Don’t jump off the cliff

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To the editor:

The overwhelming yes vote on the warrant item to fund a new Tisbury School at the annual town meeting last week was a sobering reminder that we live in a society addicted to borrowing beyond our means. As the average household in America owes more than $16,500 on its credit card, and the national debt stands at over $21 trillion, it should have come as no surprise. Still, to see the yes voters carrying on like a troop of lemmings willfully jumping off a cliff of fiscal responsibility into a sea of debt was, to say the least, disconcerting.

The capacity crowd in the Tisbury gym was all ears when the warrant finally came up on Tuesday night, and our town finance director took the podium and cheerfully outlined a bright economic future, how we should feel fortunate that ours is one of the lowest property tax rates in the state, and that we have an excellent Standard & Poor’s rating as well, so we’re all set to borrow all the money we want! What he didn’t mention, however, was that with an average household income of just over $54,000, Tisbury lags woefully behind the statewide average of $75,000, while the cost of living on our fair isle is over 50 percent more than the average for the rest of the country. Nevertheless, there was a big round of applause from the yes crowd.

As we moved on, Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel came forward with a more somber message, and reminded us that there were other pressing needs of the town looming in the near future; extensive rebuilding of the crumbling seawall along Beach Road, plans to build a new town hall, kicking in many millions more dollars to pay the town’s share of upgrades to the 56-year-old high school, and a growing population of seniors, nearing 1,500 people, many of whom have limited fixed incomes and will require more services from the town in the days ahead. Mr. Israel felt that we couldn’t ignore these obligations, and said that he was going to vote no, which brought little applause from the yes people. And on it it went until nearly midnight, when we all got to go home.

The next night proved to be more of the same, with passionate pleas from both sides of the fence, and neither camp showing much signs of compromise. The main point that the yes people kept pushing was that if we don’t vote in favor of this ill-conceived and bloated project right now, then we lose the $14.6 million in state grant money approved by the Massachusetts School Building Authority. They kept driving home the notion that there are lots of other school districts lining up to get their hands on this apparent windfall, and that anyone who is foolish enough to let this big fish get off the hook is squandering an opportunity that will never come again. In fact, what’s foolish is the idea that this MSBA grant is going to save us money. It’s the same spiel that a car dealer we knew used in his TV ads when he said, “Come on down, act now and save big on this closeout sale on a new Toyota pickup before it’s too late!” Well, guess what, by the time you pay off the interest on that shiny new truck, you’re not saving anything. The yes voters are telling us that the MSBA grant will mean the price tag on the new school will only be $32 million, but in reality the final cost to the town, by the time we finish paying off the interest, 20 years from now, will be about the same $46 million. In the meantime we’d be saddled with an 11 percent increase in property taxes that many town residents would be hard-pressed to afford.

A renovation-addition to the existing school will provide an affordable solution, with the same features as a new school, but with a price tag that won’t hobble our town budget for other urgent needs. Please vote no on the Proposition 2½ override on Tuesday, April 24. To do so will in fact be a yes vote, for both the future of our students and for fiscal responsibility. Don’t follow those lemmings jumping off the cliff.

Chris Crawford
Vineyard Haven