To the Editor:
At the upcoming special town meeting in Oak Bluffs on Nov. 13, voters will be asked to vote for roof and HVAC repairs at the Oak Bluffs School, as well as for additional funds to finally build a new Town Hall. Town Hall funding will also be on the ballot two days later, on the 15th.
The school repairs are, sadly, entirely necessary. Leaks and other failures at the school have been patched up repeatedly over recent years. The maintenance budget has been cut in the name of preventing the need for additional taxes, and now we’re paying the piper. But for the sake of the children, we must do that job right, right now.
Regarding town hall, everyone knows the story of that building: Once the elementary school; it was forced into “temporary” service in 2000, yet has remained Oak Bluffs’ inadequate operational center for close to 20 years. Lacking handicap access, with foundation crumbling, woeful heating and air conditioning, outdated electrical service, etc., it has been shown that bringing the building up to present standards would cost even more than replacing it.
Planning for a new building has been in the works for five-plus years. With study and input from the planning board and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, as well as the building committee, architects, and project management team, an attractive building is ready to be constructed, one that will serve the public efficiently and allow town employees to work in a livable, cooperative environment for many years.
The people of Oak Bluffs voted at the 2017 town meeting to pay $9,880,753 to build a modern town hall. The actual bids for construction, finally solicited one year later, exceeded estimates — the same is true for the school repairs. This is reflective of the current condition of the Massachusetts economy, in which all contractors are busy, and not exactly thrilled to come to our Island to work on big municipal jobs.
The additional monies required to demolish the old and build a new town hall amount to about $25 per year in additional property tax for an average O.B. home.
Sometimes you and I pay for large capital costs by taking out loans — for a new car, or to buy a house. We pay the loans back gradually, and that enables us to do what we need to do, affordably. The same is true for our town. Oak Bluffs has gradually moved from a terrible financial condition to an enviously positive one. We take on debt to improve our infrastructure, but we manage the debt so as not to hurt our taxpayers. Additional debt is added as old debt decreases and disappears, so the level of debt remains stable and thus manageable.
I urge my fellow citizens to vote for these much-needed projects. These infrastructure improvements are vital for Oak Bluffs’ present and future. Any further delay will only contribute unnecessarily to the cost.
Auerbach is vice chairman of the building committee – Ed.