A continuing rise in the cost of health insurance premiums and fuel oil is driving up the operating budget in Tisbury. Finance committee members have drafted a $16,641,797 budget for next fiscal year, a four per cent increase over this year.

"We have certain things that go up without our control, things like insurance," said Meverell (Mev) L. Good, chairman of the Tisbury finance and advisory committee.

Tisbury will pay insurance companies more than $2.7 million next year, up from $2,485,809. The tab for health insurance alone will make up the lion's share, $1,999,500 compared to $1,818,000 appropriated this year.

"Health insurance has tripled since 1998," Mr. Good said. "This is one that sticks out as a huge increase in a town business cost."

Selectmen and finance committee members are confident the budget coming before the voters at their annual town meeting on Tuesday, April 5 is as lean as it can be while also allowing town departments to meet growth.

"The rising costs of labor and fuel are inevitable. We are trying to manage costs so the taxpayer doesn't experience sticker shock," said selectman Ray LaPorte.

Finance committee members along with town administrator John Bugbee sent a letter to department heads last November, cautioning them to contain budget increases to no more than three per cent.

Mr. Good has an overall high praise for the town department heads for submitting budgets that are tight.

"We have a 13-member committee and we assign each member to be liaisons to the departments. This is how you build trust," said Mr. Good.

"That practice means there are few surprises," he added.

"The intent of the [annual] letter was to give the department heads the parameters that we want to support," Mr. Good said.

But despite the ground rules laid out in the fall, some increases topped the three per cent mark.

Filling the gas tanks for the dozen trucks in the public works fleet is running up a huge bill.

"We budgeted $15,000 for last year; we are budgeting $24,000 for this year," said Fred LaPiana, director of the Tisbury department of public works (DPW).

His department was planning on moving ahead and using a hybrid diesel fuel. "The hybrid diesel fuel is more expensive but more efficient. But with the recent developments in the oil market, we may scrap the oil and just buy diesel," he said.

The DPW's overall budget will likely go from $891,709 to $948,260 next year, a six per cent increase thanks to labor union agreements and hazardous waste disposal.

Elsewhere in the proposed budget, ambulance services will rise from $176,346 to $195,557 next year, an increase tied to the town's shift to a full paramedic service.

The library budget will climb from $402,462 to $418,654. The town council on aging went from $176,215 to $192,113.

Educational costs take a big bite out of the overall budget. Two years ago, the cost of educating the town's youth was 41 per cent of the total expenditures. This year, the regional high school assessment is $2,255,130, down from than last year's $2,415,165.

The finance committee approved and supported the Tisbury School budget except for one sticking point - the school choice program.

The finance committee approved the school's budget for $3,993,640, but that's $172,861 less than school leaders asked for. The dispute centers around a reimbursement formula set by the Massachusetts Department of Education for the school choice program.

Mr. Good and his committee want to see money reimbursed to the school come back to the town. The town pays a fee to the state for its students going to other schools. The school committee receives money from the state for educating children who come from other towns.

"That income goes to the school committee and not the town. The point is we'd appreciate that money being returned to the town," Mr. Good said.

Mr. LaPorte wasn't taking any sides when he talked about educational expenses.

"School budgets and underwriting quality education," he said, "is the largest challenge of any municipal government, anywhere."