Opinion

The Martha’s Vineyard housing crisis is real, and it is not restricted to the affordable, subsidized variety. Decent seasonal housing for the employees that fuel the Vineyard summer economy and year-round housing for the men, women, and families that make up the backbone of the Island’s workforce is in unprecedented short supply this year, according to those on the front lines.

This week, two stories by reporter Barry Stringfellow provide bookends to a social issue that will continue to undermine the foundation of our Island community unless and until Island leaders and voters in all six Island towns muster the political will to address it in a comprehensive manner.

Jo Maxwell, chef and co-owner of Chesca’s Restaurant in Edgartown for the past 21 years, described the difficulties she and other business owners are having attracting qualified seasonal help because of a lack of reasonable, seasonal housing.

And John Potter, president of Squash Meadow Construction, a contractor with a record of getting projects built, described his plans for constructing apartments geared to working people who may not qualify for subsidized housing, and the hurdles he and others in the private sector face in tackling the housing challenge.

“A lot of business owners I’ve talked with are desperate,” Ms. Maxwell told The Times.

Ms. Maxwell said there is little available, and what is available is very expensive. “Landlords should be able to make money, but it’s gouging at this point,” she said. “I saw a room in a house with no kitchen privileges for $1,600 a month, and a one-room cabin with an outhouse going for $3,000 a month.”

Property owners with rooms and sheds to spare are reacting to market forces created by the popularity of the Vineyard as a vacation destination, brought on by constant marketing and a strengthening economy in some segments of our society. It may be unfortunate, but it is no surprise that property owners with mortgages and bills to pay might take advantage of the demand to squeeze every last dollar out of every square foot.

The arrival of Airbnb (Feb. 26, “Airbnb lands on Martha’s Vineyard”) has introduced a new dimension to the unfettered and unregulated private Vineyard rental market. Vacant rooms or guest houses that might have once provided seasonal or year-round housing are now easily offered online for rent to short-term visitors.

Irrespective, Island regulators have a responsibility to insure safe and sanitary living conditions. So far, voters have demonstrated little appetite for regulatory control of private rentals in order to address health and welfare concerns.

More than 10 years ago, the issue of substandard and overcrowded rental housing was thrust into the public spotlight after an October 2002 fire destroyed a three-bedroom house with only one bathroom in Edgartown, where 14 Islanders, all Brazilian natives, lived.

Officials in Edgartown moved to adopt rental regulations that would require any owner renting or leasing a building or space for human habitation to have a certificate issued by the town. The proposed regulations were similar to a rental bylaw in effect in the Cape Cod town of Yarmouth.

Several local realtors supported the regulations as a way to regulate the number of tenants in a building, and to ensure clients that the living conditions were safe and up to code. The Edgartown measure passed on town meeting floor, but narrowly failed at the polls.

About the same time, then Tisbury Selectman Ray LaPorte, chairman, proposed an article for annual town meeting warrant, also modeled after the Yarmouth bylaw, that would have set up an annual inspection program for rental properties, and required anyone renting a house, apartment, or room to purchase a certificate of registration from the board of health at a cost of $25.

Mr. LaPorte said he proposed the article because of public safety concerns and as a way to account for the unreported rental units in town. The proposed article did not win support from his colleagues on the board, and Mr. LaPorte agreed the proposed bylaw needed additional comment from the board of health and the zoning departments. It never reappeared.

The Yarmouth bylaw, still in effect, does not allow any person to rent or lease a house or a room in a house for living purposes without first registering with the board of health. It is up to the board of health to determine the number of people who may lawfully occupy the space under state sanitary codes.

That information is then listed on a registration certificate that must be conspicuously posted in the rental unit, which is subject to periodic inspection.

Unlike hotels and inns, private property owners in the rental business are subject to little or no scrutiny. It is time to revisit this issue with the goal of ensuring safety and health guidelines are in place and followed.

The market is changing, and there is likely no turning back. Hoping that property owners will forego vacationeers in favor of seasonal or year-round renters is wishful thinking.

Years ago, after more than a decade of debate and dithering, and under pressure from the state, Tisbury constructed a purposely hobbled wastewater treatment plant. The thought was that constructing a limited system would check growth.

It was wishful thinking, akin to thinking one could stave off an expanding waistline by purchasing the same size pants year after year.

The plant was constructed to primarily serve the downtown commercial area and waterfront district, which includes the building that houses The Times. A limit on the number of users meant that any increase in the cost to operate the plant would not be offset by new customers hooking into the system.

To the extent that building a smaller system insured businesses would find it more costly to operate in Tisbury, the plan to check development worked just fine, if the goal was to maintain a generally stagnant waterfront and downtown district.

This week, Janet Hefler reports on the challenges rising system costs — fees have increased 95 percent in two years — pose to two year-round anchor businesses and to the Dukes County Housing Authority, to name just a few of the users impacted.

The Mansion House hotel will see its sewer bill increase by more than $50,000, said Joshua Goldstein, a manager in his family’s business.

Mr. Goldstein told voters at town meeting last week the town could not continue to thrive under the weight of continuing increases.

J.B. Blau, an astute restaurateur who owns and operates the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co. and Sharky’s restaurants in Oak Bluffs and Sharky’s in Edgartown, and who leases space in the Mansion House, where he operates the popular Copper Wok restaurant, one of Main Street’s only year-round restaurants, said he pays two to three times more for sewer services in Tisbury than in the other two Island towns. Mr. Blau said he would consider leaving the town when his lease expires.

In each case, these are year-round businesses that provide jobs and benefits for Island residents, and generate tax revenue for the town. Of equal concern, Dukes County Regional Housing Authority Executive Director David Vigneault said the proposed increase would double his sewer bill for four apartments on Lagoon Pond. Those costs would need to be subsidized by other properties.

In a recent discussion in the offices of The Times, Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, and its board president Richard Leonard, highlighted the continuing pressure infrastructure costs add to the costs of developing affordable housing. Density is one key to lowering construction costs in order to generate needed rental stock, but that must be balanced by environmental considerations, they said, in particular wastewater. Cost-effective sewering is part of the solution.

At the behest of Tisbury selectmen, who said more planning was needed, voters at town meeting turned down a request to extend the sewer system to the Vineyard Haven library and a boat pump-out facility at Owen Park.

Plans are also on the drawing boards to expand the capacity of the wastewater plant to help reduce nitrogen loading in Tashmoo Pond by extending sewering to the B-2 business district, which includes the State Road corridor up to Cronig’s.

The decision to build what former finance committee chairman George Balco described as “the smallest, most expensive system we could make” was a mistake. It is time for Tisbury officials to muster the energy and political will to rectify it.

Chilmark has long recognized the importance of affordable housing to the well-being of the town. Without housing for people who were born and raised here, without housing for those who teach our children, police our roads, build our houses, raise and catch our food, we would be a community without a future.

As far back as 1976, Chilmark was among the leaders in enacting a zoning bylaw establishing a youth lot program, aimed at enabling Chilmark youth to own and build on lots less than three acres. This successful program continues to enable many talented and contributing members of our community to remain in Chilmark.

However, youth lots may be transferred to buyers who are not eligible for affordable housing and, accordingly, are not a long-term solution to our affordable housing need. With two subsequent bylaw amendments in 2002 and 2004, the town approved a more comprehensive homesite housing program, designed to enable small lots to be permanently available to income-qualified people as either rentals or owned lots. The town’s developments for six homesite leased lots and six homesite rentals at Middle Line Road and four homesite leased lots at Nab’s Corner are significant town initiatives under these affordable housing bylaws.

However, with the recent release of the housing needs assessment by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which quantifies the continuing need for affordable housing, it is clear that Chilmark’s initiatives are but a drop in the bucket of need. To add to the problem, a second recent commission report by the Healthy Aging Task Force underscores the increasing need for housing solutions for the elderly.

Many of these people could be cared for by family or health care professionals, if only there were a place for their caregivers to live. The absence of suitable caregiver accommodation hastens the departure of the person in need to institutional facilities elsewhere — often off-Island — when there is nothing that person wants more than to remain in their own home receiving the care he or she needs.

These needs did not escape our notice, and well over a year ago, we began to consider how to increase the inventory of affordable and elder-care rentals in town. A goal was to do so without involving the town in expensive housing development but to encourage Chilmark property owners to create and offer these housing options.

Not surprisingly, these concerns are shared by other Island towns. In fact, years ago, West Tisbury enacted a bylaw that permits “accessory apartments” as affordable housing and for immediate family members. It does not, however, address the caregiver concern, something that the Chilmark housing committee (CHC) thought was important for Chilmark.

After much study, discussion, review of similar bylaw provisions, and dozens of meetings, we prepared a draft bylaw to address these needs.

We have met on many separate occasions with the planning board and its bylaw subcommittee, the building inspector, the board of health, the zoning board of appeals, the town clerk, the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, and the board of selectmen to gather input. We listened, received many comments, and incorporated them as work progressed through 19 drafts.

An informational flyer was distributed to all Chilmark landowners. Two informational meetings have been held to gain input from the public. Comments from these forums were instructive, and although the proposed bylaw has already been printed for the annual town meeting on April 27, the CHC plans to offer amendments on the town meeting floor to address these important concerns.

As a bylaw change, this article requires a two-thirds vote. It is our hope and belief that our generous, compassionate community will once more extend itself to allow the creation of some badly needed affordable rentals which will allow people who prefer to “age in place,” or who are limited for other reasons, to receive the care they need at home from a caregiver or family member living on site, and also to allow for on-site housing for family members, such as children, parents and in-laws.

Chilmark Housing Committee

Jim Feiner, chairman; Andrew Goldman, Ann Wallace, Bill Rossi, Bill Randol, Michelle Leonardi, Zee Gamson, Jessica Roddy, Roland Kluver

Brad "Buster" Moore

Brad “Buster” Moore was discovered dead on April 17. Following his death, Chris Baer of Oak Bluffs emailed The Times.

“He was a unique sort of genius, a real character, and it would be a crime to publish a boring boilerplate obit about him,” Mr. Baer said.

Author Marty Barrett published an online essay, edited for length and published below, about his relationship with Brad, which began when both were growing up in Lowell and continued, with interruptions, through adulthood. “People loved (and contended with) Brad, and he came to exemplify an unheralded part of the Vineyard’s population for me,” Mr. Barrett said in an email to The Times.

busterjmoore.jpgWe’re up in the balcony of the Lowell High School auditorium, Brad Moore and I, and we’re leaning over the side as we watch the LHS band (my sister is on clarinet) accompany the spring production of Oklahoma! It’s May of 1980, and Brad is telling me about the Dead Boy.

The Dead Boy is from the book The Shining, by Stephen King. Up until then, I’d read everything the school had assigned me as well as everything in the school library. But certainly nothing from outside. Brad had read The Shining, however, and he’s eager to fill me in on all the details. Of Stephen King he says, “He knows what scares you.”

I am 10, Brad is 11.

As if that weren’t enough, then Brad tells me about the Woman in Room 217, and I determine that I will read this book myself. That weekend I buy a hardcover version of The Shining, and proceed to read it — several times over the past 30 years.

Brad is the only child of a swingin’ divorcée mother, Betsy. She is a beloved music teacher at the Robinson School who’d had Brad at the shocking age of 24. What is Betsy now, all of 35? Other parents are old. Not only that, but the two of them live in an apartment. Betsy talks to Brad like he is an adult, and sometimes he talks to her in ways that, if we had dared say those things at home, would get the everloving tar kicked out of us. By junior high, all of Brad’s friends are hanging out at the Moores’ place.

Brad later turns me on to Mafia assassin books, Charles Bukowski — it’s only OK to start reading Bukowski between the ages of 11 and 15 — and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, published posthumously by the suicide’s mother.

What had turned Brad on to these books before he’d even started shaving? I never asked. But to Brad I owe reading for pleasure. He reads everything. And when he doesn’t understand something, he asks his mother.

The next year the 3D movie Comin’ At Ya! is released. I am all excited to see it, until I learn it’s rated R.

“Why do you think it’s rated R?” I ask Brad.

“Because you never know what’ll be comin’ at ya,” he says. And that’s all I can remember of present-tense Brad: He is really smart, and really funny, and he really sent me on my way.

We drifted into different groups after junior high, but we had some mutual friends, and when Brad and a bunch of them moved down to Martha’s Vineyard, I would often visit. He’d stay there for the next 25 years, working in restaurants, renting tiny apartments and trailers, doing “the Vineyard shuffle” when high-paying summer people edged out the year-rounders for living space.

I always told Brad — who’d since adopted the name “Buster” — what a singular gift he’d given me by inspiring me to search for books on my own. Sometimes he was gracious about receiving a compliment, sometimes he was drunk. But I also wondered what it was that kept such a talented person on that little Island, when his notebooks full of drawings and stories and poetry were a lot better than most of what I was reading for fun.

Then I didn’t pay as much attention. Most of us had moved away. There were even a couple of times I went to the Vineyard and didn’t let him know I was there. He could be a bit of a thundercloud, and by that time I had kids with me. But even this year, when I tried to nudge my fifth-grade daughter to read more, I told her the story of Brad and The Shining.

“When do I get to read The Shining?” she said.

“When you’re 12.”

Women loved Brad. He had a big, easily wounded heart. He’d write them poetry, and send them to work with it in their pocketbooks. He was aware of the gravitational pull of both his depression and his joy. There were regular breakups of friends and girlfriends, but he was always someone who needed to be reckoned with.

This winter was hard in Massachusetts. It was the snowiest winter since the dinosaurs died, apparently. Brad was aching over a breakup, and he was alone with his cats in an unheated trailer. He’d also been laid off from a scarce winter job. He may or may not have been drinking. He called his mother every day.

“He was my right arm,” Betsy, now 70 and living in South Carolina, says. “It was the two of us against the world for 40 years.”

My friend Bart from home came to visit me here in Los Angeles in February, partly to escape the snow back east. We talked a lot about Brad and the straits he was in. We shook our heads at his woman troubles. Bart let me borrow a mix CD Brad had made.

April 5 was Brad’s birthday, and Bart insisted I text him. I told Brad I was his new dad, along with another unwholesome thing involving someone we knew a long time ago. I was delighted that he wrote back.

April 17, as Betsy was driving home from Savannah, she got a call from a 508 number. It was a sergeant from the Massachusetts State Police.

“No,” Betsy said.

The trooper suggested Betsy pull over, and then he told her that the cleaning woman for the front house had gone out for a cigarette and found Brad behind his trailer. He had hanged himself. Betsy and Brad had just talked on Monday. The mortuary guessed he had done it on Wednesday. The sergeant then read part of the suicide note over the phone. It had something to do with closure with an ex-girlfriend.

His friends assured Betsy that Brad was simply not himself. The winter, the cold, the poverty, the heartbreak, the shame were too much. Eliminate one, and maybe Brad would still be around. Add 50 bucks, a good meal, a sunnier day — who knows? One friend remarks that Brad had been threatening suicide since freshman algebra in 1983.

Oddly enough, when we began the process of calling faraway acquaintances, everyone we reached admitted that it was not Brad, but another mutual friend whom they expected had died. And when we reached that guy to break the news, he said, “What do you want me to do about it?” It underlines the point that depressed people sometimes drive us away. Sometimes it is uncomfortable for us to be around them because our own happiness is so precarious. It’s only when they’re gone that those feelings give way to the regret of not having done some simple thing. For example, Brad had returned the ball on his birthday; why hadn’t I texted him back?

Sometimes Betsy would send him care packages of all the food in her pantry. The postage to send it to the Island would cost more than the value of the food, she said, but she didn’t want him to give up. Just make it through the winter.

“He told me he would never do it,” Betsy says. “How could he do this to me? I feel betrayed. But then I tell myself it’s not about me.”

Yeah, it is about you for as long as you need it to be.

I know that Brad’s cats are being taken care of. I know that the contents of his trailer will be carefully considered and parceled out by his Vineyard friends (if there’s a copy of The Shining, I’d like it). I know his mother will get his notebooks with all his writing, and maybe she will have the work published.

What I don’t know is what could have been done differently, other than erasing the breakup, erasing the winter. Friends visited him, drove him places, loaned him money, took him to lunch, held his hand. The fact that Brad didn’t worry about leaving his cherished cats without a disposition plan would suggest — correctly — that he knew people would take care of them. How did he know the cats would be OK, but not himself?

I think about descriptions of waterboarding — how its victims know intellectually that they are not drowning, but their bodies still think that they are. People always made a point of telling Brad how significant in their lives he was, but for an hour or so on Wednesday, his body thought it was drowning, even as he coolly wrote a note, placed it precisely on the kitchen table, selected his equipment, closed the door behind him, and killed himself.

The story doesn’t end neatly, but just out of curiosity I open the last pages of The Shining, which don’t resolve in the Colorado snow, like the movie, but on a dock on a Maine lake in the summer.

Stay close, because remember: You never know what’ll be comin’ at ya.

There was no funeral service. Mr. Moore was cremated. A celebration of his life will be held in mid-June.

Marty Barrett is a writer living in Los Angeles with his two children. His books Radio Edit and Shame About Ray are part of the “Short Stories for America” trilogy. The third book, Limericks of Loss and Resentment, will be published in June. His website is martybarrett.com.

Saturday afternoon, the members of the Vineyard Classic Brass Band assembled in a corner of the rustically elegant Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club, overlooking Sengekontacket Pond in Edgartown.

They were there on a warm, beautiful, sunny day to celebrate the life of Ladislav “Ladi” Navratil of Edgartown, a native of the Czech Republic who died Feb. 14 at the age of 36 of a rapidly-progressing illness.

It was a quintessentially eclectic Vineyard gathering that reflected the strengths of our community. Islanders of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, assembled in a clubhouse rooted in the Vineyard’s hunting and fishing traditions, to say goodbye to a man born thousands of miles away who arrived on these shores and made the Vineyard his home.

Members of the West Tisbury Congregational Church, where Ladi sang in the choir, stood in the middle of the room under the frozen gaze of a deer, a moose, and a striped bass, among other creatures, and sang “Let the Life I’ve Lived Speak for Me,” an American spiritual by Joe Carter.

Friend and co-worker Stephen Hart played two original compositions, one on Native American flute and another on guitar.

Saskia and David Vanderhoop, salsa dance instructors, took to the floor with members of their dance group, not to entertain, Ms. Vanderhoop explained, but to dance in honor of Ladi, one of their group.

The formalities began that afternoon with a performance by the brass band of which trumpet player Ladi was a member.

Edson Rogers of Edgartown, Island trumpet player for all occasions, announced that the first song would be our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The second would be the national anthem of the Czech republic, “Kde domov můj?” — in English, “Where is my home?”

“Kde domov můj?” is not on the play sheet of the Vineyard brass band.

Frank Dunkl of Chilmark, bandleader, found the music and organized rehearsals. “We thought it was appropriate,” Edson Rogers said when asked about the choice of music. He added, “It is the best you could possibly do. Music is the universal language.”

The Czech nationals in the room sang along. There were some tears.

A Christian hymn, Native American flute, Latin beats, a stuffed moose head, and “Kde domov můj?” … much is made of the Vineyard’s natural beauty and attractions. It is in the quiet corners of Vineyard life where we so often understand the strengths of our community. When death knits us together.

 

Community Chorus, community gift

The generosity of year-round and seasonal Islanders comes in many forms. We take care of our friends and neighbors when they are ill, we rally around when they grieve, and we write checks and volunteer countless hours to support the rich assortment of human, civic, and cultural services underpinning life on Martha’s Vineyard.

A clarion reminder of the latter occurred this past weekend at the resplendent Old Whaling Church. Glowing with sunlight and bedecked by Margot Datz’s remarkable trompe l’oeil paintings, the Old Whaling Church is itself a tribute to generous giving and the wise stewardship of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The Edgartown landmark passed from beautiful to transcendent this past weekend, though, as it provided a stage for the 90 voices (plus, for their spring concert, a string quartet and a tenor saxophone) of Island Community Chorus.

Imagine the precision an ambitious choral performance requires, and you’ll get an idea of the rigor and dedication music director Peter Boak and pianist L. Garrett Brown share with chorus members in order to make such wondrous sounds. Now in their 19th season, the chorus’ dedicated and talented Vineyarders volunteer countless hours learning and rehearsing and joyously performing rich, complex, and inspiring programs three times each year. The music, the setting, and the time and money needed to enrich Island life are a very great community gift.

We can all agree that the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living and the Supportive Day Program are excellent programs. The staff members are caring, giving people who work quite hard. No question about it.

The Center for Living serves frail and elderly Island residents, including those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, in a supportive day program, and provides other social services. The center currently uses borrowed space at the Edgartown and Tisbury Council on Aging buildings, and has been searching unsuccessfully for a new home large enough to serve all the people who need services.

Island demographics, we are told, point to an aging Island, one that will require more services. Advocates for the elderly are right to push us to address future needs now.

None of that should preclude a thoughtful examination of the county-engineered request to purchase the former Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building in Tisbury off State Road at a price of up to $1.6 million to provide a permanent home for the Center for Living.

Questioning that deal, and even rejecting it, as the finance committees in Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, and Tisbury did, does not mean the members of those committees have no understanding or appreciation for the program, or its importance.

Edgartown National Bank took the property in lieu of foreclosure at a listed sale price of $1,155,000, after the VNA ceased operations in March of 2014. The building purchase would be financed by a bond issued by Dukes County. The six Island towns would be solely responsible for the purchase price, interest on the loan over a term up to 30 years, and future maintenance.

Under the county formula outlined in a PowerPoint presentation, Edgartown taxpayers would pick up the lion’s share. The low estimate is $493,120, followed by Oak Bluffs ($335,360), Tisbury ($301,600), West Tisbury ($240,480), Chilmark ($177,440), and Aquinnah ($52,000).

The county says it would rent out excess space in the building at fair rental value and use that income to reduce the maintenance cost of the building, but it reserves the right, with the approval of the County Advisory Board, to make space available for less than fair value, or rent-free, “for use by a department, board or committee of the county or of one of the towns, or by a non-profit corporation.” There is no information on who those prospective tenants might be.

County taxpayers currently shell out a total of $491,739 in the form of the county assessment. That is money that comes right off the top and is not subject to a town meeting vote. In FY 15, Edgartown taxpayers shelled out $179,389, followed by Chilmark ($82,491), Oak Bluffs ($69,844), Tisbury ($69,414), West Tisbury ($64,577), Aquinnah ($19,076), and Gosnold ($6,944).

County taxpayers have every reason to question what they get for that money.

In the run-up to annual town meetings, we rely on the members of town finance committees to spend time examining the details of municipal spending plans. Those details may be overlooked by voters who haven’t the time, inclination, or understanding to dig down into the nuances of where their hard-earned tax dollars disappear. It is no easy thing in a small community to say no, when it is so much easier to say yes to a raise for employees, a new vehicle, another hire, or a program that all acknowledge does much good.

We count on our town finance committee to make the tough calls and provide an explanation of how they arrived at their decisions. The final spending decision rests with the voters. Very few, as it turns out.

In 2014, voter turnout ranged from 5.7 percent in Tisbury to 19 percent in Chilmark. For example, in Oak Bluffs, 282 voters out of an electorate of 3,655 spent $25.7 million. In Edgartown, 190 voters out of a total of 3,262 spent $30.6 million.

Next week, likely a small percentage of all registered voters in four of the six Island towns will attend annual town meetings and collectively spend more than $100 million to run town governments and fund municipal services in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. Much of the money will not even belong to them. It will be tax dollars chipped in by seasonal property owners, whom we voters expect to support our schools and other services for which our seasonal friends have no need — and subsidize our discounted ferry rates too while they are at it.

In that regard Vineyard residents are luckier than most in communities that rely solely on property taxes. We can spend knowing others must help pick up the tab.

Vote no in Oak Bluffs

Last week, The Times published a Letter to the Editor undersigned by 17 Island physicians and dentists, in which these respected members of our community urged Oak Bluffs voters to continue to keep the town water supply fluoridated and vote no to the ballot question: “Should the Town of Oak Bluffs cease adding fluoride to the drinking water?”

Voters should follow the advice of those they entrust to keep them healthy.

In Tisbury, vote yes on Article 7

As this page argued following the failures in communication and execution in the aftermath of the late-January blizzard (Feb. 18, “Blizzards and town government”), Tisbury selectmen are inexplicably unaccountable for the town Department of Public Works (DPW) and its performance. Supported unanimously by the town’s Finance and Advisory Committee, a yes vote on Article 7 would replace the current elected DPW board with an advisory one appointed by the selectmen, and would make DPW’s operations and personnel the direct responsibility of town management.

Andy Boass died last week. I’ve been thinking about what a remarkable man he was.

We both married into the same extended family by marrying two of what John Alley liked to call “the Glimmerglass girls.” Andy married Susan Millett a couple of months before I married her cousin Nancy Pardy. So I knew Andy for more than 50 years.Scan 2

Andy was fiercely independent and stubbornly self-reliant. He took care of almost everything for himself, to the point of refusing even the most trivial kinds of help. The well at his house is a good example. He was handy enough to maintain it himself, installing secondhand pumps from the dump or ones friends had given him, and repairing them over and over, using parts scavenged from other old pumps. It wasn’t so much that he was too frugal to buy a well pump or parts. In his life, he had once been poor, but that wasn’t exactly the reason. I think he took unusual pride in doing such chores outside of the resources that other, less independent people had to use. His superindependent style required that he maintain a warehouse of used pumps, but this Andy never saw as a problem. He could fix almost anything, and warehousing useful stuff was Andy’s joy.

Andy’s Hopkinton farm held dozens of old cars and trucks, and parts of cars and trucks, scattered over several acres. He drove on a farm license plate, which he transferred from vehicle to vehicle, not always strictly according to Hoyle, and he often added “just one more” truck when someone would offer to give him one or sell it at a foolish price. Like everything else, he did his own automotive repairs, which was usually good but sometimes bad. I remember that one of his pickup tricks sat for weeks at Glimmerglass until he could fetch a used radiator from Hopkinton. He also collected building materials and other articles he thought he might need someday: fencing, buckets, tarps, and hardware of various genres. Several more-or-less-watertight vehicles at Hopkinton doubled as storage sheds for building insulation and other goods that needed to be out of the weather. I suppose some would call him a hoarder, but the useful junk he collected was stuff he knew how to use, and might have used with considerable satisfaction if the right occasion had arisen. Hoarder or not, he left behind a monumental collection of articles for his children to dispose of. Some of his Vineyard friends have similar, though not so extensive, collections.

Andy could be querulous and opinionated, but he was also generous and charming, with a talent for chatting up strangers. He had hundreds of friends. I found him a paradox. He was pleased to offer me (or any guest) a drink or a meal, but he usually brought his own bottle to our house, and never accepted a dinner invitation when he was alone on the Island.

One summer in the mid-1960s sticks in my memory as quintessential Andy. He had a job off-Island driving a truck for a bread company. Early in the summer, the company union went on strike. Given Andy’s independent streak, I’m guessing he might not have belonged to the union, but he was out of work anyway, and came to the Vineyard with Susan and two small children (maybe 6 and 4). But they didn’t live with the rest of the extended family in the crowded old summerhouse at Glimmerglass, though they had their own beds there. He came with a panel truck, and lived with his family on various Island beaches. His family loved the adventure of living in a truck. This was a time when many young people tried to live in tents in the state forest or other out-of-the-way corners of the Island, but most of the flower children were not as successful at it as Andy, who was not a flower child but just himself. Andy’s panel truck never stayed long enough in any one place for people to become tired of them. The beach rules and commercial fishing rules were fewer in those days, and what rules there were were not strictly enforced. Andy could shmooze a cop or a landowner with the best. They ate a lot of fresh fish cooked on the beach, and sold fish to restaurants. His nomadic family actually did rather well.

Toward the end of July, I got a call from Andy’s mother: The strike was over, and Andy could go back to work. It took me a day and a half to find them. I checked all the beaches where I knew their truck had sometimes been parked, but eventually found them at the Gay Head dump, where Andy had gone to make repairs to the truck. Surprisingly, the little family was not grateful to get my message, despite the trouble it had cost me to deliver it. Andy called the bread company and quit his job, and they spent the rest of the summer on Vineyard beaches. After that summer, beaches started to be regulated or closed, the kids got old enough for school, and the idyll was over for good.

Andy died the way he did everything else — on his own terms. He didn’t want to die in a hospital, and he refused most medical attention except for Hospice, as he was wise enough to know that the end was near. He wanted to die at Glimmerglass, and he did, with his beloved wife and family around him.

Dan Cabot is a longtime West Tisbury resident and former teacher and school administrator.

 

 

In an unprecedented decision, we, the members of the West Tisbury Finance Committee, voted to “not recommend” the warrant article enabling the town to spend money on its budget. The reasons are simple.

By current projections, the town of West Tisbury will face a 9.6 percent increase in its tax levy for fiscal year (FY) 16, requiring an override of Proposition 2.5. The projected 9.6 percent (over $1.3 million) increase comes on top of a 6 percent increase last year. By comparison, increases to the town’s levy over a period of eight years, from FY07 to FY14, averaged 2.43 percent per year. This is a worrisome trend.

Town financial managers have done an exemplary job in retiring old debt as we have taken on new obligations, in order to minimize levy increases. They are to be commended for their efforts, as are other town departments that have maintained as close to a level budget as possible.

However, two factors will continue to challenge the town’s attempt to maintain fiscal discipline in the years ahead: exploding education costs and OPEB (other post-employment benefit) obligations.

All can agree that we want the best possible education for our children. The difficulty arises in balancing the costs associated with achieving that goal against other competing needs of the community. Education costs currently comprise 57 percent of the town budget. Education expenses account for 82.5 percent of the total increase to the town’s operating budget for FY16. West Tisbury’s share of the cost of operating the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) alone will increase 11.8 percent this year, with the average per capita student spending rising to $29,061. The increase over two years has been 22.2 percent.

Compared with other towns, the UIRSD currently ranks third highest in the state for per-student spending, and over twice the state average. Closer to home, UIRSD spends 23 percent more than any of the other school districts on the Island.

The problem of education costs is exacerbated by inadequate state funding. The commonwealth’s contribution to the UIRSD budget via Chapter 70 aid for FY16 was $812,797. The total operating budget for the UIRSD for the upcoming year is more than $10.5 million. In stark contrast to UIRSD’s ranking in actual per-student spending, it ranks second lowest in the state in per capita student funding received from the commonwealth. Compounding the problem are proliferating state unfunded mandates, which obligate school districts to commit significant financial resources to programs for which there is little offsetting financial assistance.

The current dynamic is unsustainable. The UIRSD and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School must look for efficiencies to reduce education costs, given the significant impact they have upon the town budget. The Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) recently sponsored a forum on the Cape attended by the Foundation Budget Review Commission, a group tasked with obtaining community feedback on the Chapter 70 process and identifying issues unique to Cape communities. It was well attended, with numerous school superintendents from across the Cape lining up to make their appeals to the commission. The pain felt by Cape communities was clear; budget pressure has resulted in school closures, program cancellations, and the release of teachers as well as administrators. Here on the Island, we have not yet had to confront difficulties on the scale experienced by many communities on the Cape.

In order to avoid more painful choices in the future, we urge greater fiscal restraint by our schools. We also would ask school representatives to avail themselves of future opportunities to communicate with the MMA, as well as state representatives, to seek a reassessment of the now-outdated 1993 Chapter 70 funding formula, as well as a re-evaluation of unfunded mandates, with a view toward either better funding or providing relief from the latter.

Unfunded OPEB obligations (nonpension benefits paid to employees after retirement, such as health, dental, and life insurance) present a second disconcerting financial trend. Due to pressure from bond-rating agencies and others concerned that local governments meet these commitments, the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) now requires financial statements to reflect these liabilities, including a plan of how OPEB liabilities will be amortized over a 30-year period. The town of West Tisbury has made meaningful progress in meeting this commitment through its regular contributions to an Island-wide trust fund. Other Island governmental entities under our budget review have less robust plans to meet OPEB obligations. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has approximately $2.2 million in unfunded liabilities, the Up-Island Regional School District $15 million, and the Regional High School $33 million.

While not unique to our community, unfunded OPEB liabilities, if not seriously addressed, are likely to have a significant effect upon the long-term finances of towns Island-wide, and render moot efforts to moderate fluctuation in tax assessments from year to year.

The FinCom “no” vote is a beginning; we need the entire community to pitch in to solve this very real problem.

 

The  members of the West Tisbury finance committee are Katherine Triantafillou, Gary Montrowl, Sharon Estrella, Greg Orcutt and Doug Ruskin.

 

As if this winter hasn’t been dulling enough, here’s a dark suggestion for a conversation starter to try out at your next community gathering: Ask your fellow revelers if they can explain the interests and conflicts involved in the decades-old airport/county commission fracas, and then ask this follow-up question — Why should we citizens really care? It’s unlikely you’ll get answers beyond “Beats me,” but this is a costly and avoidable political fiasco of our own making.

The airport drama was probably foreordained when the federal government gifted Dukes County with the Island’s wartime Naval Air Training Station. The county’s government has floundered over the years, and has little to do and a track record of indifferent performance. More than half of the counties in Massachusetts have given up a government function altogether, and Dukes is the only county in the state to own an airport.

The Times has published more than a dozen articles centered on airport commission/county litigation in just the past 15 months, most recently last week (“State aviation official scalds Dukes County commissioners”), chronicling the struggle for political control between the county commission and its quasi-autonomous airport commission, along with occasional instances of personnel strife and expensive management salary negotiations. To be sure, nothing productive comes of the squabble.

A competent airport matters greatly to us. It’s every bit as much a lifeline as is the ferry, if with smaller numbers. Islanders needing access to specialized health care services, time-sensitive cargo, general aviation traffic, and almost 60,000 commercial passengers a year pass through the airport. Importantly, if less visibly, our business park is operated by the airport commission. Given how little commercial space is available on the Island, available supply there is every bit as important to development as is the capacity of the airport to support — or not — additional visitor traffic.

Having the airport we want and the accountability we require should be simple. Our goal is to have a safe and properly functioning air-travel facility serving the needs of Islanders and visitors. It should achieve efficient and cost-effective operations; fair dealings with employees, business park tenants, and customers; responsiveness to the needs and wants of our community of year-round and seasonal residents and business owners; informed consideration of future requirements; and conformance to federal and state regulations and requirements (airports are heavily regulated and part of larger transportation systems). And to support oversight on our behalf, we want transparency in decision-making and clear public accountability.

These seem modest enough objectives, and shouldn’t be hard to achieve. After all, the basics of airport management are well understood: There are about 14,000 airports in the U.S., and more than 200 in Massachusetts, and there is a professional trade and accreditation association with about 5,000 airport executive members. For most of us, this appears pretty straightforward, and operating a successful airport along with our only business park on its 600-plus acres would seem to require diligence and trustworthiness but not extraordinary gifts.

The governance structure we need to support our airport objectives is familiar and should work well, as long as the basic components — specialized knowledge of airport operations on one hand and necessary public accountability on the other — are in reasonable balance. We are the owners, but we understand that we need to delegate the representation of our interests to a smaller group with specialized knowledge and a bent for selfless public service. So we establish committees or boards, and set them to work for us, and we keep a watchful eye out. It’s how we achieve effective policing and fire and EMT services, and it’s how we successfully operate schools.

In the airport’s case, though, the principals charged with this task are an outdated, functionally unnecessary county government clinging to political life, an airport commission with a significant portfolio of operational and real estate responsibilities but with an accountability chasm owing to county government’s dysfunction, and a faceless bureaucratic state agency with regulatory jurisdiction but no local political accountability. Given these players, a thoughtful, functional approach to airport management and governance is not in the cards.

At the heart of the endless squabble is the highly ambiguous nature of airport control. To county government it’s a project and a revenue stream to latch onto; to state bureaucrats it’s a highly regulated small cog which must fit within a much larger air-system wheel; to the airport commission it’s a specialized oversight board accountable to the state for technical performance while meeting with the public on its own terms. In the end, the state gets what it needs, the county commissioners get nothing but legal bills and further marginalization, the airport commission gets to operate as a management fiefdom free of meaningful local oversight, and we the people get the residue, simply hoping that nothing bad happens.

Since an acceptable solution won’t come from the status quo, how do we get out of this bind? Ultimately, by taking the county commissioners out of the equation. They won’t go quietly, of course, and the state can’t easily help. And the opportunity to reconsider the fate of county government altogether isn’t on the horizon.

Our best recourse lies, as it usually does, with the political power we have at hand: continued pressure from the towns to proscribe county government activities and expenses, a concerted effort at town and community participation in airport commission meetings to keep airport business visible, and support for county commission candidates committed to ending the county’s airport fantasy. Vain, wasteful, and ineffective governance isn’t a biblical affliction, it’s a choice; we get what we deserve.

Spring weather will eventually arrive. The river herring will too, although in numbers greatly diminished from the 19th century, when Islanders eagerly looked forward to an annual harvest from one of several runs that provided the fish with a path to the freshwaters of their birth.

The remarkable return of these fish in the face of a precipitous decline is a testament to the sense of guardianship Vineyarders have demonstrated over the years for the Island’s few remaining runs.

In a story published May 12, 2005, Jo-Ann Taylor, coastal planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, described the herring run that once existed at Tashmoo, and is now a faint shadow of the past.

Ms. Taylor wrote the Wampanoags called the outlet of Lake Tashmoo “Ashappaquonsett,” meaning “where the nets are spread.” It was clearly an important fishing area for the indigenous people. The Europeans shortened the name to “Chappaquonsett,” and apparently took up their nets with much the same enthusiasm. One early report is of some 155 fishing shacks on the beach, with the occupants employed in the seining of herring.

Just how important the herring was in the lives of early Vineyarders is revealed in a letter written in 1842 that was addressed to Dr. Brown and signed by Seth Daggett, which contained a poem that begins, “To Chappaquonsett’s bounteous stream what praises shall we give, when we reflect how many does by its resources live.”

The poem, which may have been written by an earlier Daggett family member, is appreciative of the arrival of the herring at a time when most larders were empty, “when beef and pork is entirely gone and people have no butter.”

The poem, available at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, contains a description of an idyllic scene of fisher folk gathering to harvest herring, and the tensions that soon arose over individual claims.

“Then off each setts with pole and netts and baskets filled with pine, then to the creek each takes his stand, some Tories and some Whigs, each one declares he will see them d—-d before he will lose his digs. Then some they fight with pole and stick, and some by throwing stones, the old men gets thrown in the creek, and boys gitts broken bones …”

The poem, Ms. Taylor said, describes the intensity of the fishing effort, even on Sunday when many Vineyarders were in church, by men identified as Joe Harvey and Joe Norton. It ends, “Now of those two it’s hard to know which of them is the keenest, but neighbors say that warden Joe most surely is the meanest.”

Vineyarders still jealously guard their fishing rights, and they compose poems, though few provide such keen observations on day-to-day Island life.

A modern-day poet extolling the virtues of herring would find no meanness and much good in the efforts of West Tisbury herring warden Johnny Hoy and civil engineer and Tisbury Great Pond steward Kent Healy. They, along with the two other pond stewards, determine the timing for the opening in the barrier beach, and take a great interest in insuring that the herring born in the upper reaches of the Great Pond can return, after several years in the ocean, to spawn.

Last year, Mr. Hoy and Mr. Healy were instrumental in the installation of a new fish ladder, designed to provide a route for returning fish over the archaic Mill Pond dam, a no longer useful barrier that has created an attractive mud puddle out of a free-flowing stream that was once capable of supporting herring, white perch, native brook trout, and American eels.

Two species of fish in coastal Massachusetts are collectively referred to as river herring. They are the alewife, which spawns from late March to mid-May, and the blueback herring, which spawns from late April to June.

Herring numbers have declined precipitously along the New England coast. The reasons include overfishing, environmental degradation — that would include dams — and the loss of natural runs.

The diminishing numbers of returning herring, even by modern standards, prompted state fisheries managers in 2006 to prohibit the possession or sale of herring, effectively closing all herring runs in the state. That closure has remained in effect despite some recent modest rebounds noted at some of the state’s larger runs.

A critical manmade element in the entire natural equation that governs Tisbury Great Pond is the timing of the opening in the beach that separates the pond from the Atlantic and the duration of the opening. A backhoe is no match for Mother Nature.

In 2014, spring storms closed the opening soon after it was cut, and the herring had no free passage until May.

Each year, pond stewards contend with a variety of competing interests and environmental regulations — property owners and shellfishermen all take a keen interest in pond levels and openings — but their paramount focus is on the natural environment and the herring.

“I’m watchin’ it,” Kent Healy said, when asked about the arrival of the herring.

We and the herring are in good hands.