Seniors sound off, Oak Bluffs selectmen defer some budget cuts

The Oak Bluffs Council on Aging on Wamsutta Avenue.
File photo by Mae Deary

The Oak Bluffs Council on Aging on Wamsutta Avenue.

Faced with a room full of angry seniors, Oak Bluffs selectmen decided on Wednesday to defer decisions on staff cuts at the town Council on Aging center. The cuts were among several finance and advisory committee (FinCom) recommendations on which selectmen deferred action at an evening meeting punctuated with angry remarks aimed at town leaders.

The FinCom last week recommended a series of budget cutting steps needed to close a yawning gap in the current fiscal 2012 budget. Selectmen are targeting approximately $300,000 in budget cuts, but accountants are still working to determine the exact amount of the deficit.

Of the seven budget cuts recommended, selectmen Wednesday voted to defer action on two, approved two specific line item cuts, and approved cuts to three departments but failed to identify the specific line items.

Under hostile fire from a room full of senior citizens, selectmen deferred a recommendation to cut two full-time and one part-time position at the Council on Aging and replace those positions with one senior project manager, who would handle some administrative duties as well as recruit and manage a corps of volunteers. That change is projected to save $60,000.

Selectmen also deferred a decision on the FinCom recommendation to cut a part-time position in the town clerk’s office, for a projected savings of $15,000.

Selectmen explained their inaction on both FinCom recommendations on the shifting nature of the budget gap. An examination now underway of town accounts could trim the size of the budget deficit, they said.

In a unanimous vote, selectmen agreed to cut the unfilled job of reference librarian, for an estimated savings of $45,000.

They voted to reduce the ambulance department’s operating budget $25,000, by directing the ambulance to use the ambulance reserve fund for fuel purchases.

In a 4-1 vote, selectmen directed all departments to cut travel, training, and professional development, unless first authorized by the selectman chairman. Walter Vail dissented. He favored the measure but wanted to set a specific amount.

The FinCom had recommended a $50,000 cut in travel and training costs.

The board voted to cut $25,000 from the health insurance account but did not identify the specific line items from which the money would be taken.

Selectmen also voted to cut $25,000 from their own administrative budget, but declined to include their own stipends as part of that cut.

The selectmen will meet again Tuesday, when they are expected to take action on some of the spending cuts deferred at the September 7 meeting.