Editorial : The sky may be falling, but not here, at least not now
If you can, put aside the arterial sclerosis of the lending industry, the crisis in investment banking, the crisis in hedge funds, the crisis in mortgage-backed securities, the crisis in credit default swaps, the liquidity crisis, the balance sheet crisis, the whole business of $700 billion in bailouts, the decline in real estate values nationally but especially in places like California, Las Vegas, and Miami, the crisis of lost jobs on Wall Street, and the crisis in the domestic auto industry. Have a helping of astonishing news. You decide if it's good or bad.
The annual tax list, published this morning, finds that, despite the calamitous news in the larger world, the most recent valuations of real estate in the six Martha's Vineyard towns total more than $20.4 billion, up about 10 percent from the previous total. Edgartown, the richest town, added more than $1.35 billion in total real estate value since its property was last revalued, an increase of more than 20 percent. Aquinnah, afflicted by negligent assessing and tax collection practices for decades, saw its total value rise about 60 percent, from $560 million to $818 million. Five of the six Island towns grew in value during these economically distressed times. When the latest values in Chilmark are released by the state, which is reviewing them now, the total value of Martha's Vineyard real estate, despite the economic wickedness and worry that has the nation in its grip, will almost certainly rise further.
Not all the real estate in the six towns is taxable. Of the $20.4, $1.7 billion, or a little more than eight percent, is tax exempt - including public buildings, conservation land, real estate held by nonprofit enterprises, churches, schools, and the like. So, tax revenue lost to the six towns, based on the tax rates reported currently in effect, adds up to $6.6 million. Edgartown has $669 million of tax-exempt property, West Tisbury $490 million, Oak Bluffs $250 million, $184 million, Aquinnah $85 million, and Chilmark $17 million.
The net effect of all these billions in real estate value is that Martha's Vineyard voters are willing to forego $6.6 mill in tax revenue. And, of course, at least for discussion purposes, this enormous paper wealth is one measure of the towns' borrowing ability, and that means new schools, police stations, or town halls, emergency services buildings, or parklands may be financed. So, Martha's Vineyard generally is well fixed to borrow for public purposes - assuming there are banks left that are loaning.
It also means that the six towns are off the radar screens, where state and federal assistance is concerned. Tax dollars from taxpayers elsewhere in the Commonwealth or in the nation are not likely to be diverted to Martha's Vineyard to help with school spending, for instance.
This six-town community of about 17,000 year-round souls, generously assisted by a widely scattered off-Island community of taxpaying seasonal property owners, and sitting on a pile of real estate wealth, must pay its own way.