The Oak Bluffs selectmen signed off on the annual town meeting warrant Tuesday, but said they expect lively discussion about two agenda items: funding for a new school district building and stipends for some elected town officials.
Selectmen expressed hesitation at a request for $45,172, which would pay for the town’s portion of architectural designs for a new superintendent’s building on the high school campus.
The funding, which will be assessed to all the towns, would come from the stabilization fund in Oak Bluffs. But selectmen questioned whether the recently-cash-strapped town could afford it, especially considering that this was the first phase of the project.
“I’m not sure that I view this as an emergency,” selectman Walter Vail said, adding that he hesitated to take the money from the town’s stabilization fund.
Town administrator Robert Whritenour said the town meeting votes could be viewed as a referendum on whether there is support for the project as a whole.
School committee member Priscilla Sylvia, who was in the audience, said the current building is inadequate and has no privacy or handicapped access.
“It’s certainly going to generate some lively discussion if we put it on the warrant,” selectman chair Kathy Burton said.
Another town meeting agenda item would ask voters to fix compensation for some elected officials.
Because of financial concerns, the town did away with most stipends a few years ago. But last week, tree warden Joseph deBettencourt appeared before selectmen to ask that his stipend be reinstated, noting the amount of work that goes into his position.
Selectmen agreed to ask voters to reinstate the tree warden’s stipend at town meeting, adding that position to a short list of elected officials who have continued to receive payment over the past few years. Should the article pass, board of selectmen members would get $3,000 per year and the chair $4,500, while constables would get $500 each and the tree warden would get $1,500 for the coming year.
But this week Mr. Vail said there’s been a complaint about reinstating that stipend alone, as other elected officials do not receive stipends.
“If we were to reinstate all of the other stipends . . . how much would it be?” he asked.
Mrs. Sylvia said she felt there was no rhyme nor reason to who was being compensated. “If [the town is] going to put stipends on people that volunteer right now, I think you should put them on for everybody or nobody,” she said.
“I really am not at all happy that one person who spoke up and nobody else should get the money,” she added.
“I see a lot of volunteer community members working very, very hard, struggling with the things we struggle with,” selectmen chairman Kathy Burton said. “In retrospect, I think I probably should have thought a lot more before we voted [to add the tree warden stipend to the warrant.] I have struggled in the past with the fact that other board members didn’t get a slice.” She added that she wondered where the different amounts given to different positions came from.
“This is going to generate a great deal of discussion,” Ms. Burton said.
Selectmen agreed to leave the warrant article as is, with Mr. Santoro noting the tree warden had faced an unusually busy winter. Selectman Greg Coogan noted that the issue should be looked at on a broad scale.
In other business, selectmen approved a land-use agreement between the town and the land bank for the land bank to take over Old Holmes Hole Road, an old cart path going between County Road and Barnes Road.
Land bank planner Bill Veno said in a presentation that the land bank would maintain the path, keeping it clear of vegetation and debris. The approval is pending a review by town counsel.