Oak Bluffs voters weigh spending, trimming government

Already faced with another year of tightening budgets and diminishing revenues, Oak Bluffs voters will be asked to take action on three articles totaling $349,310 and approve a slate of increases to various fees and the room tax, at a special meeting Tuesday.

If approved, none would directly affect this year’s operating budget or tax rate.

Also up for a vote at the special town meeting is a measure to reduce the board of selectmen from five to three members.

The special town meeting begins at 7 pm at the Oak Bluffs School.

Several non-spending articles are expected to generate considerable debate. Voters will decide whether to increase the local portion of the rooms tax from the current 4 percent, to 6 percent. That would increase the total local and state tax on rooms to 11 percent. Town officials estimate the measure would generate an additional $100,000 in revenue next year.

Voters rejected an identical measure at the annual town meeting in April 2010.

Also Tuesday, voters will act on an article submitted by a petition containing 159 signatures to trim the board of selectmen to three members. The signatures of 100 registered voters are needed to add an article to a special town meeting warrant, Oak Bluffs town clerk Deborah Ratcliff said. Among the signatures on the petition are former selectmen Kerry Scott and Roger Wey. Ms. Scott served two terms on the board. She did not run for reelection in 2009. Mr. Wey did not seek reelection after his seventh term on the board ended in 2008.

“I can see advantages to a three-member, and a five-member board,” chairman Duncan Ross said Tuesday. “I can also see disadvantages to a three-member and a five-member board. Obviously the town of Oak Bluffs worked for some time under a three-member board. It’s up the voters. My own personal opinion is that it it should be at an annual town meeting, not a special town meeting, but we had no control over that.”

Voters will also decide whether to raise fees for recording legal documents and certificates issued by the town clerk. Among the increases: a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or death certificate would increase from $5 to $10; amending a birth, marriage, or death certificate would rise from $10 to $25; filing a business certificate would increase from $20 to $40. Dog licenses would remain unchanged.

“The last time the clerk’s fees were adjusted was in the late 1980′s,” town administrator Michael Dutton said. “If you look at the changes being made, they are certainly not dramatic changes. It brings some of the clerks fees up to be comparable to others.”

Voters will also decide whether to authorize an additional $200,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to restore the clay brick bathrooms near the Steamship Authority terminal. At the 2008 annual town meeting, voters approved $300,000 to match a state grant. Parks commissioners won a grant to restore the bathrooms, maintain the nearby civil war memorial, and fix drainage problems in Alley Park, formerly known as Waban Park. The drainage work is complete, but took more of the CPA funds than anticipated. The project will require additional funds to complete the bathroom restoration.

CPA funds come from a 3 percent property tax surcharge. The state matches a percentage of the surcharge.

A related article asks voters to dedicate the North Bluff land on the ocean side of Seaview Avenue, from the ferry terminal to the harbor parking lot, as a town park. The designation could affect the complex state and local financing of the project.

Another article requests $41,800 from the ambulance reserve fund, in each of the next three fiscal years. The money would be used to lease four public safety vehicles. The ambulance reserve fund is revenue earned for transporting patients to off-Island hospitals.

The other spending request is for $107,510 to educate two special needs students who need instruction in a residential setting, rather than the Oak Bluffs School. State law mandates the costs. The article asks the money be transferred from the town’s stabilization, or rainy day fund. The balance in the stabilization fund is about $1.2 million according to Mr. Dutton.

The warrant for the special town meeting can be found here.