Oak Bluffs infrastructure will not create a tax spike

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To the Editor:

I must dispute the impression made in the Feb. 16 news story “Oak Bluffs selectmen weigh big-ticket infrastructure expenditures,” particularly the subhead, “Town will need to be flush with cash to address future wastewater needs,” as well as the conclusion that the enumerated projects “will cost the town roughly $53 million.”

I’ve been on the town’s finance committee for eight years. During that time I’ve witnessed Oak Bluffs fall into a deep financial hole, in part due to the nationwide recession, and in part due to overspending while overestimating revenues. With a change in leadership, Oak Bluffs climbed out of that hole, improving our credit rating mightily, keeping taxes steady, achieving budget surpluses, and adding to our rainy-day fund, while making gradual improvements in the town’s infrastructure — the new firehouse/ambulance building and the North Bluff project, which includes the fishing pier and the boardwalk.

Large projects cannot be paid for with cash on hand. To make such projects possible, we have a capital improvement program, which looks at current debts and future needs, and attempts to manage it all by scheduling new debt — the town hall, for example — as older debt (the Oak Bluffs School and library) is declining or disappearing.

Other projects depend on other sources for their funding. Examples are the roundabout and Lagoon Bridge, which were paid entirely by the commonwealth.

And the projects discussed at the Feb. 14 selectmen’s meeting — wastewater, coastline infrastructure — are to be funded largely through outside sources as well. There will likely be some degree of town financing involved, but we are looking for state or federal funding to foot the bulk of the projects’ costs. The town’s portions are accounted for within the scope of the capital improvement program (again, as previous debts lessen or go away, new debt can safely be added, which keeps the tax rate steady, preventing big spikes in taxpayers’ bills).

Thus decreeing that Oak Bluffs will need to be “flush with cash” to pay for $53 million in projects is both alarmist and untrue. While there are challenges ahead, we have a steady hand at the helm, and are making improvements to our town gradually and affordably.

Steve Auerbach
Oak Bluffs