Tensions rise between Aquinnah selectmen and assessors

Town warrant ready for annual meeting.

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Updated 10:30 am

Debate continued between Aquinnah selectmen and the town’s board of assessors Tuesday night over tax issues.

The first issue concerned five plots of land near the Gay Head Cliffs that are leased by the town to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Angela Cywinski, a town assessor, said she needed a figure from the selectmen so she could tax the tribe.

Currently, all that sits on the land are picnic tables. The tribe is able to build on the land if they want, but town administrator Jeff Madison said legally there is nothing to assess since there are no structures.

“I don’t think there’s any tax that should be assessed on that property. Until there’s a building there, you’re assessing air,” Madison said.

Along with the tax, Cywinski said the public had no right to go on the lots since the town agreed to lease the land to the tribe. “You lost that right,” she said while holding up a signed lease agreement between selectmen and tribe leaders.

Madison pointed to the fact that occasionally people sit on the picnic tables. Anyone wanting to use the tables will never be kicked off them, he added. “With all due respect, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill here,” he said.

“I’m following the law, that’s all I do,” Cywinski said.

“Without using any common sense,” Madison quickly replied.

Cywinski said the tribe needed to be taxed, but the selectmen had to develop a figure since the town is the landlord.

“There’s nothing on [the plots], Angela,” Madison said; “there’s nothing to assess.”

Madison then repeatedly asked Cywinski what was on the land to assess, which she did not answer.

“Excuse me, Jeffrey. I let you speak, and you’re being extremely rude right now,” she said.

“I am because you’re taking up time for no reason,” Madison fired back.

Selectman Jim Newman suggested having the issue reviewed by town counsel.

A separate discussion concerning Aquinnah resident and property owner Jim Decoulos led to a contentious debate. The town and Decoulos have a long and fraught history over property rights. Decoulos has not paid his taxes since 2015, according to the selectmen. Newman became frustrated when the assessors said they had given Decoulos a tax abatement.

“This gentleman in question has cost this town hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits and then you go ahead and give him an abatement. That’s not being fiscally responsible,” Newman said.

In other business, the selectmen signed the town warrant in preparation for the annual town meeting on May 8 at 7 pm.

Updated with Jim Decoulos’ name and link to article on the Kitras/Decoulos case.