The fate of the proposed $13.4 million town hall renovation and reconstruction in Oak Bluffs now lies at the ballot box.
At the socially distanced annual town meeting Thursday night, voters approved the article to head to the ballot box 176-30.
Thursday’s meeting was held at the Tabernacle where seats and pews were separated by tape to allow for people to gather at a safe distance. The night’s warrant was trimmed down 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.
Voters will now decide during the town’s election Thursday if the multi-million dollar project will become reality, marking the third time the town has attempted to build a new town hall in recent years.
If approved, the 2020 project would be funded through a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion, which raises property taxes for a limited or temporary period of time to fund a specific capital project.
For the 2020 project, the starting annual cost per $1,000 home valuation is 27 cents, or $167.22 for the average $609,550 home. Each year, the annual cost would decrease. The average home would end up paying $2,887 over the course of 20 years.
In March, selectmen selected East Falmouth-based Dellbrook JKS as its construction manager at risk (CMAR). Dellbrook JKS worked with Icon Architecture to come up with the $13.4 million cost in advance of the annual town meeting on June 16. By having a CMAR, the town was able to establish a maximum project cost for voters to decide on.
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 being 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. Town offices have been located at the former Oak Bluffs elementary school since 2000.
Voters approved the $32.4 million budget. Town administrator Robert Whirtenour gave voters a positive outlook on the town’s financial situation even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend life across the country and leave much uncertain. He said the budget is up 4.74 percent from last year, but mostly due to financing the school roof project which was approved at the 2019 annual town meeting. He added that by reducing the warrant articles from the original warrant that was set for April, Whritenour held off on $500,000 of articles.
At 81 percent, property taxes remain the town’s primary source of revenue; one percent comes from state aid, and 18 percent comes from local revenues such as the harbor, hotel and motel taxes, vehicle excise, and other sources.
“We will emerge from this town meeting in a very strong financial condition,” Whritneour said. “We’ll be back in the fall to re-gauge this and see where we stand.”