Salaries, services on the budget cutting block in Oak Bluffs
Having resolved the current fiscal year budget crisis with a series of cuts, Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday turned their attention to the next fiscal year and a proposed operating budget that would sharply reduce many town services.
The draft budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, is still evolving, but the $24.7 spending plan selectmen discussed would eliminate animal control, reduce the number of summer police officers, reduce the amount of shellfish the town receives through seed programs, further reduce road maintenance, and cut back hours for the Council on Aging.
Voters may be asked to use tax dollars to restore the cuts. Selectmen discussed placing two Proposition 2.5 override questions before voters at a special election to be scheduled some time after the April 14 annual town election.
The overrides would include $230,000 to pave town roads. The town postponed road maintenance when similar amounts were cut from the highway department budget in each of the past two years. Another $256,711 would be sought to fund a long list of spending items including money to hire a town finance director, and restore cuts in the Oak Bluffs School department.
"We're saying to the voters, 'We can live with this, but there is going to be a reduction in services. If you want those services, here's the override and you can vote yea or nay,'" selectman Ron DiOrio said.
"Within this budget there are a lot of things that aren't going to get done," chairman Duncan Ross said. "We're cutting back in a number of areas. In just about every department we're looking at reductions in money and services, even if we vote the overrides."
The working draft budget cuts $50,000 in salary costs from the Oak Bluffs school, eliminates $16,000 for animal control, cuts $15,000 from the shellfish department's contract labor account, cuts $15,000 from the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group $30,000 assessment, cuts $12,501 from the library staff salaries account, cuts $8,000 from the treasurer's department for tax title legal research to return abandoned land to the town, cuts $4,000 from the patrolmen salaries account, and cuts $4,000 for summer restaurant inspections by the board of health.
The spending plan falls $32,668 short of projected revenues, but town administrator Michael Dutton said he is confident the budget will be balanced when several budget and revenue estimates are firmed up.
Selectman walks out
Selectmen normally meet each Tuesday. With pressing business at hand, there was some discussion of whether selectmen could properly proceed with town business following a complaint by selectman Gail Barmakian that the meeting was not properly posted.
Under the state's new open-meeting law, the details of the meeting, including the agenda, must be posted in a spot accessible to the public 24 hours per day. The town has been complying with the new law by posting meeting notices in the window of town hall.
"There was a slight error in posting this meeting," chairman Duncan Ross said Tuesday night. "We posted the meeting, but the agenda was not posted."
Ms. Barmakian told those present the meeting was not properly posted last Friday, and was still not properly posted on Monday.
"The issues here are very important," Ms. Barmakian said. "Whether it was a mistake or not, I think it's important to comply. This meeting could be subject to a complaint, and I'm extremely uncomfortable."
Ms. Barmakian said she notified town administrator Michael Dutton of her objections by e-mail on Tuesday. Mr. Ross asked her why she did not notify the town on Friday, when there was still time to comply with the 48-hour advance notice requirement.
"That's not the point," Ms. Barmakian said. "I wasn't physically here Friday. I asked somebody to look. I verified it on Monday."
There was a brief discussion on a motion to continue with the meeting and a scheduled public hearing. "With all good conscience and with all due respect, I don't think I will be able to partake in this meeting," Ms. Barmakian said. With that, she gathered her meeting materials and quietly left the selectmen's meeting room.
The four remaining selectmen voted to continue.
In a phone conversation Wednesday, Ms. Barmakian said she does not intend to file a formal complaint, but she said anyone has the right to file such a complaint, and the legality of any votes taken at the meeting would be in question. She said she is still unclear about how and where meetings are posted, and concerned about the integrity and transparency of the democratic process.
Selectmen minus Ms. Barmakian opened a public hearing to review proposed regulations for seasonal stationary peddler's regulations, which govern the operation of food sales at big bridge and little bridge during the summer beach season.
The proposed regulations call for three licenses, one at big bridge, and two at little bridge. The regulations, which currently allow sale of pre-packaged food and drinks, would expand to allow the sale of hot dogs and hamburgers. The license fee would also increase from $1,000 to $2,500.
Selectmen heard from Mary Kay Mazza, and Carolyn Dowd, who now hold the licenses. It was Ms. Mazza's request to expand her menu that prompted a review of the regulations.
"Noise and smell are a huge issue for us," selectman Greg Coogan said. "I don't think we want to be in position of changing anyone's experience at the beach."
Selectmen Ron DiOrio raised the prospect of putting the licenses out to bid.
"That property is a valuable resource for the town," Mr. DiOrio said. "It might make more sense to do a bid process. The three highest bidders get the license for three years. If you try to rent a space anywhere in town to sell the same stuff, you're not going to rent it for $2,500, I'll tell you that."
Mr. Ross raised the possibility of issuing new licenses for vendors at the town beaches along Sea View Avenue.
Selectmen took no action, but said they would revise the proposed regulations based on the public hearing, and vote at a later time.
In other action Tuesday, selectmen endorsed the appointment of an ad-hoc committee proposed by the Community Development Committee to take an in-depth look at town finances.
The members are Jim Westervelt, Terry Appenzellar, Nancy Phillips, Alison Shaw, Priscilla Sylvia, Mike Achilles, Steve Auerbach, Iona Pressley, Harvey Beth, Brian Hughes, Renee Balter, Richard Westcott, Fred Hancock, and Bob Huss.
After a discussion about whether including a selectman on the sub-committee might politicize the committee's work, selectmen agreed to appoint a non-voting liaison. Mr. Ross appointed Mr. DiOrio to that post.
Mr. DiOrio accepted the appointment, and drew a laugh from his colleagues when he joked, "It gives me an incredible feeling of power, that with these 15 people, you think I could run it."