Hold the Colas

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s budget has been thrust under the spotlight, like all government budgets as town and county leaders strive to develop responsible spending plans for the coming fiscal year without drastically cutting services, as a national recession worsens and state aid is slashed by millions of dollars. The regional planning commission’s unusual powers extend to its budget process which is autonomous and not subject to approval by the six towns.

The commission now has an opportunity to counter its critics, who charge that it is arrogant and out of touch, by being extra transparent and engage in open discussion with other government leaders about how it spends its money.

The commission’s annual budget for the coming year is a little under two million dollars. Some town leaders have criticized the commission for allowing cost of living increases as well as extra merit pay in staff salaries at a time when some other towns are giving up such increases. The criticism is valid.

Last week an association of Island finance committees put out a call for all governments on the Vineyard to give up cost of living increases this year, both as a meaningful gesture and a step toward balancing budgets increasingly at risk. Jon Snyder, a member of the Tisbury finance committee, summed things up succinctly when he said: “If revenues keep falling, towns will have little choice other than to cut personnel. Budgets are basically wages and benefits.”

The commission should join the crowd and freeze salaries this year. And every Island town that has not already done so, would be wise to follow suit.