Already under pressure for the lengthy pace of its development reviews, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has come under heightened scrutiny over its budget for next year. In a strongly-worded letter this week, the Chilmark finance committee informed the commission that it had voted to not recommend the MVC budget to voters. “It is the feeling of the finance advisory committee that the budget and its presentation reflect a lack of clear management, focus and prioritization,” the letter said.
The letter was sent to commission chairman Fred Hancock on Feb. 25 by Chilmark executive secretary Timothy Carroll. Mr. Carroll requested that executive director Mark London contact the town immediately for a meeting to discuss the issue.
“The Chilmark selectmen meet on March 3 to call the annual town meeting and approve the warrant. They hope to have a conversation with the MVC before then and a plan for moving forward to the annual town meeting. Please have the executive director contact me to discuss our next steps,” Mr. Carroll wrote.
The $1.45 million budget for fiscal year 2015, an increase of 10 per cent over last year, was approved by the commission in January. Increased staffing legal costs were cited as the principal reasons for the increase.
The commission has 10 staff members; total spending on salaries next year is $771,266. The budget includes a planned 2.13 per cent cost of living increase and an average 2.4 per cent merit increase for staff.
The budget also calls for an additional $75,000 to be added to the general reserve fund, which took a hit last year due to unexpectedly high legal fees.
Most of the commission’s funding — just over $1 million this year — comes through mandatory assessments collected from Vineyard towns and Gosnold using a formula based on property valuations. The commission, a regional planning agency created by an act of the state legislature 40 years ago, also relies on grant funding for part of its budget.
In its letter to the commission this week the finance committee said it had calculated the budget increase at 14 per cent over last year and 13 per cent over the past three years.
The text of the letter follows:
At our final meeting held Feb. 20, 2014, the Chilmark finance advisory committee discussed the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s FY2015 proposed budget and the assessment to the town of Chilmark. As you are aware, towns in Massachusetts are required to keep their annual assessment of taxes below 2 1/2 per cent unless the voters approve an override question for the increase. It is difficult to keep this increase under 2 1/2 per cent when the cost of services can increase at a higher rate due to conditions such as labor or economic conditions.
For Chilmark, our entire budget was up 2.3 per cent (a reduction over the past three years) once the regional services of education and planning were backed out. With the schools and Martha’s Vineyard Commission included we are up 6.43 per cent.
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission was up 14.19 per cent over last year, and an average of 13.26 per cent over the past three years.
After reviewing the information presented to the Chilmark finance advisory committee by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the committee voted to not recommend the proposed FY2015 MVC budget. It is the feeling of the finance advisory committee that the budget and its presentation reflect a lack of clear management, focus and prioritization.