Oak Bluffs votes account transfers, rejects county pest control

— File photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs voters approved $216,000 in year-end account transfers, including a $106,000 withdrawal from the town’s stabilization fund, at a special town meeting Tuesday. The transfers were needed to close a shortfall in revenues for the current fiscal year.

A total of 92 voters were present when the meeting began shortly after 7 pm, representing 2.8 percent of the town’s 3,294 registered voters.

The largest gap was in the line item that covers health care for town employees and retirees, which cost the town $142,000 more than it planned.

“There’s a shortfall for two reasons,” town administrator Michael Dutton said. “We had twelve to fifteen changes, folks coming in and signing up, or changing from single to family coverage, and we budgeted that before we knew the accurate retiree expense for health care.”

There was relatively little debate over the article, but it was clear voters are not pleased with town officials’ handling of financial affairs.

Voter Charlie Minor noted that there were 16 separate transfers before voters.

“That’s approximately 15 percent of the budgeted line items that we got wrong when we did the budget,” Mr. Minor said. “Not a very good percentage. I’m not in favor of taking money out of stabilization, or what some people call the rainy day fund. I don’t think we’ve got to the rainy day yet. I know things are bad, but I think they’re bad because of budgeting and expense overruns, not because of revenue shortfalls.”

In response to questions from former selectman Kerry Scott, Mr. Dutton said the balance in the stabilization fund is approximately $1.2 million dollars, and that the town is running a deficit of $180,000 in the “free cash” account, a situation equivalent to an overdrawn checking account in a family budget.

Pest control

Voters rejected an article asking for $9,743 to cover the net cost for the town’s share of the Dukes County Integrated Pest Control program. In April, voters approved a fiscal year 2012 budget that did not include funding for the program. Selectmen agreed, at the request of county manager Russell Smith, to ask voters again.

Thomas J. Hegarty, director of the one-man county department, said all municipal properties were eligible for the county service and added that the town has used his pest control services at the town transfer station, dog pound, harbor bulkhead, Eastville Beach, and little bridge.

Monthly department reports submitted by Mr. Hegarty to county manager Russell Smith (available at mvtimes.com) do not mention those locations. In reports covering July 2010 through January 2011, the first seven months of the current fiscal year, Mr. Hegarty noted eight visits to “OB,” on August 4, 12, 16, and November 2. He noted visits to “Buddies,” a commercial garage, on August 4, December 16, 18, and January 14.

Voter Catherine Deese questioned the $55 fee the county charges private homeowners for pest control.

“I was given direction from management,” Mr. Hegarty said. “It’s a heavily discounted price.” He said the fee was in part to ensure homeowners are home when he arrives for an appointment, and he urged voters to contact county commissioners if they object to the fee.

Kathy Burton, chairman of the selectmen, asked town department heads if they used the service.

“Not in recent memory, five years or so,” said highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr., who is responsible for maintenance of town buildings, beaches, and most parks.

“Speaking for this current year, we have not used the pest management service,” said Oak Bluffs School principal Colin Hart.

In a standing vote, 29 people voted for the measure, 43 voted to defeat the article.

Historic twist

Voters threw a monkey wrench into the Cottage City Historic District’s plans to add the site of the Island’s first African-American church to the district. The parcels at the corner of Dukes County Avenue and Masonic Avenue were slated for the Bradley Square affordable housing development, but that project has faltered. The land is now for sale, and last week the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank began foreclosure proceedings.

During the annual town meeting in April, voters overwhelmingly approved the measure, but the office of the attorney general refused to certify the addition, because the article on the annual town meeting warrant did not include a map, as required by law.

What historic district chairman David Wilson described as a housekeeping article quickly turned into de facto reconsideration of the measure passed at the annual town meeting.

“I think we’ve really got to be cautious with this,” said former selectmen Herbert Combra Jr. said. “The banks are trying to sell it, they can’t sell it. Who’s going to inherit this? With that designation on it, they’re not going to touch this.”

Mr. Wilson pointed out that the town is not buying the property, and the article represented no cost to the town. But voters rejected the measure by a standing vote of 52-33.

Roundabout debate

Also Tuesday, following a long and wandering discussion over the roundabout proposed for the intersection of Barnes Road and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, voters agreed to appropriate $3,000 to secure temporary rights of way.

The town has already secured rights of way for the project, but wanted to secure temporary rights that would allow contractors to step on private property in order to work on sidewalks and landscaping in the public way.

Town officials told voters that money was not likely to be spent.

Tom Currier, representing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Highway Division, said local taxpayers would not have to put up funds for design or construction of the $1.4 million project.

“Your (state) highway department has picked up the cost of the design, and we, along with the federal government, are going to pick up the cost of construction,” Mr. Currier said. “What we’re asking you for is at the most, $3,000.”

Voters finally approved the measure by a vote of 64 to 16.

Rake rejected

Voters defeated by a wide margin a petitioned article to purchase a beach rake for $34,000. Town counsel Ron Rappaport said the purchase could not be funded by harbor landing fees, as suggested in the article, and town officials said there was no money in the budget for the purchase, maintenance, fuel, or operation of the machine to clean town beaches.

Several residents spoke in sharp terms about the condition of town beaches, complaining of glass, rocks, and debris in the sand spread on the beaches from the dredging of Sengekontacket Pond.