Oak Bluffs selectmen approve FY 2015 budget

In a divided vote, Oak Bluffs selectmen signed off on the town budget for fiscal year 2015 at their regular meeting on Tuesday night. The budget includes a Proposition 2.5 override for approximately $600,000 needed to pay for an increase in the cost to educate Oak Bluffs students.

A reduction in state funding due to high property valuations in Oak Bluffs, combined with a net increase of 22 students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and an increase in the special needs budget fueled the cost hike.

At a finance committee public hearing on the budget on February 20, committee chairman Steven Auerbach noted that the original override was in the range of $1.2 million but had been reduced by money from the Governor’s budget for State Aid and the state certification of the regional school assessment. The override will cost the homeowner of a property worth $500,000 an additional $118, he said.

Selectmen Kathy Burton, Greg Coogan, and chairman Walter Vail voted in favor of the budget. Selectman Michael Santoro was absent, and selectman Gail Barmakian cast the dissenting vote.

Ms. Barmakian said that the selectmen did not have enough time to vet the budget before passing it along. “I feel strongly about this,” she said.

“Presenting override for $600,000 is tough for me.”

Mr. Vail countered by saying, “Everybody knew there was going to be an override. It’s not a secret.”

In a telephone conversation Wednesday morning, Mr. Vail said Ms. Barmakian had ample of time to register her concerns. ”Bob [town administrator Robert Whritenour] took us through the budget line by line in early January. That was the time to raise questions.”

Mr. Vail added that Ms. Barmakian could have also stated her objections at any of the subsequent selectmen’s meetings.

Omitting the added education costs, the town budget will increase by 1.1 percent, well below the Proposition 2.5 cap. The budget increase will go to hiring a new patrol officer at the Oak Bluffs police department, increased hours for seasonal help at the board of health, a seasonal recreation director, the consolidation of the EMS and fire departments, seasonal cleaning and maintenance of public restrooms, temporary workers for an increased number of elections and part time administrative support for the town assessor.

The only new increase in the budget originally presented to the selectmen in January was $6,000 for seasonal help for the shellfish constable.

Ms. Barmakian, the dissenting vote, suggested the town delay hiring an additional police officer until educational costs decreased. Mr. Vail pointed to an earlier town vote authorizing the hiring of an additional officer and the costs of overtime the department now incurs.

Ms. Barmakian also voted against a debt exclusion needed to pay for the new town hall and fire station.

“I think having only a 1.1 percent increase is pretty remarkable,” said selectman Greg Coogan.  “We’ve been very tight for years. If we have a little margin there, we might have money for lifeguards and other things we want.”