A rising tide lifts all ships

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Pathway with Bittersweet. — Ruth Kirchmeier

Ah, the year 2050. We’ve come a long way from 2020. Remember Trump? 

When I look out over the balcony of my rent-controlled Vineyard Haven apartment, looking at a completely redesigned and rebuilt Beach Road, my happiest memories come from the long, arduous, but enlightening journey the Island took to dissolve the superfluous and divided six towns and form a new regional government.

It seems almost comical looking back on the six police departments, six fire departments, six town administrators, six separate tax bases, six select boards (for a combined 20 selectmen), six town clerks, six assessors, six parks departments, six building departments, six annual town meetings, five K-8 schools, five harbormasters, four councils on aging, and numerous others.

Yet combined, these towns were home to 17,000 year-round residents — less than the town of Falmouth, which has its own distinct villages.

Dissolving the towns and their select boards allowed for an elected nine-member town council: one seat for a member from each of the six villages, one for a Wampanoag Tribal member, and two at-large seats. An Island administrator position was created to run the day-to-day operations. One police chief and one fire chief were given outposts around the Island to make sure the public was safe and served. The Land Bank was melded into the new Island order to manage the Vineyard’s outdoors and keep them pristine and accessible. 

On paper the government became drastically different, but former borders making up each town were left as is, and towns became villages, keeping their unique characters, but supported by the same government. If one village was hurting, all others came to its aid.

With the help of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, up-Island maintained its rural feel while down-Island maintained a healthy level of development and kept its working waterfront in Tisbury, the gingerbread houses in Oak Bluffs, and the historic white painted homes in downtown Edgartown.

Jackie O’s property was taken off the market and given to the Wampanoag Tribe, who finally built their Class II gaming facility, which provided the tribe with a revenue stream and never caused any of the issues many thought it would. In fact, after the Island became one town, with a permanent tribal member on the town council, the new municipality was able to form a productive relationship with the tribe, and provide it the services it needed for its gaming facility.

The ghost of the Housing Bank was laid to rest after the new town of Martha’s Vineyard turned its six affordable housing committees into one Island Housing Bank that worked with the unified government, Land Bank, MVC, and the public to create affordable housing to maintain the working middle class that was so close to becoming extinct.

As one town, the Island was able to focus on tackling climate change by applying for, and receiving, federal and state grants to address coastal resilience. How odd that towns used to do this separately, as if they weren’t all part of the same piece of land floating in the Atlantic.

All this unifying of departments, committees, and schools saved money for the government and the taxpayers. With a giant surplus, the Island was able to solve the funding issues that plagued the high school. Several teachers were hired at the high school and a bevy of classes were added, like Mandarin Chinese, and Art of the Graphic Novel; job co-ops give students real-world experience to stick on their résumés before they graduate.

With extra funds, the Island was also able to hire a team of scientists and wastewater engineers to design one of the most high-tech wastewater treatment centers, which was able to not only clean the water, but purify it. 

There was so much money the Island eventually bought the Steamship Authority, significantly lowering rates for Islanders and bringing in a whole new revenue stream for the Island. This of course lowered tax rates for Vineyard homeowners.

It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies though: Climate change has taken its toll on the Island. Rising sea levels hurt our infrastructure along the water in almost every village. While the Island has been a shepherd of renewable energy, parts of Five Corners in Vineyard Haven, East Chop in Oak Bluffs, the roads to the hospital, were too far gone and had to be rebuilt, rerouted, or were permanently lost. 

A rising tide lifts all ships. As an Island, we banded together and created a whole greater than the sum of its parts: a better economy, a better government, and a better way of life for Islanders and those who visit.