On an Irish Tuesday evening, Chilmark selectmen celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day in multiple meetings that kept them busy well past 9 pm. By the end of the night they had concluded a joint meeting with the finance advisory board, approved a single tax rate, and signed off on the annual town meeting warrant and a fiscal year 2016 operating budget of $8,925,163.
The FinCom meeting included a presentation by school officials on the proposed $3.9 million bond that will be used to pay for a new public schools administrative building, to be relocated from Pine Street in Vineyard Haven to the Regional High School’s property. Superintendent James Weiss and school committee member Robert Lionette were present to discuss the issue with selectmen and FinCom members. Asked why a new administrative building would take precedence over greatly needed repairs to the high school, school officials said that Principal Gil Traverso and the high school team need more time to get a plan of action together to identify the needs. Mr. Lionette said that numbers will begin to surface in September. Asked if the price tag for high school repairs will be in the millions, Mr. Weiss said, “It’s a large nut to crack.”
Also Tuesday night, selectmen held a public hearing on the tax classification for fiscal year 2015. Assistant tax assessor Pam Bunker told selectmen that the town’s total value had dropped slightly from $3,138,733,776 for fiscal year 2014 (with an average assessment of $1,381,000) to $3,114,795,690 for fiscal year 2015 (with an average assessment of $1,373,000).
Ms. Bunker explained that there were many fluctuations, and that every property was visited. She cited three main factors for the change. First, some properties that were listed as having expansive water views actually had small water views, moving them into a lower water-view category. The opposite was also true, with small water views that turned out to be expansivewater views. Second, undevelopable land is now taxed at the same rate whether it is located in the woods or on a pond. And replacement values for structures were low, and were corrected to bring them into line. “It’s a huge, substantial difference when someone has not improved their building and their assessment jumps $500,000,” Ms. Bunker told selectmen.
“It sounds like the biggest decrease in value is from the different classifications of water views, which a substantial amount of that money comes from,” Chairman Bill Rossi said. Ms. Bunker agreed.
The proposed tax rate is $2.63 per $1,000 of value, an increase from $2.48 per $1,000 of value. “The tax rate increased because of the town’s additional spending with the budget as well as the value of the entire town going down by less than 1 percent,” Ms. Bunker told The Times.
Selectmen then shifted to a lengthy review of the draft annual town meeting 39-article warrant. These included an amendment to the zoning bylaws to allow for accessory apartments, and a long-talked-about facelift for the Community Center.
Discussion of a new fire station raised the possibility of a town purchase of the Santander Bank building near Beetlebung Corner. “We have interest, and will be trying to acquire that property,” Mr. Rossi said.
Selectmen signed off on the warrant.
“Well, we spent $9 million,” Selectman Warren Doty exclaimed at the close of the meeting.