Voters at the Oak Bluffs annual town meeting next week will consider a number of articles that could radically alter the design and layout of the town for generations to come.
Among them will be a resolution asking residents if they support creating a municipal campus near the intersection of School street and Pacific avenue, an area that currently houses the new library and town hall. Some town officials want the area to be expanded into a full municipal campus that also includes institutions such as the senior center and police department.
The article on the warrant is a nonbinding resolution to gauge support for the concept.
Although there are no formal plans, officials have discussed building a town hall at the current Good Shepherd parish hall property on School street. The existing town hall might then be converted into a senior center, while a new building behind the parish hall could be used for police headquarters. Another possibility is to develop a municipal building across the street from the new library, on the Pacific avenue property formerly used by the trash hauling company Browning Ferris Industries (BFI).
The annual town meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 11, at the Performing Arts Center at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. David E. Richardson will serve as moderator.
The night in fact begins with a special town meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. On the special town meeting warrant are two separate articles authorizing the selectmen to negotiate land swaps that would make the municipal campus possible.
One article calls for trading a town-owned parcel of land off the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, near the Martha's Vineyard Arena, for the parish hall property, which is owned by the Catholic church. The other calls for swapping ownership of the old library property on Pennacook avenue for the property formerly owned by BFI.
The town assessors' office lists the net appraised value for the BFI property at $544,200. The old library is appraised at $621,100.
The assessor's office appraises the value of the parish hall and the .67 acres on which it sits at just over $1.3 million. The appraised value for the parcel off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, which does include any buildings, is just under $500,000.
At the heart of the municipal campus issue is the townspeople's control over the changing face of downtown Oak Bluffs.
Proponents of the plan argue that grouping the buildings together creates an accessible campus and also frees up valuable downtown building lots and parking areas. But critics of the concept argue that moving municipal buildings out of the downtown will threaten the small-town character of Oak Bluffs.
"Oak Bluff is a close knit community, why would we want to do anything to that? You take these things away and the town loses its heartbeat," said Pequot avenue resident John Cummings.
With the library and town hall already removed from downtown, and the police station likely to follow soon, many feel the downtown is changing from the vital heart of the town into a retail district largely for the benefit of summer visitors.
"I'm worried we are slowly creating a barrier between the people and their government," said Kerry Scott, the only selectman to publicly oppose the municipal campus article.
Chairman Greg Coogan said the campus is the most practical way to address the town's space needs in the coming years.
"Everyone knows there is a limited amount of land to work with. We need to start thinking about consolidating our resources," said Mr. Coogan.
An array of other issues also appear on the special and annual town meeting warrants, ranging from capital expenditures to changes in zoning regulations. Voters at the annual town meeting also will take up a balanced budget of just under $21.8 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The budget marks a four per cent increase over last year, most of which is due to negotiated salary increases for school and town employees and rising heating and insurance costs. It is the fourth consecutive year that residents will vote on a spending plan that does not require an override of Proposition 2 1/2 - a state law that restricts annual increases in the property tax levy.
One article that has drawn scrutiny calls for spending $3.2 million on a new septage treatment component and sludge de-watering machine for the town sewage treatment facility. Currently, the town's septage is transported and treated in Edgartown.
Town wastewater superintendent Joseph N. Alosso estimated it would cost the average home, valued at $542,000, approximately $50 in additional taxes each year for the next 20 years to fund the septage treatment component.
Voters also will consider a more stringent policy regarding unpaid municipal charges. Under the new policy, the town would be able to deny any applications or revoke any permits if a resident neglects to pay any local taxes, fees, assessments, betterment or any other municipal charges.
Voters will also be asked to transfer $20,000 from the stabilization to fund the Massachusetts Estuaries Project, which would perform a quantitative assessment of Farm Pond and its estuary. A separate article in support of a nonbinding resolution would show support for the project and its recommendations.
The annual town election will be held on Thursday, April 13, at the Oak Bluffs library. Polling hours are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Four candidates are for two seats on the board of selectmen.