News in Brief
State official projects school formula costs
Associate Commissioner of Education Jeff Wulfson recently sent a letter to superintendent of schools James Weiss outlining estimated projections for the fiscal impact on Island towns in switching to the state's wealth-based school finance formula for comparison to the current regional agreement. Mr. Weiss, Island school committees, and boards of selectmen requested the information as they head into their annual budget process.
The projections are based on the assumption of an annual inflation rate of five percent, no significant changes in enrollment from 2008 to 2011, and the exclusion of any possible foundation reserve aid to help with the transition.
As Mr. Wulfson explained in a forum last month and the chart below illustrates, the initial transition period in using the state formula is "front-loaded," but adjusts over the four-year period. The difference is most significant for Tisbury and Chilmark.
Mr. Wulfson acknowledged that the personal income data used in the state formula based on mailing addresses is skewed by the discrepancy between mailing and residential addresses on the Island. However, in checking the numbers for the six Island towns, Mr. Wulfson maintains that the income reporting problem ultimately makes no difference for the Vineyard.
To ensure that every town in the state receives the benefit of some Chapter 70 aid, Mr. Wulfson said a ceiling was established on the required local contribution, equal to 82.5 percent of the town's foundation budget.
"For all six towns on the Vineyard, property values alone are enough to trigger the ceiling," Mr. Wulfson wrote. "For towns above the ceiling, real property and personal income levels are not used to calculate the required contribution."
Two deer stand by the road in the vicinity of Katama airfield in Edgartown. Photo by Julian K. Robinson
Deer season poses risks
This time of year poses a heightened risk of a collision with deer for vehicle drivers. The combination of hunting season and mating season means that deer are much more apt to be moving, either in search of a mate or to escape pursuit.
One national car insurer estimated there are more than 1.5 million deer/vehicle collisions per year, accounting for significant vehicle damage and driver injury or death.
The experience yesterday morning of Riggs Parker of Chilmark was not unusual. Mr. Parker said he was driving along Edgartown-West Tisbury Road on his way to the Martha's Vineyard Airport when a large buck bolted out in front of his new Toyota pickup truck.
He had no time to react and only caught a glimpse of the deer as it cart wheeled into the air, after impact, and disappeared into the brush. The truck's right front quarter was mangled.
Insurance industry experts recommend that drivers be particularly cautious at dusk and dawn when deer are apt to be more active and in areas of high deer activity.
Edgartown principal's health-care benefits resolved
The Dukes County retirement board and Edgartown officials resolved health insurance issues last week that had initially led to the resignation of Edgartown School principal Paul Dulac on Monday, Nov. 6. Mr. Dulac announced he would resign at the end of the school year because he found out Edgartown was not part of the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System, and he would not be qualified under the town's system for health insurance benefits when he retired.
Rather than having to work two and a half more years to qualify for health benefits when he retires, Mr. Dulac said he was told he would need to work a minimum of 10 years to qualify under the town's system.
Mr. Dulac said he and the Edgartown School committee, and school superintendent James Weiss had been working to find a solution for several months but had been unsuccessful. The announcement of Mr. Dulac's resignation prompted research by the county retirement board staff, the Edgartown selectmen's office, and several other Edgartown School supporters, who found a provision for someone like Mr. Dulac under Massachusetts law.
Under the law, if Edgartown is involved in the Massachusetts retirement system, and a person such as Mr. Dulac is in the town's employ, when he retires under the Massachusetts State Teacher Association's retirement system, the town is obligated to pay his retirement and health insurance.
After finding out the news, Mr. Dulac rescinded his resignation on Wednesday, Nov. 8.
Tisbury selectmen decrease tax burden for businesses
The Tisbury selectmen gave the town's businesses an early Christmas present at their meeting Tuesday night, voting to decrease commercial property taxes during a tax classification hearing. In addition to taking some teeth out of the commercial tax bite, the selectmen also voted to continue offering a residential tax exemption, at a rate of 20 percent.
The new rate for commercial properties reduces the tax shift from 175 percent to 160 percent, meaning that under Tisbury's multi-tiered tax rate, tax bills for commercial properties will decrease from being 75 percent higher to 60 percent higher than they would be under a single (base) rate.
To put this in context, the cost of an average house in Tisbury, calculated by the value of all residential real estate divided by the number of parcels, is $817,000.
Calculating taxes on a home valued at $817,000 under the old 175 percent shift, a homeowner receiving a residential exemption would pay $3,610 in taxes, excluding the CPA tax, while a homeowner not receiving the exemption would pay $4,510. Taxes on a commercial property of the same value will be $8,100.
Under the new 160 percent shift, a homeowner with the exemption will pay $3,680 in taxes and a homeowner without the exemption will pay $4,600 in taxes on a home valued at $817,000. Taxes on a commercial property of the same value will be $7,400.
Several Tisbury business owners attended Tuesday's meeting to protest the unfairness of the town's multi-tiered tax rate. After hearing their comments, the selectmen agreed to lower the tax shift percentage to 160 percent this year, and to revisit the issue again next year.
Selectman Chairman Tristan Israel spoke in support of the residential tax exemption, a measure he said "allows residents a cushion to live here."
The residential tax exemption applies to property owners who have filed an application and copies of documents proving they lived year-round as Tisbury residents as of January 1 preceding the fiscal year for which they are applying for an exemption.
For example, to qualify for an exemption for fiscal year 2007, a homeowner must have been living in Tisbury as of Jan. 1, 2006. The period to apply for the exemption is from Jan. 1, 2007, to March 31, 2007.
A news brief published last week incorrectly reported that the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School received a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant for $17,600. The grant was to the Island school district as a whole.
In a News Brief headlined "Oak Bluffs health board supports restaurant closing" published Nov. 9, we reported incorrectly that Shirley Fauteux, the Oak Bluffs health agent who ordered the Bangkok Cuisine Thai Restaurant closed on Oct. 25, had also ordered the patrons in the restaurant at the time to leave. She did not. She ordered the establishment closed, and told the employee on hand that no new customers and no new take-out orders were to be accepted.