Oak Bluffs selectmen endorse budget, fewer deer, and more business

Martha’s Vineyard Boards of Health biologist Dick Johnson petitioned selectmen to endorse a second deer hunting season that would last two weeks. —Barry Stringfellow

The Oak Bluffs selectmen made a bit of history at their regular meeting on Tuesday when selectman Kathy Burton, who was in Florida at the time, attended the meeting via teleconference, making her the first Oak Bluffs selectman to attend a meeting via the remote attendance proviso, under state open meeting law.

After a “budget workshop” with department heads, the board unanimously approved a $29,400,000 town budget for fiscal year 2018 (FY18), an increase of slightly more than 3 percent from FY17. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said the town’s AA+ bond rating from Standard & Poor’s was an indicator of its solid financial footing, but he warned that spending had to be kept in check. “The challenges that exist are ever-present,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods, especially in terms of developing reserves … We have to get traction with what we have, because the growth isn’t there.”

The budget next goes to the finance and advisory committee (FinCom) for approval.

In other business, selectmen unanimously approved sending a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to endorse a second shotgun deer-hunting season, for a two-week span, in January 2018, to help fight the Lyme disease epidemic.

“We’ve studied what will have the biggest impact on tick-borne diseases, Island-wide, and the biggest thing we can do is reduce the number of deer,”

Martha’s Vineyard Boards of Health biologist Dick Johnson told the board. Mr. Johnson is asking selectmen in all six towns to send the same letter to the DFG. Mr. Johnson said his request was the result of six years of intensive field studies, aided by some of the foremost tick experts in the world. “There’s just too many deer, too many ticks, and too many people getting sick,” he said.

Mr. Johnson estimated there are roughly 40 deer per square mile on the Vineyard. “I think we’d have to get down to 20 per square mile to see an impact,” he said. “The sweet spot would be eight to 15 per square mile. The Cape averages about 15 per square mile, and they have a much lower incidence of [tick-borne diseases].”

“I think we all thought we’d never be in this position, but the time is right, if not overdue,” selectman Greg Coogan said.

Mr. Johnson said “if all the stars align,” the extra deer-hunting season could go into effect in January 2018.

Selectmen enthusiastically and unanimously approved a business permit to allow seasonal resident Steve Steinberg to open Rosies, a self-serve frozen yogurt shop, at 19A Circuit Avenue, beginning this April.

The board also unanimously approved a municipal street license for Dockside Hotel co-owners Caleb Caldwell and John Tiernan to open OB Land and Wharf Co. Tours. The permit will allow for four 15-passenger vans, which will be used for tours of the Island. “We know from the outside looking in, it might look like we have too many tours as it is, but that’s not the case,” Mr. Tiernan told selectmen. “The demand is there. There’s more people looking for tours than [available] slots. There are a lot of cabs offering tours that aren’t supposed to be. We hear from a lot of dissatisfied customers.”

Mr. Tiernan said his drivers will be uniformed and travel on dedicated routes, three trips a day, between May and October.