by -

This paper has actively covered the cable license renewal negotiations between Comcast and the towns on Martha’s Vineyard since those discussions started in early 2011, including the request of a small number of citizens to bring Comcast services to the island of Chappaquiddick, as a condition of a new agreement.

We should set forth a few facts to set the context. No one disputes that a $2 million investment is required to build out the island of Chappaquiddick. Similarly, there is agreement that there are only about 500 homes on the island, and we understand that fewer than 20 percent of those homes are occupied on a year-round basis.

We think most observers would agree that a $2 million capital investment for this buildout is financially questionable. Nevertheless, in view of the strong opinions expressed, Comcast’s latest offer to the board of selectmen does provide several options to the selectmen for a buildout of Chappaquiddick. These types of options are quite common, and we have successfully worked with other communities facing similar desires and challenges, enabling us to serve additional homes we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to connect to our network. So, at this point, it is essentially a matter of allocation of resources, and the decision whether to allocate the capital dollars available to a buildout of Chappaquiddick or to other pressing Island concerns is up to the selectmen.

Despite the disproportionate attention on Chappaquiddick, there are other important elements of the franchise agreement that positively impact all Islanders, including a generous financial package that includes franchise fees of approximately $5 million and half a million dollars in capital payments. Comcast remains committed to delivering on its strong and proven track record of product innovation and community support on Martha’s Vineyard. Our customers on Martha’s Vineyard are at the forefront of the latest technology and product innovations, contributing to what the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable has called “the highest concentration of broadband anywhere in the Commonwealth.”

As the franchise renewal negotiations continue, they will undoubtedly be the focus of additional discussions and media attention. We hope the above helps residents understand one of the topics being addressed, and reinforces Comcast’s deep commitment to serving and supporting Martha’s Vineyard.

Steve Hackley is senior vice president of Comcast’s Greater Boston Region.

by -

The roundabout application for the Blinker intersection in Oak Bluffs is not the first controversial issue the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) has faced in its existence, but it is surely a seminal one that could fix public attitudes, for better or worse, toward the regional planning agency for a long time to come.

When 13 of the 17 commissioners voted in a tie on October 6, on a motion to approve it, clearly the case to build the roundabout was not very strong. When commission chairman Chris Murphy then voted to break the tie in favor, citing only political reasons rather than the merits of the project itself, many Vineyarders realized something was drastically wrong. Not only with the project, but with the MVC’s approach.

On November 3, beginning at 8 pm, in its building on New York Avenue in Oak Bluffs, the MVC will consider a motion made by long-time commissioner Lenny Jason to rescind its vote to approve. Should the motion to rescind pass, and there is good and sufficient reason for that to happen, a collective sigh of relief would then be heard from Aquinnah to Edgartown and Tisbury. Here’s why.

While this ungainly, invasive and environmentally destructive suburban roundabout has some supporters, since its inception more than 3,000 people have signed petitions against it, including many from Oak Bluffs. The petitions were ignored, but judging from those who have approached me over the past weeks, at least another 3,000 would eagerly sign if given an opportunity. What I hear most often is the familiar, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I understand that new petitions are going to be circulating.

For some unknown reason, this overwhelming opposition seems to have been lost on the MVC. One has to wonder why? One commissioner, who voted in favor, told me before the vote that public opposition could not be factored into the MVC’s process and deliberations.


Surely that can’t be true. If it is true, then the MVC has very serious problems with its process. Does the MVC really want to be seen, let alone behave, as yet another unaccountable and arrogant agency of government? That would be sad given the good work the commission has done to protect the Vineyard in the past.

Perhaps Vineyarders need to occupy the MVC and take it back.

Here are some other issues the MVC commissioners in favor should consider:

1) What the MVC approved is not the final plan. What was unfortunately approved is Mass. DOT’s 25 percent design concept. Does anyone really know what would actually be built, should it come to that? Does the MVC normally grant approval when the applicant has not yet presented a final plan? Does that make any sense?

2) What are the mechanisms to maintain local control of the project as it is redesigned and built? It is fairly obvious that the Golden Rule will apply, i.e., that the guy with the gold makes the rules. In this case it’s Mass. DOT that has the gold. Oak Bluffs has given DOT control of the project. Moreover, historically, the MVC has been weak when it comes to enforcement. What will be different this time? Let’s face it, we don’t know what we’re going to get and have to live with.

3) The diameter of a built roundabout is more than likely going to be larger than the 25 percent concept indicates. Regardless of what the state’s engineers claim, those who actually drive the huge trucks, not only Trip Barnes, are certain they cannot negotiate the roundabout under all circumstances in its current configuration. Kent Healy, a well-known and respected licensed civil engineer on the Island, has analyzed the existing plan and found that certain maneuvers by large trucks are restricted, which is what the truckers have been saying. So how much bigger will it get?

4) Safety is not a justification for this roundabout. Commissioner and hearing officer Douglas Sederholm has said that building this roundabout is really only about relieving traffic congestion. He voted for approval. Commissioner Brian Smith, citing published statistics about roundabouts, has challenged assertions made at the DRI hearing that roundabouts are safer than four-way stops. He called attention to evidence indicating the opposite, certainly when it comes to cyclists and pedestrians. He voted against approval. Indeed, the safety argument is extremely weak or, to be fair, contentious.

What is really disturbing, however, is that in approving this unneeded roundabout, the MVC seems to have forgotten its reason for existence: The overarching question for the MVC is simple: How is this roundabout an appropriate use of the land? So many Island residents believe it is inappropriate. Why is it that the public seems to have a stronger sense of what is right than the elected and appointed public agency that is entrusted with that responsibility?

Do what’s right. Vote to rescind.

Mr. Knabel is a West Tisbury selectman.

The draft Wind Energy Plan for Dukes County, released for public comment last week, looks at the wide range of issues related to wind energy development on land and off shore in state and federal waters. It was prepared by the staff of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in cooperation with a Work Group made up of representatives of all seven towns of Dukes County, the Tribe and Island organizations. The Work Group is seeking feedback from town boards, organizations and members of the public before the plan is finalized this fall.

A lot has changed with respect to wind energy development on and around Martha’s Vineyard since the Work Group started looking at the issue in 2009 when the Island towns nominated, and the MVC designated, most of the Island and all municipal waters as the Island Wind District of Critical Planning Concern.

On land, a medium-sized turbine has been erected at Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown and two more have been approved in Chilmark (on Grey Barn and Allen farms) while large wind turbine projects were halted in the towns of Edgartown, Tisbury, and West Tisbury.

Offshore, the Cape Wind project has gotten all its permits but is still facing legal challenges and its financing is apparently not yet finalized. The federal government is working actively on two areas, both located more than12 nautical miles offshore, namely the so-called Area of Mutual Concern (AMI) involving Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and a vast area under consideration south of Martha’s Vineyard. The Commonwealth’s 2009 plan for two large Wind Energy Areas, with a capacity of about 160 turbines just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, is still on the books, though no one appears to be actively pursuing wind projects there.

Off-Island, several utility scale turbines in Falmouth and Vinalhaven, Maine, became operational in 2009 and 2010 and produced noise, flicker, and other impacts considerably greater than anticipated. Voters in four Cape Cod towns that had been working for many years on municipal turbine projects subsequently turned down these projects. In Europe, which has decades of experience with offshore wind farms, the distance offshore for new wind farms has been steadily growing, from about 10 km in 2008, to 14 km in 2009, to 30 km for farms under construction in 2010, according to the European Wind Energy Association.

The Wind Energy Plan for Dukes County is an effort facilitated by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to help the community deal with the potential and challenges of wind energy. The plan looks at a wide variety of topics, including birds and bats, scenic resources and visual impacts, tribal and other cultural resources, open space and habitat, marine mammals, fishing, navigation and boating, safety, noise and vibration, shadow flicker, electromagnetic interference, construction, operation and maintenance, decommissioning, impacts on business and employment, property values and municipal taxes, and community benefits.

The Wind Energy Plan will serve several functions:

It is an important component of the Island Wind DCPC and will be the basis for the MVC evaluating whether proposed town regulations are consistent with the Island Wind DCPC guidelines. It recommends how the MVC DRI Checklist might be changed regarding wind energy projects that would be reviewed as Developments of Regional Impact and it provides the framework for MVC evaluation of wind energy DRIs.It defines “appropriate scale” as required by the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan for determining what wind energy development is acceptable in state waters. It includes a wealth of information that can be used by towns in formulating their own regulations or reviewing applications for wind turbines. It encompasses data and analysis of adjacent federal waters, which can help the Vineyard and Gosnold communities understand and formulate positions on planning and development outside but in the vicinity of Dukes County.

The plan aims to allow for reasonable wind energy development while minimizing potentially detrimental impacts on natural resources and human uses, by proposing policies for where wind turbines may be allowed, where they should be subject to special review, and what standards should apply.

The plan proposes what it calls “a cautious, balanced approach,” holding off on development in areas that might be problematic and proposing conservative siting and design criteria. The approach proposed in the plan would allow development of wind energy projects in locations and with standards that minimize the risk to the natural environment and to human uses. The plan proposes “Exclusionary Areas” where turbines would be prohibited (about 40% of the land area), “Areas of Special Concern” where they would be allowed subject to special review by the MVC and towns (about 50% of the land area), and, on land, “Qualified Areas” where turbines under 150-feet high would not need MVC review but would be regulated as determined by the individual town (about 10%).

Even with this careful approach, it would appear that there is the potential for a vast amount of wind energy development in the area around Dukes County, mainly offshore in federal waters. These projects should be carefully monitored. If the impacts turn out to be no worse than expected, it would then be possible to revise the Wind Energy Plan in several years to allow development in locations which are excluded in this version of the Plan

There are two fundamental options regarding possible offshore wind energy development in Dukes County upon which public opinion is especially sought.

Option 1 would allow development in relatively limited Areas of Special Concern. Option 2 would hold off on short-term development within the waters of Dukes County to allow review of the progress of wind energy development in federal waters, including the results of associated research, before considering large-scale development closer to shore. This option considers that if all the development under consideration in federal areas surrounding Dukes County takes place, it could be argued that the resulting cumulative impact on Martha’s Vineyard will be such that no additional development would be acceptable. This position would remain in effect for the duration of this version of the Plan, expected to be 5 to 7 years, though the Plan could be revised sooner if there is a compelling reason. No one has expressed any interest in developing in these near-shore waters and the Commonwealth and federal officials are concentrating their efforts more than 12 nautical miles offshore.

The draft Wind Energy Plan can be downloaded from the Island Plan website, www.islandplan.org, or you can get a paper copy by contacting the MVC. A public informational meeting about the draft plan will be scheduled later in the summer. For further information, please contact the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Doug Sederholm is chairman of the Wind Energy Plan Work Group and a Martha’s Vineyard Commission member from Chilmark. Mark London is executive director of the commission.

by -

July 8 was Philanthropy Day on Martha’s Vineyard. Proclaimed by Dukes County, it’s a day to honor everyone, seasonal and year-round, for the tremendous amount of time and money you donate to keep the Vineyard and its nonprofits running. We salute and thank all of you for giving back. You play a major role in keeping this a special place.

Philanthropy Day is also an opportunity to step back to look at the condition of the Island and reflect on your own Vineyard Philanthropy. We are at a critical point regarding the Island’s future as many of the things that make the Vineyard special and draw us here are succumbing to growth and development. The ongoing need is great.

The 2010 census data shows that although our rate of growth dropped significantly from the previous decade, we are still the fastest growing county in the state.We are also aging at a rapid rate and are about to see a wave of baby boomers turn their summer homes into their retirement homes.

The water quality of our coastal ponds continues to be a headline story — 13 out of 21 are over their nitrogen limits and on their way to becoming odorous, algae-filled, and devoid of fish and shellfish.

Our town centers are losing their traditional character while suburban sprawl and traffic are increasing; we’re losing that small-town feel. Housing continues to be an issue. Home values have been driven up and are some of the highest in the country, and housing costs are consuming a bigger and bigger share of the year-round Vineyarder’s household income.

We saw record levels of unemployment again during the winter months and record levels of support provided by our food pantry. Community Services’ mental health, substance abuse and domestic violence programs all experienced significant increases in demand as well.

The Vineyard has a significant nonprofit community that is working to address these and other issues. How significant? They account for 13 percent of the Island’s GDP; that’s more community support than the six Island towns combined. They also address a broad range of interests and needs. In fact, almost everything you love about the Vineyard is protected, maintained, or made possible by Island nonprofits.

Some work directly to preserve our scenic vistas, open spaces, coastal ponds and historic charm. Others contribute to our thriving arts scene or offer wonderful educational, cultural, and recreational activities for the whole family. The rest support the local community, the people who run our towns, shops, and restaurants, build and maintain our homes, and offer the broad array of services and experiences we come here to enjoy. The Vineyard is the way it is because of the components of the local community and cannot be sustained if they can’t be sustained.

Some people are surprised that a community our size has so many nonprofits but, being on an Island four miles at sea, we can’t easily share resources with neighboring communities, so we must have our own organizations. Plus, our isolation requires that we have certain institutions, like a hospital, that no mainland community our size could support alone.

We applaud Dukes County for establishing Philanthropy Day and helping people appreciate the important connection between philanthropy and the future of the Vineyard. The Island’s nonprofits play a key role in sustaining the Vineyard, protecting and maintaining, for ourselves and future generations, those features of the Island and Island life we all cherish. Their success, however, is dependent on having the significant philanthropic resources needed to do the job.

To inform philanthropy and help people understand the issues that must be addressed if we are to preserve the Vineyard, the Donors Collaborative produced a 26-page, fact-based report called “Understanding the Vineyard.” It’s an invitation to understand the issues we face and meet the organizations working to address them. It’s a detailed examination of what’s at risk, what must be done and who is involved.

“Understanding the Vineyard” has an easily recognizable cover containing just the title and a self-portrait sketch of a contemplative Jules Feiffer. Copies are available at any branch of the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, most Island libraries, and from many Island nonprofits or at their events. You can also download a copy from our website: www.mvdonors.org. If you end up with more than one, please pass a copy on to someone you think should understand more about the Vineyard.

We encourage you to get a copy and learn about the issues that affect what you love most about the Vineyard and then decide how you want to give back. We hope it will start conversations, create solutions, and, most importantly, generate the investment needed.

Peter Temple is the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative.

by -

No one needs to be told how the fishing industry, once an economic mainstay of the Massachusetts economy, has been declining in recent years. Overfishing, followed by increasingly onerous federal regulation, has reduced the state’s catch, and its fishing fleet, to the lowest level in decades.

Now comes yet another blow to this tottering industry. On December 28, the federal government issued a “Request for Interest” for proposals to erect electricity-generating wind turbines — hundreds of them — in 3,000-square miles of federal waters south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The problem is, these 3,000-square miles of ocean include some of the richest fishing grounds off the coast of Massachusetts. “Half a billion dollars worth of seafood comes out of this area,” according to fisherman David Goethel, member of the New England Fisheries Management Council. The area also includes great swaths of seabed where fishermen are barred on the grounds that sensitive yellowtail spawning grounds are there.

The location of these productive fishing grounds and sensitive spawning grounds are well-known to the fishing industry and to the U.S. government. Yet none of them have been removed from the areas the government is offering to put out to bid for wind turbine construction.

It is particularly grating to the fishing community to be told that while their fishing activities are too damaging to be allowed in these “sensitive spawning areas,” the government is now inviting in an industry that will bring in hundreds of huge metal pilings, each weighing many tons, and pound them dozens of feet into the seabed, a third of a mile apart, all to be connected with a giant tangle of support wires and transmission cables.

The government’s explanation is that after the wind industry picks its preferred sites, the wind developers will then participate in an environmental review process that will provide all the protection needed for the fisheries, the spawning grounds, the endangered whales, and other species that frequent this part of the ocean.

The fishermen aren’t buying it. “This was sprung on us,” says David Prebble, who chairs the habitat committee of the Fisheries Council.

“This is another flank we’re being attacked on,” said one discouraged fisherman at a recent meeting at New Bedford’s Whaling Museum.

They are right to be skeptical. When the wind industry gets first pick of its preferred sites, and only after that do the environmental impacts get weighed by a government that is clearly in a rush to install offshore wind, the predictable result will be that the industry’s chosen sites will end up being approved, albeit with “compensation” and “mitigation” and much “further study” being thrown into the mix.

A far better approach would be to undertake the studies necessary to identify the species and areas that need protecting before putting these ocean areas out to bid, not after. That was the intent of the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, and Rhode Island Ocean Special Area Management Plan, both of which dealt with wind development in state waters.

But it clearly is not the intent of the federal government. The rush to develop large-scale renewable wind energy, apparently, will not wait for good policy or good science.

Gov. Deval Patrick has recently been standing up strongly for the state’s fishermen. In correspondence with the US Department of Commerce, he pushed for a review of fines levied on fishermen, fines which may well have been unfair and excessive and also misappropriated. In a more recent follow-up letter to President Obama, he criticized the Commerce Department’s “intransigence and disrespect” to the state’s fishing industry.

Here is another place where the governor can and should weigh in. He and the governor of Rhode Island, the other state abutting the federal waters being put out to bid, have an agreement to work together on wind development issues in federal waters.

Both governors should now jointly step in and demand that the Federal government set aside and protect the rich fishing areas, the sensitive spawning areas, the right whale and other endangered species habitat, and any other area worth protecting in this 3,000-square mile area being offered up — before the wind industry gets to pick its sites, not after.

Eric Turkington of Falmouth, a lawyer, is a former state representative whose district included Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. He is a consultant to POINT (Protect Our Islands Now for Tomorrow) a Vineyard-based group dedicated to promoting conservation, education, and sound choices for a sustainable environment.

by -

As a longtime Edgartown resident, I was surprised to hear news reports that I might be paying more than my share to support the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).

As a member and present chairman of the MVC, I was more surprised to hear some people saying that things the MVC does for the Vineyard aren’t necessary for Edgartown.

With both hats in place, I sat down and made a list of the ways my town has benefited over the years from the MVC’s work. Here’s part of it:

Protecting the Edgartown Great Pond and Sengekontacket

Bill Wilcox at the MVC has for years been hands-on at the ponds and then tied to his computer, collecting water samples, putting together data about pollutants getting into the waters from septic systems (and of course other sources), and then helping Edgartown boards put together regulations that will keep the ponds healthy for fishing, keep water healthy for all of us, and be sure that Edgartown meets new state and federal requirements (see the Mass Estuaries Project at the MVC website). His technical knowledge and his ability to work with the towns are astonishing.

Sometimes Zoning Can’t Do It

Edgartown’s zoning laws are strong, but the state laws limit how far they can go. The MVC law says controls can be put on a project that go beyond zoning. Herring Creek Farm wanted to have 54 houses, allowed under zoning. Edgartown asked the MVC to help — the land now has 11 houses along the rim and acres of protected farm land — because the MVC could condition those things that zoning couldn’t. Vineyard Golf Club got much stricter environmental controls from the MVC than zoning could reach — and now it’s a nationally recognized, award-winning “Green” success.

Protecting Special Places

In Edgartown, I can walk on old trails, see long sweeps of open coastline, know that the private lands on Cape Pogue and East Beach will stay as they are now because of districts of critical planning concern (DCPC) adopted by Edgartown. The MVC legislation gives my town powers, with a DCPC, to have regulations beyond what can be done under state and local zoning laws to protect special areas. For example, Edgartown has so far voted to protect many of our old roads and trails under a DCPC — and the MVC continues to defend a legal challenge to Edgartown’s doing so.

Bike Paths, Roads, and Bridges

You’ve probably seen traffic counters, those black cords across the road. That’s just the tip of technical data and engineering going on at the MVC. All towns use this data and analysis to make policy decisions about roads, bridges and bike paths and can use it in requests for state and federal funding.

Affordable Housing That Fits Our Community

On the Vineyard we want to make our own choices about providing more housing for working people, and the MVC has been proactive for decades in generating dozens of affordable housing units and millions of dollars for affordable housing. But we don’t want hostile developers building out-of-scale developments in tight places, using the state’s 40B law that lets them push projects through if 25 percent of the units are affordable. The Vineyard, through the MVC, is the only place in Massachusetts that can deny a 40B project that goes against common sense and local regulations.

There are more examples — you probably know some yourself. The MVC has been pivotal in defending the Island’s right to regulate wind turbines in the ocean and is working closely with each town to come up with a Vineyard-made wind energy plan. We provide state-of-the-art Geographic Information Services to each town and the community — that’s the data analysis and maps you see around the Island. We help plan the network of bike paths to make them safer, help towns plan and fund projects to minimize impacts of natural disasters, and track economic and demographic data. Check the MVC website for technical reports, planning documents, and annual reports that show the range of what we do.

The budget — it’s always a worry with the shaky economy. This year, our budget is level with last year’s — no COLA, no increase in cost to the towns. The state, in the MVC act, mandates the formula for each town’s portion. Each Vineyard property, in every town, pays the same percentage on their property tax. This year, that’s $19 for a $500,000 assessed house anywhere on the Vineyard. That gets us the planning services and protection that cross town boundaries.

I think that all of us, in all the towns, want to protect this place we love and keep the special qualities we take for granted. As an Edgartown citizen, I don’t think we can, or need, to do it alone.

The MVC was formed by Vineyard citizens and towns lobbying the legislature for more protection for this unique place. It’s one of a kind in the nation. We got it and should use it wisely, making it work for us. Let’s stay in the MVC — and put it to good use.

Christina Brown is an Edgartown member and the current chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

by -

Friday was Philanthropy Day on Martha’s Vineyard. Proclaimed by Dukes County, it was a day to honor everyone, seasonal and year-round, for the tremendous amount of time and money they donate to keep the Vineyard and its nonprofits running. We salute and thank all of you for giving back. The Island couldn’t survive without you and your support.

With summer and the fundraising event season winding down, it is an opportune moment to reflect on how we are doing: What’s the state of Vineyard philanthropy? For nonprofits, it was a tough summer as their events competed for a piece of a smaller pie. A few were up, more were down, and most who were on target were hitting figures adjusted to reflect the current economy. Nonprofits are also grappling with the reality that despite the enormous effort they put into them, summer events are providing less and less of the income they need, and statistics show that philanthropy here has not grown as fast as in the rest of the state. The summer event season may be almost over, but the philanthropic need is not.

For donors, it was a very busy summer, and we know some of you suffered “event fatigue,” or were overwhelmed by the invitations and requests for support. Seasonal residents come here to relax and enjoy all the Vineyard has to offer. They want to support and help sustain the Island, but there are only so many events one can attend before it cuts into the quality of their Vineyard time. Plus the constant bombardment and the uncomfortable feeling of having to say no are not a pleasant part of the summer experience.

We must finally recognize that the system we’ve used for years and years isn’t working anymore. It’s not working for donors, and it’s not working for nonprofits. It’s time to find a better way.

The fact is that there are a lot more events than there were 10-15 years ago, because there are a lot more nonprofits now, and many of the new ones are big and important. Why do we need so many? Several reasons:

Our population has grown tremendously over this period, so we have a broader range of needs to support. New opportunities and services have developed. Most of our housing organizations were started in the last 13 years, as were The FARM, YMCA, Polly Hill Arboretum, the Island Grown Initiative, Vineyard Village at Home, Vineyard House, Vineyard Energy Project, M.V. Film Festival and M.V. Film Society, and we’re on an Island seven miles at sea and can’t share resources with neighboring communities the way a community our size on the mainland can.

The Island has always depended on the generosity of seasonal residents because the local community is too small to support the need alone. Summer events, therefore, were the natural way to fundraise, and they became an enjoyable part of the summer social experience. But, as the number of nonprofits grew, everyone was fighting for a share of a pie that wasn’t growing as fast as the need/population. Plus nonprofits are putting more and more resources into their events to make them competitive, when they need to find ways to grow the pie and not be dependent on summer events.

We applaud Dukes County for recognizing the importance of philanthropy to the Vineyard by establishing Philanthropy Day. Our nonprofit community preserves and protects so many of the things that make the Vineyard special and draw us here. They also support the local community, the stewards of the Island. The Vineyard is the way it is because of them. The nonprofit community is significant, accounting for 13 percent of the Island’s GDP. That’s more community support than six Island towns’ combined budgets.

The Donors Collaborative also believes it’s essential to recognize the importance of philanthropy to the Vineyard because we are at a critical point regarding the future of the Island. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Island Plan shows that the sustainability of the Vineyard is in jeopardy and outlines a plan to address the challenges. A large portion of the leadership and cost of these efforts falls on the nonprofit sector, which needs additional philanthropy to sustain the Vineyard and accommodate its growth.

Starting this fall, the Donors Collaborative is going to work with and challenge both donors and nonprofits to find ways to meet our philanthropic needs that work better for everyone. We’ve been looking at other seasonal resort communities for ideas, and there are some interesting models that might work here: Joint fundraising, area of interest fundraising events, building the corpus of our Community Foundation and more planned giving. If you have any ideas on how to improve the system, we’d love to hear them. Just send me an e-mail at peter@mvdonors.org.

Systemic change is never easy, but if we want to preserve the things we love about the Vineyard, now is the time to find a better way.

Peter Temple is the executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative.

by -

Geoghan Coogan, Jeff Kristal, and Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectmen, and Sergeant Robert Fiske for the Tisbury Police Union jointly prepared this essay.

At 7 pm on Tuesday, June 29, Tisbury will hold a special town meeting to seek the passage of two separate, but related, spending articles concerning the town’s collective bargaining agreement with the Tisbury Police Union. The details of the collective bargaining agreement were the result of a Joint Labor Management Committee (JLMC) Arbitration Award which both the town and the Tisbury Police Union agree is a fair and equitable resolution. The town and the Tisbury Police Union encourage Tisbury residents to attend the special town meeting and support the passage of these two articles.

At Tisbury’s annual town meeting in April, these two articles were presented as a single article requiring a Proposition 2.5 override, which received support at town meeting, but was defeated when placed on the ballot. It is our belief that defeat came as a result of your leaders’ failure in our job to educate the voting public as to details of the article. As a result of internal town discussions and a meeting held with the police union employees after the article’s defeat, the town discovered viable funding alternatives and made the decision to present the initial annual town meeting article as two separate funding articles at the special town meeting.

The first article involves an amount of $125,000 to fund the arbitration award relative to the three-year police union contract set to expire on June 30, 2010. The second article involves an amount of $100,000 to provide funding for police compensation increases established by the arbitration award for fiscal year 2011 beginning July 1, 2010. The voters must understand that this contract is for the past three years. We are about to begin negotiations for a new contract, but cannot begin that process without the prior contract being completed.

Whereas, we think it is important for the voters to fully understand the nature and importance of this matter, we would like to take this opportunity to briefly explain the history behind these articles. The town of Tisbury and the Tisbury Police Union began contract negotiations for a three-year agreement in 2007, shortly after the prior three-year contract had expired. Both the town and the police union negotiated in good faith, but were unable to come to a mutually agreeable contract. In order to obtain resolution of this negotiation, both parties agreed to submit the matter to the JLMC for binding arbitration.

Arbitration is a process by which an arbiter reviews written proposals from both sides of an issue, and renders a decision which becomes binding on both parties. The negotiations are, in effect, concluded by the arbitration award. However, since this type of arbitration requires a payment from the town, it is left to the voters of the town to approve the necessary funding for the award. Should the voters oppose the requisite funding, the town and the police union can either agree upon the terms for a contract and return to the voters for approval or begin the entire negotiation process again. In this instance, both the town and the police union feel the arbitration award remains consistent with the town’s fiscally responsible approach to town finances and also provides reasonable compensation to the police union employees

Essentially the Award provides for a yearly increase of 3.5 percent over the three year period. There are other parts of the contract, but the basic financial impact is 3.5 percent per year. The town’s other unions were given a 3.5 percent increase in each year of their respective contracts during this very same time.

The economic times have certainly changed since July 2007, or what should have been the beginning of this contract. The financial times we are in now will be addressed in the new contract.

Since the $125,000 figure will fund the financial obligations of the past three years, if we do not fund the additional $100,000, we will be unable to continue to pay our department at the resulting level of the contract beyond June 2010. Lack of adequate funding could potentially give rise to layoffs and/or no summer assistance and result in less coverage. The award is fair, reasonable, and necessary to move forward with our police department. These are the men and women that protect our town and keep our children safe. We urge the voters of the town to attend the special town meeting on June 29, 2010, at 7pm, and approve this award.

by -

All five seats on the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) committee will be up for election on the first Tuesday in November this year. Two members of the present UIRSD committee will not be running for reelection: Susan Parker of Chilmark and Marshall Segall of West Tisbury. It is important that other up-Islanders step up. In 2006, there were only five candidates for five positions. More than five would be healthier. For those interested in running, the first deadline is July 20.

The down-Island town school committees on Martha’s Vineyard (Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury) elect one member (of three) in the spring for a three-year term, but not the UIRSD, which seats the whole five-member committee every four years. That is probably not the smartest way to organize a school committee. Four years is a longish term without any new blood, and there is the risk that continuity could be lost if no old members were reelected. However, the Massachusetts law that established regional schools requires this cycle, and we’re stuck with it.

Who might serve? Almost anyone. Typically it is a parent or grandparent who has a special interest in seeing that the school runs well. Former teachers and administrators (like me) get involved because we know something about education and want to help, or maybe just because we love schools and can’t stay away. Concerned taxpayers who are interested in school budgets are another possibility. But really, any person who cares about our schools and has a bit of common sense could be an excellent school committee member.

Why take on the challenge? The short answer is, “Because it’s important, it’s not hard to do, it’s interesting, and it feels good to help.” It would be hard to imagine a job more important than providing our communities with good public schools. Schools give our community’s children the most valuable possession they will ever own, an education. School committees don’t administer the schools — professionals do that — but the school committees are the guardians of that gift. They set policy and certify the budgets. Because the stakes are nothing less than the future of the community, it’s important that those individuals who can serve, do step up to the plate and accept responsibility.

Somebody needs to do it. Why not you?

How hard is it?

No particular expertise is required in advance, but new school committee members are required to take a day-long orientation offered by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. Topics covered include conflict of interest laws, the open meeting law, the public documents law, school finance, negotiations, and laws governing special education.

Each school committee meets once a month, and during budget preparation there are also often extra meetings. Membership on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee goes with election to town committees (but only three from up-Island, one from each town, serve on the high school committee). All members of the town and UIRSD committees automatically belong to the All-Island School Committee (AISC), which also meets once a month. The AISC has very little statutory power but serves an important function in Island-wide initiatives, such as hiring and evaluating the superintendent, discussing policies, and approving the superintendent’s and shared services budgets. There are other subcommittees which meet irregularly, the most time-consuming of which is the negotiations team, active now but not (we hope) for another three years.

You might plan on two or three meetings a month, almost always in the evening, and maybe three or more extra meetings at budget time, October to December.

How to run for the UIRSD committee

The UIRSD election is unique among Martha’s Vineyard public schools. You need to pick up a nomination form at the Aquinnah, Chilmark, or West Tisbury town hall, or from the office of the Superintendent of Schools (4 Pine Street, Vineyard Haven). You’ll need at least 22 signatures (one percent of the number of up-Islanders who voted in the governor’s race in 2006). It’s a good idea to get a few extras, just in case some are disallowed. Remember to ask your signers to list their street addresses, not post office boxes. The election is district wide, but most candidates get signatures only from their own town. If you want to canvass the other towns, pick up extra copies of the form and get a separate set of signatures for each town. The forms are all the same, but there is a box at the bottom of page 2 that says, “Only registered voters of [town] may sign this sheet.”

Next, take the signed nomination form to the registrar (town clerk) in its town before July 20. The clerk will verify that your signatures are actually registered voters in that town, and get the board of registrars to sign your form.

When that’s done, you’ll need to pick up the form again and deliver it to the superintendent’s office before Aug. 17. Superintendent James Weiss, who is also the UIRSD district clerk, will notify the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and your name will appear on the ballot.

How to get on other public school committees

The three down-Island towns normally elect one member of their three-member school committees in the spring town election, along with the other town offices (selectman, fincom, etc.). It’s a three-year term. You’ll need to get signatures on a nomination form, which means starting early enough to get them certified in time to make the printed ballot, probably in January or February. Get the rules and the deadline for your town from your town clerk.

The Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) is an independent public school chartered by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, not under the jurisdiction of any school district. It is governed by a 10-member board of trustees. At an annual meeting early in May, the MVPCS community (parents, teachers, and students) elects three regular trustees for three-year terms, plus one alumni trustee for a one-year term. Candidates are examined and recommended by the trusteeship committee of the board of trustees, and the board presents the slate to the annual meeting. To express interest, contact any member of the Board or Bob Moore, director of MVPCS.

It happens that at the moment, MVPCS is looking for a replacement to complete the last year of the term of a board member who will resign on July 1.

Dan Cabot is vice-chairman of the UIRSD committee, chairman of the AISC, and chairman of the personnel subcommittee of the AISC. He has completed two three-year terms on the Board of Trustees of the MVPCS.

by -

The current debate in Washington isn’t solely about the grand goal of expanding access to health insurance. It has turned into a spar about spending and controlling costs in the federal Medicare program. For those who need reminding, the Medicare program covers all Americans over age 65, as well as many disabled younger people.

The current versions of reform bills in both the House and Senate use “savings” from Medicare payment reductions over the next 10 years to support insurance expansion for an additional 30 to 40 million Americans. All sectors providing care to people over 65 (hospitals, nursing homes, home health etc.) will be affected. But the recent debate in Washington regarding home health raises issues of what degree of cuts is sustainable and what is too much.

Although home health services comprise less than four percent of all Medicare spending, the proposed home care payment reductions account for 10.2 percent of the total Medicare “savings” in the House version of reform and 9.4 percent of savings in the Senate reform bill.

Recent coverage of these proposed cuts in the New York Times and other media have described these cuts as reasonable, cutting industry profit margins of close to 13 percent. This profit margin number is far from accurate and is more reflective of outdated and selective data than in the Vineyard Nursing Association’s experience on Martha’s Vineyard and many nonprofit home care agencies’ experience with Medicare payments. The truth is that when all agency margins are included in the numbers and weighted equally, national profits in home health are closer to two percent and that is before already scheduled payment cuts equaling about 7 percent in 2010 and 2011 are applied.

The problem we face in home care is that the cuts proposed by Congress are applied at all agencies equally and are not targeted to where waste has been identified. Reports to Congress on home health care spending have been very clear that the problem profit figures come from certain geographic areas (notably Florida and Texas), where the issue is lack of federal oversight. An across-the-board cut to all agencies regardless of circumstances as is proposed only ends up hurting and possibly crippling those agencies that have provided high-quality care and played by the rules. If what the House and Senate are proposing goes through, close to 60 percent of home health agencies in Massachusetts, including Vineyard Nursing Association, will be in significant financial jeopardy.

The home health care community has put forward a credible and substantive alternative set of proposals for home health payment reform that would save Medicare money while targeting abuse and phasing in certain cuts to allow home health providers to adapt.

Massachusetts is fortunate to have the backing of Sen. John Kerry, who is leading the charge on a bipartisan amendment to reduce the home health cuts in the Senate health care reform bill by nearly $5 billion. This comes on the heels of another amendment by Senator Kerry – which passed the Senate by a vote of 96-0 – that indicated widespread support for the work of home health care agencies.

The message we need to deliver to our representatives is that home health is an essential Medicare service, especially for isolated elders. We need to remind those who set policy that because home health keeps people out of hospitals and nursing homes, it is a win-win for the patients, the taxpayers, and the government. Finally, we need to communicate that expanding access to insurance to those without it by putting home health care agencies like Vineyard Nursing Association at risk is not reform – it is reckless.

If you agree, contact Congressman William Delahunt at 202-225-3111 and ask that the Senate version of home health payment reform – with the Senator Kerry amended language – be adopted in the final bill to be signed by the President.

Robert Tonti is the chief executive of Vineyard Nursing Association