Three Annual Town Meetings Open Tuesday:
Oak Bluffs

By JAMES KINSELLA

A proposal to fund the design of a new town hall tops the warrant facing Oak Bluffs voters next Tuesday.

Additional issues to come before the town meeting include a $20.3 million budget for the pending fiscal year, the expenditure of $94,000 in ferry embarkation fee revenue, and adding the North Bluff to the Cottage City historic district.

The annual town meeting is also a prelude to two questions that will come before the voters at next Thursday's election: whether to approve the state Community Preservation Act for Oak Bluffs, and to back a nonbinding question for the creation of a new Martha's Vineyard Housing Bank.

The meeting is slated to begin at 7 p.m. in the performing arts center of the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. Town moderator David Richardson will preside over the session.

The town hall renovation committee is recommending that the town spend $225,000 to design of a new town hall to replace a former school building on School street.

The committee said the town needs to either build a new town hall at the current site, or to renovate the existing structure. Committee chairman Michael Dutton has said that town departments need more space, and that the existing heating and other systems in the building are in poor condition.

The committee also has recommended that the town create a campus around the town hall that would include the town library now under construction and possibly a new police station.

The committee has estimated the cost of building a new town hall at about $4.1 million, with overall costs, including demolition of the existing building, coming in at about $5.4 million.

The town finance and advisory committee voted 4-1 to recommend the $225,000 design expenditure.

The town would borrow the money. Because the expenditure is within the Proposition 2 1/2 levy limit, no debt exclusion vote is needed. Debt payments are estimated at $10,000 in fiscal year 2007 and $55,000 per year for fiscal years 2008 through 2011.

Voters also will decide whether to pass a town operating budget of $20,288,457. No Proposition 2 1/2 override is needed to fund the budget, which includes a property tax levy of $18,544,593. The overall budget is up about 2.5 per cent over last year. The town finance committee voted 6-0 in favor of the budget.

Voters also will consider whether to spend $94,000 in ferry embarkation fee funds as recommended by the board of selectmen. The proposal calls for spending $42,000 for summer police officers, $25,000 for ambulance training, $15,000 for marina repairs and equipment;,$10,000 for harbor beautification and bathhouse repairs and $2,000 for civil defense radio equipment.

The Cottage City historic district commission has proposed including North Bluff in the historic district. Renee Balter, a member of the commission, said the inclusion is justified by the historic Victorian and post-Victorian buildings in the area. But businessman Mark Wallace has questioned whether the area, whose buildings are more recent than in other parts of Oak Bluffs, merits being included in the district. The proposal failed at the January special town meeting after it failed to win a necessary two-thirds majority.

Also Tuesday voters will consider whether to back a nonbinding resolution favoring the creation of a Vineyard housing bank, which would be funded by a fee of one per cent on property transactions over $750,000. The fee would be assessed on the seller of a property.

Thursday's election ballot also will include a nonbinding question to support the housing bank.

The Thursday ballot also will include a related item: whether to put the Community Preservation Act into effect in Oak Bluffs. The act would use a three per cent surtax on town property taxes to fund affordable housing, historic preservation, open space and recreation. A town committee would be established to determine to how to spend the funds. The funding mechanism would exempt the first $100,000 of all residential properties, and the tax would not apply to people who qualify for low income housing, or low or moderate income senior housing.

Advocates see the CPA and the housing bank as ways to address the lack of affordable housing on the Vineyard. Opponents question imposing more taxes on Island residents.

The community development council, a committee appointed by the selectmen to explore short and long-range issues in town, has recommended that the town adopt the CPA. The council estimates that 77 per cent of the town's taxable property owners would pay $100 or less in an annual CPA fee.

The council estimates that the CPA will raise $343,882 in local fees, which would be matched 100 per cent by state funds, generating an annual total revenue of $687,765.

A third ballot question asks whether the position of tax collector be appointed rather than elected. Voters at last year's annual meeting approved the proposed change.

If voters next Thursday approve the change, the current tax collector, Cheryll Sashin, who was elected last April, would remain in the position until April 2007.

Ms. Sashin said she has mixed feelings. On one hand, she said, the job is a skilled position, and there's no guarantee that the voters would elect a qualified person for the job. On the other hand, she said the elected nature of the position allows her to steer clear of internal political considerations in between elections, but to be responsible to the electorate for her job performance.

Ms. Sashin, who said she believes she would be appointed to the job if the change is approved, said she would like to do the job for the long haul.