At Large: The Land Bank – good work, well done, a model

At Large: The Land Bank – good work, well done, a model

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Budgeting conservatively, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank expected revenue of a bit more than $5.940 million for fiscal 2010. It got, due in part to the modest improvement in the Island real estate industry since the pit of 2008-2009, $7.640 million for the fiscal year just ended.

Sticking to its conservative financial approach, the public conservation agency, funded from a two percent tax on most Dukes County real estate transactions, projects no increase above what it anticipated for FY2011, despite discovering that its year-ago projection was flawed by more than a million and a half.

The Land Bank planned, based on its 2010 projections, to spend $465,000 on administrative expenses. It actually spend $454,000. It planned to spend $731,000 on land management expenses. It spent $694,000. It had planned to transfer $2.3 million from cash on hand to cover debt service requirements. It only needed to transfer $504,000.

As of December first last year, the Land Bank had $9.9 unencumbered million in the bank.

In addition to its purchases of partial interests in property elsewhere on the Island, the Land Bank spent $1.503 million for acquisitions during the 2010 fiscal year, $1.2 million for 25 acres bought from Ann Nelson, including a roadside hayfield, added to what the Land Bank calls the Square Field preserve in West Tisbury. The Land Bank explains in its 2010 annual report that, “In time the property will serve as a trail link between the State and Old Courthouse Roads.”

And, the Land Bank bought a conservation restriction on a seven-acre sheep pasture, part of the Kingsbury farm in Tisbury, for $303,150.

Both of these acquisitions conform to the Land Bank’s view that, “Roadside farm fields typify the Vineyard and distinguish it from Cape Cod and Nantucket.”

The public conservation agency’s land management activities included ecological inventories and studies and management plans for Aquinnah Headlands Preserve, Blue Barque Preserve, and Felix Neck Preserve, the Southern Woodlands Reservation, and, in cooperation with the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, the Quansoo Preserve.

Plus, they got rid of a lot of junk, 30 tons from the Ripley’s Field Preserve and eight tons from the Felix Neck Preserve, both properties preyed upon by illegal dumpers.

Interestingly, because revenue flows into the town by town funds in rough proportion to the value of taxable real estate transactions that occur, it offers a rough measure of real estate sales hot spots among the six towns. Or, maybe they ought to be called luke warm spots. Anyhow, Edgartown, which saw $1.7 million flow into its fund, and Oak Bluffs, just shy of $600,000, were the top two towns, measured by real estate sales dollars. Chilmark $505,000, West Tisbury $478,000, Tisbury $369,000, and Aquinnah $161,000 followed. Note that half of all revenue flows to the Land Bank’s central fund, so the town by town numbers don’t add up to actual fee proceeds from real estate transactions in those towns.

The Land Bank describes itself as having conserved 3,018 acres, or 5.2 percent of the Vineyard, since the agency began life in 1986. And, it invites Islanders and guests to visit each and every one. It’s an estimable record and one that has exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts that were common when the political battle raged over the wisdom of taxing real estate sales to keep important landscapes unmolested by the hand of man and some of us imagined the deleterious effect that doing so might have on the real estate industry.

In fact, the Land Bank’s record, after a shaky start, has been a model of public stewardship. Since James Lengyel joined the Land Bank as its chief executive, his professional leadership and the steady, responsible decision-making by elected and appointed commission members and members of town advisory committees have made this a model government agency, year in and year out — the cream of the crop.

Purposeful, cautious, financially careful of taxpayer dollars, modest in its spending for non-acquisition purposes, the Land Bank has proven to be much more and much better than even its most enthusiastic supporters imagined in the mid-1980s.