Oak Bluffs voters breezed through town meeting warrants at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center Tuesday evening, quickly approving a $37.6 million budget.
Both the eight-article special town meeting warrant and the 49-article annual town meeting warrant passed in their entirety.
In addition to passing the so-called ‘nip ban,’ and a $457,800 allocation to help fund a feasibility study for the high school building project, Oak Bluffs voters approved $250,000 for improvements to the Harbor East Chop bulkhead, $325,000 to fund the second phase of the Farm Pond Culvert replacement, and $50,000 for the annual Oak Bluffs August fireworks.
An amendment to an article brought forth by the wastewater department requesting an additional $30,000 on top of the initial $30,000 to fund an upgrade of a supervisory control and data system (SCADA) was also approved by voters.
Town meeting garnered votes in support of amending the town’s cemetery regulations, which will now allow the option for green burials, where the deceased is buried in a casket made of softwood or other biodegradable materials, along with the current cement or bronze interment containers.
An article that prohibits acting members of the select board from holding more than one elected office at a time also passed, after outgoing select board chair Ryan Ruley clarified that the change would need additional approval by the attorney general and would not affect current board members.
In what could be considered a fairly routine town meeting, with very little contention, one warrant article that sparked discussion shed light on the low amount of funding geared toward social service programs.
Voters took note of an item requesting appropriations to five regional human service providers, totaling $80,611, that had not received recommendations of support from the town’s finance and advisory committee.
The money is set to be distributed among Dukes County Public Benefits Access, Homeless Prevention Program, CORE Program of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, Healthy Aging M.V., and the Substance Use Disorder Coalition.
Finance and advisory committee chair Sherry Countryman addressed her committee’s lack of recommendation, claiming that many of the services are duplications of other existing programs.
“Nobody is against these organizations and what they do,” Countryman stated. “Everybody believes these services are necessary; it’s a matter of how we’re paying for these services, and it’s a matter of the overhead that we’re paying in respect to these services.”
Retired physician Bob Laskowski, who volunteers at Healthy Aging, refuted those claims, voicing his support for all of the regional human services allocations, which he said all call for very low administrative costs.
“There’s no duplication of these programs,” he said, adding that the regional programs often involve collaboration. “We work hard to make sure they’re complementary to each other.”
Laskowski highlighted that the amount of money requested for all five services is 0.2 percent of the town’s budget. “It’s minuscule,” he said of the meager $80,611.
“The relative percentage of our overall budget for these social service programs — which are highly leveraged with volunteer efforts — is unchanged [over the years]; it’s actually decreased,” he said.
“The programs in the article speak directly to the needs of our community, especially to those who are growing older,” he said, urging voters to support the regional social services.
Island Elderly Housing resident Claudia Wales also stood up to the meeting floor microphone to ask voters to support the services, particularly Healthy Aging M.V., for which only $25,677 had been earmarked.
“I’m asking everyone here to remember the elderly,” Wales said to her fellow voters.
The organization’s GoGoGrandparent program, which was established in 2021, has been “a lifesaver,” she said.
The transportation program has been key in helping seniors get to medical appointments, run errands, and maintain their social lives, Wales said. “I would probably not be here if it were not for GoGoGrandparents.”
Michele LeBlanc, CORE (Counseling, Outreach, Referrals for Elders) coordinator at M.V. Community Services, addressed what she called an “epidemic of anxiety, loneliness, depression” among Island seniors, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic.
CORE provides services for Island seniors, currently ranging from 60 to 96, free of charge, she said.
It offers elderly participants a broad range of support, from health insurance and long-term and at-home caregiving to end-of-life planning, LeBlanc said: “It’s an essential program.”
Christine Todd, chair of the Dukes County Commission, re-emphasized the importance of addressing, and helping to alleviate, many of the issues facing Islanders and Oak Bluffs residents through the use of community and regional services.
“We have a growing aging population, we have a national crisis with opiate overdose and deaths and addiction. We have a homeless situation that’s not going away. We have housing insecurity, food insecurity,” Todd said. “These are not issues that are going away.”
“These problems are persistent, and growing … and they are affecting our community, deeply. I would hope that we would support this minor request compared to the budget in its entirety,” Todd added, before being met with applause from her fellow voters.