Oak Bluffs voters have only 19 warrant articles to deal with on Tuesday, April 12, but town officials predict vigorous debate over spending issues when residents gather for annual and special town meetings at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School performing arts center, beginning at 7 pm.
The budget that awaits them totals $24.7 million, a 1.1 percent increase over last year. Separately, voters will be asked to approve $484,361 worth of Proposition 2.5 overrides that would restore, at the cost of higher taxes, some of the deep cuts town officials made in balancing the fiscal year 2012 spending plan.
(Warrant and budget are available at mvtimes.com)
Duncan Ross, chairman of the selectmen, expects dissent on the budget.
“I’m hoping for a quick, efficient town meeting,” Mr. Ross said, “but I am well aware of the fact that the electorate nationwide is on edge. I’m hoping cooler minds prevail.”
First on the agenda is a special town meeting. Of the five articles on the warrant, three request transfers from the stabilization, or “rainy day,” fund.
Because of deficits over the past two years, the town has no free cash available to absorb extra expenses in the current fiscal year.
The largest item on the special town meeting warrant is a request to transfer $50,000 to repair the heating and air conditioning system at the library. The town has already spent approximately $73,000 in repairs in the six years the library has been open.
Voters will also be asked to transfer $31,000 from the stabilization fund for accounting services. The death of town finance director Paul Manzi put critical accounting work behind schedule and the town missed several deadlines for state financial reporting. A state Department of Revenue review of town finances compounded the money problems when state officials would not certify the town’s tax rate on time, because projected revenues were falling short of the money needed to pay for current-year operating expenses.
Also on the warrant are requests for stabilization fund transfers for $24,000 to pay for veterans’ services, and $20,000 for disposal of hazardous waste from the Lake Avenue street project completed last spring.
Also requested is $5,558 for extra work by the tax collector’s office, and $5,000 for extra work in the building office.
First up on the annual town meeting warrant is the $24.7 million operating budget. The town’s budget writers took a different approach this year. They will present voters with a balanced budget that reflects staff cuts in the police, school, finance, shellfish, and library departments, as well as cuts in the council on aging. For the third consecutive year, the town would forego more than $200,000 in road maintenance.
Also reduced are expenditures for animal control, shellfish management, planning, and tax work.
If they want to avoid those cuts, but spend more taxpayer money, voters may approve the Proposition 2.5 override requests. In the past, budgets have included overrides. When voters rejected most of the Proposition 2.5 questions, town finance officials scrambled to cut department spending shortly after town meeting.
There have been rumblings this spring about a petition to end the three percent property tax surcharge that partly funds Community Preservation Act projects, but that issue is not on the warrant. “Some see it as an extra tax, which it is, but I see it as a tax that has done a lot of good,” Mr. Ross said. Still, he expects spirited debate on the community preservation committee recommendation to spend $632,000 on various projects.
A total of $200,000 would go to the town’s new affordable housing trust, to be spent at the discretion of the affordable housing committee. The Dukes County Regional Housing Authority rental assistance program is slated to get $132,000 under the plan. There is also money for engineering studies of Sunset Lake, Lake Park, and Niantic Park.
The wastewater department will ask voters to take the first step toward sewering homes near Lagoon Pond, by transferring $150,000 from the wastewater earnings account.
Article 10 has generated controversy. It would change a small parcel of land on Winthrop Avenue from residential to commercial property. The article, submitted by selectmen, would allow deliveries to the rear of Tony’s Market, instead of through the parking lot beside the store on Dukes County Avenue. Selectmen say the town fields numerous complaints about congestion caused by delivery trucks and store patrons.
Dave Richardson, who serves as town meeting moderator, owns the store. He will not preside over debate on Article 10. “I will step down, and I’ll be in a standby role if there are questions about how it will actually work, how many trucks, what days,” Mr. Richardson said.
A flyer circulated by some residents urges voters to reject the zoning change. Letters to the Times on both sides of the article are printed (and online) in this issue.
“What about the safety of the families on Winthrop Ave?” the flyer says. “Winthrop Ave. is two blocks long with 16 small year-round houses, one park and 14 children under the age of 14. It is zoned residential and it should stay that way.”
The annual town meeting will mark the end of Mr. Richardson’s 12-year tenure as moderator. He will not run for reelection. Jack Law, who has served on various town boards and committees, is running unopposed for the position in the elections slated for April 14.
“Town meeting is always interesting,” Mr. Richardson said. “You never know quite what’s going to happen. That’s part of the fun of it for me.”