Slashed spending offsets raises, higher school costs in Oak Bluffs
Oak Bluffs selectmen voted to place a $24.1-million fiscal year 2010 budget on the warrant for the April 14 annual town meeting. The spending plan is level-funded, to the dollar, from the current year's budget.
Though some work remains, the final budget will include "step" salary hikes of three percent for nearly every town employee. The town will not grant additional cost of living increases. Most of the pay increases are part of union contracts.
The town's share of education costs at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School will increase by 6.4 percent, and the Oak Bluffs school budget is up 1.9 percent. In order to fund the raises and school budget hikes, and to offset expected reductions in state and local revenue, the town proposes to cut administrative spending in nearly every department. The town will also postpone some highway projects, restructure the finance department, restructure insurance contracts, and shift more employees to less expensive health care insurance coverage.
Selectmen voted against a recommendation from the financial advisory committee to put police department and Oak Bluffs School department spending before voters as Proposition 2.5 override questions. They voted to include three override questions on the ballot, covering pest control and health programs previously funded entirely by the county government. The three spending requests total $22,828.
"This is going to be an easy budget compared to 2011 and 2012," said board chairman Ron DiOrio. He said the town would need reserves in excess of $2 million in place for future years. "These numbers are going to continue to drop, even if the economy turns around."
Also included in the budget are substantial salary increases for the town administrator and the town clerk. Mr. DiOrio cautioned that in both cases, the pay hikes address inequities from past years.
"If it seems like a lot of money, it's because we've neglected to take care of it in past years. We're trying to rectify it," said Mr. DiOrio. Town administrator Michael Dutton, who currently earns $99,900, would see his salary increase to $117,000, a pay hike of 17.1 percent. According to the town's most recent compensation and classification survey, the average salary for a town administrator in towns comparable to Oak Bluffs is $118,414.
Town clerk Deborah Ratcliff, who currently earns $64,147, would see her salary rise to $74,360, an increase of 15.9 percent. According to the compensation study, the average pay rate for town clerks in comparable towns is $62,670.
Also to be included on the town meeting warrant is a measure dividing up $770,000 generated by the Community Preservation Act (CPA). Among the recommendations of the town's CPA committee is $300,000 for a complete restoration and handicap accessibility of the clay brick bathrooms near the Steamship Authority terminal, and $224,000 for the current project to convert the old library to affordable housing and retail space.
Another article proposes changes in the town's animal control bylaws, a measure that is already stirring debate among selectmen. Voters will also be asked to authorize $500,000 to dredge Sengekontacket Pond.
The warrant will not include a measure to add four properties to the town's health care district. Selectmen rejected the request of property owners at 26, 31, 34, and 38 Windemere Lane. The healthcare district currently comprises property owned by the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, and was created to give the hospital flexibility in designing and building a new facility. The article would have allowed substantial changes in building and utilization on the four additional properties.
The board voted 3-2 to include a non-binding question on the town ballot asking voters if they want to change the way controversial issues are decided at town meeting. Voters will weigh in on whether they want the moderator to call for more frequent use of written ballots "when substantial and important issues are presented and a standing vote would be likely to involve intimidation, embarrassment or awkwardness for the voters."
The town election is scheduled for April 16.