Oak Bluffs voters approve maintenance and repair plan


Oak Bluffs voters unanimously approved a $250,000 package of maintenance and repairs to town buildings at a special town meeting on Tuesday, November 13. Town officials said repairs were deferred over the last few years because of tight fiscal constraints.

The meeting came after a day of heavy rain, when roofs on three town buildings were leaking water into offices and work spaces, according to one town official.

“Either we buy more buckets, or we fix the roof,” Bill McGrath said. Mr. McGrath advocated for the repairs, in his presentation of the town’s new capital improvement plan.

The repair plan includes new roofs for the police station ($60,000) and town hall ($35,000); exterior painting and repairs to the police station ($25,000) and the library ($25,000); repairs to the heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems (HVAC) for town hall ($35,000) and the library ($15,000); structural work on the Mainstay building at Sailing Camp Park ($45,000); and replacement of the fire station boiler ($10,000). Voters approved $60,000 more for repair of the library HVAC, from money remaining from the library building fund and other library accounts. The town will borrow money to fund the repairs.

The town meeting also approved borrowing $25,000 for an architectural study to evaluate construction of a new public safety building, and borrowing $15,000 for a study to evaluate major repairs or replacement of town hall.

The town finance and advisory committee voted five to two in favor of the studies. Committee member Maura McGroarty was one of the dissenting votes, and she spoke against borrowing money to fund the planning.

“I don’t think we should be borrowing money for studies,” Ms. McGroarty said. “We’re in a great trajectory toward being fiscally healthy and in good standing, but we’re not there yet. It’s a dangerous thing to do. I think it should be done at the annual town meeting.”

The measure required approval of two-thirds of the voters. It succeeded by three votes, after a standing tally, according to moderator Jesse Law.

Voters debated an $8,016 expenditure to fund the Dukes County Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, with closer supervision by the town selectmen. The cost is in addition to the $99,519 assessment the town pays to the county. For the past two years, Oak Bluffs voters declined to fund the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, after several department heads said they never used the service.

No members of the board of health attended the meeting, but town administrator Bob Whritenour said the board favored rejoining the program.

County manager Martina Thornton spoke in favor of the article. “The benefits of the program are many,” Ms. Thornton said. “Town buildings and property, including beaches are treated at no charge.”

Ms. Thornton told voters the Oak Bluffs School is required by law to submit a pest control plan, approved by a licensed practitioner, annually to state authorities. She said IPM program director T.J. Heggarty is the authorized licensee.

“I have to warn you that if you vote the program down, we will have to pull the license,” Ms. Thornton said.

Priscilla Sylvia, longtime member of the school board, and other voters questioned Mr. Heggarty about his work at the school.

“We haven’t received services for the past eight years.” Ms. Sylvia said. “There hasn’t been a problem.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure on a voice vote.

Voters unanimously approved a correction in the salary and a cost of living increase for the town clerk, bringing the salary for the position to $76,901 for the current fiscal year.

In other action, voters authorized a transfer of $25,000 from the waterways improvement fund to finance construction of a town-owned marine fuel facility for Oak Bluffs Harbor

They approved spending an additional $25,000 above $92,888 already budgeted for the selectmen’s consultants and legal account to pay for conflict resolution training, strategic planning, a study to modernize the fire department, and a study for coastal improvement projects.

They approved $15,000 to demolish a condemned house at 10 Warwick Avenue and put a lien on the property to recover the demolition costs.

Voters approved $25,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to design improvements and repairs to Niantic Park, and authorized $12,326 in CPA funds to cover cost overruns in the construction of affordable housing in the old library building on Circuit Avenue and overruns in the Niantic Park engineering account.

Voters also changed the term of the town moderator from one year to three years, and they slightly modified personnel regulations for emergency medical service personnel.

The meeting began with an update on finances by town administrator Bob Whritenour, who estimated that the town had cut its free cash deficit by half in the fiscal year that ended July 30. Mr. Whritenour told voters he expects the Massachusetts Department of Revenue to certify the year-end free cash figures in the next few weeks.

“We’re conservatively estimating about a $400,000 [deficit], but nowhere near the $1 million we’ve seen in the past,” Mr. Whritenour said.

He said the progress came from exceeding revenue estimates and underspending department budgets. He said he expects to erase the rest of the deficit in the current fiscal year. “I think that’s some pretty strong performance,” Mr. Whritenour said.

The meeting ended at 8:25 pm, following more than an hour of debate. A total of 100 registered voters signed into the meeting, representing 2.9 percent of the town’s 3,445 registered voters.