Voters will be asked to approve a budget override and construction funds for a new town hall and fire station.
Oak Bluffs voters will gather at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, April 8, to take up a 31-article annual town meeting warrant and $25,717,645 operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year (FY 15) which begins on July 1, 2014.
But for a significant hike in education costs, the proposed town budget would represent an increase of 1.1 percent, a significant achievement for a town that three years ago had a free cash deficit of $880,000.
Now on stable financial ground, voters will be asked to address deferred capital projects that include a new town hall and new fire station.
On Thursday, April 10, voters will go to the polls between 10 am and 7 pm at the Oak Bluffs library meeting room to choose town officers and take action on a Proposition 2.5 override request and two debt exclusions needed to finance capital projects.
There are four contested races. Three candidates are running for two seats on the board of selectmen. Chairman of the selectmen Walter Vail and selectman Michael Santoro are running for re-election. Abraham Seiman, a member of the financial committee, hopes to unseat one of the incumbents.
The race for the open seat on the planning board pits a longtime incumbent against a well known community volunteer. Planning board chairman John Bradford is running for re-election against Ewell Hopkins Jr.
The contest for the open school committee seat is between Michael Hoyt and Michele Moore.
Raymond J. Moreis Jr. and George Brown will vie for a seat on the water district commission.
The $25,717,644 FY15 budget represents a 4.15 percent increase over the $24,683,116 FY14 budget. The majority of the increase is tied almost entirely to an increase in education expenses. Town leaders will seek a $600,000 Proposition 2.5 override to cover those costs.
Town officials said the hefty increase in education spending is due to a reduction in state education funding aid due to an increase in Oak Bluffs property valuations, combined with a net increase of 22 Oak Bluffs students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and an increase in the special needs budget. The high school assessment jumped from $3,775,202 to $4,351,782.
Town leaders plan to use $250,000 in so called free cash to reduce the amount needed to $350,000, but decided to make no change on the ballot in order to keep a $250,000 buffer against any surprise education expenses in FY16.
It is estimated that should the $600,000 override request pass it would cost the homeowner of a property valued at $500,000 an additional $118 per year.
Setting aside education expenses, the 1.1 percent budget increase will fund the hiring of a new Oak Bluffs police officer, 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, part time administrative support for the town assessor and seasonal help for the shellfish constable.
One warrant article underscores the town’s improving financial health, a request to transfer $250,000 of free cash to the stabilization fund, which would bring the stabilization fund total to $1,036,476.90, close to the 5 percent of the town’s operating budget, the goal set by town administrator Robert Whritenour three years ago.
“This is the first time since during my tenure on the financial committee that we’ve put money into the stabilization fund,” FinCom chairman Steven Auerbach said. “That’s shows we’re on the right track, thanks in large part to Bob [town administrator Robert Whritenour].”
Big ticket items
The biggest money requests on the annual warrant are tied to the proposed new town hall and new EMS/fire station, which will cost $6,830,000 and $8,288,000 respectively. The financial advisory board (FinCom) voted six to three in favor of the new fire/EMS station but were less enthusiastic about the new town hall, recommending it by a five to four margin.
“There are some on the committee who are reluctant to take on both projects at once,” FinCom chairman Steven Auerbach said in a telephone call with the Times. Mr. Auerbach said he endorsed both warrant items since the cost would be offset by the town’s declining debt on the Oak Bluffs school and library, as town administrator Robert Whritenour has publicly stated on numerous occasions. At last week’s candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women voters, chairman of the selectmen Walter Vail, speaking on his own behalf, expressed the majority opinion of the board of selectmen when he strongly endorsed construction of both buildings, adding that the longer the town waits on a new town hall, the more it will cost, and that studies have shown the foundation is literally crumbling.
Keenan and Kenny architects and Daedalus Projects, the same team responsible for the newly opened West Tisbury police station, will oversee the design and construction of both buildings, if voters approve the warrant articles.
Voters must approve both articles by a two-thirds vote.
Town taxpayers will also decide on debt exclusions for the proposed buildings at the polls.
Also on the warrant are articles to cut costs. These include reducing longevity pay for town employees and making town employees hired after July 1, 2014, ineligible for sick time buy back.
Voters will be asked to spend $139,000 in free cash to purchase two pickup trucks and one dump truck for the highway department. The current vehicles “require excessive repairs and have become unsafe,” according to the executive summary on the warrant.
Taxpayers are also being asked to spend $37,000 in free cash for the purchase and installation of new financial software in town hall.
The FinCom only voted against one item on the warrant, a request from the police department for $15,000 in free cash to pay for interior repairs to the station.
Taxpayers will be asked to approve five transfers from the ambulance reserve fund to pay for vehicles and equipment for the police and EMS/fire department: $220,000 for a new ambulance, $52,000 for a new fire department command vehicle, $28,000 for a life raft and new fire pump on the town’s emergency management boat, $70,000 for a new marked police SUV and animal control vehicle, and $33,690 for new body armor, portable radios, and bicycles for the police.
There will be four warrant articles requesting transfers from the Wastewater Retained Earnings fund: a new truck for the wastewater commission ($40,000), construction of a new garage for the department ($125,000), a study to determine if upgrades are needed to the system which is “operating closer to capacity than expected,” according to the executive summary ($50,000), and to improve and relocate electrical and water equipment to prevent damage in a major storm ($62,500).
Taxpayers will decide how and if to spend $746,664 of Community Preservation Act funds (CPA) on 11 projects. Affordable housing and repairs to various town facilities make up most of the list.
In what promises to be a lively conversation, the voters will be asked to appropriate $111,600 to the town of Aquinnah to help move the Gay Head Lighthouse away from the eroding cliff where it now stands.
The town will be asked to adopt an article, which will also be placed before voters in the six Island towns, that would create one set of lawn fertilizer regulations to protect groundwater and estuaries from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, through the creation of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) known as the Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control district, which would overlay the entire Island.
The town warrant, with explanations and FinCom votes on each item, is available at the town website oakbluffsma.gov. A book with the same information will also be handed out at town meeting.
Correction: a previous version of this article stated that Kennan and Kenny were the architects for the new West Tisbury library; Oudens Ello Architecture are the architects of record for the West Tisbury library. Daedalus Projects managed both the West Tisbury library and police station.