Oak Bluffs town meeting hiccups

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School expenditures in Oak Bluffs push the town budget to the brink. — Martha's Vineyard Times file pho

In a departure from recent years, Oak Bluffs will be unable to use the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, April 14, for the annual town meeting, due to a scheduling conflict. Instead, voters will convene in the Oak Bluffs School cafeteria.

Banjo virtuosos Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn have the Performing Arts Center stage booked.

The change in venue was announced at the Tuesday-night selectmen’s meeting. Town clerk Laura Johnston is developing a notification program to inform all voters of the change. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said that the conflict was due in part to the annual town meeting being held one week later than usual. He said he is reviewing special town meeting dates several years into the future with appropriate school personnel to avoid future scheduling conflicts.

Town hall and the high school administration also crossed wires when it came to putting on the town meeting warrant the vote to fund a $3.9 million bond for construction funding of the new administration building. The letter from Superintendent James Weiss to Chairman of the Selectmen Greg Coogan, informing him that the MVRHS district committee had approved the 20-year bond issue, is dated March 4, 2015. However, it was marked received by the selectmen’s office on March 16, four days after the deadline for selectmen to approve and forward ballot measures to the town clerk.

The town has 60 days to schedule a town meeting to vote on the debt, or it is considered approved by the town, which would put the vote in early May. If four towns approve the bond in April, the debt moves forward regardless of what Oak Bluffs votes, so the money and energy to plan the special meeting would be wasted.
“This puts us in a pickle,” Selectman Gail Barmakian said.

“It appears that the bonding will not take place until after July 1, which should fix costs for FY 17 and give the town an opportunity to exclude the project from Proposition 2.5 at next year’s election,” Mr. Whritenour wrote in his report to the selectmen. Mr. Whritenour estimates the annual cost for Oak Bluffs to be around $105,000.