West Tisbury selectmen this week approved a new tax rate and discussed whether to intervene in the sale of a prime lot at an old farm. At a public hearing Wednesday the board voted to approve a single tax rate of $5.26 per $1,000 valuation. The rate is an increase of 0.34 over the fiscal year 2012 rate of $4.92, and comes in response to a 5.5 per cent increase in the tax levy and a 1.5 per cent decrease in town property values, board of assessors director Kristina West said. Selectmen decided against a split tax rate, which differentiates between residential and commercial property taxes, and a residential exemption option, which would increase the residential tax rate by 38 cents but exempt principal residences of up to 20 per cent of the town’s average residential value. The residential exemption would save a resident with a $500,000 property almost $900 in taxes, and would cost a nonresident about $190 more, Ms. West said. More than 108 Massachusetts communities use the split tax rate, while 14 employ the residential exemption. The town of Tisbury does both.
The assessors made no formal recommendation to the selectman on which option to choose. During public comment, town assessor Michael Colaneri expressed disappointment in both the lack of recommendation and the fact that the residential exemption has never been seriously considered.
“If you talk to anybody in Vineyard Haven, in Nantucket . . . it helps the permanent residents of the community; it really makes a difference,” he said.
Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd said he was loathe to make such a decision without input from nonresidents.
“It’s a little bit more of a problem in that sometimes you’re shoving it on a neighbor,” Mr. Manter said. “People that own these summer homes are sometimes on their second generation; they’ve just been in the family. Not everyone’s in the particular category we think of when we see seasonal residents.” He continued: “There’s kind of a two-way street. They don’t require a lot of services, either.” Seasonal residents don’t need their roads plowed or sanded, nor do they use the school system and other public resources. “I truly think in a small town like ours I’d hate to pass that on,” Mr. Manter said.
Selectman Richard Knabel said a meeting that includes residents and nonresidents to discuss the issue would be beneficial. He also provided a graph showing that, despite steady increases in the tax rate and budget crunches, West Tisbury has been the most frugal town on the Vineyard for six years. The selectmen also discussed the next steps to take regarding the potential sale of a 12.9-acre property at the tip of Flat Point Farm. The land is listed as a Chapter 61A property, designating it solely for agricultural use. The designation means that the town of West Tisbury — or, in the town’s stead, a nonprofit conservation organization — has the right to match an existing offer on the property and purchase the land. If that right is waived, the land may be sold for private use. The Fischer family, which has owned and farmed Flat Point Farm since 1939, currently has a $2.9 million offer on the lot, which was created through a family subdivision for estate planning purposes. Efforts by the family to reach out to the conservation agencies have failed, Arnie Fischer told the selectmen, although he said the family had not been in touch with Island Grown Initiative. IGI purchased Thimble Farm earlier this year.
“I would hope there’s some sense from the selectmen that it’s an important parcel to protect,” Mr. Fischer said. The working family farm encompasses 91 acres fronting the Tisbury Great Pond.
Town administrator Jennifer Rand said she would contact the land bank, Sheriff’s Meadow, the Trustees and IGI regarding the property.
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell participated via speakerphone for a 2 to 1 vote on a proposed photovoltaic project at the former landfill. Mr. Knabel, who voted against the project, said he was unhappy with the stipulation that the town will be committed for 20 years.
“It’s clear that we don’t really have the flexibility that we might want in this arrangement,” he said. “The fact that it’s a regional agreement with quite a number of towns and we can’t exactly adjust it to suit ourselves . . . I think that is an issue for us. We will have to live with this for 20 years regardless of what happens with [future] technology.”
Mr. Manter said he shared the same concerns but added that “if we don’t act soon, I don’t think we’re going to see anything done anywhere.” The town energy committee, Ms. Mitchell pointed out, has vouched for the feasibility of the project.
“I’m certainly ready to vote to take the town forward,” she said.
The board also voted to approve a joint shellfish project with Chilmark and to advertise for a three-person committee charged with designing a plan for unused space on the second floor of Howes House.
A hearing regarding the trees in the library parking lot will be held Dec. 17 at noon at Howes House.
Groundbreaking for the new library will be held Wednesday, Dec. 12, at noon. The popular annual town holiday party takes place the next day, Dec. 13, from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Agricultural Hall. All are invited to the two events.