Editorial: Prudent management and a plan mark the Land Bank’s progress

The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank’s latest agreement to add 41 Chappaquiddick acres to its portfolio of protected but accessible properties is just the most recent in a long history of prudent decision-making by a public agency. This $4.95 million purchase will enlarge the Land Bank’s Three Ponds Reservation, a glorious land- and seascape that rewards the senses of every visitor.

We’ve reported that the Land Bank’s thoughtful approach to the management and expansion of its holdings in our interest is based on a thoughtful approach to financial management. For instance, the 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 in these uncertain times, the public conservation agency, funded from a two-percent tax on most Dukes County real estate transactions, projected no increase in revenue for the new year, 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 spent $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 millions in the bank.

That’s the sort of prudential financial management that makes the sort of prudential land acquisitions as the one we report this morning possible.

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 explained in its 2010 annual report that, “In time the property will serve as a trail link between the State and Old Courthouse Roads.”

These 2010 acquisitions conformed to the Land Bank’s view that, “Roadside farm fields typify the Vineyard and distinguish it from Cape Cod and Nantucket.”

The newest addition is a similarly tactical initiative, with a clear purpose and relationship to other Land Bank holdings. This move will expand the Three Ponds Reservation to 358 acres and, keeping smart financial management in mind, the acquisition includes a plan to join with the Chappaquiddick Open Space Committee in a fundraising effort to offset some of the $4.95 million pricetag, thus keeping more of the Land Bank’s financial powder dry to use for other engagements.

The Land Bank described itself, before this addition to the Three Ponds Reservation, 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.

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 decisions made 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 absolute cream of the crop.

Purposeful, cautious, financially careful of taxpayer dollars, modest in its spending for non-acquisition purposes, the Land Bank has unfailingly earned and repaid the responsibility given it by Island voters.