How did Oak Bluffs get its spending habits and realistic revenue projections in balance? It was an exercise in thoughtfulness and discipline. The town’s refreshed financial leadership, including citizen committees, department heads, finance committee members, the selectmen, and particularly the professional leadership of town administrator Bob Whritenour got the job done.
Consequently, Oak Bluffs voters at town meeting last week faced a brighter picture than they’ve seen for several years, so they approved a $25.5 million operating budget for the next fiscal year that included modest proposals to restore recreation programs and a limited number of lifeguards on town beaches.
And, as Mr. Whritenour told them, the fresh and conservative revenue projections, plus a tight budget, will at last erase the town’s $600,000 free cash deficit and put the town in the black for the first time in four years.
“We hope to eliminate that free cash deficit, or come very close to it, by July 1, 2013,” Mr. Whritenour told the voters.
This reshaping of town finances also allowed voters to agree to spend some money on needed municipal maintenance work, by borrowing $975,146 for paving and roadway repair projects that have been delayed over the past five years as the town struggled. And, in a decision that strikes this page as wrong-headed, considering the possibility of a private, commercial alternative, voters endorsed spending $426,000 to build a marine fuel facility on Oak Bluffs Harbor.
The town’s broad-based effort began with a committee, steeped in budget analysis and disciplined in identifying saving opportunities, despite the discomfort associated with such recommendations. The selectmen moved to repair the accounting chaos that has hobbled them and the town. And, they found a professional manager, Mr. Whritenour, to organize town affairs.
Finally, the five selectmen stood up to the toughest part of their job. They made difficult decisions. Deciding, rather than recommending, is among the hardest jobs any leader has to do. And, they, with Mr. Whritenour’s confident and clarifying explanations, sold the plan to town voters. They passed a stern and conclusive test of executive leadership. The well-being of the town and the respect of the voters and taxpayers the selectmen work for continue to depend on their decisions.
For Oak Bluffs to escape financial strangulation, the selectmen had to act together and persuasively, and they did.