Letters to the Editor
Professional appraiser says William Graham just doesn't like the value set on his 235-acre property
The following letter was received from Kevin Comer, president of Vision Appraisal Technology Inc., a Northboro Company that has provided appraisal services to hundreds of communities in Massachusetts and across the United States since 1975. Mr. Comer said he sent the letter to his Massachusetts clients in order to provide an explanation of William Graham's appeal of his West Tisbury real estate assessment, now pending before the state's Appellate Tax Board. The case has attracted extensive media attention. Mr. Comer said his references to the press are directed at the Vineyard Gazette, "which seems unwilling to accept that the case is like all other tax cases: What is the property worth and is the value consistent with others near it?"
Dear Vision Client:
As many of you may be aware, an influential owner of waterfront property in the town of West Tisbury, Massachusetts filed a tax appeal on 235 acres of waterfront property for fiscal years 2003 and 2004. This case has now been heard and is in the process of being deliberated at the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board. It is now the longest running residential tax case in Massachusetts history.
As we await the decision, the trial continues to be played out in many local papers. The town has chosen not to take part in this public relations battle. The plaintiff and his lawyers, on the other hand, have been featured prominently in the newspapers. As consultants to the town, we too have avoided any public battles. Yet, our involvement in this case has drawn some unfair and in many cases untrue comments by the appellant. These comments, which do not contain any proven facts, have characterized us and the assessors in the town of West Tisbury, in an unflattering manner. As a result, I thought it was important that I write to you in order to outline the true facts of this case which I have listed below.
Vision performed property revaluations in 2002 and 2005 for the town of West Tisbury. During this time, we established values to the property that is currently being tried in the ATB. (Note: Vision has actually been performing revaluations on the Vineyard since the late 1980s.)
Both projects were reviewed and certified by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.
In response to the appeal and prior to the case moving forward, we reviewed the values that were assigned to the properties. After our review, we came to the conclusion that we had sufficient market data to arrive at and defend our opinion of market value. Therefore, we stood by our original assessments.
The town also hired a second appraiser who completed a comprehensive appraisal report and provided expert testimony. This person arrived at conclusions that supported our original value.
The premise of the appellant's case is that the method of assessing property in the town of West Tisbury is flawed. They were calling into question the level of subjectivity used when assigning value to properties in West Tisbury. Recently published quotes by the appellant's attorney. Mr. Richard Wuslin. sum up their case:
''The assessments are arbitrary and at the whim of the assessors."
''We also feel assessors have used 'condition' factors to fudge the system.''
The appellant's case makes no mention of sales data or market activity which, to say the least, is very unusual in a tax appeal. Also, their expert witness was the property owner.
During our testimony, our appraisers offered solid market evidence to support our assessments. Given what our appraisers heard during the trial, we expect a favorable outcome.
Since the trial, the appellant has approached the town offering to settle the lawsuits if they agree to change their assessment methodology. The town has yet to make a final decision.
The press coverage continues.
In our opinion, this case involves an owner who simply does not like his value. Whether or not he has a plausible argument, he has the means to continue contesting the case and the influence to draw press coverage. The press involvement here is actually very interesting, because it is an attempt to influence public opinion without having to provide any real details of the case. In effect, the press is exerting its influence in order to put the assessing industry on trial. Complaints about being subject to the "whim of the assessor", references to the dreaded "condition factor adjustment" or accusations that assessors are using "fudge factors" are rampant in every state in which we do business. The truth is, the average person does not really understand the property tax process. Real estate values, and subsequently real estate assessments, have increased significantly over the last 10 years. People see their rising assessment and they aren't happy (unless they want to sell their property). Instead, they decide to "shoot the messenger" because they equate higher assessments to higher taxes.
The wrinkle in the "booming real estate market" is that all property classes have not increased at the same pace. That means that the burden of taxes continually shifts. Certainly waterfront property owners have seen their burden increase, but they have also seen huge wealth appreciation. The mass appraisal process should recognize the necessary influence on location, especially waterfront location, because those responsible for the sales transactions put the same amount of influence on location when making their buying or selling decisions. Over the last 10 years, our research has shown that waterfront and water-view property has realized percentage value increases that far outpace properties that are located in other parts of a city or town. Rising assessments just track those increases.
Over the last 20 years, our company has been involved in many tax appeals, large and small. The appeals process is an important component of the mass appraisal process and cannot be overlooked. However, the value of the property, or the influence of the owner, should not dictate an assessed value, the market should. The whole purpose of the mass appraisal process is to treat all taxpayers fairly and equitably. When the most highly priced properties are under review, they should not be reduced because their owners make the most noise, they should only be reduced if the market data proves that they are valued incorrectly. Assessors should never allow themselves to be intimidated. Any highly priced class of property that is valued at less than market value is not meeting its fair tax burden which in turn puts unfair pressure on lesser valued properties to pay the difference.
In closing, I would like to reiterate that this case, despite all the attention it has received, is really no different than other cases our company has been involved in over many years. And it is no different than those in which you, as assessors, have been involved. It is a question of how much a 235-acre waterfront property on Nantucket Sound [The Graham property actually overlooks Vineyard Sound, Ed.] is worth. We await the ruling of the ATB.
Kevin M. Comer
Vision Appraisal Technology Inc.
To the fans
To the Editor:
I would like to get this letter in this week's paper if possible. We had some problems with a few of our fans at the last basketball game, and I wanted to address it as soon as possible. I hope this isn't too late.
First, on behalf of my team I'd like to thank all of you that have shown such great support for our kids this year. It is great to see the gym full and raucous again. I think it was the constant loud support from our fans that powered us to our huge win over New Bedford Voke this Tuesday night. I hope you will all be back Friday, when undefeated Seekonk comes to town, and help us win again.
There was one situation that developed toward the end of the game that put a blemish on a tremendous effort by both teams. There were a few, and I mean only a few, fans who were verbally jawing with players from the other team. As a coach, I love it when the crowd is going nuts and it sounds like chaos in the gym, but I would ask that you keep in mind that these are all still high school kids out there competing for both teams. They are not professional or even college athletes, and we need to be conscious of this as we cheer for our team.
Both teams put out a great effort in the game Tuesday. It was close throughout. Both teams fought hard for a victory, so let's not belittle our opponents' efforts by taunting them afterward. We have great fans here on the Vineyard, always have. Let's continue that tradition of going nuts for our guys, kicking the other team's butt on the court, and then have our opponents leave the Island saying that they were treated well off the court. Thanks for your continued support, hope to see you Friday night at 6:30.
Boys Varsity Basketball Coach
To the Editor:
It is with profound sorrow that we mourn the death of Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She was an American icon of extraordinary grace and dignity as she stepped up to continue the philosophy and methods of nonviolence, racial injustice, economic injustice, and peace and love, when her husband was shot.
After her husband's death, Mrs. King established the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia, so that the world would know that his influence was being continued in a positive and meaningful way. She devoted her life to promoting her husband's work by speaking at colleges, universities, human rights groups, as well as civil, government, religious, and nonprofit organizations. Mrs. King also addressed concerns and critical issues of HIV/AIDS and health care, voting rights, race relations, and the need to create a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty, among many other issues of human need.
The best way to honor Coretta Scott King's memory is to recognize that the struggle for racial and social justice still remains; and that we all have an obligation to actively work to stir our basic longing to do what is right and to defy injustice whenever and wherever it lives.
Marie B. Allen
To the Editor:
The Hull family of West Tisbury would like to express its fond appreciation to Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, and in particular to Juleann Vanbelle and Cynthia Barletta for their loving and expert attention to Richard.
We thank Vineyard Nursing Service and Emily Wetherall for her willingness to always be near and for her gifted nursing. We thank Christine Kurth for her energy and her labors to ensure we could keep Richard in his home around everything and everyone he loved. Please know that we as a family find you all remarkable and that his peace is forever linked with your kindness.
Cecily Hull Thornley
To the Editor:
After reading Julian Wise's article about the AC's final days and about all the DJs that 'made their mark' at this wonderful disco, I realized that Julian missed a few rather important DJs.
It all started back in 1986, when Marc Chandler and Lincoln Pope came over with Larry Johnson from the Hot Tin Roof. Both Marc and Linc worked for about a decade, filling the Atlantic Connection with the Hip-Pop and Disco Fever sounds of the late 80s and almost all of the 90s.
I have vivid memories of Lincoln coming over to borrow albums (yes, albums) from Marc and of Marc going over to Linc's shed to gather his albums for what they thought would be the raging songs of the evening.
Then there was Jerome Gonsalves and Bill Healey, who both worked tirelessly for a couple of years each. And how could we forget Steve Mac? He was DJ and sound man (mostly sound man) for as long as I was a part of the "DJ's girlfriend" crowd getting into the club for free to hang out in the DJ booth while watching the heads bob up and down to the rhythm of the songs that these DJs chose to keep the people on the dance floor.
I'm sure there are other DJs that I have missed, but I felt it was important to acknowledge these five men for their years of dedication to what is now a defunct disco-dance hall. Where are we going to dance in the wintertime now?
What of the Dead Horse Beats?
To the Editor:
I would like to complete Miss Lila Griswold's article of 'Music, Music, Music" (Calendar, Jan 26). While it was a long evening of different bands playing at the WMVY fundraiser at The Arts Exchange Jan 14, she omitted to mention the final and perhaps the most energetic set of the night. The Dead Horse Beats debuted with a selection of tunes that despite the wearied and thinned out enthusiasts, gathered a third wind to groove to their raucous rock. Gilbert Ortiz (vocals), Greg Ruszala (lead guitar), James Marcelli (bass), Russ Hartenstein (drums) performed both original and vintage classics from bands such as Depeche Mode and Cream, all bringing a refreshing vibrancy to the Vineyard band scene. A combination of off-beat rock and ripping riffs gave the Dead Horse Beats an edge a music lover will find their beat to. Hope to see more of them this year.
Not so friendly
To the Editor:
The Steamship Authority news hasn't changed from month to month: ridership down, costs up. We all grit our teeth and prepare for the inevitable fare increases. They came on the first of the year, so now we all have to dig a little deeper and pay 50 cents more for a passenger ticket, $5 more for the excursion fare, and so on. An unfortunate but unavoidable piece of life here.
My beef is with a more mean-spirited change in the rules. Until Jan. 1, 2006, the Authority allowed three changes to a ticket before assessing a penalty. If you made a reservation weeks or even months ahead of time, and life didn't go exactly as you had planned, the Authority made allowances. You had some flexibility to bend with life's surprises. Now, in addition to the rate hike, the Authority has denied us the flexibility we all need and in a cynical maneuver, has given us one change per ticket. After that, it's $10 per change.
Such rigidity makes it harder to be philosophical about the up-front rate hike on the ticket itself, and is a step backward for the Authority in its attempt to be more open, user friendly, and accommodating to the community that so depends upon it.
The Authority should recognize the lack of generosity and community spirit implicit in such a policy and give us back the flexibility we need and deserve.
ATVs damage trails
To The Editor:
Today, I was out with some friends on our Sunday off-road bicycle ride, and the damage to the trails and ancient ways in no way can be overlooked nor ignored.
The Old Holmes Hole Road/Old Mail Route is getting wider and wider with the constant use of four wheel ATVs. There is a small section of State Forest that connects this ancient way over to Old County Road and the State Forest beyond.
The Old Holmes Hole Road/Old Mail Route and this small section is the way that the West Tisbury contingent of ORV riders gets into the State Forest and is starting to look like a major thoroughfare. Today you could see adjacent to the ripped up trail where some jerk on a quad has locked up his front brake and sat there spinning his rear wheels, dug two huge holes.
I read Vinny Iacono's letter. I understand what he is asking for, but what he doesn't realize is the track that he and other riders have made is a whole quadrant of the State Forest that has been trashed by these kids. It doesn't stop there. The destruction has spread all over the State Forest.
Comparing his and others wants to the Skate Board park is like comparing apples and oranges. The kids that worked for a very long time to establish the Skate Board park did not go out and trash the Island here and there on one hand while with the other, with a false sense of entitlement demand a place to ride.
Where is the parental supervision of these children on these machines that they knowingly send their kids out when they have absolutely no right to do so and not a leg to stand on if these kids are caught. There is no place to ride and this is not the way to get it.
Bob Fynbo is correct about the Tread Lightly program. It is a great program but one that is ignored by the ORV riders who trash the trails, the State Forest and other conservation properties here.
This is not a few kids doing this.
I see no trail maintenance by these ORV riders other than when a tree is down and blocks a trail they rip through the woods to bypass it, otherwise known as a "blow out" of the trail.
Today our group cleared four different places in a 18-mile ride, West Tisbury, Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs where trees and limbs had recently, fallen and blocked the trail. Each had a blow out, a newly cut, established bypass done by ORVs.
Where does Mr. Fynbo ride? Unless it's his own property, nowhere legally on Martha's Vineyard.
There is a growing sentimentality from communities nationwide about the damage and general inconsiderate actions of ORV riders.
What is the purpose of such vehicles other than to tear up trails and woods? I can appreciate the fun of riding one of these, but does one's fun outweigh one's misconduct and the damage that they do?
The proper venue for ORVs is at a privately owned ORV park that people go to, to pay and ride.
There is no such place as this here on Martha's Vineyard, especially with the overwhelming inconsiderate, disrespectful conduct displayed by every single person on an ORV regardless of age on any trail in the State Forest or anywhere else.
With all due respect to young Mr. Iacono, I'm glad the police are kicking these kids off. The police need to do more.
He speaks of a problem that people his age have.
Maybe his parents and possibly Mr. Fynbo can try to get something established. It's going to take a lot of time and work, but in the meantime the ORV community needs to change its ways.
It's time that the police, environmental, state and town departments, start impounding these machines.
It won't be that hard. All you have to do is follow their tracks right back to their homes.
The Massachusetts Environmental Police even have a 1-800 number to report these ORVs. It's 1-800-632-8075. On-Island there is the Communication Center, 508-693-1212.
Hopefully, this will solve the real problem.
What is it going to take?
To The Editor:
On Saturday, Jan. 14, Don Muckerheide's Arts Exchange in Oak Bluffs (formerly the Pit Stop) was packed to the gills with pirates and muggles of all ages getting down to a baker's dozen of bands of all genres, from wizard rock (Harry & the Potters) to Tuvan throat singing (Milo Silva). "Pirate's Booty" was an event organized by DJ Diana Reilly to benefit MV Community Radio. The music was mostly locally grown, but it was entertainingly all over the map.
We are MV Community Radio, the Island's new non-profit community radio station, the V (wVvy), FM 93.7 We're raising money through events, grants and donations to build our studio, aiming to start broadcasting from a trailer on Evelyn Way (VH) within 6 months. Once on the air, we'll fund operations with underwriting. Last Saturday, we made enough money to buy a decent mixing board and lease our studio trailer for the first year. Thanks to the people who attended and gave generously at the event.
Pirate's Booty was a reflection of our aim - to bring good music to the Island. Most of our programming will be music - the widest variety of music possible. Members of the community are invited to apply for DJ slots. We'll also feature some nationally syndicated content from Pacifica News, Free Speech Radio News, the Metropolitan Opera and indymedia.org. The station will be mostly volunteer-run. We aim to rock the socks off the rock.
Thanks to Gilbert and James of Dead Horse Beats for loaning us a P.A. and manning it and performing. Rob Myers, our emcee and one of the performers, should receive the award for best swashbuckler. Thanks to the bands for the entertainment: F?l, Pink Socks, Harry & the Potters, Draco & the Malfoys, Willy Mason, Nina Violet, Bella Samba, Swamp Rock, Maynard Silva, Milo Silva and Dead Horse Beats.
We would also like to thank the businesses who made donations or gave generous discounts to Pirates' Booty: Our (AKA "Arrrrr") Market, Cash & Carry, Park Corner Bistro and Offshore Ale. Thanks to David Sousa of mvwifiguys.com and Rob Smith of MVTV. Thanks to Bob Kimberly for the visual magickery. And thanks to the Academy.
Thanks particularly to our really dedicated volunteers, especially Diana Reilly, Nina Gomez Gordon, Nicole Hawkes, Vinnie Padalino, Wayne Tackabury, Nicholas Azzollini, Roland Jahn, Jim Glavin, Bob Lee, Melissa Carelli, and Briana Holt for putting in long hours to make this event a big success. Thanks again to Don of the Arts Exchange - a really cool entertainment space. We look forward to organizing more events there soon.
We are having a logo design contest for wVvy (lp) FM 93.7. If your design wins, you'll receive $50 and some minor fame. Deadline Feb. 21. Winner to be announced at the DJ dance night we're organizing for the last weekend of February. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details."
Your turn will come
To the Editor:
This letter was sent to Russ Lawrence of Edgartown:
Thank you very much for your letter. Input about our services can always help us to correct and further enhance our program offerings.
As to the substance of your letter, it's unfortunate that you had an unsatisfactory experience with our vendor, RISE Engineering. Truly, they are working under the constraints of available budgets during this time of increased demands on our energy efficiency programs. I do apologize if anyone was dismissive of your requests. That is certainly not what we wish to convey, and we have reviewed your concerns with our vendor.
As you may know, the Cape Light Compact strives to provide an equitable return of services to each town based on their ratepayer funding of energy efficiency dollars based on the town from which it originated. Unfortunately, Martha's Vineyard towns overspent their budget in the middle of calendar year 2005 with the demands on the Island. Thus, there was no money to be spent on contract installation work through the end of 2005.
Now, in the new year, our vendor(s) will be calling Martha's Vineyard clients to schedule them for their contract work to install recommended energy efficiency improvements. By now, you should have received a call from Steve Hines at RISE Engineering. I do assure you that the work will be done. Though this is later than you had originally expected, I do hope that it will meet your standards.
Once again, I thank you for your letter and your patience during these times of high energy costs and budgetary constraints. Thank you for all of your efforts to make energy efficiency improvements on your own and for participating in the Cape Light Compact programs.
Cape Light Compact
Get more info
To the Editor:
In the Garden Notes posted on Jan. 19 by Abigail Higgins, we were pleased to find the MOFGA article on Biosa mentioned. I would like to add, that a wealth of information is available at our web site www.biosasolutions.com (which is mentioned in the article). DMG Solutions Inc 2855 Crawford Road, Pittsfield, Maine 04967 is the Distributor for Biosa Products in the Northeast. We stock the full line of Biosa Products and are always happy to answer questions at 207-487-2502.
DMG Solutions Inc.
To the Editor:
In remembrance: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.
A day in court
To the Editor:
Finally after 10 long years, the fish and plants of Edgartown Great Pond will have their day in court.
On Jan. 15, 1996, a meeting was held in the basement of the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. This meeting was held for the purpose of telling the voters of Edgartown how the new upgraded wastewater treatment facility was going to take the tourist industrial waste and treat it, so it would have no impact on Edgartown Great Pond. At that meeting, I stood up for the fish that were going to have this treated waste dumped on their heads. Town selectman Fred Morgan got up and told the crowd of approximately 300 that I was just a disgruntled fisherman and not to pay any attention to what I was saying and furthermore the pond was healthy and vibrant. Then he put Edgartown shellfish warden Paul Bagnall to the task of telling all at the meeting that the fish and the pond were in good condition and would stay that way with the new wastewater facility. The regional director of the Department of Environmental Protection said the same.
Well, you can ask any commercial fisherman how much of a resource came out of the pond this year. I realize commercial fishers are almost extinct now, so you can check Edgartown's Annual Town Report to the Commonwealth. In 1932, a state marine biologist made a report to the taxpayers of Edgartown advising them that Edgartown Great Pond could produce more than $100,000 annually for the taxpayers of Edgartown if the pond was maintained properly. Now, that was in 1932 dollars. I doubt very much that in the 70 years since that report there has been that much in total resources coming out of the pond. Yet the town of Edgartown caters to the tourist industry with all kinds of amenities like brick sidewalks, fancy streetlights, the list goes on and on.
On Feb. 9, 2006, approximately 10 years later, the fish and plants will have their day in the state's highest court. What is amazing to me is the lack of media attention this Supreme Court case has generated in your Island newspapers, given the large amount of news about the last Supreme Court case against General Developments quest to build houses on the pond. Could it be that Chief Justice Margaret Marshall has a house on your Island, and you do not want her to read anything about this ongoing problem? It is no wonder apathy abounds on your island. This case has been in court for 10 long years with no publicity, and yet the taxpayers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe as much as a million, defending the tourist industry. It probably has to do with the tourist dollars that are spent on advertisement in the local newspapers. I would like to hear from the editor on that question, for I can think of no other reason why newspapers would be against the environment.
Oh one last note: our attorney, Doug Wilkins of the firm Anderson and Krieger in Cambridge, has taken our case pro-bono (free). It would be interesting to see Ron Rappaport's fees in this case. The taxpayers of Edgartown must be satisfied, as I have not read any articles about their unhappiness with his performance in this matter.
Friends and Fishers of Edgartown Great Pond
To the Editor:
This is a copy of a letter to West Tisbury fire chief Manny Estrella:
I am writing on behalf of the Martha's Vineyard Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (MVAEMT) to thank you for hosting the EMT Basic training class at the West Tisbury Public Safety Building again this year. Your ongoing willingness to allow the use of "The Firehouse" for this purpose has greatly benefited public safety Island-wide.
We genuinely appreciate this opportunity. All efforts will be made to ensure proper use of the facility. Please feel free to contact me if any concerns arise in this matter.