On Tuesday, the Oak Bluffs select board adopted a new holiday display policy, which will prohibit decorations associated with any specific group.
The policy recommended to the select board, which was subsequently unanimously approved, states that its purpose is “to ensure that each town-owned facility or property has a welcoming atmosphere, and does not result in the town advancing or inhibiting any particular religion, culture, group, or ethnicity.”
Similarly, the policy states that “the choice of which symbols, colors, decorations, displays, or other related holiday display is not, nor ever intended, to be a public forum,” although the town will “continue to decorate the interior and exterior of the town’s buildings and various town-owned properties with symbols that reflect various seasonal and holiday celebrations of the community, but in a manner that does not advance or inhibit any particular religion, culture, group, or ethnicity, and respects the complex values of modern society.”
At the discretion of the select board, now, only town-owned or town-contracted holiday display items will be “considered suitable” and permitted on town property.
Town administrator Deborah Potter said the policy is “for liability purposes,” along with “a variety of other reasons.” Select board members approved the new policy with little deliberation.
When asked whether the new policy will affect future Christmas displays at Ocean Park or Sunset Lake, Potter told The Times via email, “Unless otherwise approved by the select board, only items that are owned or contracted by the town will be considered suitable for use and display. If owned by the town, then the town in consultation with the parks department would have discretion on any use or display. If contracted, then the terms and conditions of any contract would apply.”
In other business, the select board was presented with a list of projects that may be eligible for funding through the town’s allotted American Rescue Plan Act 2021 (ARPA) grant. The federal funds distributed through ARPA offer relief to eligible local and state organizations in order to assist communities that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The act categorizes eligibility for the COVID-19 relief funds into four groups, as summarized from the March 11 American Rescue Plan Act 2021 by the Dukes County Commission:
- To respond to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts (including assistance to households, businesses, and nonprofits).
- To provide premium pay to employees providing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- To provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to COVID–19 public health emergencies relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency.
- To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.
Oak Bluffs is set to receive $488,000 in relief funds, Potter said. The select board is charged with deciding how to use the money.
The act is fairly restrictive, Potter said; “the options we have are limited.” A few ways the town could benefit from the funds, she proposed, would be to replace lost revenue, enhance broadband infrastructure, help to support improvements and upgrades to the Oak Bluffs Elementary School, or develop a parking lot at Uncas Avenue to “help stimulate business activity.”
Potter mentioned that the nearly half a million dollars could also go to helping to fund the Healy Square and Kennebec Avenue portion of the Oak Bluffs Streetscape project, which has had to change gears due to rising costs.
After putting out requests for proposals for the next phase of the project, which was voted upon by the select board on Sept. 13, Potter said the estimated costs in bids received are around $290,000 higher than anticipated.
Tim Wong of Waterfield Design Group — the company responsible for the entirety of the Oak Bluffs Streetscape Master Plan — offered suggestions on modifications to the Healy Square/ Kennebec Avenue portion of the project that could reduce costs, and to entice contractors to take the job.
Originally calling for significant upgrades, including new benches, plaques, and additional trees at Healy Square, along with new road paving and walkway brickwork throughout that area and Kennebec Avenue, the project has an expected completion date of May 2023.
On Tuesday, Wong outlined items in the design that the select board may want to remove in the RFP, including “all work on David Healy Way,” in addition to new trash receptacles, additional trees, benches, and a general postponement of Kennebec Avenue repaving.
“The existing pavement is in OK shape,” Wong said, noting that areas of the road can be “filled in where we need to.”
Some items that aren’t essential — though preferred — that could face the chopping block are a fiber-optic conduit and a new paved sidewalk. Wong said the town can temporarily “paint” the sidewalk, and leave the paving for a future project.
“You’re not repaving the road, you’re not putting in a new sidewalk,” select board member Gail Barmakian asked. “What is left?”
Despite the significant changes, the select board ultimately voted unanimously to approve the modified plan.
Inquiries by The Times regarding the cumulative cost of the Oak Bluffs Streetscape Master Plan, of which the phases include Circuit Avenue, Kennebec Avenue/Healy Square, and the recently Martha’s Vineyard Commission–approved North Bluff modification, have not been responded to by the town.