Big questions that need answers


The Martha’s Vineyard Commission has drafted its budget for fiscal 2015. Taxpayers in the several towns pay the MVC’s bill because the commission represents the interests of Islanders. But, unless one defines those interests very narrowly as having exclusively to do with land use, slowing growth, and preventing change, there is a cost/benefit analysis for Islanders to make in considering that budget. Even in its important work, the MVC is often regarded as expensive, self-indulgent, myopic, whimsical, and intrusive by many of those poor souls who have been forced to seek its approval of their development plans.

On the other hand, if one considers that a regional planning and land use regulatory agency ought to represent the interests of Islanders by studying professionally and in depth such issues as health care needs and the costs associated with meeting them, economic and business development, the potential value of expanding regionalized services, or the future utility of the Steamship Authority if it continues to be organized as it is today, then the MVC has, in its 32-year history, not done much to earn its keep.

And, we don’t have in mind multi-year master planning efforts. Master planning, everyone knows, aggregates lots of information, much of it not very meaningful for future decision making, plus a lot of opinions and forecasts, but then it has little bearing on the future it was intended to influence.

If it chose to do so, the MVC could take actions that would benefit the larger interests of its constituents. Here’s an example. Instead of deliberating and studying for months an impressive proposal by Stop & Shop to improve its Vineyard Haven property and the neighbor around it, what might be more valuable is an inquiry into the sort of health care system Martha’s Vineyard requires and how it might be funded. After all, the hospital is just the hospital, needed but hardly comprehensive when measured against the health care needs of an aging Island population.

On the other hand, if the community — here, read the MVC, using professional help — were to consider what it needs in the way of cradle-to-grave health care services, what that might cost, what it might look like, and how it would be financed, well, the result of that careful thinking might be something dazzlingly useful. The key is that the community, represented by the MVC, would have considered carefully what is, after all, the community’s problem, namely health care needs. The hospital would certainly fit into the ultimate conclusion, but there would be more. What would the health care answer be, if Islanders considered the question in its true scope? And, if they drew the plan, would they be willing to pay some of the bill?

Or, here’s another useful inquiry. Is the Steamship Authority, constituted as it is, situated where it is, owned and represented as it is, the transportation mechanism we need. Today, the Steamship Authority does what it does. It’s plans are not our plans. It’s future does not depend on our sense of what we’d like or need. The planning responsibility incumbent on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission might develop, with the engagement of the Island community, a plan that would serve us better, and perhaps serve the boatline better as well.

Or, economic development. Is there a way to enlarge the Vineyard economy, so that more Islanders can earn more, house themselves more economically, and offer the services this growing population will need? Agriculture and fishing may not be the answers. Real estate may not be either. Maybe it will be broadband enhancements that attract businesses whose owners and employees would make a lifestyle choice if the tools they need are available.

These are questions the MVC would be hard at work answering, if it actually represented the important interests of Islanders.