West Tisbury selectmen approve single tax rate for fiscal year 2017

The rate went down 1.5 percent from 2016.

West Tisbury Principal Assessor Dawn Barnes addresses the board of selectmen on Dec. 7.

Here’s a recap of the West Tisbury selectmen meeting from Wednesday, Dec. 7. The board:

  • Conducted a tax-rate-classification public hearing
  • Approved a single tax rate of $5.97 for fiscal year 2017
  • Approved beer and wine renewals for the Plane View and State Road restaurants
  • Accepted a donation of $28,000 from the Library Foundation to the West Tisbury Library
  • Discussed land disposition and the agreement for Scotts Grove affordable housing project. No decisions were made, will address again at next week’s selectmen meeting.
  • Discussed speed limit in “thickly settled” areas, which may be 30 miles per hour
  • Town accountant Bruce Stone is officially on the tri-town subcommittee to help work through the cost-sharing formula for The Chilmark School

The evening began with a tax-rate-classification public hearing for fiscal year 2017, which is required by state law. Selectmen voted to approve the single tax rate of $5.97, which is down from $6.06 the previous year. The decrease is due to a 3.8 percent increase in the levy.

Principal Assessor Dawn Barnes was on hand and addressed selectmen. “This means that for a property valued at $500,000,” said Principal Assessor Dawn Barnes, “the taxes will decrease from $3,030 to $2,985 for the fiscal year, a decrease of $45,” Ms. Barnes said.

In addition, for fiscal year 2017 the average value of a property is $1,330,607. This is up from fiscal year 2016 when the average property value was $959,607, an increase of 37 percent.

More than one tax rate?

Ms. Barnes and selectmen discussed options other than a single tax rate, such as an open space exemption (although West Tisbury does not presently put properties into an open space class), residential exemption (for year-round residents), and small commercial exemption (that only affects the tax rate for the commercial class).

Selectmen voted not to accept these other tax classification options.“We have many, many summer visitors — some of the families are on their third generation and are kids that I grew up with,” selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said. “I know that some of them struggle to maintain a second home on the Vineyard in this day and age, but they’ve done so for sentimental reasons and lots of other reasons, and they are just as much a part of our community as the people who live here year round.”

“I basically agree with Skipper,” selectman Cynthia Mitchell said. “The percentage of the budget that [the longtime summer residents] already support while not drawing much from the town is a significant fact, and my feeling — and from talking to people — is that most residents understand that and appreciate it, and have some level of peace with it. Until I’m convinced otherwise, which I’m totally willing to be, I think it works well for our community to keep up the single [tax] rate.”

Board chairman Richard Knabel agreed with his colleagues.“The last time I talked to Bruce [Stone, town accountant] about this, roughly 60 percent of our budget already comes from people who are not year-round residents. That’s a lot. That’s basically our school budget. From my point of view, before we shift more of a burden onto those people I think we’ve got to see some more numbers.”

Scotts Grove affordable housing

Selectmen discussed the land disposition for the Scotts Grove affordable housing project.

“Can you tell us how this land disposition agreement is different from the ground lease?” Mr. Knabel asked the executive director of the Island Housing Trust, Philippe Jordi, who was in attendance.

“The way that we worked this with the [Dukes County Regional] Housing Authority when we leased their property to do similar work was to enter into a ground lease with the housing authority,” Mr. Jordi said. “We didn’t have a land disposition agreement, so this is fairly new to us. Our understanding is that it’s similar to a purchase and sale agreement, where the town is not leasing the property until such time as everything is prepared and ready.”

There was a fair amount of confusion on the topic between selectmen and Mr. Jordi.

The vice chairman of the affordable housing committee, Michael Colaneri, thought that the consultant hired to do the request for proposals had made it “very clear” that a land disposition agreement is the first step prior to the ground lease.

“We have to understand how some of this is going to happen,” Mr. Knabel said.

“I would urge you to contact Ron [Rappaport’s] office and talk with the [town] counsel who drafted this,” Mr. Colaneri said.

Mr. Jordi noted that the Island Housing Trust has applied for a state grant that may yield between $450,000 and $900,000, but that they “will have to show an interest in the property in order to submit the final application the middle of February.”

The selectmen made no decisions. The topic will be on the agenda at next week’s selectmen meeting.