Editorial : What's it good for?
Leaving aside aid to education, the six Vineyard towns don't get much from the Commonwealth in return for their income tax dollars and other assorted state exactions. It's about $2.5 million, to be specific. The towns don't get much education funding either, and soon they'll get less. And less Community Preservation Act funding too. Where the state government is concerned, it's mostly a one-way passage. Vineyard income taxes and other payments flow to Beacon Hill, where they are redirected sometimes to other Massachusetts communities that badly need help, but often to the pet enthusiasms of the we'll-do-as-we-please Great and General Court and, till the recent national financial calamities, the and I'll-spend-even-more governor.
What the state can do for the Vineyard is make many of the things we'd like to do more difficult. Witness the news this morning that the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank has put off plans to create new pastureland on its Tiasquam River Reservation in Chilmark, due to the cost of a Natural Heritage program permit.
The Land Bank's 109-acre Tiasquam Valley Reservation is on the north side of Middle Road, just west of the West Tisbury-Chilmark town. The state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) has approved the management plan for the reservation. The approved plan calls for the creation of a network of trails open to hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and dog walkers, plus a nine-acre pasture to be leased for use by sheep, cows and other livestock. The approved plan, including the supporting inventories of flora and fauna, describes the nine-acre pasture. But, the Land Bank has learned that the state wants $5,800 to permit the work to be done to create the pasture. The Land Bank balked, as it ought to have.
As James Lengyel, the chief executive of the Land Bank, explained to Times managing editor Nelson Sigelman, the fee and associated review policy adds no benefits over past practice. The Land Bank has done and paid for all the research and inventories, and now will pay for what once was free, namely state agency review of detailed, filed plans. For its $5,800 fee to the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP), the Land Bank gets a letter saying okay. Nothing more.
Pamela Goff, a longtime Chilmark Land Bank commissioner and former town selectmen and Martha's Vineyard Commission member, who is a sheep farmer besides, said this week, "We've gone to a lot of expense to do the inventories and the plans to start with, so it is already an expensive proposition to manage the properties properly. And I am sure Sheriff's Meadow has to farm out some of their work too. So doing it right is expensive, so to make it more expensive, sort of frivolously, is just counter-productive to the conservation movement."
If the goal is to help finance state government as it continues to practice its profligate ways, while inhibiting well-run, diligent, economical, and accomplished local public agencies, whose record of achievement is acknowledged and admired by its constituents, then NHESP has priced its services just right.