Oak Bluffs voters asked for $484,361 in unusual override ballot

Oak Bluffs voters asked for $484,361 in unusual override ballot

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Oak Bluffs voters will decide two Proposition 2.5 override questions totaling $484,361, in an unusually timed election scheduled today, May 26. If approved, the override questions would increase the average tax bill by $97 and permanently increase the town’s tax levy limit.

The poll at the Oak Bluffs Library opens Thursday at noon, and closes at 7 pm.

The overrides would restore a broad range of budget cuts voters approved at the annual town meeting in April, including $230,000 to restart the town’s road paving schedule, and $75,000 to fill the position of finance director.

Customarily, Island town elections and override questions coincide with annual spring town meetings. However, meeting in March, the Oak Bluffs selectmen settled on a strategy to delay the override election, in order to educate voters on how the overrides would affect cuts to staff and services in fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1.

But, other than cursory discussion at the May 9 selectmen’s meeting and a brief announcement at Tuesday’s meeting, the selectmen and their finance and advisory committee did little to make a case for more spending. Although posted as required, there has been little advance publicity or discussion.

“I don’t really know what happened, people get busy,” chairman Kathy Burton said in a phone conversation with The Times Wednesday. “It never really happened. I do wish we had gotten some more communication. If nothing else, delaying it takes the emotion away from the vote. Often the vote for an override is connected with the vote for a selectperson. Maybe it takes the emotion away and helps people make a conscious decision about whether they want to raise taxes.”

Ms. Burton said she supports the override questions and planned to campaign up to the vote to restore spending.

“I think we’re about as bare bones as we can get,” Ms. Burton said. “We’ve got an ad hoc financial committee delving into every town department. I don’t know how we can continue to operate without an override.”

Restoring cuts

The first override question would restore $230,000 to the town highway department budget for repair and paving of town roads. For the past two years, the town did not fund any major road paving, interrupting its regular schedule of road maintenance.

The second override question lumps together 15 separate expenditures totaling $254,361. The largest of the group is for the town accountant department, which requests $75,000 to hire a finance director, a position vacant since the untimely death of finance director and treasurer Paul Manzi in October of 2009.

The second override question also asks voters to approve $50,000 to restore two part-time teacher’s aide positions at the Oak Bluffs School, cut in the budget approved by voters in April.

It asks for $30,000 to restore staffing at the shellfish department, and fund the town’s share of services from the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, which funds a shellfish seeding program. That program was cut by half in the FY 2012 spending plan.

Voters are asked whether they want to approve $28,000 to restore staff cuts in the police department, and provide money for animal control services.

Also requested is money to restore services and staffing cuts for the planning board ($14,800), fire department ($13,000), library ($12,501), treasurer’s department ($8,000), council on aging ($7,750), ambulance ($6,430), health department ($4,000), building department ($3,880), and the finance and advisory committee ($1,000). The last item is to pay for a clerk to record the minutes of finance and advisory committee meetings.

Tax toll

The average Oak Bluffs single-family home is valued at $535,683, with an annual tax bill of $3,767. If voters approve the first override question authorizing paving and repair of town roads, the average tax bill would increase by $46.45. If voters approve the second override question restoring spending and staff cuts, the average tax bill would increase an additional $50.49.

Approving the override questions would also increase the town’s tax levy limit, which has a compound effect on future tax bills. Under the tax limiting provisions of Prop 2.5, the town can increase its total tax levy by 2.5 percent without voter approval. If voters approve the overrides, the tax levy will increase, and tax bills will increase proportionately next year when the town levies the allowable 2.5 percent on the larger total tax base. An override results in a permanent increase in the tax levy limit.

Under Prop 2.5, any tax increase more than 2.5 percent requires a majority vote of selectmen to place an override article on the town meeting warrant, a majority vote at town meeting, and a majority vote by ballot in a town election. If the override involves borrowing money, a two-thirds vote of town meeting is required.