Oak Bluffs approves town meeting warrant

Selectmen criticize regional funding formulas.

Oak Bluffs selectmen approved the warrant for town meeting next month, but expressed issues with regional funding formulas. — Brian Dowd

Updated March 14

The Oak Bluffs town warrant for the April annual and special town meetings was signed off by selectmen Tuesday night.

The town will vote on several articles, including a $30.9 million budget for the 2020 fiscal year, $160,000 for harbor improvements, and the creation of the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank. Several town positions are on the ballot, including chair Gail Barmakian’s selectman seat, a board of health seat, a Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission seat, and two planning board seats. Nomination submissions closed on Feb. 21. There are two contested races, one for a three-year term on the finance and advisory committee and another for a position on the Land Bank commission.

The finance and advisory committee seat was left vacant, but William Vrooman and Abe Seiman both sent letters to town clerk Laura Johnston expressing their intent to run write-in campaigns.

Incumbent Priscilla Sylvia and Kristen Reimann are both running for the Land Bank commission seat.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) filed a late warrant article that allows the school to use $292,723 in excess and deficiency (E and D) funds for the town’s share of a feasibility study. The school originally submitted an article requesting $316,267.99 from the town.

At a school committee meeting earlier this month, Superintendent of Schools Matt D’Andrea said the past practice of appropriating E and D funds was illegal.

If a regional school district committee uses E and D funds, the school must notify the towns within seven days. Towns are then allowed to have a special town meeting within 45 days to vote to approve appropriation of the funds.

Selectman Jason Balboni brought attention to the funding formula for the study, under which Oak Bluffs pays a larger share because it has the largest population. He took issue with the redistribution of E and D funds. “I just disagree with that. It’s not fair. That money that was taken, we paid a larger amount of — why aren’t we getting our amount back? Why does a town, say, like Aquinnah or Chilmark get the same reduction that we get, when we paid more in the beginning? That’s an issue I have,” Balboni said.

“It just shows again how the formulas are problematic at every turn, and it seems like at every turn there’s a different problem,” selectman Brian Packish said.

The finance committee voted a 4-2 no recommendation on the high school’s feasibility study. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said the finance committee believes the funding formula is “fundamentally flawed” and should not be assessed based on population, but spread to each town equally because each town benefits from the school being available.

Selectmen approved the article on the condition that all other towns vote to appropriate their shares.

Another late article filing was a $100,000 request from the fire department for repair costs to a pumper truck. While the finance committee recommended the article in a 7-0 vote, the article was not put on the warrant after a tie vote with Barmakian and selectman Greg Coogan for and Packish and Balboni against. Selectman Mike Santoro was not present at the meeting.

Coogan and Barmakian both felt the article should be on the warrant because it was unanimously approved by the finance committee despite its late filing.

Packish said he always wants to support the fire department and other services, but took issue with late filing and lack of information. Balboni agreed.

“I want to get us out of this behavior of last minute. It’s bad enough when outside entities do it. It’s just really disappointing when we do it to ourselves,” Packish said.

The annual town meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 9, at 7 pm, at the MVRHS Performing Arts Center. The election will be held on Thursday, April 11, from 10 am to 7 pm.

In other business, town conservation agent Liz Durkee gave selectmen a presentation on the town’s vulnerability preparedness program. Durkee said the town should be focusing on coastal resiliency. She identified sea level rise, flooding, erosion, drought, and ocean acidification as some of the issues the town is facing and will continue to face in the future.

Dan Shaw, a landscape designer from Dodson & Flinker, a consulting firm, told selectmen Oak Bluffs has completed a community resilience building workshop, making it municipal vulnerability preparedness (MVP) certified. The town can now pursue state action grants that help coastal towns address climate change–related hazards.

The owners of the popular Backyard Taco and Smooth Moves in Edgartown were granted a business license by selectmen for a new location on Circuit Avenue.

The new location makes its home in the building that most recently housed Slice of Life. The owners are brothers Zared and Evan Shai, along with their father Raphael and sister Megan Brown.

The Shais will call their second location Dos, and plan to offer breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night dining options, with hours from 8 am to 1:30 am.

Coogan warned the Shais about noise on the street late at night, but said he wanted to see the brothers succeed.

Zared Shai said the business in Edgartown is near residential areas, and in three years they never received a complaint. “We’re good at keeping people quiet and happy and well-fed,” Shai said.

Selectman Greg Coogan said the town should begin discussing a potential amendment to the Land Bank legislation so half of the Land Bank’s income goes toward housing. Selectmen agreed it deserved discussion, and will be put on the selectmen’s next agenda on March 26.


Updated to add contested Land Bank Commission seat. — Ed.


  1. A couple of things are wrong here. 1) Either the reporter got things wrong or the Selectmen are clueless–the formula used is not “by population” it is by each towns’ share of students at the school–if you have more students you pay more. 2) Selectman Balboni seems to have no ability or understanding of math–if the E&D was returned to the towns, yes OB would receive more because it has a larger percentage of students but also it’s share that would have to pay for the new building design would go up by the EXACT sane amount so the bottom line of what OB would have to pay would stay EXACTLY the same as the request.

  2. Are you serious? This paper went to print with this misstatement? ” the only contested race is for a three-year term on the finance and advisory committee.” Could someone from the paper please check this for accuracy?

    • Hi Phil, thanks for pointing this out. The reporter did check with the town clerk and got bad information. We are correcting the online story now and will print a correction next week.

  3. Fire truck repairs! Hey, at the “last minute” my truck just broke a motor mount and can’t be used. At the “last minute” I took it to the repair shop where I will tip them ($) for jamming me in at the “last minute”. Punishing the fire dept. for late filing by not fixing the fire truck? In a town with tiny streets and jammed together (dare I say tinderbox) buildings? Fire fighting needs to be top quality, it seems counter productive to decide not to fix the truck. Perhaps another way with less chance of regrets could be found to train the people involved to file in a more timely manner. At the house fires I’ve seen pumper trucks were of the utmost importance in not only fighting the fire but also preventing the spread of the fire to adjacent buildings.

  4. I didn’t see where the formula was even mentioned in the article, but one would assume that Jason’s years being a member of the financial advisory committee would give him a better understanding of the school budget per town assessment than most. I for one am glad that they are looking out for our tax money. Also we have an elected committee that voted this down so do you think that the selectmen should just ignore their recommendations and push it through?

    • “Town administrator Robert Whritenour said the finance committee believes the funding formula is “fundamentally flawed” and should not be assessed based on population”

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