the renovation of an old police truck for use as the ambulance department's paramedic transport vehicle.

While most of these likely would be considered capital expenditures and hence not be reflected in the operating budget, Mr. Balco said in the future embarkation fee money could go toward reducing other line items, such as the town's debt and interest payments.

"With the legislation's focus on safety, I would think you could take some of that money and put it toward the bond on the new fire truck, which would reflect a decrease in the budget," he said. "Having that money certainly has been helpful."

Debt and interest remains at $1.05 million, while the assessment to the Martha's Vineyard Commission fell from $110,543 to $104,233.

Insurance costs, which have risen steeply in recent years, settled a bit this year. After rising 21 per cent from fiscal year 2005 to fiscal year 2006, costs are only up nine per cent.

"A majority of the increases in most department budgets reflect normal increases in salary costs, but that happens every year," Mr. Balco said. "Beyond that, costs are pretty well under control."