Letters to the Editor
Appellate Tax Board trial over, West Tisbury assessors explain their position
To the Editor:
At the start of the Graham Appellate Tax Board case, the West Tisbury assessors made the decision not to litigate this matter in the press. Except for a few comments, we have remained silent. However, now that the trial is over we are concerned that the taxpayers have been subject to only one side of the story, and we believe it is time to clarify possible misunderstandings.
Assessors are charged, under the law, with establishing the fair market value of real estate in their city/town. By law, we are subject to guidelines and regulations put forth by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR). Most importantly, we are subject to DOR supervision.
Every three years, a city/town must undertake a "triennial certification" under the direction, guidance, and supervision of the DOR. In a triennial certification, assessors establish new estimates of fair market value for all parcels, relying heavily on sales which have recently occurred. Using these sales, and making adjustments to account for differences between sales and the other parcels in town, assessors establish new estimates of fair market value. This is a lengthy, comprehensive process which requires us to send to the DOR well over a dozen various statistical analyses and reports. The DOR scrutinizes these analyses and reports to insure that our methodology in determining values is appropriate, and that it is being applied fairly throughout the town. In the fiscal year (FY) 2002 triennial certification, the DOR certified our values and notified us that we had uniformly and consistently applied our methodologies throughout the town.
The current board members have each served as part-time assessors for over 25 years. Years ago a part-time board could handle all the duties and responsibilities of the department. As the town grew and assessing became more complex and subject to greater oversight by the DOR, it was evident that professional assistance was necessary. In the early 1980s, a full-time principal assessor was hired, and a professional revaluation company, Vision Appraisal, was brought in. Since that time, revaluation and triennial certification have been conducted many times, and the DOR has always approved both the values and the methodology. It did so again in the FY 2002 triennial certification and the FY 2005 triennial certification.
Following that certification, Mr. Graham's seven parcels, which totaled about 235 acres, had a total assessment of $57.250 million for FY 2003. As was his right, Mr. Graham filed for an abatement. The board of assessors met with Mr. Graham and listened to the factors he set forth, which he believed negatively impacted his properties' fair market value. As a result of that meeting, the Assessors granted Mr. Graham an abatement and reduced his value by 11 percent to $51.118 million. Mr. Graham, once again as was his right, filed an appeal with the Appellate Tax Board seeking a further reduction.
As assessors, our duty is to all West Tisbury taxpayers. An abatement given to one taxpayer is ultimately paid for by all West Tisbury taxpayers. Our role as assessors must be to act in the best interest of all taxpayers. When litigation over property value arises, we must weigh the potential cost of the litigation against the potential abatement, and the impact of the potential abatement on other values. Settlement of a case is always the preferred option. But settlement can and should only occur when both parties are willing to compromise, when the numbers are reasonable, and when it is in the best interest of all West Tisbury taxpayers to do so.
The table below lists each of Mr. Graham's seven parcels, its assessed value after abatement, the estimate of fair market value set forth at trial by the town's independent real estate appraiser, and Mr. Graham's estimate of value as he testified to in court.
The Assessors believe that the sales in Mr. Graham's neighborhood more than adequately support the assessments placed on the property. For example, in 1999, the 81-acre oceanfront property at 86 Ichabod Allen Road sold for $12 million. Also in 1999, the 12-acre property at 270 John Cottle Road sold for $10.4 million. The Crane property at 104 Old Herring Creek Road, which is a 5.33 acre parcel, and which abuts Mr. Graham's parcel 6-13, sold for $11.100 million in February 2002. The property at 271 John Cottle Road (7.7 acres improved with a tiny cottage), just down the road from Mr. Graham's parcels, sold in July 2002 for $15.250 million. Finally, the Young properties (totaling 9.7 acres with two small houses), at 255-259 John Cottle Road, sold in August, 2005 for $18.5 million.
In addition, Mr. Graham testified that he had hired a real estate appraiser to value parcels 6-12 and 6-13 for reasons unrelated to this trial. Nonetheless, that real estate appraiser valued parcel 6-12 at $3.1 million and parcel 6-13 at approximately $23 million.
Recently, Mr. Graham has approached the board of selectmen regarding a renewal of settlement discussions. While the assessors have concerns about the impact of allowing a taxpayer to circumvent discussions with the town board charged with making such settlement decisions, we recognize that it is in the best interest of all West Tisbury taxpayers to determine if a settlement may be reached. We will work closely with the board of selectmen to determine if a settlement, reasonable to all parties, and in the best interests of all West Tisbury taxpayers, may be reached.
On a final note, much has been made recently of the hiring of legal counsel for the assessors. It is worth noting that the appointment of Ellen Hutchinson was made in 1999 by the West Tisbury board of selectmen, in the same manner as Ms. Hutchinson's predecessor, Joseph Dalton, was appointed in 1991.
Michael Colaneri, Chairman
Raymond P. Houle
Stanton C. Richards
West Tisbury Board of Assessors
Supports wind farm
To the Editor:
As winter visitors and summer residents for 30 years, my family and I have witnessed an enormous amount of change here on the Vineyard and the surrounding environs.
As a paraglider pilot flying 300 feet above the Island's dunes when the prevailing winds are right, the pristine vistas are still awe-inspiring. Flying at sunset a couple of weeks ago, I pondered the proposed change of the "view shed" with the installation of the proposed wind farm and its 170 240-foot towers. The towers will certainly be more visible to me than my earthbound counterparts who will barely be able to see them 8.3 miles offshore on a crystalline day. In view of this fact, I must support this project. To oppose this project would make it difficult to look both into the mirror and into the eyes of the children I encounter during my travels on this troubled planet.
I believe this project, if successful, might be a model for the rest of the country, and demonstrate to the children that we are willing to make difficult decisions to improve their way of life "down the road." Renewable energy must become an important factor in the lives of people who comprise five percent of the earth's population and consume 25 percent of its resources. With this project and hopefully many others like it, let us imagine an America with less dependence on foreign oil, cleaner water, cleaner air, a continued all-volunteer military, and the rebuilding of the twin towers to their original height.
Having spoken personally with the developer of the wind farm at a public forum, he assured me that should his research and testing confirm negative impact on bird migration, ocean flora and fauna, commercial aviation etc. etc., he and his partners will withdraw from the permitting process.
Shame on us if we allow our aesthetic short-term vision to permit our uncalloused hands to write large personal checks to $500-an-hour lawyers, to preserve our zillion-dollar views.
The only view we should shed during the wind farm's permitting process is the one prevents us from seeing the towers through the breeze.
Special needs tips
To the Editor:
I read with great interest about the growing number of children, about 60 in the Martha's Vineyard Public School System within the autism spectrum. As a parent with two A.S.D. (autism spectrum disorder) children whom I have pulled out of the school system in the last few years because of the lack of qualified, knowledgeable people and interaction with those of questionable veracity, I would like to offer some advice to other parents of autistic children.
I can only speak about our years in one elementary school, but they are all part of one system.
First off, get a child advocate. If you don't know your rights as a parent, they will not be forthcoming from the school. You are your child's primary advocate. Do not let them cajole or bagger you into anything that you are not comfortable with for your child. You may need an attorney, I did. Demand qualified and certified trained aides for your children, not someone who is paid minimum wage who has no experience other than selling T-shirts and ice cream.
Demand to be part of the hiring process to find a qualified aide and a good match for your child. When unqualified teachers and aides start diagnosing your child with various disorders, ask to see their medical degree. You have the right to terminate contact of your child with any teacher that you find inappropriate. Bring a tape recorder to all I.E.P. (individual education plan) meetings. You would be amazed at the dramatic change of topic from school experts and staff members if their words are recorded. Plus the looks on their faces are priceless.
If and when your child displays extreme distress and anxiety on a regular basis, only at school, you need to find out why. What are they doing to your child? You may never get an answer, though. Don't be surprised if they allude to the problem being your child's fault. Do not be surprised that year after year the school will not be prepared for your special needs child at the beginning of the school year. We have gone a full year with no one prepared.
When the pressure to medicate your child starts from the school, go to the doctor of your own choosing, one you feel comfortable about.
The school will still have to pay for it but your doctor will be working for you not the school system. Could be a big difference with the final diagnosis.
Watch out for the school going behind your back, trying to take you out of the loop.
For any further evaluation, you choose where you will take your child, not the school. Again, the school will have to pay for it.
Take everything they tell you with a grain of salt and feel free to take the school to task. You're not there to make friends. You're there to get the best for your child.
All the grant money in the world is useless if there is no one skilled enough to work with our children.
The problems I listed above are not unique to the MVPSS. What we, my family, have experienced is sadly typical of school systems nationwide.
I would like to think that at least the schools on Martha's Vineyard would be beyond typically mediocre and very poor where special ed is concerned. Project Headway was wonderful for both my kids. It was the first step in giving me the understanding and us the tools I have needed to care for my children.
There are some wonderful teachers that I have met in the school system, but for our special needs children, autistic and otherwise, we need a far higher level of qualification than what I have seen here. The people we entrust with our children have to know what they are doing.
I had a very nice meeting with Superintendent James Weiss in his office a few weeks back. He seems like a breath of fresh air compared to his predecessor. At the end of our meeting he asked me what I wanted out of all of this.
I told him my children would never be returning to the MVPSS, but I have hopes that no other families be put through the grief my kids and I endured.
He needs to clean house.
Calling aspiring EMTs
To the Editor:
I am writing to help get the word out that a new EMT class will be starting up on the Island in January. Every ambulance service on the Island is looking for people who would be interested in taking this training, I serve as the coordinator for Tri-Town Ambulance, which covers the three up-Island towns.
I am proud to work with group of very dedicated and caring EMTs. We all wear pagers and respond day or night to calls for service. EMTs respond to all medical emergencies, fires, car accidents and more. Our goal is to serve the community by offering the best care, treatment and transport to our residents, visitors and friends. We need your help to continue to provide the high level of care that we have all come to expect on Martha's Vineyard.
Each year, Island EMS loses dedicated EMTs who retire, move, or decide to serve their towns in other ways. Each town has a squad that is slightly different, but we share the common mission of providing the best emergency care possible.
Take a class that will change your life and allow you to help protect the fives of those who live and work around you. The basic EMT class will teach you how to respond to emergencies of all kinds. It will challenge you to do your best to help your community when they need you most.
For more information about the class, contact your local ambulance service. Oak Bluffs Ambulance: 508-693-5380; Tisbury Ambulance: 508-696-4214; Edgartown Ambulance: 508-627-5167; or Tri-Town Ambulance: 508-693-4992.
Rout the geese
To the Editor:
I think that something should be done about the Canada geese in Ocean Park. Maybe a dog to chase them.
Club for savings
To the Editor:
Hurray for the founders of Our Island Club. This is an idea that was originally hatched by Cal Howard, I think, and one that can serve our Island economy well.
The cost of living here, as most of us know, is almost unbearable. It has caused us to lose many residents to the mainland and continues to cause a hardship for those of us who want so much to reside here.
I have heard many complaints by Island businesses bemoaning the fact that Islanders continue to travel off-Island to shop. This practice has almost become a way of life to some. It has definitely had an effect on year-round businesses.
I hope that a majority of them will see the value in the Island Club program and join with folks like Cronig's, Island Propane, Jim's Texaco, etc. as participating businesses. It will take a leap of faith, but surely Island businesses as well as year-round residents are bound to realize some financial rewards that will help to keep our economy stable.
I have been told that already there are 600 members who have joined, and the number grows daily. I sincerely hope that it reaches into the thousands. Good luck and many thanks to the originators of Our Island Club.
To the Editor:
Hello friends on the Vineyard and Flint. It has been a while since I have been in touch with most of you. In 2002, I left the Island and embarked on a very exciting journey of self-discovery, education, and finding my one true love. Of course, I didn't realize how blessed I was until I left. I bought a condominium on the Cape where I lived for two years and worked as a loan officer. I also furthered my education and trained in the field as well as worked in it. I sold my condo and moved forward, half way across the country to Michigan, where I married my fiance.
I live in a small city called Flint, Michigan. Believe me, it is not like the Vineyard at all. The county of Genesee holds about 850,000 people and it is rated the second most violent city in America. Well, being the adventurous person I am, I accepted a job out there where my fiance lived and moved there and worked in a mortgage office
I miss the salty air and the breeze off the bay. I miss all of my family and the regular faces I see day to day on the Vineyard. There is such a good feeling to live there too and know that we all chip in and help each other during a hard time and when tragedies strike. It is my home, Martha's Vineyard. I am a native, born and raised, and I could never ask for a better home, or better neighbors.
I write this because I am coming back for the winter to catch up with you all, work hard and rekindle with the magic my Island offers me. My husband will love this adventure. He has never even stuck his feet in salt water before. He is always saying, " I can't believe I married an Island girl." Look forward to coming out.
Melanie Eve Bassett
A friend struck down
To the Editor:
On Nov. 3, our nine-year-old family dog was hit by a small pickup truck on Edgartown/Vineyard Haven Road in Tisbury. His name was Cisco, and he looked like a big black bear, but he was as friendly and sweet as could be. By the time we had gotten to the scene, a few witnesses had stopped to help Cisco on the side of the road. Everything happened so quickly, I am not sure who was there. I do know there was no animal control officer. The police arrived to direct traffic, but animals are not part of their job. I transported my dog to the on-call vet myself. Because of his injuries, he is no longer with us.
We would like to thank all of you who stopped to help us. To the person that hit Cisco and left the scene, may you live with the knowledge that you killed a 12-year-old boy's best friend. To the townspeople of Tisbury, please let your selectmen know how much we need a full-time animal control officer in our town. We should not have to go without. How long would our dog have suffered waiting to be transported?
We miss you, Cisco.
Truth is the best course
To the Editor:
At ten years old, I sat alone in a dark living room illuminated only by the phosphorescence of my grandmother's TV. Nixon was resigning for not leading the country in an open and transparent way. Crimes had been committed in my own government. At the time, my father was at war in Vietnam, and I was very embarrassed and humiliated, as only an American can be. Now, so many years later, those same feelings have come back in relation to this White House.
We are a democracy, and are therefore responsible for what we say and do in its name. Government officials must protect us from lies and deception, but unfortunately, I don't see this happening. I have the same knot in my stomach as I did as a kid, wondering if my dad would come home in one piece, wondering if the world was really safe.
My husband has a roofing business on the Island. We wake early, no later than 5:30 for driving and finding a find a spot to park in Woods Hole and then the boat ride. Other than write and paint, I am his secretary and take the calls that come from there to repair roofs. We both love it, and the hidden little parts of the Vineyard that we are now getting to know. Unfortunately we could not buy our home there. For us, it was East Falmouth, and that was just a matter of need, because we have four children.
But, I fear our kids growing up now have the same concerns about government. I know they worry about the war, because I have three sons in college. The truth is always the best course of action, I tell them. I believe in it no matter how long it takes to find.
Sue Carr Mclean