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Advisory Board Minutes 2006-02-08

Meeting Minutes
Wednesday, February 8, 2006 at 5:30 p.m.
County Administration Building

Call to Order
Chairman John Early, West Tisbury CAB representative (14.05%) and the County Advisory Board members joined the Dukes County Commissioners meeting in progress at 5:33 pm.  A quorum was present with 75.99% of the weighted vote.  County Advisory Board Members present included: Art Smadbeck, Edgartown representative (32.85%); Tristan Israel, Tisbury representative (13.82%); and Michael Dutton, Oak Bluffs representative (15.27%). Dukes County Commissioners John Alley, Leonard Jason, Jr., Leslie Leland, Robert M. Sawyer, and Nelson Smith were also present.  

Other representatives or visitors present included, County Manager E. Winn Davis, Deborah Potter, Executive Assistant, Joanie Ames of MVTV; Woody Williams, Tisbury Resident; Phyllis Williams, Tisbury Resident, Sheriff Michael McCormack, Dukes County Sheriff; Noreen Mavro Flanders, Dukes County Treasurer; Steve Maxner, West Tisbury Resident, Jim Kinsella of the Vineyard Gazette; Diane Powers, Register of Deeds; Dan Flynn, Oak Bluffs Resident, and Sean Flynn, Martha’s Vineyard Airport Manager (at 6:00 pm).

Mr. Davis advised the group that the budget being presented is new.  He noted that the following items were removed from the budget:
q       Increases for the Engineering Department
q       Allocations for the new Archives
q       Purchase of Treasurer’s Software, which will instead be leased.

Mr. Davis noted that there was one new item in the budget: the addition of the Employee Assistance Program.  The program, he added, was a cost effective counseling program designed to aid and help employees with various life problems and to provide various professional training seminars and courses.  When asked what the cost was for the service, Mr. Davis replied that it is $5,000 per year, which is about $40 per employee.  Art Smadbeck asked what line depicted the cost and Noreen Mavro Flanders advised that it was line 51308 in each department.  Mr. Davis added that the amount was prorated out to each department based on the number of employees.

Mr. Davis also advised the Commissioners and Advisory Board members that the budget does not include any COLA increase.  Mr. Davis continued by noting that by taking these items out, the budget deficit is now $77,000.  He added that input is now needed to determine what areas to cut.  For the most part, he stated, every budget is level funded other than the routine increases that are expected with the exception of the increases for the VHCAP.  He noted that the figures comparing the values of the health insurance versus cola increases are not done at this time but will be worked on and provided for at a later meeting.  He added that most of our departments are single person entities so the possibilities for balancing the budget further include cutting programs and services or requesting an override.

Tristan Israel asked about the increases in salaries and Mr. Davis replied they are the result of are the normal pay scale increases with the exception of one position the assistant treasurer.  Noreen Mavro Flanders noted that she was requesting upgrade the assistant treasurer position as this position has a greater number of duties and responsibilities including acting as the parking clerk.  

Leslie Leland asked about Deborah Potter’s increase and Mr. Davis noted that there was no change from the previous year and the salary is reflective of the current grade and step.  Tristan Israel stated that he felt the VHCAP is great and is being supported but questioned if an override would be successful with the current political environment; therefore, he would like to go through things very carefully, line by line, to get some explanations as necessary.  He added that without the COLA figures the problem is exacerbated and the question becomes do we want to go for an override or cut programs.  Leonard Jason Jr. noted that he is still around $54,000 off, $59,000 now with the EAP expense, and that in general we are not in a good position without the override.  He added that there are some serious questions that need to be worked out together.  Art Smadbeck questioned what would happen if an override was not approved by the voters and that we should have a plan B.  

Tristan Israel stated again that we need to go over the budget even more carefully.  Mr. Davis noted that the amount of money needing to be cut exceeds the amount available and the bigger picture needs to be looked at.

Mr. Alley asked Leonard Jason Jr. to describe the areas he cut.  Mr. Jason replied he took out $87,822 from the Treasurers Budget, $20,000 from the Engineer’s Budget, $2,500 from the County Commissioner’s Budget, eliminated $2,000 for a temporary employee, removed $500 from In-state Travel, reduced the Administration Building budget by $2,000 and corrected the $1,800 error in the Health and Environment Budget.  Which totaled $59,426 before any COLA increases.  Mr. Davis noted that in the new budget there are some changes such as phone expenses down but electric expenses up.  

Mr. Israel asked for clarification in the following areas:

q       Executive Assistant Salary Change:  Mr. Davis noted that Ms. Potter was hired at the same step and grade as Brian Kinal.  Mr. Davis originally planned to offer the position at the lowest step; however, he offered the current step as authorized by the personnel by-laws.  Noreen Mavro Flanders also noted that for about 2 months the position was vacant so the annual salary is not accurately reflected.  

q       Legal Services:  Previously there was a more modest legal budget and the Advisory Board has asked the County not to spend more money on the airport litigation which Mr. Davis noted the county has honored.  Mr. Israel asked if this area could be cut in both the County and Airport budgets.  Mr. Davis noted that the Airport Budget is now included but although Mr. Davis doesn’t expect the funds to be expended soon, if the amount is cut to low the county would have to come back and get additional support.  Mr. Israel noted that legal expenses can always happen in government and Leonard Jason Jr. suggested cutting $5,000.  Mr. Early asked what do we expect for routine legal counsel.  Mr. Davis said without any litigation it could come down as low as $10,000.  Leslie Leland said he felt it was a bad area to cut considering what is pending.  Leonard Jason Jr. suggested that we consider the option to get the ball rolling.

q       Misc. Contractual:  This $8,000 covers expenses to pay for Cape and Islands license plates which in turn generates $115,000 in revenue.  

q       Natural Resources:  Is this a necessary $1,000 for Beach Rangers if the Trustees of Reservations are going to be patrolling the Beach.  Mr. Davis advised this amount is to patrol the other beaches.

q       Emergency Management:  The department was budgeted $3,400 in 2005 and now it is going up to $9,000 so what are the major changes in this area.  Mr. Davis noted that a year ago we didn’t have an emergency manager so this area was under-funded for a while and the equipment was not in good repair.  Additionally, Mr. Davis noted, there are new State requirements for training in Taunton that demand In-State travel.  Mr. Davis also explained that the department now has a van, courtesy of the Sheriff’s Department, which added an insurance expense.  Mr. Israel asked if the County EMA was coordinating with the other towns and was the service redundant.  Mr. Davis explained how that recently Mr. Cotnoir has created a new group of the island’s Emergency Managers and has coordinated at least one new MOU as well as improving communication in other areas.  Mr. Cotnoir also has been coordinating with the Town Health Agents in terms of the EDS inoculation system, serving on the Public Health committee, and has been selected by the state to run the HAN; therefore, we are not duplicating services but coordinating in other areas.

q       Treasurer:  Noreen Mavro Flanders noted that the figure for leasing the software is $8,000 and the $3,400 for shelves can be deleted.  

q       Rodent Control:  Mr. Israel noted this department receives a variety of comments and perhaps needs to be reevaluated to see if we are charging sufficient prices.  Rodent control is free to municipalities and schools.  In the private sector, services are provided but we do not charge as much as the private sector.  Mr. Davis noted that the county sees it as a public health issue as rodents carry disease.  Robert M. Sawyer noted that the service is vital and that Mr. Hegarty does a good job but the model should be reviewed to try to provide some additional revenue.  Mr. Davis noted that in the past few years his revenue has increased substantially.  Mr. Early noted it was an essential service but perhaps the groups need to look at eliminating the program to help balance the budget.  

q       Registry of Deeds:  Mr. Israel asked about the copy revenue reimbursement and Dianne Powers noted that the Registry of Deeds pays for the copiers but the revenues go to general fund.  John Alley asked if the forecasted revenue was accurate.  She noted that she is not seeing as much volume but the property values are higher and generating more revenue so she felt the figure was accurate.  Robert M. Sawyer noted that at an earlier meeting he reported that Plymouth County has a document charge of $1 per piece of paper that goes through the Registry of Deeds that in turn goes to the general fund of the county.  She advised that the State doesn’t look favorable for increasing fees and her impression from the State was to not look towards increasing fees.    

q       Sheriff’s Department:  Mr. Israel asked about the alarm fees.  Noreen Mavro Flanders noted it was the result of a reimbursement to the Sheriffs Department regarding the increase of the alarm fees and the restructuring of the billing service.  Mr. Israel also noted that the $33,000 of overhead is similar to other reimbursement.  Mr. Israel noted that he would look at the Airport budget and hopes that the Airport Commissioners show the same restraint that the County Commissioners have.

Mr. Smadbeck stated that he did not think that an override was a good idea.  He added that the Engineering Department shows no revenue.  Robert M. Sawyer noted that this could be a good time to review the pricing model for both the Engineering and Rodent control departments and possibly try to increase revenue.  Mr. Smadbeck noted that creating an extra fee could help off set some of the expenses of each department and that in particular the engineering department is a valuable service that does not need to be entirely subsidized. Mr. Davis asked the selectmen if they were willing to pay for the engineering service on a per hour basis.  Mr. Israel stated that his town would not for they would be paying twice.  Mr. Early disagreed with that by stating that the service would still be offered at a discounted rate.  Mr. Israel noted that he would need to see a proposal with figures.  

Art Smadbeck noted that we are increasing the subsidy to the VHCAP and to balance the budget the group may have to cut other programs.  He noted that everyone is focusing on expenses and not looking to increase revenue to balance the budget.  Mr. Davis noted that the Engineer’s rate per hour is about $52 dollars per hour and the regular rate is at least $100.  Sean Flynn noted that originally the towns could get reimbursed for the TIP projects.

Mike Dutton stated that he shared some of Tristan’s concerns about paying an assessment and then paying additional fee but if the combined expense was still below the going rate it might work.  He suggested that they still go through the budget and return to the department heads asking them to find a way to live within a budget and decrease expenses.  Mr. Davis noted that because of fixed costs and utilities expenses that are beyond our control, there are not many areas that can be cut.  

Mr. Early noted that the group cannot fine-tune $67,000 dollars out of the budget.  Mr. Alley noted that the Veterans’ Agent is really the responsibilities of the towns and if we are going to do big cuts this might be one area.  Nelson Smith noted that this should be examined.  John Alley noted that the original budget was 12 hours per week and is now up to 30 hours a week because of demand for the service despite the additional burden to the county.  Nelson Smith stated he would like the towns to pick up more of the tab.  Tristan Israel went on record as stated Tisbury town counsel disagrees with the opinion that the county can make an additional assessment.  He said that things like Health Care and the Veteran’s Agent are departments that are doing very well and supported by the community.   Art Smadbeck added that trying to balance the budget on this issue is not a good idea.  He noted it is a legal issue that needs to be worked out first before this can be discussed.  Leonard Jason Jr. noted that the idea was not to balance the budget on the basis of eliminating the Veterans Agent but determining if the towns have the obligation to pay for it.  After some additional discussion, Mike Dutton stated that if we have to go the route of an override what we want to demonstrate is that things like the Engineer and Veterans’ Agent are most cost effective when provided by the county as opposed to the towns. He said that when we can do that he would be happy to present that to his town.  Robert M. Sawyer noted that he is opposed to an override but would like to present a slightly different position.  He noted that the assessment to the towns is limited by 2.5% but over the years the county continues to expand and provide good and beneficial services.  He added that as the county expands these services, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to generate more revenue from the town to cover the expenses.  Mr. Israel noted that he doesn’t get compliments about the county but a lot of criticism; therefore, he is concerned that an override will not pass.  

Robert Sawyer noted that in Barnstable County they just performed a charter commission study and the individuals in this study came in with criticism and left with the feeling that the County (Barnstable) did a bad job of promoting itself which he feels is similar in our case.  Mr. Davis noted that the 2.5% increase in the assessment is restricted in that the county must redirect most of that increase to the Registry of Deeds and Sheriffs Departments as a maintenance of effort and offers a little amount in the way of actual revenue.  Mr. Israel stated that we should incorporate the changes and the COLA into the budget and then if an override is suggested, get the CAB an actual figure of what the override would be.  Mr. Early asked the CAB if they thought the override would pass.  Mr. Smadbeck noted that he didn’t think it would pass in Edgartown.  After some more discussion of the county assessments and beneficial services, Mr. Smadbeck said that the charter study needs to be reviewed as the model isn’t working as it stands and changes need to be made to ensure long term viability.

Mr. Davis also noted that assessments only cover 40% of our budget and 60% is revenue generated by the departments.  Mr. Smadbeck noted that when the charter commission study is convened it should look at the business structure of the county to work on solving these financial issues for the long term.  Tristan Israel noted that you have the county government but you offer services that people pay for which allows those services that are self-sustaining are going to survive and those that can’t won’t.  Mr. Jason noted that the county does provide many services that people can’t afford to pay for.

Mr. Davis stated that we have talked about cutting expenses and assessments but perhaps we should look at other revenue streams such as a room tax that would not impact our residents.  Leslie Leland asked that if for example you take the engineer department out would the towns turn around and contract that service anyway because the county can contract the service more economically.

Mr. Early noted that any override would be apportioned on the weighted vote but needed the approval of a majority of 4 out of 7 towns.  Art Smadbeck encouraged the commission to balance the budget and not go for an override.  Mr. Early noted that he did not want to present something to the towns that isn’t going to work.  Leonard Jason Jr. asked each CAB representative which program do they not want.  John Early said Rodent Control.  Mr. Israel noted that is the responsibility of the Dukes County commissioners to make these decisions.  Noreen Mavro Flanders noted that if we make a comparison to the town government and she stated that she does not want the CAB to minimize their impact on the process.  She noted that many people complain that they don’t have any voice in the county government but the CAB is their elected voice and final authority on the whole process.  Mr. Israel noted that it his responsibility to react to county decisions but not to set the course of the County for it is the responsibility of the County Commissioners to set the policy for the county.  

Mr. Alley noted that increasing the revenues in Engineering and Rodent Control departments and couple that with some of the deductions in other areas.  Then he stated we could see how much we can close the gap.  Dianne Powers noted that the Commissioners’ really need to add the COLA because the employees are constantly getting shortchanged year after year.  Robert M. Sawyer noted that on the bottom line regionalization makes sense because many things can be more effective when done together such as Health Care and he added that in all these functions the county does a good job.  He noted that the deficit for those 3 departments is $100,000 and that $18,000 per year increase in the assessment doesn’t cut it.  Robert M. Sawyer also asked that if the majority of the CAB were to recommend that the Veteran’s Agent expenses be done outside of the county would Tisbury agree to pay.  Leonard Jason Jr. asked if it would be appropriate to have an independent counsel review the legislation to get an unbiased opinion on an outside assessment for the veterans’ agent.  

Leslie Leland remarked that the override issue that is just a band aid because there are many costs that we just cannot control.  He stated that Mr. Smadbeck was correct in that the County needs to find a way to generated more revenue.  Robert M. Sawyer asked why doesn’t the CAB suggest to the Dukes County commissioners to figure out ways to increase revenue in other areas.  

Mr. Davis stated he would like to suggest that the 22nd is scheduled for a special meeting and we will get the budget out to everyone early for review.  Mr. Early asked the CAB if they wanted to meet and Mr. Smadbeck suggested postponing the County Discussion meeting and discuss this instead.  The CAB decided to meet at 5:30 on the February 15th at the Howes House.  

Mr. Israel noted that he still wanted to see a comparison of COLA to insurance premiums percentages and Dianne Powers added that when anyone looks at insurance some are on union contracts and that some employees’ contributions can not be changed.  

Mr. Early and the CAB adjourned at 7:08.  

·       The next County Advisory Board for Expenditures Meeting is concurrent with the Dukes County Commissioners Regular Business Meeting on Wednesday, February 15, 2006 at 5:30 p.m. at the Howes House.

Respectfully Submitted by:

JOSEPH E. SOLLITTO JR., Clerk of the Courts392006_43539_0.bmp

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