Deep budget cuts await Oak Bluffs voters
A short, but substantial warrant will greet Oak Bluffs voters on October 20, when they gather for a special town meeting to decide budget, wastewater, and ambulance issues. The meeting is scheduled for 7 pm, at the Oak Bluffs School.
(The warrant is available here)
First among the eight articles on the warrant is a sharp reduction in the current 2010 fiscal year budget. Included in the $495,145 voters will be asked to cut is funding for five positions in town government and three in the school department. Some positions will be cut entirely; others will be consolidated or have hours reduced.
"I think people understand we're under tight fiscal constraints," Greg Coogan, chairman of the selectmen, said this week. "They understand we have to make cuts, and we're not looking forward to it, but they realize we have no choice. We're going to have to do our best to streamline municipal government, and that involves some job losses."
Also included in the cuts are reductions in expenses for several town departments. The same article asks voters to approve spending $19,985, to hire a part-time human resources specialist.
"In everything we're doing, we're trying to be more efficient as a town," Mr. Coogan said. "The areas we are lacking, we need to do a better job in, we're looking to add human resources personnel. Where we're cutting we're hoping to bring departments together."
There is also a request to enter into a five-year lease-purchase agreement for a new ambulance. The $250,000 cost would come from the ambulance reserve fund, not taxpayer funds. The new vehicle will replace a 1994 Ford ambulance with 130,000 miles on it. Ambulance chief John Rose said the vehicle has become unreliable.
"It's broken down on me five times with patients in the back," Mr. Rose said. "It creates a nightmare. All of the money is coming from revenue generated by the ambulance, none of it is coming from taxation. The ambulance [service] is very proud of the fact that we don't have to put this on the backs of taxpayers."
A request for $50,000 to install monitoring equipment and make repairs to the wastewater leaching beds under Ocean Park is expected to be withdrawn. The wastewater department recently determined that repairs will not be nearly as extensive as first thought.
The wastewater department will ask for $2,444,425 for an expansion of the sewer system to include the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, the new YMCA, an elderly housing development and other heavy-use buildings in the area. The money would also fund new leaching fields on the Leonardo property next to the wastewater plant, and an upgrade of the plant.
The high school and other buildings served will pay the entire cost of wastewater piping and pump stations that will connect the area to the town sewer system. A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant is expected to pay for 40 percent or 50 percent (depending on the terms of the grant) of the entire wastewater project. According to the warrant, taxpayers will pay no more than $746,599. But wastewater manager Joe Alosso said he intends to amend the article on the floor of town meeting, so no taxpayer funds are used.
"We're going to propose that the money come from our retained earnings account," Mr. Alosso said. "We'll be explaining it and how we're going to fund it on town meeting floor."
Two questions on the warrant will ask voters to approve new meals and room taxes, but selectmen intend to take no action on those articles. They will consider the articles, however, so that the discussion over whether to adopt new meals and rooms taxes can begin. The articles will likely appear on the annual town meeting warrant next spring, after public hearings are scheduled.
Also on the agenda is a request to transfer $225,000 from the resident home site account to complete the renovation of the old library into three affordable units and a retail space. The money will complete funding for the project, estimated at $900,000.
"That's money to provide housing in the old library conversion," said selectman Ron DiOrio, who is also chairman of the affordable housing committee. "The old library conversion is an attempt to provide housing, using some town resources, not tax dollars." Funds for the project so far have included Community Preservation Act funds and a grant from the state Department of Community Housing Development. "If we transfer those dollars, then we will have $900,000."
Land sales and fees fund the resident homesite account, but the program is all but defunct, with several resident home site committee members now working as part of the affordable housing committee. Mr. DiOrio said the focus has shifted from the resident homesite model of providing low-cost land.
"The biggest problem in terms of the town and affordable housing, is we have to insure it stays permanently affordable," Mr. DiOrio. "Under that mechanism, the resident homesite lots, all restrictions were removed after 20 years. The problem doesn't go away in 20 years," Mr. DiOrio said. "It only compounds in 20 years."
The final article scheduled for the evening is a zoning change, asking voters to include a half-acre parcel in the health care district. The parcel, recently purchased by the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, is on Eastville Avenue, near the emergency room entrance to the hospital. The Martha's Vineyard Hospital wants to use for additional parking.