Oak Bluffs may seek wage cuts
Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton cautioned selectmen that after extensive work to identify budget cuts, the town remains approximately $550,000 short of a balanced budget for fiscal year 2010, which begins on July 1. "When you're this close to the bone, that's going to be very difficult to find," Mr. Dutton said at the selectmen's meeting last Wednesday.
The $24.5 million draft budget, though it is far from a final spending plan, represents a 1.7-percent increase over the current fiscal year. Nearly every department has cut expenses to partially offset fixed costs such as health benefits, and assessments from schools and regional agencies.
Among several ideas floated to help balance the budget, Mr. Dutton raised the possibility of wage concessions from town employees. Nearly all are slated to receive three percent salary increases next year.
"The things we have control over, we've reduced to almost nothing," said Mr. Dutton in a phone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times on Friday. "The personnel board and the board of selectmen are committed to trying to incorporate the increases that were negotiated. If it turns out to be impossible to do that, then my recommendation would be to go back and propose something different. We would try to do that across the board. I don't think it's fair to single out any one group."
Wage concessions would be a complicated endeavor, both in practical and political terms. The town's union employees, including police and teachers, work under negotiated contracts. Those employees are under no obligation to re-open those contracts. The town has more control over the salaries of about 60 non-union employees, but reducing or eliminating raises for them risks the appearance of unfairness to one group. The town's salary structure is guided by a new compensation plan approved by town meeting voters earlier this year.
Several other ideas were floated to help balance the budget, though they are far short of formal proposals at this point. Among them is elimination of trash pick-up. Mr. Dutton said the sale of trash stickers at $4.50 per barrel of trash, falls about $120,000 short of the actual cost to the town for picking up trash. Also raised was the possibility of eliminating wastewater fees for town buildings.
Mr. Dutton outlined a total of $307,890 in "turn backs" of appropriations budgeted for the current fiscal year. The turn backs represent cuts in services, materials, and salaries identified by department heads to balance a projected shortfall in town revenues.
Among the larger items in the list of turn backs is $25,000 savings in the selectmen's professional and technical line item, mostly legal expenses.
The highway department has rearranged its schedule of paving projects in order to return $50,000, and also expects to return $15,000 previously budgeted for fuel. The ambulance service is slated to return $40,000 already appropriated for salaries and overtime. Mr. Dutton said he asked all department heads for turn backs, including Oak Bluffs school officials. "Principal Laury Binney has run up against some unforeseen issues," said Mr. Dutton. "He was not projecting any turn backs."
In a phone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times on Friday, Mr. Binney said there have been several pregnancies, long-term illnesses, and a leave of absence among school employees this year. In those cases, the school hired long-term substitutes to fill in. "That's stuff you don't budget for," said Mr. Binney. "Historically, we rarely have a residual that's sizable enough to make a difference. Over the years, we spend pretty much every penny we have because we cut it to the bone. Most of that is labor-related. Because of that, we spend efficiently, but we don't end up with a surplus. I know other departments are different. Something about teaching, human labor, just soaks that up with a sponge."
Mr. Dutton also reported an increase in projected revenue from taxi and bus staging rentals, as well as parking lot revenue, totaling $45,000. Though projections of both revenue and expenditures remain fluid, the combination of turn backs and increased revenue is projected to leave the town with a surplus of $7,463 for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.