Wealthy and fair
Of course, in many respects Aquinnah is without equal among Island towns. Doubtless, it will ever be so. Still, it is encouraging to learn, as we do this week, that some of that unusual community's municipal eccentricities are being addressed, and corrected. Being Aquinnah is difficult, in light of its three disparate constituencies with their conflicting loyalties that town leaders must accommodate. The year-round, non-Indian voting taxpayers, the year-round Indian members of the sovereign Wampanoag tribe, the seasonal property-owning, non-voting residents certainly pull in different directions at times. The political goal is to get them all pulling together on matters crucial to the sensible management of the town. The current selectmen and their professional executive have focused determinedly on improving the management of town affairs, to make Aquinnah operate more efficiently, more effectively, and more fairly. Fairness is particularly important. Our report this morning that the town's real estate has at long last been carefully and professionally revalued suggests that a considerable improvement in fairness has been achieved.
The town's recently completed professional revaluation, including residential, commercial and personal property, means that Aquinnah, worth $565,687,496 in the 2007 fiscal year, is worth $735,557,403 this year. That's a 30-percent jump in value for the Vineyard's least valuable town. At Aquinnah's current FY 2007 tax rate, $4.03 per thousand of valuation, taxpayers will pay an additional $800,000 into town coffers. That would be a tremendous increase in cash flow for a town with an operating budget of about $2.8 million. Most important, taxpayers will now find their tax bills based on a share of the town's real estate value that is fair and comes as close to the real value of what they own as it is possible to come, given the time-lagged mechanism used to measure property values. In broad terms, there is about $1.7 million of real estate value attached to each of Aquinnah's 432 properties. And because the number of voters in town is nearly the same as the number of parcels, the real estate value per voting resident is similar. While the personal circumstances of many of these voters and property owners may not support the theoretical wealth that these gross figures suggest, it is without question true that Aquinnah is a wealthy town, and that its real estate taxes are low compared with those in most mainland towns. In this respect, Aquinnah is no different than the other five Island towns.
And, although Aquinnah is unique among Island towns, in respect of its real estate wealth, it is little different from any of the other Vineyard towns. All of them are wealthy, and with careful planning and management, they can meet the challenges, including the relentlessly growing cost of education, the lack of affordable housing, the need to grow the economy, the importance of protecting sensitive conservation-worthy land and water supplies, as well as transportation and bike path needs, and whatever else turns up. This is particularly true because, to a greater or lesser extent, property owners who are not voters pay a significant share of municipal spending, live here only part of the year, and demand few town services. Most of the whining about high and growing real estate values, high taxes, and unfairly distributed tax burdens is wholly unjustified. The whiners would be better off turning their attention to town budgets, how the voters plan and spend, and to what each town's near- and long-term goals ought to be, where there are efficiencies to be had, and where must investments be made. It's the spending, not the real estate wealth, that decides the tax bills.