Oak Bluffs considers sustainable $24.1 million budget

— File photo by Mae Deary

Oak Bluffs voters will be asked for patience when they gather for annual town meeting Tuesday. It will be the first annual town meeting for new town administrator Bob Whritenour, who said he wants to provide voters with a clear assessment of the town’s financial challenges.

Voters will be asked take action on a $24.1 million 2013 fiscal year operating budget, up 1.1 percent over the previous year. “What we hope is to lay it right out so people know exactly where their budget is, where their budget is going, so they can make decisions,” Mr. Whritenour said. “We look forward to involving the voters in the big picture process.”

The annual town meeting, preceded by a special town meeting, begins at 7 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center.

Voters go to the polls two days later, on Thursday, April 12. Incumbents Kathy Burton and Greg Coogan and former selectman Roger Wey will compete for two seats on the board of selectmen. There are no Proposition 2.5 override questions.

Budget bump

The 2013 budget, for the fiscal year that begins July 1, represents a dollar increase of $290,987.

Mr. Whritenour said the budget is a sustainable spending plan based on conservative revenue projections. He said if the town can exceed revenue estimates, it will create a positive financial performance that will begin to erase a substantial free cash deficit that has left the town strapped for cash.

“People are going to have to have a little patience,” Mr. Whritenour said. “A lot of what we had to do was lower expectations based on actual revenue. It’s going to take two or three years.”

At the beginning of the current budget year, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue certified the free cash account at a deficit of $888,046.

Finance factor

Mr. Whritenour said the spending plan includes few new initiatives, but restores funding for personnel who handle the town’s finances. That is reflected in the accounting department budget, which nearly tripled over last year. Most of the increase covers the $75,000 salary for a new town accountant, a job vacant since the retirement of the previous town accountant in 2009.

Also increased is the town treasurer’s budget. The town intends to hire a treasurer and eliminate the position of assistant treasurer.

The budget includes a 1.5-percent cost of living increase for town employees. Police officers and teachers are due a 2-percent pay hike under the terms of contracts negotiated with the town.

The selectmen’s budget will increase from $993,573 to $1,183,368, or 19.1 percent. The budget reflects anticipated increases in liability insurance, audit costs, and the cost of educating a special needs student.

The police department budget will increase from $1,723,220 to $1,833,075, or 6.4 percent. The police budget includes $34,859 for animal control services. Last year’s budget included no money for animal control.

The budget calls for $6,034,520 in spending for the Oak Bluffs School, up 2 percent from last year. The town’s assessment for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School decreased this year from $3,652,789 to $3,573,776, down 2.2 percent, based on the formula used to assign costs for the regional school.

Council on Aging spending is projected at $208,482. A year-to-year increase of 11.2 percent reflects the restoration of full-time hours for the staff.

The bottom line in the town meeting documents presented to voters will appear lower than the previous year budget, reflecting a structural change in the budget process. In previous years voters approved state and county assessments as part of the budget. Those assessments are set by state law, and voters have no say in the expenditures. This year the assessments, which total $821,573, are not part of the budget total. The assessments cover part of the cost of county operations, schools, and the regional transit authority.

Ambulance spending

The budget is one of 24 articles on the annual town meeting warrants. Other articles include a request to transfer $281,250 from the ambulance reserve fund. The money would fund rebuilding of a 2005 ambulance ($150,000), an upgrade for ambulance department software ($35,000), replacement of an emergency response vehicle ($56,000), replacement of an unmarked cruiser ($27,000) and replacement of police department bullet-proof vests ($12,750).

The Community Preservation committee recommends $233,953 in spending. Projects include support for the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority rental assistance program ($132,000), preservation of a Martha’s Vineyard Museum collection ($44,953), restoration of stained glass windows at the Untied Methodist Church ($32,000), and preservation of the East Chop Bluff and roadway ($25,000).

Voters will also be asked to increase fines for violation of bylaws including bans on nude bathing, peeping or spying, ball playing or missile throwing in the streets, and riding roller skates, skateboards, or bicycles on certain downtown streets.