At a ceremony held in Aquinnah Town Hall Monday morning, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Representative Dylan Fernandes joined Aquinnah officials to sign a Community Compact agreement that granted $12,500 to the town of Aquinnah to consider whether a regional approach would work for the Island’s property assessments.
“This compact is the result of Governor Baker’s very first executive order signed in January 2015, and since then 291 communities have signed into this Community Compact Best Practices program — so that tells you that there’s something for every community,” Lt. Gov. Polito said. “This is not about big cities; it’s about every community. First of all, we designed it so it was voluntary. This is not a mandate. This is not state government telling you you must do something, because that doesn’t work. Both Charlie and I served as selectmen. We sat in these seats at one point in our public careers, and we know that we don’t like to be told what to do.”
Lt. Gov. Polito also said the compact was funded through a partnership with the Legislature. “All 291 of these compacts are unique. We understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to any of this,” she said. “You here have figured out that the function of assessing properties is perhaps a function that can be done more efficiently across the Island. And thinking about a shared-service model that might work well with all six communities, starting with you taking the lead. I applaud you for that.”
“Because of the geographic uniqueness of the Vineyard, sometimes state policy doesn’t always match the local needs of the Island,” Rep. Fernandes said. “This is kind of what this Community Compact is all about — the special needs of each individual local community. When we talk about the Vineyard in particular, you know we’re in a statewide housing crisis, but the Vineyard is particularly in a housing crisis, and we have some of the highest home prices here in the entire state, but unlike in Cambridge, which has the highest home prices in the state, they get workers from Revere, Winthrop; and no one is coming out of the Atlantic Ocean to pitch-hit for the Vineyard. So we have some unique challenges here because of the unique geography. The lieutenant governor gets that, and that’s what this entire program is all about — matching state resources, state funding, with the unique needs of every town.”
Adam Wilson, Aquinnah’s newly elected assessor, said the money will give the Island an opportunity to evaluate whether a regionalization will work.
“We can take some time and do a really interesting analysis of assessing on the Island,” Mr. Wilson said. “We want to look carefully at how assessments are done in each of the six towns; we want to see if there are any similarities — what differences there are — and we’re hoping to come up with an idea of ways that we might be able to do assessing in the future better and more efficiently.”
Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. Polito was in West Tisbury for a Complete Streets grant and Community Compact.
Assessors deliberate at first board meeting
Mr. Wilson, Elaine Vanderhoop, and Elise LeBovit met for the first meeting of the newly composed board after Mr. Wilson defeated incumbent Michael Stutz and Elaine Vanderhoop won appointment after the resignation of Darren Leport.
Adam Turner, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, explained to the assessors where the new research grant came from.
“In 2015 the town of Aquinnah, I believe the first one on the Island, applied to enter into this grant and was awarded Community Compact status,” he said.
This made the town eligible for funding, he said. Mr. Turner then lobbied for six months to get the grant, and said he learned about eight months back that Aquinnah would be awarded funds contingent on cooperative funds coming from the commission. The deal with the state broke down as $7,500 from the commonwealth and $5,000 from the commission.
“The grant will allow for the research of current assessing departments in various communities throughout Massachusetts,” he said “The [resultant] report will research various issues, including the cost of certified assessors who provide support to elected boards … and job descriptions to compare essential functions … the grant would also look at the history of evaluations, and how the process works for hiring external consultants, and the cost to do so.”
Ms. LeBovit asked which assessors Mr. Turner consulted with or cooperated with when he applied for the grant. She said the board should have been consulted.
“What I did was call the town of Aquinnah and said, There’s $12,500 available for you to do anything of a dozen different things,” Mr. Turner said. “Aquinnah said we would like to do tax assessment. We would like to look at how we do tax assessment and how to research that. That seemed reasonable to me, and I submitted it.”
Mr. Turner said he spoke with Mr. Wilson, who was town administrator at the time.
“What you do with it,” said selectman Jim Newman, “is to study perhaps regionalization of the assessing for the Island.”
Angela Cywinski, the town’s paid assessor, predicted there would be little appetite in Chilmark, West Tisbury, and Edgartown: “All I can tell you as I sit as an elected assessor in Tisbury, and I’ve spoken with a lot of assessors, and those are their feelings.”
Mr. Newman said it’s about the possibility of saving money. “It’s not about trying to put anybody out of business,” he said. “I mean we all know we should have a regionalized police department, fire department, board of education. I mean, how many boards of education do we have for one superintendent? You know that doesn’t make sense.”