To the Editor:
The idea that homeowners should be forced to pay the same room tax as hotels located in the business zones of our towns is both ridiculous and unfair (June 12, “Senator Wolf backs legislation to allow towns to tax vacation rentals”). There is so much congestion downtown that the towns are forced to pay for summer police, but these police are not needed in the residential zones of our towns, simply because there is so much less vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Just the turnover of 48 rooms located in one place on Main Street and rented by the night causes exponentially more congestion than homeowners who rent by the week or the month.
It used to be that the tourist trade on this Island provided jobs to our citizens, but now the trade has so overwhelmed the Island that innkeepers and restaurant owners have more seasonal jobs than our Island population can provide, so we now have hundreds of people from Eastern Europe and South America to fill those jobs, and all these people create more septic waste, and they require police and fire protection. I have never known a homeowner who needed to hire someone from Bulgaria to assist his renter.
It’s not just a matter of police, extra foreign workers, septic issues, and congestion. Our fire department here in Tisbury must have both the equipment and manpower to manage a fire on Main Street in a building five stories tall, in an area of many adjacent buildings, with 48 contiguous rooms of people. The required abilities to handle such a disaster are completely different than those for a freestanding home. This is why even though our residential area in town is much larger than the business zone, the fire department must be located close to downtown. History in both Tisbury and Oak Bluffs illustrates how a fire can spread so quickly when buildings are built beside one another, and we must have all the equipment and manpower to defeat any fire like the last one at the Mansion House location; it’s just not the same risk to lives and property as a freestanding home.
Of course there are costs to the tourist trade as well as benefits, and lately the owners who stand to make the most profit from the trade are doing their best to spread those costs to the homeowners. It’s not just the room tax, but lately the same people are doing their best to increase the size of our wastewater system by millions of dollars to include many more homeowners in the system, in order to spread the costs to the homeowners in an effort to reduce their own costs.
Finding ways to spread the cost burden of business onto homeowners will not create an economic stimulus for the homeowners. We must be vigilant when politicians tell us that increasing taxes will improve our quality of life.
While our family has never rented out a room or our home, I can sympathize with those who feel that’s the best plan for their family, and I can’t agree that those families should be treated the same as innkeepers in the business zone. If the tax becomes law, I suppose there will be a few more bureaucrats hired to collect the tax and research homeowners to enforce the law, and those workers will need to be paid and receive pensions and so forth. It’s all a slippery slope.
Mark S. Alexander