Oak Bluffs voters next month 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.
The annual town meeting is scheduled for April 11.
The cost of insurance for town employees is slated to rise to $2.5 million - an 11 per cent increase from last year. In less than two years, the cost of insuring municipal employees has risen over 25 per cent.
"The cost of insurance continues to climb, it's definitely a problem both here and in every town and city in the country," town finance director Paul Manzi said.
Another significant factor in the rising operational costs are employee salaries. The line item for teachers' salaries at the Oak Bluffs School increased .7 per cent, from $4.23 million to $4.28 million. The line item for highway department employees increased 7.4 per cent, from $331,118 to $358,908, while the library account increased 12.5 per cent, from $244,838 to $275,495.
The substantial increase in spending at the library reflects staffing for the newer and larger facility on Pacific avenue.
The town wastewater enterprise fund, operated separately from the general fund, is budgeted at $1.04 million. It is currently budgeted at $1.02 million.
The largest line item in the budget is the Oak Bluffs School at $5.26 million, up $191,841 or 2.9 per cent over the current budget.
Spending also increased in the line items for the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School at $2.85 million (up 3.3 per cent); the highway department at $1.48 million (up 2.2 per cent); and the library at $374,765 (up 15.8 per cent).
For the coming fiscal year, approximately 75 per cent - or $15.8 million - of the proposed budget is funded through the tax levy. Approximately 18 per cent of the budget is funded through local receipts, and seven per cent comes from state funding.
At the special town meeting held right before the annual meeting, voters will consider an article calling for the construction of a $3.2 million new septage component at the Oak Bluffs wastewater treatment facility.
Though funding the septage component will increase the tax levy next year, it technically does not constitute an override. It is instead a long-term debt exclusion, meaning the increase to the tax levy ends when the debt is paid off in 20 years.
There is already $1.8 million in debt exclusion built into next year's budget that is not subject to Proposition 2 1/2. That figure includes the annual payments for the wastewater plant, library and school renovations.
To help bridge a $511,000 gap between revenues and expenses, the town finance committee allocated $150,000 in embarkation fee revenue to pay for seasonal officers employed by the police department.
The embarkation fee is a 50-cent surcharge that is tacked onto the price of each one-way passenger ticket on ferries that ply the routes between the Cape and Islands. The money is collected by the ferry operators and paid to the town where the trip originated. Oak Bluffs collects roughly $200,000 annually from the program.
State legislation requires that the money be used for public safety, harbor services and port infrastructure improvements.
Selectman Michael Dutton said he would have preferred that the revenue be used to repair the bulkhead between the harbor master's shack and the town jetty, adding:
"But I do understand why they used the ferry money the way they did. It's important to have a balanced budget. But I do hope we can use this money to improve our waterfront in the future."
Finance committee chairman Frank Case called the budget a fair and balanced plan that addresses town needs while avoiding an override.
"One of our priorities is to balance the budget, but we also have to meet the needs of the town. I feel this budget accomplishes both those goals," he said.