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Oak Bluffs

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Voters said yes to a $25.7 million budget and all warrant articles.

Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour provided voters with an overview of the town's improved finances. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs voters were in a generous mood at annual town meeting on Tuesday night as they approved a proposed $25.7 million operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year (FY15) and the new town hall and new EMS/fire station, which will cost $6,830,000 and $8,288,000, respectively.

A total of 282 people, representing 7.7 percent of the towns 3,655 eligible voters, attended the annual town meeting at the Performing Arts Center at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Money talks

Voter Jason Mallory speaks to the issue from town meeting floor.
Voter Jason Mallory speaks to the issue from town meeting floor.

At the start, town administrator Robert Whritenour presented an upbeat picture of town finances. “I think we’ve made great progress improving the town’s finances and we stand before you today saying we’ve brought them full circle into the positive,” he said. Underscoring the dramatic turnaround in town finances, Mr. Whritenour showed the general fund balance in 2011 was minus $434,000, and as of last July, it was $1.5 million in the black. He received a hearty round of applause when he stated that town’s free cash, which was at minus $900,000 in 2011, was certified this year at $961,000.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, even though we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said as the applause died down. Mr. Whritenour then laid the groundwork for the Proposition 2.5 override which will be decided at town election Thursday.

Voters go to the polls today to decide four races and three money questions that include funding for the fire station and town hall. Election results are available at mvtimes.com.

He said town education costs, due in large part to a combined net increase of 22 Oak Bluffs students at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School necessitated the $600,000 override. He added that additional cuts in the town budget were not an option to avoid it. “In getting to these numbers, we’ve had to bring most of the town departments to their knees,” he said. “They’ve managed their departments with cuts after cuts they can’t absorb additional cuts to make up for that $600,000 without damages to town services.”

Town leaders plan to use $250,000 in free cash to reduce the amount needed to $350,000, but decided to make no change on the $600,00 ballot amount in order to keep a $250,000 buffer against any surprise education expenses in FY16.

Seats to spare: 282 people attended the Oak Bluffs town meeting.
Seats to spare: 282 people attended the Oak Bluffs town meeting.

Finance committee chairman Steve Auerbach said many people have asked him why the $961,000 in free cash couldn’t be used to cover the deficit. “Free cash might not be there next year, while the costs associated with the high school and special education programs will be there year after year,” he said. “Free ash comes from judicious use of funds. It’s generally thought best for one time expenditures.”

Mr. Whritenour said the override would cost taxpayers .037 cents per $1000 of assessed property value or $118.93 for a house worth $500,000.

 Voting the warrant

Although town officials expected the annual meeting to be a two-night affair, moderator Jack Law kept the proceedings moving at a brisk pace, but only after Article 1, the town operating budget, was approved. That bit of work took nearly two hours of debate.

The discussion got off to a stumbling start, with a few attendees, clearly piqued about the override discussion, challenging line item after line item until Thad Hashbarger took the microphone.

“These line items have been discussed in detail in committee meetings and open meetings. You’ve had your chance to speak out. Now save the rest of us from having to hear every line item and let’s get on with it,” he said to a round of applause.

Town moderator Jack Law kept the meeting moving.
Town moderator Jack Law kept the meeting moving.

The ensuing discussion included questions about the transparency of the ambulance reserve fund, the necessity of hiring support staff, the ambiguity in various line items, and additional digressions about the override. In the end, the proposed FY 15 budget of $25,717,644 was approved at a slightly higher $25,726,354.

The $8,710 increase was a pay raise for town clerk Laura Johnston. Although Ms. Johnston took over for retiring town clerk Deborah Radcliffe in June 2013, her salary had not been adjusted. Since she is an elected official, the soft-spoken Ms. Johnston had to ask town voters to raise her salary to the amount they approved at last year’s town meeting. Voters approved enthusiastically.

“I love this town,” Ms. Johnston said after the meeting. “It was a very hard thing for me to get up there, but the response was very heartwarming.”

 Big ticket items

The most anticipated votes of the night were the approvals to spend $6.9 million on a new town hall and $8.3 million on a new Fire/EMS station. Both projects had to be approved by a two thirds vote.

“We need to replace these buildings, folks,” said Bill McGrath, chairman of the capital improvements committee, as he began a powerpoint presentation. “There’s a website up and running that says why we need to do these projects,” he said referring to the dedicated website hosted on the Oak Bluffs town website, oakbluffsma.gov. “It’s an excellent website and it’s interactive, so you can ask questions and get answers.”

Selectmen Walter Vail, Mike Santoro, and Kathy Burton voted in favor of the new fire house.
Selectmen Walter Vail, Mike Santoro, and Kathy Burton voted in favor of the new fire house.

Addressing the affordability of the new buildings, Mr. McGrath reiterated a point that has been made many times in open town meetings — since the debt for the Oak Bluffs school and library are declining, the new buildings will have minimal impact on the existing tax rate. Additionally, he said by using bond anticipation notes, the town can borrow money now and delay payment of principal and interest for several years.

Mr. McGrath stressed that delaying the projects would only cost taxpayers more money in the long run. He noted that the present low interest rates are sure to rise at some point, and each

.25 percent increase in interest would add $136,000 to the total of the projects. “If the project costs increase 2.5 percent per year, the fire station will go from $8.3 million to $8.9 million,” he said. “[If] we delay, we add to the cost and we don’t have the buildings.”

Mr. McGrath that said Keenan and Kenny architects and Daedalus Projects, overseers of both buildings, have a reputation of coming in on time and under budget. The crowd expressed widespread approval when he noted this was the same team that worked on the new West Tisbury police station.

“If we’re approved tonight, we can to to bid and start construction in September and in April 2016, we’ll have a new fire station and town hall.” Mr. McGrath said, adding that all costs are locked in once the project moves forward.

Mr. McGrath said the total cost of both buildings for a house worth $500,000 will be $3740.60 over 18 years.

“That’s a pretty nice price for 50 year buildings,” he said.

Karen Achille, former chairman of the Oak Bluffs library building committee, made an especially compelling argument for the new buildings. “There’s no one who would say bringing the library into the 21st century has not enhanced our town,” she said to widespread agreement. “If we had waited to build the library for two more years, it would have cost an additional three to four million dollars. I encourage you to vote yes.”

In the end, the new fire/EMS station and town hall were approved overwhelmingly in voice votes.

After the expenditures for the firehouse and town hall were given the thumbs up, warrant items were approved in rapid succession as Mr. Law read the articles at an auctioneer’s pace.

Not so big ticket items

Taxpayers approved five transfers from the ambulance reserve fund to pay for vehicles and equipment for the police and EMS/fire department: $220,000 for a new ambulance, $52,000 for a new fire department command vehicle, $28,000 for a life raft and new fire pump on the town’s emergency management boat, $70,000 for a new marked police SUV and animal control vehicle, and $33,690 for new body armor, portable radios, and bicycles for the police. The Finance and Advisory Board (FinCom) recommended removing the expenditure of $4,000 for three new bicycles. Chief Erik Blake spoke to defend the expenditure, saying each bicycle cost $989 and additional equipment added to the cost. The FinCom recommendation was put to a voice vote, and with only five “no” votes, the police got their new bicycles.

In an article that underscores the town’s improving financial health, voters approved a request to transfer $250,000 of free cash to the stabilization fund, or rainy day fund, which would bring the fund total to $1,036,476.90, close to the 5 percent of the town’s operating budget, the goal set by town administrator Robert Whritenour three years ago.

Voters approved spending $139,000 in free cash to purchase two pickup trucks and one dump truck for the highway department, $37,000 for the purchase and installation of new financial software in town hall.

The FinCom only voted against one item on the warrant, a request from the police department for $15,000 in free cash to pay for repairs to the station break room. This was the closest vote of the night. After an inconclusive voice vote, the measure was approved by a standing vote of 121 to 56.

Four warrant articles requesting transfers from the Wastewater Retained Earnings fund were approved for a new truck for the wastewater commission ($40,000), construction of a new garage for the department ($125,000), a study to determine if upgrades are needed to the system which is “operating closer to capacity than expected,” according to the executive summary ($50,000), and to improve and relocate electrical and water equipment to prevent damage in a major storm ($62,500).

Taxpayers approved expenditures for $746,664 of Community Preservation Act funds (CPA) on 11 projects. Arguments were made against an $18,000 expenditure for restoration of Trinity Church stained glass windows and $111,600 to the town of Aquinnah to move the Gay Head Lighthouse. Voice votes were taken for both, and a vote count was taken for the Trinity Church expenditure, and both passed in the end.

Adult education (ACE MV) got a boost from Oak Bluffs taxpayers to the tune of $19,170. Voters also consented for the town to take possession of East Chop bluff from the East Chop association, in order to help the crumbling corniche qualify for federal funding, which it did not as a privately owned entity.

The town adopted an Island-wide article that will create one set of lawn fertilizer regulations to protect groundwater and estuaries from the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, through the creation of a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) known as the Martha’s Vineyard Lawn Fertilizer Control district.

A resounding voice vote also approved a resolution in favor of shutting down the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.

Educator honored

Town meeting also took a moment to thank Priscilla Sylvia for her 35 years of teaching at the Oak Bluffs school and 12 years of service on the Oak Bluffs school committee. Ms. Sylvia was given a standing ovation as Oak Bluffs school principal Richie Smith presented her with a bouquet of flowers. “For some of you, the name Priscilla Sylvia sends trepidation and fear,” he joked. “But it’s not her formidable reputation, it’s her legacy we honor tonight.”

“Priscilla came to the Oak Bluffs school in 1965. The lady teachers were not paid as much as the male teachers and so that’s where her go-getting started here.” Mr. Smith said the Priscilla Sylvia greenhouse, which started at the old Oak Bluffs school and is actively used at the current Oak Bluffs school, will be a part of her legacy, along with the generations of Oak Bluffs students she’s taught over the years.”

“And I’ve loved it all,” Ms. Sylvia said, to another standing ovation.

Town clerk Laura Johnston also feted retired town clerk Deborah Radcliffe, “I learned so much in my 18 years as your assistant. I’ve seen her go above and beyond many times for the voters and residents of our town.”

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Ernest Hemingway, who once displayed a prized Scup next to a Marlin, will not be visiting Oak Bluffs this summer. — Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Monster Scup tourney to come to OB.

Just when you thought the bloody mayhem was over in Oak Bluffs, a group of investors announced today that a Monster Scup Tournament will be held this July 21-14.

Not-so-Monster Scup, detail.
Not-so-Monster Scup, detail.

“The tournament serves two purposes,” said Oak Bluffs mayor Chris Alley. “The monster scup problem is out of hand. They’re decimating the food chain in our waters. They’re even scaring the monster sharks away. We have to kill as many as we can,” he said with an urgent tone.

“On the plus side, they’re a lot bloodier than sharks when you slice them open, and you never know what you’ll find, like that jet skier last year.”

“I’m all for it,” said Peter Martell, owner of the Wesley Hotel. “Between the fishermen, their families, and all the national guard, it’s going to bring a lot of business to Oak Bluffs.”

(April Fools).

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Police are investigating allegations of questionable accounting practices at the Oak Bluffs senior center. — File photo by Mae Deary

Updated 4:30 pm Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oak Bluffs selectmen voted Tuesday to place Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (COA) director Roger Wey on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of a police investigation into questionable accounting practices in the department he oversees, which provides services for the town’s elderly population.

In a 3-1 vote, selectmen took action against Mr. Wey, a former selectmen, following a pained discussion of a memorandum addressed to them from town labor counsel John “Jack” Collins.

Roger Wey, during his 2012 bid for an eighth term as selectman.
Roger Wey, during his 2012 bid for an eighth term as selectman.

In the memo dated February 7, Mr. Collins said, “The town accountant has concerns that money is being received and expended by the director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging in ways that appear to violate applicable Massachusetts General Laws. Reportedly, this involves proceeds of fundraising activities as well as private contributions that may have been deposited in bank accounts other than the town treasury.  Similarly, it appears that certain expenditures may have been made from such accounts by the director or at his direction. Preliminary indications are that the director may have in some cases established or at least controls said accounts.”

“With only a few exceptions,” Mr. Collins said, “all moneys received by a city, town or district officer or department must be paid upon their receipt into the municipal treasury. With three inapplicable exceptions, such amounts are not available to an officer or department without specific appropriation, in this case by the town meeting.”

In his memo, Mr. Collins outlined the best course of action. “In my opinion,” he said, “it would be appropriate for you to conduct or make arrangements for having an investigation conducted to determine if laws are being violated and if all monies have been properly accounted for in this case.”

Quilt check bounced

The issue came to light when an unidentified woman went to buy food at a local Stop & Shop with a check from the COA Quilt Fund, and the store declined the check.

The Quilt Fund raises energy assistance money for senior citizens by selling raffle tickets for handmade quilts. The checking account for the fund has been dormant since 2008.

“She came and complained to the town,” said chairman of the selectmen Walter Vail. “We didn’t know anything about it. There are checks being written against it, but there is no activity being monitored by our accountant.”

Mr. Vail noted that the check in question was signed by a person who was not an employee of the town of Oak Bluffs.

“At one time the town had an accounting record for the Quilt Fund, from fiscal ’05 through  ’08,” said Oak Bluffs town accountant Arthur Gallagher, who discovered the accounting irregularities and brought them to the attention of selectmen.

“There was a $300 balance in 2008. The account is still there, with $300 still in it. We don’t know why it was shut off or what checks were written against it.”

Mr. Gallagher told the selectmen that as he looked into the matter further, he discovered more instances where funds received by the COA were not turned over to the town.

Nickels and dimes

In his memo, sent prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, Mr. Collins advised selectmen how to proceed step by step prior to a vote to initiate an investigation by police. He recommended “discussion of council on aging director,” to selectmen as an agenda item, noting, “You are not required to conduct this in executive session, but might be able to do so if you were so inclined.”

Exercising his authority as chairman, Mr. Vail called for the discussion in open session, opening up a long debate over the proper course of action.  Gail Barmakian strongly opposed putting Mr. Wey on paid leave.

“I don’t have any sense of the scope of this,” she said. “Are we talking nickels and dimes?”

Ms. Barmakian, a lawyer, said, “When you are talking about Mass General Law, it is very strict, and sometimes people are lazy about this.”

Mr. Vail emphatically disagreed. “I think an independent source needs to look into this,” he said. “Who knows what might be uncovered that Roger might be unwilling to tell us?”

Mr. Vail added that an immediate, clean break was needed for a clean investigation. “If there is something bad going on, and he’s still there and he’s able to cover it up, we’ll never get to the bottom of it,” he said. “He gets paid while he’s on leave. It’s clean and the way it should be done. If he’s allowed to stay there, it could be bad for the town.”

Selectman Kathy Burton agreed with Mr. Vail. “I clearly think an investigation is necessary,” she said, adding that the quilters themselves were above reproach. “I sit with the quilters a lot, they’re good people and they make gorgeous quilts. The proceeds come from the raffle tickets and are for fuel assistance. If something’s wrong, we should fix it.”

Oak Bluffs police Chief Erik Blake said he had already spoken to Mr. Collins about the matter. He asked that if selectmen decided not to place Mr. Wey on administrative leave, that his detective be given time to interview him as soon as possible.

“You can move first thing in the morning,” Mr. Vail said.

Selectman Michael Santoro thought the matter could be investigated in a more informal basis.

Selectman Greg Coogan was also ambivalent about the proposed course of action. “This is a tough one,” he said. “What if an investigation is made and we find quilters are putting money into fuel assistance?”

“Then we give Roger back his keys,” said Mr. Vail.

“We’re a small town, and I believe everybody’s intentions are good, but if you had a business, this is how a business would handle it,” Ms. Burton said. “This is immediately what would happen in any business. I’m reluctant to not do what labor council has advised us, even if it feels like an extreme.”

“It feels like an atom bomb,” Ms. Barmakian said.

Expressing reluctance, Mr. Vail, Ms. Burton, and Mr. Coogan voted to put Mr. Wey on paid leave. Mr. Santoro abstained because he thought there was a lack of evidence. Ms. Barmakian expressed strong disagreement with the vote and maintained the matter could be dealt with by the selectmen.

“I want to make it clear that this is an investigation and the presumption of innocence remains,” Mr. Vail said at the conclusion of the proceedings.

In his memo, Mr. Collins provided the wording of a motion under which the board of selectmen could initiate an investigation by police “into whether the director of the Council on Aging has been properly handling and accounting for funds, has received funds that have not been deposited as required by law into the town treasury, and has expended or directed the expenditure of such funds without town meeting appropriation or as otherwise required by applicable laws.”

The motion stipulated that the police chief “shall be asked to assign one or more investigators and to produce a report to this board with their findings and recommendations.”

The motion also stressed, “this is an investigation, and the presumption of innocence remains.”

In a conversation with the Times on Wednesday, Mr. Vail said, “It could be that the funds were being used for good purposes to help people. We want to clarify this, the sooner the better. Roger can either help us or not; it’s up to him.”

Mr. Wey could not be reached for comment.

Earlier warnings

This is not the first time COA bookkeeping has raised questions. In 2012, a review by a committee charged with looking for more efficient ways to spend taxpayer money fell far behind schedule, because Mr. Wey had not provided information requested for the financial analysis.

In July, the ad-hoc fiscal sub-committee of the Oak Bluffs Community Development Council, drawing on the expertise and volunteer time of its appointed members, had studied every town department and produced highly detailed reports on the town’s police department and emergency response service, with extensive cooperation from department administrators.

But when the committee requested information about the COA financial structure and programs, it received little cooperation and despite multiple requests over a period of six weeks, no response.

At the time, Mr. Wey attributed the delay to the demands of the summer season and promised to provide the information at a later date. Mr. Wey never did, according to town administrator Robert Whritenour.

The Council on Aging budget for the current fiscal year is $217,739. Mr. Wey earns $62,487 in salary and longevity pay as director of the COA.

Christmas hire

Mr. Wey was well versed in town government when he was named COA director. Meeting two days before Christmas in 2004, the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen hired Mr. Wey. At the time, he was chairman of the board of selectmen. He was also a county commissioner, and said he intended to continue on both boards while serving as the head of the town department.

The town counsel advised selectmen that Mr. Wey should file a financial disclosure form disclosing his financial interest in the council, that is, his salary, if he remained on the board of selectmen. Counsel advised Mr. Wey to give up his selectmen’s stipend and not to vote on any matters pertaining to the COA.

In 2010, town meeting voters amended town bylaws to prevent a town employee from serving on a board that oversees his or her department. Mr. Wey did not seek reelection in 2009, after seven terms on the board of selectmen.

This article was updated to correct the vote by selectmen to place Mr. Wey on administrative leave. The vote was 3 to 1, with Mr. Vail, Mr. Coogan, and Ms. Burton voting yes, Ms. Barmakian voting no, and Mr. Santoro abstaining.

The original article published online also incorrectly reported that  Mr. Wey earns $81,162 as COA director. That budget figure is for all department salaries. Mr. Wey earns $62,487 in salary and longevity pay.

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The 2012 Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Following the recommendation of the Oak Bluffs harbor management committee, the Oak Bluffs selectmen voted 4-1 Tuesday to give a special permit to the organizers of the “Oak Bluffs Challenge,” described as a multi-species fishing tournament, to be held July 24 to July 26.

The Oak Bluffs selectmen's meeting Tuesday attracted a standing room only crowd.
The Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting Tuesday attracted a standing room only crowd.

Selectmen took no action on a competing request from Matthew Kriedel of Edgartown and Newington, Connecticut. Mr. Kriedel had applied for a special permit to hold a shark tournament the weekend of July 17 to July 20. Following remarks from John Breckenridge, chairman of the harbor management advisory committee, Mr. Kriedel withdrew his application “without prejudice.”

Both organizers stepped into the void left by the untimely death of Steven James in a duck hunting accident last month. For the past 27 years, Mr. James ran the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament, defending and modifying it over the years in the face of growing opposition from Islanders and others.

Mr. Breckenridge reiterated the committee’s endorsement of the Oak Bluffs Challenge and Mr. Sacco in no uncertain terms. “We recommended Mr. Sacco because he has the experience and the web presence to make this a successful tournament that can also benefit this town,” said Mr. Breckenridge. “Mr. Kriedel’s proposal would likely bring us down the same road as the past [shark tournament]. We were particularly disappointed that Mr. Kriedel referred to shark tournament opponents as ‘tree huggers.’”

Christian Giardani of Falmouth, one of the organizers of the Falmouth Grand Prix fishing tournament, spoke on behalf of the Oak Bluffs Challenge.
Christian Giardani of Falmouth, one of the organizers of the Falmouth Grand Prix fishing tournament, spoke on behalf of the Oak Bluffs Challenge.

Damon Sacco of Bourne, owner and operator of Castafari Sport Fishing and organizer of the Hyannis Tuna Fest, is the organizer of the Oak Bluffs Challenge. He will be assisted by Christian Giardani of Falmouth, one of the organizers of the Falmouth Grand Prix fishing tournament. Ted Rosbeck of Edgartown, who presented the application to the harbor committee last week, said he will act as an informal advisor to the Oak Bluffs Challenge.

Since Mr. Sacco was away on a previously planned vacation, Mr. Giardani spoke to selectmen on his behalf. He said the tournament will be sanctioned by the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) and will operate on a points system.  “Sharks are off the menu,” said Mr. Giardini. “Marlin will be catch and release, and swordfish will go by federal guidelines.”

The species that will accrue points are bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, wahoo, mahi-mahi, and marlin. Sharks will have no point value.

Although selectman Gail Barmakian reiterated her support for a catch-and-release tournament, Mr. Giardini said there would still be a weigh-in at the harbor.

“It’s very difficult to make a profit on a tournament without weigh-ins,” he said. “It can enable cheating. With a weigh-in, it’s hard for anyone to dispute.”

Selectman Gail Barmakian voted against allowing the tournament because it is not catch and release.
Selectman Gail Barmakian voted against allowing the tournament because it is not catch and release.

Ms. Barmakian, who voted against the tournament because, she said, it was not catch and release, also raised concerns about creating a spectacle at the harbor, especially by hanging the fish after the weigh-in. “We’re not in the business of promoting irresponsibility. These are professional crews we’re bringing in,” said Mr. Giardani. “This is more of a celebration of the fish. It’s all fish you can get in the market, that are taken on a daily basis anyway. You don’t want them hanging on display for long.”

“We have a fishing derby that displays bass and bluefish. I don’t want to get into limiting all sportfishing,” said selectman Michael Santoro. “I look at this as a win-win. Coming into December with no tourney, we now have the economic value of a tournament, and we have satisfied the shark amendment. I see it as being progressive.”

Mr. Giardini said there would be seminars and education booths at the harbor to engage the general public while the boats are on the water.  He also said the contest will donate 10 percent of entry fees to Island charities, which will be determined with input from the harbor committee.

Mr. Giardini estimated a modest turnout, 15 to 25 boats, for the first year of the Oak Bluffs Challenge. Mr. Breckenridge said that number might be considerably higher.

“I think he’s being bashful, there’s excitement in the field,” said Mr. Breckenridge. “There’s recognition that we’re an incredible destination, with a new beginning and an experienced promoter. I think we’ll have a sizable number of participants.”

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The proposed bowling alley would be built on the site of a former laundromat on Uncas Avenue. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

MV Bowl, the bowling alley/entertainment center that developer Sam Dunn proposes to build in Oak Bluffs, was the subject of a spirited public hearing before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) last Thursday.

The commission heard testimony for and against the project, which would be located on the edge of the town’s business district. Owners of abutting residential properties opposed the project, highlighting noise, traffic impact, and the rowdiness that could result from having a full bar in the proposed building. The public hearing will resume next Thursday, February 20.

Up until last week, the project was rolling through the permitting gauntlet quickly. Mr. Dunn first presented his plan to Oak Bluffs selectmen on October 22. The planning board unanimously approved the plan on January 23 and referred it to the MVC as a development of regional impact (DRI), as required by several triggers in the project, including size.

As currently designed, the 13,500-square-foot project, on Uncas Avenue in a crumbling building where a long-vacant laundromat operated, will have 10 bowling lanes, a bar, a restaurant, two golf simulators, a game room, an event room, and two apartments that would qualify as affordable housing. Mr. Dunn estimates the cost of construction at $2.5 million.

After meeting with abutters, Mr. Dunn changed the site plan to move the parking lot and reduce the building from 15,000 to 13,500 square feet, trimming the proposal from 12 lanes to 10.

Abutters object

The MVC hearing room was packed Thursday night. Most of those who spoke were abutters from the mostly seasonal neighborhood.

“This is a quiet, quaint neighborhood. We don’t need loud, rowdy people spilling into the neighborhood at night,” said Byron Barnett, owner of an abutting property on Hiawatha Avenue. “I’m not against bowling, I like to bowl. But there is no reason to have a 62-seat full liquor bar.”

Mr. Barnett suggested that the entertainment center be built by the airport where it could be larger and have more lanes. He requested that Mr. Dunn pay for a detailed police officer during closing hours, and he thanked Mr. Dunn for flipping the site plan so the parking lot would not abut his property. Mr. Barnett also noted that the MVC twice denied commercial development at the location, in 1997 and in 1982.

“Our Island friends alerted us of this project. We knew nothing about it,” said Alison Stewart, co-owner of an abutting property on Uncas Avenue. Ms. Stewart and her sister said they had come from New York and Virginia to register their opposition. She echoed Mr. Barnett’s concerns about noise and rowdy behavior and said that parking was already difficult in the area and that the project would exacerbate the problem. She also expressed concern that the project would diminish the property value of the house, which is currently in the estate of her deceased mother.

Kathryn Sullivan, an attorney for Delaware resident Diane Streett, who owns an abutting property on Hiawatha Avenue, lodged similar objections, and added that without an increase in the proposed level of lighting, criminal activity could increase.

Donald Lambert of Oak Bluffs, owner of a commercial property on upper Circuit Avenue, across the street from the Uncas Avenue location, objected to the notion of a full bar. “I’ll have 10 cars in my own lot in the morning, because people were too drunk to drive home,” he said. Mr. Lambert noted that patrons of bars on Circuit Avenue often parked in his lot at night. He suggested a compromise of beer and wine only, to mitigate the potential problem.

Developer responds

Mr. Dunn, developer of the Tisbury Marketplace and several other projects, is no stranger to the MVC process. Thursday, he addressed the objections one by one.

“I keep hearing this project referred to as a ruse for sports bar,” Mr. Dunn said. “Why would we build one million dollars worth of bowling as a ruse? We assume there will be leagues, teams formed by businesses and friends, birthday parties, office parties and the like. High school kids can bring a date and not break the bank. Sure we’ll have a bar, and you’ll be able to watch a game, it’s an amenity. We’ve agreed to have last call one and a half hours earlier than law permits. If this place was a bar scene, it would be suicide to our business plan. People who get drunk and rowdy will have to go elsewhere.”

Mr. Dunn held up a petition he said contained the signatures of more than 500 Island residents who are in favor of the project.

“This was a total grassroots effort,” Mr. Dunn said. “It took on a life of its own.”  

Mr. Dunn noted that of the objection letters on file with the MVC, more than half were from visitors, not property owners.  

“Every commercial district ends somewhere,” Mr. Dunn said. “It seems to me that people who buy next to commercial property, especially one in this condition, must know it’s very likely something’s going to happen.”

Mr. Dunn also asked the MVC to consider his track record on the Island, particularly the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society theater in the Tisbury Market Place.

Christine Todd, executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association (OBA), said that Mr. Dunn had the unanimous support of the OBA.

“We feel it will bring something the town has needed for a long time,” Ms. Todd said. “This condition exists wherever commercial ends and residential begins.

MVC sets up the pins

MVC chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury said that Mr. Dunn needed to more specific about the number of events that would be hosted in the function room. Mr. Dunn had indicated it would average two a week, but Ms. Sibley said the definition would allow him to have an event every night in the summer.  Mr. Dunn agreed to come back with a more specific estimate.

With regard to the noise concerns, the MVC wants an independent consultant to evaluate the findings of Mr. Dunn’s sound engineer. One commissioner suggested that Mr. Dunn investigate bowling pins that are made of materials that reduce noise.

Commissioner Joan Malkin of Chilmark said that she had read a newspaper article sent to the MVC from an opponent that described noise and smoke from a hardwood grill in a bowling alley in New York City. Ms. Malkin said the article “gave her pause.”

Members from the MVC said they would plan a site visit at night to evaluate the lighting.

Based on staff reports, Ms. Sibley said a more detailed traffic study that incorporporated seasonal fluctuations would be needed and that a parking estimate would be needed also, for those times when the complex is filled to legal maximum capacity.

In a conversation with The Times on Friday, Feb. 7, describing the MVC’s request for more information, Mr. Dunn said, “I guess it depends if you want to evaluate a project up for a 100-year storm or evaluate it for normal conditions.”

Pro and con

A review by The Times of the written record submitted as of Thursday revealed that Mr. Dunn has generated support among year-round residents. The vast majority of 34 letters objecting to the project and on file with the MVC are from seasonal residents. The majority in favor, 59 of 60, are from Island residents.

Many opponents cite the unsuitability of the site and its potential to alter the quiet neighborhood.

Yoshino White, in an email dated Feb. 5, said, “This building is completely out of character for the proposed community and should be placed in a more appropriate location on the Island. Why not downtown in Oak Bluffs, why not Vineyard Haven or even Edgartown?”

Amy Wilkinson said she had spent summers in Oak Bluffs since 1967 and her parents purchased a home on Nashawena Park in 1969. “I am extremely concerned that if the bowling center/bar is built,” she said, “we will have problems with disorderly conduct by patrons when leaving the bar, which will inevitably include loud noise when we are trying to sleep.”

Several opponents highlighted the area’s connection to the Island’s African-American history. “It would devalue Highland Park which is part of the African American Historic Trail,” said Sara Farr.

Visitors to the Island also chimed in. In a letter dated Feb. 1, Robert B. Young of Wilmington, Delaware, a self-described “tourist and lover of Martha’s Vineyard,” said, “I hope you will really reject this proposal in favor of perhaps some other enterprise that would be less disruptive to the quaint, small-town atmosphere that makes Martha’s Vineyard so enticing as a vacation destination.”

Many of the emails in favor cited their support for a year-round family venue and Mr. Dunn’s track record. “We feel this would be a great benefit to the Island,” said June and Andrew Flake of Vineyard Haven.

“It will provide a healthy activity choice for the young people of our community and will help to keep seniors active and engaged with others,” said Stephanie Burke, vice president of the Boys and Girls Club.

Abutter Kim Nye of Oak Bluffs saw no problem. “It will be great to see the derelict properties across the street be replaced with a continued business district and something the Island will love,” she said.

Fred Mascolo of Edgartown added his take on the MVC process. “Please stop with the social engineering. You are a land use planning agency … Please do not debate it for six months so the people run out of money, and just approve it because how bad is bowling?”

Marguerite Cook is the captain of the Good Ship Lollipop on Circuit Ave in Oak Bluffs. — photo by Gwyn McAllister

Every other week, Gwyn McAllister visits with an Island merchant, and asks them how they got here, why they do what they do, and the ups and downs of their job.

The weeks before Valentine’s Day are a great time to wander around a candy shop, reliving sweet, confectionate memories from your past. The Good Ship Lollipop on Circuit Ave in Oak Bluffs offers another boost to childhood memories with its large selection of retro candy – everything from licorice pipes, Mary Janes and Teaberry gum to Necco wafers, Bit-o-Honey, Pixie Sticks, Mary Janes and so much more.

In addition, owner Marguerite Cook dips her own chocolate – over 100 varieties including chocolate pops in every imaginable shape – and also offers dozens of organic, vegan, gluten free and sugar free varieties from Divine Treasures in Connecticut. The packed to the rafters shop also carries stuffed animals, toys and puzzles, infant toys, souvenirs, holiday decorations and even a small collection of rocks and minerals in one corner.

We spoke to Ms. Cook, a native of Braintree and the former tax collector in Oak Bluffs, recently about her history with the Vineyard and the shop and found out that, among other things, the business was inspired, not surprisingly, by a lollipop; dipping chocolates is a passion as much as a business for Ms. Cook (I’d still want to do it even if it wasn’t a job) and, believe it or not, selling candy has more in common with tax collecting than you might think possible.

How did you get to the Vineyard?

“I first came in 1968. I had two very good friends who lived in my neighborhood who both got jobs at the MV Hospital. I came to help them get set up in a house here. I walked up one side of Circuit Ave and the other and got a job as an accountant. Then I got a job working on a fundraising campaign for the hospital.”

At the end of 1969 Ms. Cook left the Island to get married to her husband David Cook, an Island native who was entering the military. Their first daughter was born while he was away in the army. Upon returning, Mr. Cook got a job with the Post Office on the Vineyard and Ms. Cook worked variously at the old laundromat and the Corner Store. In 1980 she starting working for the town of Oak Bluffs, a career she pursued until 2003, working variously as treasurer and then tax collector

What motivated you to start your business?

Ms. Cook had been retired from the town for a few years looking for something else to do. It was a picture of her mother that Ms. Cook discovered while closing up her parent’s home that inspired her to open a candy shop. “In the picture, my mother is holding a baby doll and a big swirly lollipop.” That image, combined with comments from former business associates hat there was no where to buy candy in the neighborhood that gave her the idea to open the shop.

How did you get your start?

“I started out in Vineyard Haven, next to Calico Sue as an old fashioned candy store. I carried some toys and souvenirs. I was there for one summer, then moved into a slot they had cordoned off in the laundromat and stayed there until the end of that summer. Mr. Stacy, who owned Hilliard’s, came to me and asked if I wanted to move my candy store to where to the old Hilliard’s was. The deal came with a temporary loan of the kettles and Brenda Mastromonaco [a Hilliard family member] to teach me how to make chocolates. She still works for me to this day. She taught me everything I know about making chocolates.”

What’s so special about your job?

“I absolutely love it. It doesn’t matter who comes in the door, they walk out with a smile on their face. It’s just a wonderful experience. I get lot of kids from a few months to 102. It’s wonderful because even people who haven’t been in the store, when they come in for the first time they are amazed. They’re a kid in a candy store. They start naming off all the different candies they had when they were kids.”

What’s the most challenging thing about running a business on the Vineyard?

“Getting your product in. My chocolate is flown in from Pennsylvania. It comes in a day or a day and a half. We go through a lot of chocolate. But being here it’s sometimes hard for people to get things to us in a timely fashion.”

What makes owning a business on the Vineyard special?

“Some people who come in have never been to the Vineyard before. They’re really surprised to see a candy store here. The kids who come each summer can’t wait to come back to the store. It’s a destination for the kids. People let me know in advance that they’re grandkids are coming. Everybody has stories.”

Any particularly memorable days?

“A woman named Mary Fisher was celebrating her 100th birthday in Windemere. She used to make chocolates when she was a little girl in Edgartown. They asked her what she wanted to do for her 100th and she said she wanted to dip chocolates. Brenda [Mastromonaco ] and I went over with a tempering kettle, some marshmallows and pieces of mint and let her dip chocolates. She said, ‘With my hands so crooked I don’t know if I can dip them.’ I told her, ‘We use utensils now and you should be able to.’ She had the best time dipping chocolates. Four other residents asked if they could also dip. One woman was blind and another had Parkinson’s. We helped them and we all laughed a lot. By the time we were through we had enough to feed all the hospital staff — from acute care to accounting — and all the staff and residents in Windemere.”

Any interesting customers?

“The granddaughter of the man who invented Turkish Taffy came in and saw the candy. It had disappeared [from distribution] for approximately 35 years. Her grandfather hadn’t copyrighted it. She was shocked when she saw it. She didn’t know that it had come back.”

What’s your favorite off Island trip?

“My husband and I go and pick up a lot of the candy ourselves. We make a trip every few weeks in the summer. We go first to Bridgewater to get salt water taffy, ribbon candy and sponge candy at a little shop there. It’s a wonderful place to go and watch them make the taffy. From there we go to New Hampshire and back down to Lowell, East Boston, Cambridge and a few others. I do love to go but my husband usually does it now.”

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?

“I like to help people. As much as people say, ‘You were a tax collector? How could you do that?’ — I loved my job because I was able to help people. If they didn’t have what they needed, they went on a payment plan. If you work with people that way, they leave happy. People sometimes come into the store and say, ‘I know you. You helped my grandmother.’”

Which is your favorite Island town?

“I have to say Oak Bluffs because when I first moved to the Vineyard it was just so much fun to be here. It was called the honky tonk town then and it still is today. It’s always hopping. Its always moving.”

Anything you dream about doing in life?

“The last thing on my bucket list is to go to Italy. My family is Italian. Most of my brothers and sister’s have gone.”

What is your motto?

“Life is short so you have to enjoy it while you can.”

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— File Photo by Susan Safford

A draft report by the engineering firm hired to evaluate soggy areas of Ocean Park concludes that while several wastewater treatment beds under the park are failing, “there is a strong likelihood” that the majority of the problem is from irrigation and storm-water runoff.

Oak Bluffs was ordered to do an engineering study in a notice of non-compliance, issued last September by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The Hyannis environmental engineering firm Stearns & Wheler conducted the study.

For several years, mushy ground and sometimes standing water have interfered with use of the public park in the month of August. Testing determined that some of the water was treated effluent from the town’s wastewater treatment plant, which pumps treated wastewater into leaching beds under the park.

“It’s a combination of everything, wastewater, irrigation, and storm water,” said wastewater plant manager Joe Alosso.

According to the report, four test excavations conducted on December 15 determined that many factors contribute to the ponding of water in the lowest part of Ocean Park.

Engineers said changes to irrigation, aeration, and turf management would reduce the ponding. They said removing some sprinkler heads in the affected area, and installing a rain sensor, so the sprinklers won’t turn on during a rain, would help.

Mr. Alosso has long contended that too much water is used to irrigate Ocean Park in the summer months. He said the irrigation system is turned on, rain or shine, for five days per week in August, dumping 186,400 gallons of water on the park. By contrast, he said the typical family home uses about 75,000 gallons of water for all uses, during an entire year.

“I have never said that the ponding in Ocean Park is from irrigation,” said Mr. Alosso. “But I do maintain that the inability of the treated wastewater to percolate down through the ground is affected by the amount of irrigation water and rain water that is applied to the site. The site needs recovery time for all this water to move down through the sand.”

Engineers determined that topsoil in some areas of the park is too thick and compacted to provide good drainage.

“There’s way too much topsoil, it’s not getting any oxygen into the sand and the soils below it,” said Mr. Alosso. “For the leaching beds to work properly you have to have some oxygen getting down in there. It’s upwards of a foot of topsoil in some places.”

Engineers also suggest that installation of underground irrigation pipes, electrical conduits, and other infrastructure may have the unintended effect of channeling drainage water to lower parts of the park. When trenches were excavated for the pipes, they may have created aerated soil that provides a path of least resistance for the water to drain. When the water reaches more compacted areas, it puddles on the surface. Another part of the problem may be a clogged catch basin. Engineers documented one catch basin in the lower part of the park full of water to within four inches of the surface. Other nearby catch basins were empty.

The engineers found that a leaching bed between the grandstand and Sea View Avenue was draining the effluent at a rate “significantly” less than it was designed to do. Engineers found large amounts of biological material (biomat) clogging the leaching fields. Biomat is a general term for living organisms that grow in a rich nitrogen environment. The excavation of the bed confirmed data from monitors that measured drainage over several months. On the basis of those findings, the engineer recommended shutting down four leaching beds located between the grandstand and Sea View Avenue. Flow to those beds has already been stopped. The report concludes that four more beds in the area generally surrounding the small concrete pond may have to be disconnected in the near future, because soil and biomat conditions are similar to the poorly functioning bed.

“We’ll talk about different options,” said Mr. Alosso. Among the options is permanent shutdown of leaching beds, or refurbishing them with new drainage material. “Fortunately it looks like it’s one section of the park. The other areas looked okay.”

The engineers concluded that even if the beds are shut down, the rest of the leaching field has the capacity to absorb all of the town’s wastewater. There are a total of 28 beds under the park.

Mr. Alosso said the town would continue work on an alternative site for leaching fields. The town is evaluating land known as the Leonardo property, located near the wastewater plant, which is located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and County Road. “We need to do something,” said Mr. Alosso. “I still think additional capacity is the good long-term answer.”

Copies of the engineering report were distributed to selectmen, park commissioners, and wastewater district commissioners. Mr. Alosso asked for comments from the public officials, which will be submitted to the engineering firm. “They will make any adjustments they think are warranted based on the comments, and then we’ll send it off to the state.”

The state will use the engineering report to determine the best way to solve the problems.

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Oak Bluffs selectmen learned Tuesday that their town now expects to fall $336,607 short of its revenue projections at the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30, this year.

In their first meeting of the New Year, facing head-on a municipal byproduct of the national economic downturn, the selectmen got the sobering report from Paul Manzi, Oak Bluffs finance director and treasurer. Selectmen Ron D’Orio, chairman of the board, had asked Mr. Manzi to deliver the news.

Having passed the halfway mark in the 2009 fiscal year, Mr. D’Orio said he asked Mr. Manzi to provide the numbers because he thought it wise to be proactive.

“I do not want to be here in May with too short a time to make up $336,000,” Mr. D’Orio said. He said the town would need to look at the numbers now and make appropriate adjustments in the budget to deal with the shortfall.

One possibility may be savings from the budgets of town departments, including the highway and tax collector departments, which have not filled several vacant positions.

During the short discussion that followed Mr. Manzi’s report, selectman Roger Wey, who is also Council on Aging director, suggested across-the-board department cuts. He said the most important consideration was to keep employees.

Selectman Kerry Scott said there are some department budgets that cannot be cut. She offered the town clerk’s department as an example.

The selectmen agreed that in concert with the finance committee, they would begin the search for savings or revenue increases when they meet next.

After the meeting, Mr. Manzi told The Martha’s Vineyard Times one option to generate revenue might be an auction sale of town-owned properties or foreclosed properties.

Local receipts lag

About this time last year, town leaders and department heads began the annual process of putting together the town operating budget they would present to voters at the spring annual town meeting.

Referring to the revenue projections made at the time, Michael Dutton, town administrator, told selectmen Tuesday night, “Those were conservative estimates, but they were not conservative enough.”

Despite signs of a slowdown in the economy, no one anticipated the financial meltdown that would occur in the fall. Mr. Manzi’s estimate is based on expected shortfalls in three of the town’s primary local sources of revenue.

He said motor vehicle excise taxes are expected to fall $93,050 short of a budgeted $674,827. The reason, he said, is that people are not buying cars.

Revenue from licenses and permits is expected to fall $157,782 short of a budgeted $409,418, due to a decline in building activity.

And it is estimated the $155,537 the town expected to receive in investment income will be off by $85,775, due to a drop in interest rates.

The estimated $336,607 shortfall does not reflect cuts in state aid. Mr. Manzi does not anticipate a major hit in FY 09, but in FY 10, the town will likely see cuts, he said.

To be on the conservative side, next year’s budget will be built around an expected 10-percent cut in state aid, or approximately $170,000, Mr. Manzi explained.

Other business

Selectmen moved briskly through an agenda that included several appointments and a public hearing designed to qualify the town for significant federal money that would allow a qualified homeowner to seek a zero-percent, deferred-payment, forgivable loan to rehabilitate his or her house.

Selectmen reappointed Robert Huss to the Steamship Authority port council and named M. Casey Sharpe, a lawyer and former town administrator, to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Selectmen approved a one-day beer and wine permit for a potluck inaugural event at the Dreamland building, sponsored by the Oak Bluffs Association, and they approved the dates for four popular road races: Memorial Day race, May 24; NAACP race, Sept. 12; Columbus Day race, Oct. 11; and Thanksgiving Day race, Nov. 26.