Police, Library Costs Jump in Oak Bluffs

By JAMES KINSELLA

For the third year in a row, Oak Bluffs voters will be presented with an annual town operating budget that does not require an override.

And for the first year ever, town voters also will be asked to approve a budget that breaks the $20 million mark.

Avoiding an override took some work on the part of the town finance committee, which sliced $450,000 from town department requests in its budget review.

As of today, Oak Bluffs does not have a final budget to present to the voters, although finance committee chairman Mimi Davisson said she expects the final number will be determined next week.

Ms. Davisson anticipates that the fiscal year 2006 budget will come in close to $20.3 million, about two-and-a-half per cent higher than the current budget. The new budget takes effect July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

"I wish it didn't have to be so high," Ms. Davisson said of the operating budget. "But a lot of people worked very hard on it. We did have to cut $450,000. Every department contributed."

In the coming fiscal year, the finance committee estimates that revenues will total about $15.3 million from taxes, about $1.3 million from state sources, and about $3.7 from local receipts and enterprise fund revenues.

As for capital requests, John Lolley, a member of the town capital improvements committee, does not anticipate any large-scale projects coming before the voters.

The town's current tax rate is 6.07 per $1,000 assessed valuation. Ms. Davisson said the overall tax levy will be up about 2.5 per cent. Any increase in tax bills would vary from property to property based on differing valuations.

Proposition 2 1/2 is a state law that requires voter approval for an increase in the tax levy limit of more than 2.5 per cent a year. Because Oak Bluffs is at its legal tax levy limit, any increase in the level higher than 2.5 per cent would require an override.

According to a recent draft town budget, some of the largest percentage increases among town departments are found in the library - where total expenses are up 46.3 per cent to $323,518 - and the ambulance service - where total expenses are up 32.8 per cent to $267,968.

The town's largest departments show smaller percentage increases. They include the town school (up five per cent to $5,077,593), the charge for the regional high school district (up 7.8 per cent to $2,766,467), town highway (up .6 per cent to $1,437,866) and police (up 7.1 per cent to $1,357,881.)

The town wastewater enterprise fund, which is operated separately from the general fund, was budgeted at $577,593, up 14.7 per cent. The bulk of that increase is due to higher insurance costs.

According to the draft budget, spending at the library would increase $102,314. Nearly all of the added expense can be tracked to salaries, which are expected to be $96,432 higher than this year.

Ms. Davisson said the higher amount reflects additional staffing for the new town library now under construction. She said the department wanted to double its worker base from three and a half to seven full-time equivalents. The finance committee cut more than $20,000 from the request, so the staffing increase may be slightly less.

As for the ambulance service, the draft budget shows a proposed increase of $66,167. Most of that would come from salaries, reflecting the town's decision last year to upgrade the skill level of its emergency responders to the paramedic level and to pay for the increased skill. But some costs also are lower, such as shift pay, which is down 20.2 per cent to $60,890.

Spending at the town elementary school is up $243,856, according to the draft budget. All of the increase is in the instructional salary account, reflecting negotiated wage increases. The regional high school assessment, reflecting higher Oak Bluffs enrollment at the high school, will rise nearly $200,000 more than the current year.

At the police department, costs would rise about $90,000, according to the draft budget. More money for salaries and Quinn Bill payments pushed the police budget higher, although spending is expected to drop in areas such as temporary summer patrol officers.