Questions for Chilmarkers
Unquestionably, Chilmark can afford to buy the Home Port. The committee established by the selectmen to consider the offer, which Chilmark voters will debate next week in a special town meeting, made that clear. The committee members write: "Chilmarkers are justifiably proud of their low property tax rate and solid municipal bond rating. Do we want to almost double the amount of Chilmark's debt? How will this purchase affect the pocketbooks of working people and fixed-income retirees who live here year-round? As noted in our letter to the community, this purchase will cost the owner of a $1 million assessed value house about $110 per year for 20 years. How much long-term debt does the town want to carry, and what other projects must we finance in the next few years? How do the benefits of controlling the Home Port property compare to the benefits (or necessities) of other competing uses of these tax dollars? These are essentially political questions that are beyond the scope of our work. It is enough to observe that, given the $2.5 billion total valuation of Chilmark real estate, the town can easily finance the debt that purchase of the Home Port will create. This does not address how the purchase would influence the Town's future financial decisions and it certainly does not address how the additional tax will impact individual taxpayers."
The committee is also persuasive on the question of whether the $3.9 price offered the town for the collection of lots collectively known as the Home Port property is reasonable. It is.
Still, well-run organizations like Chilmark generally develop strategic capital spending plans, trying to foresee necessary outlays for upkeep or acquisition of town assets. But capital plans can be bushwhacked by unexpected opportunities. The Home Port acquisition is one of these. It is fair to say that Chilmark's goals, explicit and implicit, do not identify this property or any in Menemsha as municipal must-haves, and there are other asset goals that compete for voter and taxpayer attention. For instance, Chilmark needs a new headquarters for police, fire, and EMS services. That's beyond doubt. Chilmark has also acknowledged the need for more ocean beach for townspeople and their guests. Lucy Vincent Beach has been restricted by parking availability in the past, and it will be again. Menemsha's existing waterfront facilities need refurbishment, improvement, and perhaps expansion, all expensive. Finally, the recommendation by the finance committee that voters approve the purchase with the understanding that town leaders ought to search for non-taxpayer dollars to help fund it raises the question of immediate competition for Community Preservation Act funds, which have generally been regarded as a partial source of funding for the affordable housing development the town has agreed to build. Chilmark has a great deal on its plate, and competition for available funds will become fierce. Some worthwhile and necessary undertakings may get the short end. So, the questions for Chilmark voters are: Where does this opportunity fit in the hierarchy of investments the town will be called upon to make? And, if this is an opportunity that should not be ignored, how might it be funded so that obligations we know lie ahead may be comfortably met?