Progress on shortfall and budget made in Oak Bluffs
Oak Bluffs selectmen heard about steps to restrain spending this year and fashion a budget for next year at their Tuesday meeting. Selectmen also approved a new vehicle use policy, and heard concerns about competing coastal restoration projects.
Town administrator Michael Dutton updated selectmen on the current revenue shortfall, projected to reach $336,607 by June 31. Mr. Dutton told selectmen he is evaluating all departments that may be able to turn back money not yet spent.
"All departments understand the nature of the problem," said Mr. Dutton. "We are looking to cover a lot of that shortfall with turn backs. If we play our cards right, we'll be well over $200,000 with turn backs."
The town manager also reported that four properties have been identified for potential sale. The town seized the properties because the owners failed to pay taxes, and have cleared all legal requirements to be sold. He took precautions to inform the selectmen that none of the properties are parks.
Mr. Dutton said all expenditures over $500 will now require prior approval either from him or finance director Paul Manzi.
As for next year, Mr. Dutton said the first draft of next year's budget is about $600,000 out of balance. "It doesn't sound bad on the surface," said Mr. Dutton. "Department heads have done an exceptional job of paring everything to the bone. To make that up, we're going to have to do some creative things."
The new vehicle use policy has generated spirited debate over the past three months. Board chairman Ron DiOrio said establishment of the new policy stems from a recommendation from the town's independent auditing firm. It was created by the community development council, and reviewed by the board of selectmen, town department heads, the financial advisory committee, and the personnel committee.
The new policy puts strict limits on the use of town vehicles, including those assigned to town employees for 24-hour use. "There are going to be some changes," said Mr. Dutton. "The personal use of those vehicles will be a big issue. That's what will change."
One of those changes will apply to employees assigned a vehicle for 24-hour use, because they are on call, or need to be available for emergencies. With the exception of police and fire vehicles, the cost of commuting for employees authorized to use town vehicles will be considered taxable income.
Vehicles not assigned for 24-hour use must be garaged in designated town parking areas, and cannot be used for commuting, or carrying passengers not directly related to town business.
"This gives the town administrator an opportunity to enforce these things," said Mr. DiOrio.
Sea View views
Selectmen Kerry Scott requested that selectmen and the town administrator take a larger role in setting priorities and coordinating the efforts of the Sea View Waterfront Committee. That committee is chaired by Ms. Scott, and includes 19 people representing various town boards, town departments, and Oak Bluffs residents. She said she is troubled by the way the committee has been working. She asked Mr. Dutton to define the roles of various town committees in restoring the town beaches and coastal banks. Ms. Scott, the parks commission, and the conservation commission have been at odds over prioritizing grants and town expenditures.
"Right now there is a lot of money on the table," said Ms. Scott. "There has been no input about those projects from the board of selectmen. There is a fair amount of confusion on the part of some consultants, about who they answer to."
Currently, there is disagreement about a grant to restore the town bathrooms near the Steamship Authority terminal, replacing the crumbling sea wall along the North Bluff, and restoring the town beaches south of the ferry terminal.
"The biggest problem that we have collectively," said Mr. DiOrio, "is that all the projects are very important projects. We do not have the resources to do all this stuff at this point."
Mr. Dutton said he already keeps close tabs on the various components of the beach restoration project. "I think we've got a lot of competing interests," said Mr. Dutton. "That's as it should be. I need to be aware of all the grant applications, the different components. One of the reasons we put together the Sea View Committee was to make sure there was a clearinghouse. The beach is a huge project."
Joan Hughes, chairman of the Conservation Commission and a member of the Sea View Waterfront Committee, also spoke about the internal division in the committee.
"I think it's clear that we have tried to work with Michael as much as possible," said Ms. Hughes. "One of the biggest issues we have in the Sea View Committee is lack of communication."
Mr. Dutton agreed to draft a policy statement for the board's review.
The selectmen unanimously approved the transfer of a liquor license to the Cybele Sprague. She is the new owner of Zapotec, a popular eatery on Kennebec Avenue.
Selectmen and others in attendance were eager to hear Ms. Sprague's plans for the restaurant. She said that the restaurant will continue to serve Mexican food, and while she does not plan to change the interior, she does intend to completely revamp the menu. She will be the chef for the new venture.
"I'm actually trying to make the prices cheaper, with better quality food," said Ms. Sprague. "The only recipe I'm keeping is the mussels."
She said she plans to open May 1, and remain open through December, while adding a breakfast menu in the fall.