To the Editor:
As an off-Island property owner in Tisbury, I would like to thank the town of Tisbury for inviting us to their open meeting with town leaders and managers, held on July 17 in Vineyard Haven. It was the first invitation to any town meeting that I have received since becoming a property owner on the Island 17 years ago. It was good to be recognized and have an opportunity to voice our concerns, and learn about issues within the town and future plans and projects for the town. It was good to meet the many Island residents who work for the town in the various departments and hear the concerns of others who attended. It was, however, disturbing to hear that property taxes would certainly increase when the various expensive planned projects are implemented.
Our concerns in Tisbury are focused on the increasing property taxes. Our taxes have tripled over the past 15 years, while nothing has been added to our property since it was built and assessed in 2002-2004. My questions for the town leaders were intended to help me better understand why off-Island property owners are required to pay 18 percent more for their taxes than year-round residents, and are also required to pay an additional contents tax, while Island residents are offered an exemption. Both exemptions help to decrease the tax burden for year-round residents, but increase the burden for off-Island property owners. While taxes in Tisbury are higher than in any other town on the Island, they are even higher for us and all off-Island residents in Tisbury with the extra 18 percent and contents tax added. I question the fairness of this decision by the town of Tisbury. The fact that it has been assessed this way for many years does not make it right or fair. Approximately 70 percent of Tisbury property owners live off-Island, and have no voting rights in town meetings. Decisions affecting property taxes are being made by the remaining 30 percent of year-round property owners (about 280 members, according to the 2018 town report). It is easy to understand why Tisbury residents would vote themselves a tax break each year, but they are doing this at the expense of the larger group of property owners that are not even allowed the right to vote. The rationale given for the tax difference was the thought that off-Island property owners can afford to pay more because their Island homes are their second residences. That generalization assumes that the 70 percent of off-Island property owners are wealthy and should be required to pay more to ease the burden on year-round residents. We are not wealthy. We worked until retirement in moderate-income careers (nursing and telephone repair) and we worked very long and hard to build our home in Tisbury, hoping one day to live on Island and be a valued part of the community.
Sadly, I am beginning to see that Tisbury residents view off-Island property owners not as friends and neighbors, but only as a source of additional funds to relieve their own tax burden. I understand the need. The money has to come from somewhere. Taxes are difficult for all of us to pay, but it is so unfair and unkind to require your off-Island neighbors to pay an unequal portion of the burden because you think they can afford it. No other town on the Island does this.
We love Tisbury and the Vineyard, and have vacationed on-Island every summer for over 50 years. It was our dream to build a home in Tisbury and enjoy our Island home with our children, grandchildren, and friends in our retirement. We are thankful that the Tisbury leaders have made an attempt to open a discussion with off-Island property owners. I hope they will continue to find ways to include them in the future. I am sure they would all like to be heard, valued and treated fairly.
For the future of Tisbury I would like to see:
- Voting rights, for all property owners in Tisbury, especially for town issues and decisions that will impact property taxes. Also to provide for absentee ballots for those who can’t attend meetings. These decisions should include all taxpayers.
- More invitations for the off-Island property owners to open meetings with town leaders and managers.
- Eliminating the added tax and contents tax for off-Island residents.
- Fairness for all off-Island property owners.