Looking to balance the FY19 budget in the face of slow revenue growth and sharply escalating regional costs — namely the town’s $467,000 increase for the assessment for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School — town administrator Robert Whritenour had recommended the board of selectmen approve a $500,000 Proposition 2½ override in real estate and personal property taxes on this year’s town meeting warrant. He said the 7.3 percent increase in the high school assessment actually translates to a 10 percent increase for Oak Bluffs, because overall, enrollment is down at MVRHS.
The actual FY 2019 shortfall for the town was in the range of $275,000, but Whritenour recommended an additional $225,000 that would create some breathing room for a possible shortfall in FY 2020.
However, after deliberating at their regular meeting on Tuesday night, the board of selectmen voted 4-0 to ask voters to approve an override for only the $275,000 needed to balance the books in FY 2019.
“I have a problem with asking for more than we really need,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “It forces us to economize. It sends a message, not to our town departments, which are level-funded, but to all of these [regional] organizations and all of these nonprofits that we can’t do this anymore.”
Selectman Brian Packish agreed. “It’s cumbersome to come back every year, but at the same time it’s respectful to the people that we do the best we can do to dial spending back in,” he said.
Finance and advisory committee member Jason Balboni told the board that the additional funding would likely be needed in 2020.
“Bills are going up for everybody,” Barmakian said. “The message is that we need to be conservative, when we ask for extra, I don’t think we send that message.”
“It’s the regional costs that are killing us,” Whritenour said. “We need to strategize, and [for instance] go back to the high school and say ‘we can’t go up 10 percent every year.’”
Proposition 2½ limits property tax increases by municipalities to 2.5 percent annually. Two-thirds of Oak Bluffs voters will have to approve the funds to cover the shortfall at town meeting this April, and at the ballot box in the town election. The town last approved an override in 2015.
In other financial doings, the board approved a debt exclusion — also known as a bond issue — for the town meeting warrant for funds to pay for a new roof and to replace the HVAC equipment at the Oak Bluffs School.
The board also voted 4-0 to sign a 20-year lease with Cape & Vineyard Electric Cooperative, to operate the solar installation on the fire station roof, pending approval of town counsel. The deal will provide the town with an estimated $409,000 in net credits over the course of the contract.
Chairman Kathy Burton did not attend the meeting due to illness.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the amount of the debt exclusion for the Oak Bluffs School is $350,000. The total amount for the debt exclusion has not been decided.