As budgets are nearly complete and warrants prepared in advance of town meeting season, Tisbury voters can expect to face their first override in more than 20 years to counter a fiscal year 2015 budget deficit.
Town treasurer Tim McLean said he estimates the override to be between $1.2 and $1.3 million, although not all department budgets have been fixed yet.
The forthcoming deficit was first noted in November, when the town began to prepare for the upcoming fiscal year, but came as little surprise to Tisbury financial leaders.
“Probably even looking back two years we knew this day was coming,” Mr. McLean said in an interview Tuesday. “We’ve been trying to live within Prop two and a half and have held budgets really tight when they should have been funded better before,” he said.
Proposition 2 1/2 is the 1982 state law that limits property tax increases to 2.5 per cent annually. Tisbury’s current tax rate is $8.46.
The last time Tisbury voters faced an override was in 1987, Mr. McLean said.
“As a taxpayer, that’s not really great, but from a town management standpoint it’s very good,” he said. The override will result in a permanent “very limited” increase in the property tax rate, Mr. McLean said.
“All the departments will be funded that way for, I hope, many years,” Mr. McLean added.
No one department can be singled out as the reason the town will exceed the tax cap; rather, line items have gone up across the board, Mr. McLean said.
“The schools are up, the police department’s up, the ambulance department’s up,” he said. “Everybody’s over the Prop two and a half limit.”
During last week’s selectmen’s meeting Mr. McLean told the board that even if the town were to use free cash to offset the increases, there would still be a deficit of $620,000.
“It’d be nice to blame one area, but it’s not; it’s a bunch of departments, and the time has come to fund it,” he said. Some areas have been perpetually underfunded: Legal expenses has $100,000 allocated despite expenses typically running between $110,000 and $125,00 per year, for example.
Town officials had discussed creating an individual override for every department on the warrant, but ultimately decided that a general override would be the better course.
“It would be pitting one department against another [and] we are all in the this together,” Mr. McLean said.
Over the last 20 years the town budget has also absorbed a number of non-municipal line items, such as funding for the Dukes County Housing Authority, the charter school, and other post-employment benefits (OPEB). Health insurance costs have seen double-digit increases.
Last year voters approved an operating budget of $21.5 million at the annual town meeting.
“I don’t think this town wastes money; we’re not spending frivolously,” Mr. McLean said.
“It takes a lot to run a town.”