Closer look needed
To the Editor:
We need to take a closer look at the recent decision by the Edgartown selectmen to refuse county warrant articles for the town's annual meeting. Their reason was that the request was past their deadline - how far off is the town's annual meeting? - but the consequences of their refusal could mean the cutting of vital Island services.
To put a human face on this issue, one of the proposed cuts is to the Vineyard Health Care Access Program (VHCAP). Though a little-known fact, the county supports one third of the access program's budget. It is the only consistent, ongoing source of their funding. The remainder of VHCAP's budget is supplied by painstaking efforts to obtain grant funds and donations. Is it so unreasonable to ask the towns to help support this service to our community, in the same way that they fund the senior centers and the housing authority?
The access program assists more than 2,000 Island residents each year to obtain affordable health care. I know because I have been on the staff since 2001. I have seen the relief and gratitude when clients can afford vital medications or can have a serious medical condition properly cared for because they have obtained needed health coverage. Affordable health care is a major national issue and it's a major issue on this Island as well. If no one is paying attention this lifeline for our residents could disappear due to lack of support.
I urge the selectman to reverse their decision and to give voters the chance to decide on whether to support this crucial community program. I also urge anyone who understands the importance of the access program to speak out.
Charity from charities
To the Editor:
I read with interest Oak Bluffs selectman Ron DiOrio's comment in last week's paper that the town should "press" the Martha's Vineyard Hospital to make a payment in lieu of taxes to help offset some of the exorbitant costs faced by the town, especially with regard to personnel costs. He's right but probably unrealistic. The offer will need to come from the hospital. How do you press them to be charitable, above and beyond their own mission? The impetus has to come from them.
We are very lucky to have so many charitable (and tax-exempt) organizations on the Island, and God knows we need each and every one of them.
Oak Bluffs taxpayers are very unlucky to have so many of them in their town, but we forget that the towns also offers services - charitable services - to all of us, exempt or not. They rely primarily on property taxes from the non-exempt citizens, who own property and businesses, to run their town operations.
What if the hospital, or Martha's Vineyard Community Services, or the arena, or Island Elderly Housing were only allowed to solicit money from certain donors and not from others? I can't imagine that they would be very happy, yet the towns are restricted in that very way. And especially Oak Bluffs.
I have some experience with this problem, and there is some history of which the town and the non-profits need to be aware, I think.
Island Elderly Housing Inc. (IEH) is a non-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization that provides desperately needed affordable housing and related programs to low-income elders and that has owned property in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs since 1980 or so, when it bought the land on which Hillside Village sits. IEH always made a monetary contribution to the town of Tisbury - not always a lot, but always something. IEH and its affiliated non-profits now own 20-plus acres of land and 19 buildings worth millions of dollars. Market value taxes on all of that valuable real estate in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven would promptly put IEH out of business.
Ten years ago or so, after years of costly litigation with Tisbury, the Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board ruled that IEH is, indeed, a tax-exempt, charitable organization.
Not withstanding this ruling in its favor, IEH felt that as a good citizen, it would be fair to make a payment in lieu of taxes to the towns of Oak Bluffs and Tisbury to help offset the cost of some of the services provided by the towns - mainly fire, police, and emergency services. No one pressed us to do this. In fact, fighting the town of Tisbury in court during those years, when they did decide to tax us at full market value, was not cheap.
No matter. You have to move on and try to do the right thing as a contributing member of the community.
IEH negotiated an agreement with these two towns to pay 10 percent of the tax it would have been assessed had the organization not been tax-exempt. Being 90 percent tax-exempt seemed fair to us - the leaders of IEH at the time - and I have wondered over the years why the other non-profits, such as MVCS, the arena, the hospital, etc. have not felt morally and civically obligated to contribute. These are good people running good organizations that help all of us. Obviously, they need to fundraise to stay alive, but they too are recipients of various town services.
Unfortunately for Oak Bluffs and the other towns, the decision to contribute toward these free local and regional services has to come from the organizations involved.
Tim Sweet of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital is right when he says that whatever is negotiated should apply to every one of the tax-exempt non-profit organizations. Yes. Somehow IEH always kept its head above water, if just barely. We were an idealistic bunch back then, and we believed that our charitable action would surely set an example for the other Island non-profits.
Oak Bluffs, and the other towns as well, should be reminded that IEH really made an attempt to set a precedent when it chose to make annual payments to the towns in lieu of taxes, and when it came up with a fair and equitable formula. This 10 percent figure should not be too much for any charitable organization to give, but it could make a huge difference to the towns.
Why don't you selectmen calculate just how much money this formula would bring in, if applied?
Carol E. Lashnits
Editor's Note: The writer was for many years the director of Island Elderly Housing.
Cape Wind, a caution
To the Editor:
I would like to bring to light a serious oversight as regards the planning process of Cape Wind regarding its offshore energy project in Nantucket Sound. To wit: the failure to address the possibility of deliberate assault and wrecking by outraged Cape and Islands residents.
The Cape Cod archipelago has long had a violent, individual vigilantism history, but against property not people, toward untoward projects foisted on them by outsiders.
For example, in the early 1960s, about the same time as the landmark steamship strike, the state agency to promote tourism took it upon itself to erect, within state highway rights-of-way, perhaps a dozen large roadside wooden billboards, with big print, at historic sights around Martha's Vineyard. The signboards measured approx eight feet wide by six feet tall and were built where none had ever stood before. The imposing signage erected in the fall had quite vanished by the following summer. First "Jesus Saves" was wide-brushed in bright red paint across their backs; still later they were chopped down, for firewood it turned out, leaving only two axe-cut stubs per billboard behind. The state wisely never rebuilt.
The central offshore instrument and large capacity diesel fuel storage tower of Cape Wind, as currently planned, is wide open to ramming by large steel hulled commercial vessels or to attack by high-explosive devices. Therefore, in order to protect the local fishery and recreational area, the federal/state governments should require that the tower be staffed 24/7,365 days/year by well-armed security personnel or, better yet, U.S. Coast Guard picketboats, since, after all, the taxpayers are footing the bill for the project anyway, or disallow it to be built.
Those who love this place are sure to stop this project one way or another.
Peter Colt Josephs
Dorms for summer workers
To the Editor:
Whatever happened to the days, back in the 1970s, when the majority of summer workers in the Island's restaurants, hotels, and shops were American college students? True, housing costs have skyrocketed since then, but isn't housing just as expensive for a Bulgarian worker, for example, as it is for an American student? To attract American students once again, Island businesses should explore the option of providing low-cost dorms for young people who want to enjoy working on the Vineyard for the summer and at the same time be able to save enough money to defray their college expenses. County land at the airport could be dedicated to student barracks. Of course, college costs far more than it did back in the 1970s, so perhaps the solution is no longer so simple.
Workers near at hand
To the Editor:
I just finished reading the article about the Island businesses facing labor shortages because of the H-2B system. I just cannot seem to understand why the Vineyard businesses rely on the visa program, which allows employers to hire workers from abroad, when they should have a job fair in New Bedford and line up all the seasonal workers they could handle.
Believe me, with unemployment as high as it is in the New Bedford and Fall River area, I am sure the shortage could be made up in this region alone. The fast ferry from New Bedford could make the commute an easy task in the summer and shoulder seasons, and if the business would pay (as a perk) all or part of the ferry cost, it could work.
And I am sure that some would even consider staying on Island if they could find the right accommodations. Let's get the word out via local newspapers and radio i.e. Standard Times and the Fall River Herald, WBSM 1420 and WSAR 1480.
Not an accusation
To the Editor:
In a final response to Jeff Leistyna, I would like to point out that my letter was not an accusation, as he so incorrectly labeled it. It was a response to a Letter to the Editor and an opinion. Further, I would like to again point out that his initial letter did come off as a rant to quite a few Islanders, whether he recognizes that fact or not.
Even in his most recent letter, however racially tuned-up, his words still come off as a bitter roll call, and nothing more. I have no doubt that he was also able to muster up a collective bunch of people that shared a portion of his opinion; that is unfortunately the case all over this country today. Some people just can't seem to accept change or difference. Fortunately for the future of this great land of ours, the majority of people in this country are more accepting and open-minded than our Mr. Leistyna appears to be.
For the record, my response to Mr. Leistyna's initial letter was not based on quaint and faint recollections of an Island some 30 years ago. After moving off the Island in 1989, I remained a frequent visitor and actually I lived on the Island for some time, from 2002-2004. I have family still here on the Island, and I remain up to date and quite in touch with the goings-on of the Island.
I would really love to sit and have a cup of coffee with Mr. Leistyna sometime, and it may be that a face to face could bring a better understanding from both sides. For the time being, however, I respectfully continue to strongly disagree with his opinion that the Island as we knew it is in danger and that there are "serious issues that threaten to destroy this fragile place." I have never seen a more resilient community, and blaming the Brazilians or these "super-wealthy New Yorkers and other greedy, moneyed elites," as he call them, fails to recognize the positive monetary effects and social contribution that they bring to our Island. They contribute greatly to this Island's unique economy and nostalgic personality, and have been doing so for quite some time. Their generous and welcome contributions have far outweighed their consumption.
Without the tourists, wealthy and frugal, and without the property owners, immigrants, and the true Islanders, without all of this, the Island wouldn't be what it is today. I agree that this Island has some weak areas and could be tweaked here and there. Find me a place in America where this not the case. But, for all its faults, for all its shortcomings, it is my opinion that Martha's Vineyard is still the absolute best place in the world to vacation, to have a business, to buy a house and to raise and educate a family. My opinion is not so overly optimistic and unique. It is clearly shared by many.
To the Editor:
Most folks remember the A&P, fewer Ann Parker (baked goods) and Ann Page (canned goods) but further back, a Boston radio station would bring its mobile unit to Island A&Ps with disk jockey Fred B. Cole at its helm. He was Glenn Miller's first announcer, and also the Dorseys, Artie Shaw's, Kay Kaiser's, many times crackling over the radio during the war years from the Ritz Roof and many other ballrooms here and on the West Coast. Fred was Frank Sinatra's favorite announcer and held that post on Frank's TV show of the 1950s, but in the 1960s he belonged to that Vineyard Haven A&P parking lot and its WHDH Mobile unit. Up until the last few years, Fred ran a snowplow service in Hingham until his mechanic told him one day "Fred, this truck can't take it anymore." Remembering fondly those Vineyard Haven days to the end, Fred B. Cole passed away in his sleep this past December at age 92. The song has ended, but the melody lingers on.
To the Editor:
The fundraising for the oxygen masks for the Island's animals has been completed. The masks have arrived and been distributed to all the town fire stations and ambulances. Hopefully, they will never be needed.
Thank you to everyone who supported this effort to keep the animals of Martha's Vineyard safe and healthy.
02 for Pets Menemsha
For the love of animals
To the Editor:
This is a sincere thank-you to everyone who contributed to the fund for purchasing oxygen masks for cats and dogs on the Island. Special thanks go to the Martha's Vineyard Harley Riders for their contribution and support, and especially to Betsy Burmeister for her tireless efforts over the past year to raise the funding to supply oxygen masks for Island emergency responders to potentially have the capability to administer oxygen to a pet in need. This will be helpful to any pet involved in either a house fire or auto accident that needs oxygen.
Martha's Vineyard Association of EMTs
To the Editor:
We'd like to thank the wonderful cooperation of Edgartown police officers Tony Bettencourt, Jon Searle, and Craig Edwards for making the Edgartown School's Annual Jingle Bell Run/WaIk so successful on Friday, Dec. 21, 2007. The first-place finishers were Joao Carlos (8F) and Shivonne Schofield (8F), a repeat winner, with all the students, staff, and parents finishing in record time (with their bells jingling all the way). This K-8 event is run in memory of former chief of police George Searle for his contribution to the town. Thanks to Gina deBettencourt for her tremendous support of all the participants, fueling them with much needed cocoa, and to all the teachers whose help on the race course made the event a wonderful holiday tradition. Peace and health in the New Year.
Teachers of Physical Education
Lead sinkers exonerated
To the Editor:
I have been following the controversy concerning the yo-yoing method of catching fish where a lead sinker is involved.
The public should be aware that the lead from the sinker cannot contaminate the fish eaten by humans and lead poisoning of humans consuming fish does not occur by this method. I could find no fishery literature nor research that would support the allegation that the ingestion from the gut of a fish would be absorbed and distributed to muscle of fish. The pathway of lead and health effects on humans is well-known and requires inhalation of fumed lead or ingestion of fine particulate lead, pica, usually eaten by children who have access to lead paint chips. This method of delivery of lead to humans is well defined in toxicologic literature and can cause health effects especially in children . The gastrointestinal route of absorption of a lead slug in the fish gut and deposition into muscle and fat of fish does not occur. If any minor absorption were to occur, it would be deposited in the bone/vertebra or scales of a fish, not the muscle nor flesh of fish parts eaten by humans.
The allegation that there is sufficient absorption of lead into the fish muscles is magnified for unknown reasons and should not be used as a factor in the debate on the use of lead in fishing, as there is no merit related to the fish/medical literature.
Thomas H. Winters, M.D.
Diplomat in Internal Medicine
Diplomat in Occupational & Environmental Medicine
To the Editor:
On behalf of the people of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven, and the many people who had no other family or friends with which to share dinner on Christmas Day, I want to express a heartfelt thank-you for the generous donation of food and services by the people of this community. Particularly, Eileen Blake for her incredible pies, Jim of Cumberland Farms, John at Cash & Carry, Sarah over at Cronig's Market, Martha at The Black Dog who is always generous with this community, Jim at Stop and Shop, Adam with Island Food Products, Jim at Morning Glory Farm, our dear friend Mary Beth and the gifted people at Chilmark Chocolates, Jim at Big Sky Party Rentals, and Fella's Catering. In addition, our thanks go to Dan Harnen and Ted Collins who are the prime shakers and movers who see that this celebration happens faithfully every year.
This year, 2008, marks my 25th year of ordained ministry. While I have served in many larger places in the past, this community has by far and away the greatest heart of anywhere that we have been. Your generosity humbles me and makes us proud to be a part of this, our Island home.
Rev. Fr. Robert Hensley
Grace Episcopal Church
To the Editor:
The Tisbury lawsuit about the assessment formulas for the Regional High School is just one more attempt to deal with a difficult situation, when the situation itself is based on an antiquated system of paying for the school.
The high school was established through a regional agreement among the six towns of the Island 50 years ago. In retrospect, it seems like a reasonable way to have cooperated toward achieving a valued goal.
Over time, flaws in the assessment formula have become apparent, but it isn't clear how to repair the regional agreement. I have been participating in the high school assessment committee meetings for several months. It has been a frustrating experience for us all.
During that time, I have argued that because the high school serves the entire Island, and because it is funded entirely by property taxes, we should all be paying for it at the same tax rate. We don't. Property owners in Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and West Tisbury pay for the high school at more than twice the rate of property owners in Edgartown, and eight times the rate of property owners in Chilmark. This is fundamentally unfair.
The current lawsuit by Tisbury officials appears to be addressing differences between Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, which are relatively small when you look at the tax rates for property owners in all six towns. I wish them well, but I don't yearn for a return to the terms of the regional agreement.
I also don't know how to make the regional agreement more equitable. Any change requires approval of the voters in each of the six towns; so voters in any one town can prevent an alteration in the agreement. When a representative from Chilmark says that anything that increases his taxes is a deal-breaker, then he has already precluded a deal. When the officials from Edgartown refuse even to participate in talks about the school assessment formulas, people from other towns become discouraged about the possibility of change.
The flaw in the state formula is the same as the flaw in the regional agreement: it treats regional education as a town problem and not as a regional one. One number - the cost of the school - must be divided six ways, and the less one group of taxpayers pays, the more others must contribute. Both formulas lead us to focus on our differences. Both lead to frustration, anger, and accusations. We need to find a way to define the problem as the same for us all, and when we do, the answer will come easily.
Oak Bluffs Finance Committee