Oak Bluffs approves reduced warrant

Town plans to move several funding articles to fall town meeting.

Oak Bluffs town administrator Bob Whritenour, shown here at the town’s 2019 annual town meeting, is looking for a venue for this year's meeting. — Gabrielle Mannino

Oak Bluffs voters will take up a $32 million budget on a slimmed-down warrant for the June 16 annual town meeting.

The election will be held two days later, on June 18. The town is still settling on location, but town administrator Robert Whritneour said a group is working on holding the meeting at the Tabernacle.

The warrant, which selectmen approved Tuesday night, was reduced from 38 articles to 20 due to the town wanting to keep the length of the meeting to a minimum amid the coronavirus pandemic. Whritenour said many of the articles have been “postponed” to the fall town meeting.

On the recommendation of the town’s finance committee, selectmen voted to have voters decide on level funding for ACE MV.

ACE MV’s article originally asked for $21,630, but selectmen voted to level the amount to $14,796, the amount the organization asked for last year.

“I think they do a great job, I think they provide a good service,” selectman Jason Balboni said. “The thing I think that they fail at is fundraising, and finding ways to pay their bills on their own.”

Balboni went on to say when ACE MV first began, they requested seed money with the intention they would not ask for money the following year, but each year the organization comes back requesting more funding.

Voters will also decide on whether to approve $28,316 for the town’s share of a dust collection system for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The finance committee voted 6-2 against approving the article.

“The finance committee cannot support any capital expense for the high school until the regional formula is changed to recognize that the nature of capital expenses are a long-term benefit for every property on the Island, and should not be based solely on the current student population,” the finance committee’s recommendation states.

At the 2019 annual town meeting, Oak Bluffs voters denied funding a $292,000 share of a feasibility study. Town leaders have consistently expressed frustration with the funding formula that requires Oak Bluffs to fund a large portion of regional services, such as the high school.

Once again, Oak Bluffs voters will decide on whether to fund construction for a town hall

The decision to renovate the former elementary school that town offices have occupied since 2000 comes after an attempt to build a new town hall failed. In 2017, town voters approved $9.8 million for a new town hall, but the following year, two separate bids for the project came in over budget, the last as high as $11.1 million. A vote to approve an additional $1.3 million was shot down by voters at a special election in November 2018.

After failing to fund the project, the town went back to the drawing board, and has been working with Icon Architecture and a construction manager at risk (CMAR) to develop a maximum project cost in advance of the annual town meeting, so voters know exactly how much a town hall would cost.

The town is still working to establish a project cost — preliminary estimates have put the project cost at $11 million. The project would be funded through a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion.

A Proposition 2½ debt exclusion raises property taxes for a limited period of time to fund a specific capital project, like building a new town hall. A Proposition 2½ override is similar, but it increases property taxes indefinitely, and is usually for an ongoing expense the town needs to fund now and in the future.

Voters will decide on approving $815,000 to purchase or take by eminent domain a half-acre of land from Eversource. The property sits directly across from the Barn Bowl & Bistro on Uncas Avenue. The property is considered surplus. The other article is for $510,000 to construct a 50-space park and ride lot on town land on the corner of County Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. The project would be funded by a debt exclusion.

With Community Preservation Committee (CPC) funding, voters will choose whether to fund $200,000 to assist in funding a project to restore Sunset Lake and Lakeside Park for active and passive recreation. Other CPC articles include $125,000 for Harbor Homes to help purchase a house for low-income residents, and $50,000 to restore the pipe organ at the Union Chapel Educational and Cultural Institute.

Other articles include $2.7 million for replacing sidewalks and other infrastructure in the downtown area, transferring $200,000 to the town’s stabilization fund, $100,000 from the ambulance reserve account for a five-year ambulance reconditioning program for two ambulances, $87,449 for regional human services, $75,000 for potential repairs at the town’s wastewater system, $75,000 for funding state-mandated revaluation of real and personal property in town, $75,000 to fund the residential placement of an elementary school student as part of the student’s special education plan, authorizing a $50,000 limit for the town’s fire inspection revolving fund, $65,371 for the town’s share of maintenance costs to the Dukes County Regional Emergency Communications Center, $35,000 for the harbor maintenance, and deciding on compensation for elected officials.

In other business, selectmen approved a business license for Sarah Brown’s, a Southern-style restaurant that will be open seasonally. The restaurant will take over the former Beetlebung restaurant space on Circuit Avenue, and will begin by offering takeout only.