Oak Bluffs voters rejected a two percent increase in the rooms tax for lodging establishments, approved a .75 percent increase in the meals tax for restaurants. Voters also stripped most town elected officials of annual stipends, during special and annual town meeting decision-making Tuesday evening.
Many decisions remain, including most of the town department budgets and all of the Proposition 2.5 override questions. The town meeting recessed shortly before 11 pm, following more than three hours of debate. Voters returned to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center again Wednesday evening at 7 pm to continue work but failed to get through the warrant. They will return in May to finish.
When voters tossed the room tax, town officials scrambled to offset the projected $100,000 they had anticipated in revenue from the tax increase with cuts in other parts of the budget. They began by eliminating the stipends to most town officials, but they agreed to preserve the stipends for the chairman of the selectmen, $4,500, the selectmen, $3,000, and town constables, $500. The town meeting also eliminated the three percent raise proposed for the town clerk. They approved an amendment from the floor, setting the clerk’s salary for the next fiscal year at $74,360, the same as the current fiscal year, instead of the $76,590 proposed in the warrant.
Voter after voter came to the microphone to protest proposed fees and tax increases and to urge further cuts in town spending. “For the first time in my life,” said businessman and former selectman Todd Rebello, “I don’t feel like I’m getting my share. It’s not the selectmen’s fault, they don’t spend the money, we do. It’s got to start at town meeting.”
“To say we haven’t cut and tightened our belts, please, you know we have,” countered Greg Coogan, chairman of the selectmen. “Think twice before you’re swayed by words and exaggerations.”