For Oak Bluffs and its selectmen, a hurdle to overcome


The Oak Bluffs finance and advisory committee has done its job, recommending on Thursday last week nearly a quarter of a million dollars in cuts to the town’s fiscal 2012 budget. Now, it’s up to the selectmen.

They’ve made a good start by soliciting the vital work of the committee, steeped as it is in budget analysis and disciplined in identifying saving opportunities, despite the discomfort associated with such recommendations. The selectmen have also moved to repair the accounting chaos that has hobbled them and the town. And, they’ve found a professional manager to organize town affairs after the departure of Michael Dutton, the former selectmen and paid manager.

But now, the five selectmen face the toughest part of their job. They have to debate and decide the questions posed to them by the finance committee’s recommendations. Deciding, rather than recommending, is among the hardest jobs any leader has to do.

Whether the five can work together over such painful but critical issues as these are will be a conclusive test of executive leadership. The well being of the town and the respect of the voters and taxpayers the selectmen work for depend on their decisions.

The September 1 recommendations call for sharp cuts in the town’s Council on Aging staff, elimination of a library position, and a series of other expense-reduction measures totaling $245,000. Reductions of that magnitude will be required to meet the obligations imposed by voters in the current budget and the unbudgeted costs of setting the town’s government and finances on a sounder footing. Plus, this sum represents just the current year’s dilemma. Budgeting for the 2013 fiscal year will require an extended and unrelieved effort to spend less and do everything the town does more efficiently. If the selectmen fail now, their challenge worsens next year, and their credit with voters diminishes.

Besides the obligation to make good decisions now, the selectmen must do something more. They must sell the budget cuts to voters. Doing so will require the five of them to act in concert and energetically, because none of these proposed budget changes will satisfy all their constituents. For Oak Bluffs to escape financial strangulation, the selectmen must act together and persuasively.