The Dukes County commission voted this week to approve a $1.5 million budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget marks a 17.9 per cent decrease over last year due to the state takeover of administrative affairs for the county sheriff’s department. Last year the sheriff’s portion of the county budget totalled $300,000. Under the upcoming budget, total town assessments will drop from $649,279 to $492,739, county manager Martina Thornton told the commission at their meeting Wednesday. The budget is still subject to approval by the county advisory board, which meets next week.
The decreased budget also reflects the fact that Island towns next year are expected cover 100 per cent of the cost for the Islandwide Vineyard Health Care Access and Integrated Pest Management programs. Since 2008, funding has gradually shifted from the county onto the towns for the two shared programs. The total cost of the pest control program is $95,000; the program generates $28,000 in revenue and the towns will be asked to pay $67,019 in the coming year. The total cost of the health care access program is $339,101; the towns will be asked to pay $275,601 of that cost in the coming year. The pest program provides rodent and other pest control services for Island towns. The health care program provides assistance for Islanders on an array of areas relating to access to health care and health insurance, which has been mandatory in Massachusetts since 2006.
The cost and effectiveness of the countywide pest management program has come under scrutiny in recent weeks in more than one Island town. Tisbury and Edgartown have since both changed the wording of articles on their annual town meeting warrants that will give voters a choice to opt out of the program.
Ms. Thornton appeared before the Tisbury selectmen last week to explain the program, which first started in 1943, although it has not operated continuously since then. She plans to visit other selectmen’s meetings in the weeks ahead to explain the program. She and two county commissioners are drafting a memorandum of understanding between the county and the six towns in an attempt to clarify roles and responsibilities for the program.
The 2014 county budget includes a 2.9 per cent cost of living adjustment for county employees. The adjustment is based on a median value of the six towns’ adjustments in the previous fiscal year, a formula established by the county advisory board.
The commission voted to use $30,000 of expected surplus money to sublease a six-acre lot from the Steamship Authority in the airport business park. Planning is underway to possibly put a permanent building for the Center for Living on the lot. The commission also plans to use $20,000 to hire a grant writer for community needs and will spend $1,500 on a portable generator for the county administration building for emergencies.
The county advisory board vote on the budget is set for March 6 at 2 p.m. at the county administration building. The airport budget is kept separate from the county budget.