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Oak Bluffs Tightens its Belt … Again

Hard times made for hard choices as voters agreed to nearly $250,000 in budget cuts Tuesday night.

Oak Bluffs residents expecting fireworks got a splash of waterworks instead at a budget-cutting Tuesday night. The meeting, held at the, marked the second consecutive year that the troubled resort town has been forced to make mid-year cuts to compensate for revenue shortfalls.

In all, 118 voters authorized $249,666 in current spending cuts, including $47,132 in cuts to the overall budget. The library cuts were expected to raise hackles as library proponents battled to save a vacant reference librarian position. Yet that motion, and an amendment proposed by library trustee Robert Huss to cut other library expenses, was approved with virtually no public comment.

The meeting’s single article warrant included nine separate reductions among eight departments. The library budget reduction was the largest among the nine approved Tuesday night. Highway, assessor, conservation, accounting, building, unclassified and school department expenses were also trimmed by more than $200,000 in total.  

had proposed the library cuts be made to salaries in the personal services budget, but town meeting moderator Dave Richardson, after huddling with town counsel Ronald Rappaport and town officials, accepted Huss's amendment that allowed the library to reduce salaries by only $35,132. The town will make up the difference by slashing $12,000 from other library expenses.

A proposed amendment by owner Erik Albert to restore $9,000 in town Wastewater Treatment Facility fees back to taxpayers sparked pointed discussion. Albert noted that the Wastewater Commission earlier this year waived wastewater fees for town facilities, effectively transferring an estimated $9,000 in cost to the system's 600 mostly commercial users.  

Albert asked that a proposed $39,500 reduction in highway expenses, where wastewater fees are budgeted, be limited to $30,500, transferring $9,000 back to the general tax base. “I don't mind paying my fair share of taxes,” he said.

Albert's viewpoint was challenged by another resident, who said he had already paid his fair share. “I paid for half of that wastewater plant. I don't even use it and never will. It's used by commercial businesses,” he said, in reference to taxpayer underwriting of half of the treatment plant expansion costs. Albert's proposed amendment was defeated and the reduction was passed as written.

Proponents were geared up to fight the library cuts—trustees handed out charts comparing increased demand against reduced services before the meeting—but voters seemed to have a “hard times, hard choices” mentality as they approved the nine item list and considered two proposed amendments in less than one hour.

Voters did ask selectmen whether all departments had been considered for cuts, in addition to the eight on the warrant. Selectman chairman Duncan Ross indicated that all town budgets were thin. “This is where we found some money” while limiting damage to town services, he said.

Another voter challenged the town on its refusal to use money available in the town's million-dollar stabilization fund to underwrite the budget shortfall. “It's a rainy day fund and this is a rainy day,” he said.

Town Administrator Michael Dutton replied that the state Department of Revenue advised against using the stabilization fund to meet short-term revenue shortfalls. “DOR doesn't believe use of the stabilization fund [for short-term revenue shortfalls] is fiscally responsible,” Dutton said. 

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