Oak Bluffs in yes mood
Oak Bluffs voters sailed through their special town meeting in less than an hour and a half Tuesday evening, approving all 16 warrant articles, including $1 million for upgrades at the wastewater plant.
In total, 120 voters, or 3.8 percent of the 3,168 registered voters in Oak Bluffs turned out for the exercise in ground-level democracy.
The voters worked largely in agreement, approving 12 of the 16 articles unanimously, and passing the other four articles by wide margins.
The item that drew the most discussion was the largest spending item on the warrant - a request from the wastewater department for $1 million for the engineering and construction of a primary clarifier and other related equipment at the Oak Bluffs wastewater treatment plant.
Joe Alosso, Oak Bluffs wastewater plant superintendent, said that the primary clarifier would help remove fats, oils, and grease from the wastewater that flows into the plant. He said that grease has been an ongoing problem at the plant, continually coating and clogging various parts of the plant that treat the wastewater.
Mr. Alosso said that if grease continued to be a problem, it would become exceedingly difficult to continue to meet the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) mandatory water quality discharge standards.
Several voters at Tuesday night's meeting questioned why the wastewater commission did not bring their request to the annual town meeting, when there is generally a larger voter turnout. "I just can't accept that this is on a special town meeting," said Ann Margetson, an Oak Bluffs resident.
Mr. Alosso said that the project would take about 18 months to complete. If the town waited until that annual town meeting in April, the wastewater plant would have to go through two more summers without the primary clarifier. By going before the special town meeting, he said that the equipment could be installed in time for the summer of 2007.
Mr. Alosso also said that the wastewater commission is planning to present another proposal to voters at the spring meeting. He said the board plans to ask voters for about $2.7 million for equipment that would allow the plant to dewater sludge.
Sam Lowe, an Oak Bluffs resident, said he felt like the wastewater commission was presenting its projects "piecemeal." He said he would like to see the entire plan for future upgrades before voting on just one project.
In the end, after about a half an hour of discussion on various aspects of the project, town moderator David Richardson called for the vote, and in a voice vote, the town approved the $1 million project.
Under the terms of the warrant article, the town will borrow the $1 million. Half of the money to pay back the loan will come from wastewater plant revenues, and half will come from an increase to the property tax rate. Mr. Alosso said that the average real estate owner in Oak Bluffs (with property assessed at $550,000) will pay $14 a year over ten years.
The other articles on the special town meeting warrant generated little discussion or debate. Most of the articles were requests for free cash transfers. The largest was a $110,000-request from the Oak Bluffs council on aging for an addition to the senior center. The proposal would add a 1,400-square-foot addition to the current 2,300-square-foot facility. The addition would be built in the parking lot adjacent to the building.
Following a description of the project from Roger Wey, council on aging director and Oak Bluffs selectman, and several comments in support of the project from audience members, the town meeting voted unanimously to approve the spending.
Voters also unanimously approved spending $10,500 from free cash to move the council on aging outreach coordinator position from a part-time position to a full-time job.
In another personnel matter, voters agreed to spend $28,152 from free cash to fund a new position in the building department. The new zoning administrator will work under the building inspector to handle zoning issues in town.
Among the other free cash spending items, voters agreed to spend $56,264 to fund the ongoing environmental air quality, ground water, and other testing at the old Oak Bluffs landfill. The testing is required by DEP.
Voters also approved spending $50,000 from free cash to pay for needed improvements to several town buildings. According to the warrant, the work includes roof repairs at the town hall and the old library, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) work at both the old and the new town hall.
The town parks department also received support for some outdoor improvements around town. Voters unanimously approved spending $40,000 from free cash for sidewalk repairs in Ocean Park, Washington Park, and Waban Park.
Among the numerous other unanimous decisions, voters approved $12,500 for needed improvements around the harbor. According to the warrant, the money was needed for electrical upgrades, new transient mooring chains, resurfacing the dinghy dock, and replacing the floating launch dock. Instead of a free cash transfer, the money will come from the harbor's ferry fees account.
There were several financial housekeeping items on the warrant, including a request for $35,000 to cover a shortfall created by "a legal judgment/settlement." Voters approved the request, which will be funded by free cash.
Casey Sharpe, Oak Bluffs town administrator said that of the $35,000, $25,000 was needed to cover the settlement that the selectmen reached with Richard Mavro, former building inspector, who resigned from the job in June, and $10,000 was for a settlement with the former library director.
Among the larger free cash transfers, voters agreed to put $50,000 in the town's stabilization fund. The town currently has $1,059,000 in its stabilization fund. Paul Manzi, Oak Bluffs finance director, said the finance committee's goal is to reach $1.5 million.
There were only two non-spending articles on the warrant, and Oak Bluffs voters approved them both with no debate. The first was a request to amend the town's wetland protection bylaws to correct several clerical or transcription errors, and the second authorized the selectmen to give the state property easements at the so-called Little Bridge. The easement is for a section of land at each of the bridge's four corners, and includes about 1,200 square feet of land in total. The easement is needed before MassHighway can move forward with its plans to replace the aging bridge.