Oak Bluffs selectmen hear about taxes, insects, and etiquette
Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday night listened to he concerns of seasonal taxpayers over rising property assessments and the views of one well-known resident on caterpillar infestations, and they wrestled with board protocol and seating arrangements.
The meeting agenda included an opportunity for summer residents and seasonal taxpayers to voice their concerns. They had plenty to say about rising property assessments and town upkeep.
Selectmen also voted unanimously to place a non-binding referendum question about the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament on the annual April election ballot. Selectmen have been the focus of a national campaign by the Humane Society of the United States to remove town approval for the event.
The principal agenda item, billed as the summer resident taxpayer meeting, attracted more than 40 seasonal residents. There were concerns as well as compliments.
Many of those who spoke expressed their unhappiness with often dramatic hikes in tax bills.
Teixeira Nash, a homeowner, said the taxes on the home she bought over 30 years ago are soaring so high that her future on the Island is uncertain.
"Many of us want the Island to remain the same, but it will not remain the same if this keeps happening," she said.
Other seasonal residents expressed the same shock over their tax bill this year, but were happy to see that their tax dollars also were used for the new public library, street cleaners, and the senior center.
"I'd like to pay a little less, but I'm happy to see what is being done in Oak Bluffs," said Ifetayo Yancey.
Highway and parks department superintendent Richard Combra Jr. addressed concerns over the growing pool of stagnant water in the middle of Waban Park, broken fencing along Seaview Avenue, and the eroding bluff on East Chop Drive.
Renee Allen, who lives in a house on Waban Park, said the stagnant water is attracting so many mosquitoes she is concerned for her children's safety.
"Could we make a real pond there? Since we can't get rid of the water, why don't we use it?" Ms. Allen suggested.
"The assessor says my house is worth a million dollars, and I have a West Nile pool in front of my home," Ms. Nash added.
Plans to implement a drainage system or create a permanent pond will be looked into, Mr. Combra assured her.
Mr. Combra said that a plan is already in place to select and erect new fencing along Seaview Avenue, and that the East Chop Association owns the eroding bluff and is responsible for its maintenance.
The recent caterpillar infestation was on the mind of Linda Marinelli, a former selectman and well-known year-round resident. She said the problem is out of control, and the town should spray the edge of all town roads with insecticide.
"I haven't said a word about it yet, but it's a crying shame and a hazard to our health," Mrs. Marinelli roared. "And I'm going to keep yappin' until the caterpillars are all dead."
Mr. Combra said if the town were to spray along all the roadways, there would be people who would object to the chemicals on their property. He said various methods of extermination would be looked into for next year.
Not all the comments from those in attendance had to do with problems. Individuals also had words of praise for the work of various town departments. Speakers had nice things to say about the new library, more efficient trash pick up, and the absence of Canadian geese from Ocean Park.
The meeting was the first occasion the board members had come together since learning that selectmen Kerry Scott, without notifying her fellow board members, had sent a personal letter to the Department of Revenue about the number of the town's personal service contacts.
In another instance, Duncan Ross, board chairman, sent a letter to the town's administrator on town stationary expressing concerns about the town's health agent. The letter was written and signed by Mr. Ross.
The meeting provided an opportunity for selectmen to air their views on correspondence.
Selectman Roger Wey expressed concern that multiple letters had gone out to town and state officials from members of the board, without the sender notifying all the members first. He suggested a signature sheet be attached to any letter sent out on board stationary.
"If my name as a selectman is on the letterhead, I would like to read it first," he said.
Selectmen Greg Coogan and Duncan Ross said it would be cumbersome to ask each board member to sign every letter that comes out of the office, and a signature sheet is not customary.
"You sound like you're chastising [Mr. Ross] about practices that we've never done," Mr. Coogan said. "If we're making a policy change that's one thing, but I think you're just picking on the chairman."
The board agreed to discuss the issue further and make a decision at a later date.
Newly-elected town administrator Michael Dutton made his debut at the selectman's meeting on Tuesday, along with a new seating arrangement.
At his public interview earlier this month, Mrs. Marinelli told Mr. Dutton that she thought it was improper for the town administrator to sit with the board members, as Casey Sharpe had done in her tenure as town administrator.
At the selectmen's request, on Tuesday night Mr. Dutton and office administrator Alice Butler, who takes official notes at the meetings, sat at their own table off to the side amid the various chords and cables snaking from a new sound amplification system.
Dates to remember
Residents were reminded that a special election will be held August 8, to elect a fifth member to the board. Voting will take place from noon to 7 pm in the library meeting room.
In the works for some time, the board finally voted on a proposal from Mr. Ross to hold an informal town picnic in Ocean Park. All are invited to bring their own food and beverage to the park on August 18, the day of the fireworks, from noon to 1 pm.
Selectmen also voted unanimously to name the last Thursday of July, Della Hardman Day, after the local artist who died last year. On Saturday, a tribute will be held at the Tabernacle, and an exhibit of her work is currently on display at the Oak Bluffs library.