Tisbury taxes are unfair to seasonal residents


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:

  1. 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.
  2. More invitations for the off-Island property owners to open meetings with town leaders and managers. 
  3. Eliminating the added tax and contents tax for off-Island residents. 
  4. Fairness for all off-Island property owners. 


Karen Patterson


  1. Seasonal properties contribute to the housing shortage which we islanders dump an insane amount of money into each year through our own taxes. We islanders who rent in the summer to afford our homes are now being squeezed by the short term rental tax. Quite frankly if you have a seasonal home, that you use maybe 2 months of the year, then you are kinda at the mercy of the islanders and we are all at the mercy of the market so to speak. Vicious circle really.

  2. In my town of Oak Bluffs they are talking about the exemption but to be “fair” as you state you want you’re not paying 18% more tax in Tisbury than Tisbury residents. Your math is off and you should seek someone from the assessors office to explain it to you. Your #1 point is against state law.

  3. “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.”
    Wow Trump coudn’t say it better

  4. Any seasonal homeowner who purchases in Tisbury should have their head examined. Why would you purchase in a town that treats you like a second class citizen. Come to Edgartown where you are treated as an equal and your tax contributions are welcome and appreciated. That’s why the tax rate here is much more favorable than towns that play that stupid game.

  5. As a year round resident, i always thought taxing seasonal residents at a higher rate is unfair. Seasonal residents do not utilize town services throughout much of the year, yet bear more of a tax burden to support those services. This has nothing to do with housing availability and everything to do with resentment of the fact that seasonal residents have the luxury of a second home. And last time I checked, this was still America, where they have the right to own a vacation home without being punished for it or guilt tripped.

    • Ms. Patterson and her family sound like hard-working people that would be an asset to our year-round community, and perhaps the Tisbury tax formula needs to be revisited. However, it’s not a given that properties owned by seasonal residents don’t utilize town services twelve months per year. Many seasonal residents that aren’t wealthy enough to leave their house unoccupied most of the year rent it out to help cover their expenses, and maybe make a little profit (and there’s nothing wrong with that). So if a young family with 3 elementary school age children on the Island Shuffle reside in Tisbury from September – June, isn’t that a substantial cost to the town?

  6. Thank you Notnewhere for your comment. My thoughts exactly! I wish We had bought in Edgartown. I am hoping the Tisbury town leaders will rethink their management and follow the examples set by Edgartown and all of the other towns on the island. It would be a wonderful change.

  7. Thank you Teehump for your comment. If we all work together as a community we could make Tisbury great again.

  8. Thank you Islanduh for you suggestion. I have certainly thought of that but would also like to see some changes made to support the 70% of off island property owners that pay into the town but have no voice in town decisions.

  9. Thank you BB, That percentage was given in the town meeting. My math may be off but the fact is we are paying much more for our taxes than year round residents. Ours have more than tripled in 15 years. I have also wondered if it is against state law.

  10. I agree WhaleOiilDriller, we are at the mercy of the market and the islanders, but was just hoping there would be a little more kindness and fairness here in Tisbury. Yes the short term rental tax is another annoying issue that has put a squeeze on all who rent their homes to offset their taxes. It seems like the state and island towns have found another way to get even more money from our island visitors. It’s all about the money and yes, it’s a vicious circle. Thank you for your post.

  11. Thank you Tennisstar36 for your support. You are right. Seasonal residents don’t use the school system or services offered on the island. They use much less gas, water and electricity and cause less of a waste removal problem with their limited time on the island. All good for conservation. Hopefully we are good neighbors to have. It would feel much better if we weren’t punished or made to feel guilty for owning a second home.

  12. Your second home means somebody who wants to live in Tisbury year-round is not given the chance, or at least contributes to the economic factors that make that possible. The is a finite amount of buildable land on MV, and your wasteful second home is on some of it.

    • You can’t be serious. I guess that attitude is why Tisbury is not a popular place for second home owners and the low property values with the highest tax rate are the result. Those second home owners gladly subsidize the year round population by paying property taxes for the schools they don’t use, and municipal services that they minimally use. Here’s a thought. Chase out the second home owners so you have more ‘year rounders’ with kids in school and your real estate taxes will increase exponentially. And don’t forget these second homeowners cheerfully pay astronomical prices for mediocre goods and services, which keeps the wheels of the economy here greased. If there were no second homeowners the economy here would grind to a screeching halt.

  13. I am speechless ascot wearer. This is exactly the attitude I am referring to among year round residents. Very sad.

  14. Nature Lover, wants lower taxes, oh my what’s new, the tax relief for home owners that live year round in a vacation area is a Massachusetts State Law which is to allow services workers such as police, ambulance, health care, teachers, house painters, house builders, landscape workers, cooks, wait staff well you get the idea, the people that do the majority of living and dying on the vineyard and call it home and make it what it is have a right according to the state of which I will spell out since it seems your not from here, Massachusetts, to pay a lower rate on their property taxes due to the inflated prices caused by the over active housing market found in vacation areas, I hope this helps you.

    • Thank you Teehump for your explanation. I am a care giver from Ct. and can certainly understand the need for tax relief for service workers and all those living on an expensive island. I just didn’t know it was a state law since no other town on the island does this. That was also not mentioned by the town leaders in the open meeting I attended. I was simply told that it has been done this was for years and the thought was those owning second homes could afford it. I hope you can understand my concern since it does make a difference in our property taxes here in Tisbury. As a property owner, I would just like to be treated fairly.

    • Do you feel the same way about people who are in this country illegally voting in this country…it’s a simple yes or no question

      • It’s been researched and found to occur with such infrequency to be disregarded. Even if you obsess about that sort of thing.

  15. TQ: You’d be smarter and more relevant to concern yourself with the number of white suprematists who buy assault rifles than with your obsessing about made-up garbage that white suprematists erroneously use as fact to justify their murderous rampages.

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