The West Tisbury select board decided to keep things as is for property taxpayers in town, rejecting either a split tax rate or a residential exemption.
During a tax hearing on Wednesday, the board was presented with a report from the board of assessors on the various scenarios for setting the tax rate for fiscal year 2022. Dawn Barnes, West Tisbury principal assessor, led the presentation for the public hearing.
According to Barnes, there were two tax rate options the town could pursue — a single rate or a split tax rate between residential and commercial properties. Because West Tisbury elected to keep a single tax rate for all property classes, it is estimated the rate will decrease from $6.10 to $5.82. Barnes said this is because of a 5.4 percent increase in property values and a 9.7 percent increase in total town value. That means a property valued at $1 million would see a decrease in taxes from $6,100 to $5,820. However, Barnes said this decrease would not be universal in town, and it depends on whether any physical changes occurred to a property to increase its value.
If a split rate was selected, it would be “effectively shifting a portion of the residential burden onto commercial properties,” according to Barnes. This rate allows the board to shift up to 150 percent of the commercial property burden, which at its maximum is estimated to result in a 15-cent decrease for residential property owners, and a $2.91 increase for commercial property.
Barnes also presented two possible exemptions — the residential and small commercial exemptions. The residential exemption would allow the board to exempt up to 35 percent of the residential tax rate for year-round residents, although the overall tax rate is estimated to increase up to $6.62 rather than the $5.82 in a single tax rate. The small commercial exemption would offer up to a 10 percent tax rate exemption for commercial property, but it is estimated to increase the overall commercial tax rate up to $5.87 rather than the $5.82 in a single tax rate. Barnes said only 10 of the 73 commercial and industrial parcels were eligible for this exemption.
“I have, for years, felt that a residential exemption voted by year-round taxpayers in town meeting was kind of like taxation without representation. At the same time, as the years have passed, there has been … an increase in properties at the higher end of the market that has created an increase in pressure at the lower end of the market to the point where there is virtually nothing in inventory that anybody with a reasonable income can afford. I am coming to the position that a residential exemption similar to what Tisbury does is not an unreasonable position to take,” West Tisbury finance committee member Doug Ruskin said. He emphasized these were his own, not the finance committee’s, positions. “In past years, there has not been a lot of discussion about it, and I think it warrants some real discussion.”
West Tisbury select board chair Skipper Manter and Barnes said there have been discussions and analyses about the residential exemption in the past.
“If you were to do a change in the residential exemption right now, we don’t have the staff to put that into motion for fiscal year 2022, and it will set your tax bills off … you need a little bit of a running start to get it set up, and you need to be able to do some research to know what that impact financially is going to be … Oak Bluffs has worked on theirs for the last two years before they got a vote on it this year,” Barnes said, citing spring or summer as the right time to look into the exemption to get the paperwork done in time.
“With all due respect, that meeting should have been held back in the spring or summer,” Ruskin replied. “This is exactly what we heard last year.”
The board unanimously approved adopting a single tax rate. Additionally, the board unanimously denied the residential and small commercial exemptions. Manter and select board member Cynthia Mitchell denied the residential exemption because they wanted to give all of the town’s residents the same rate, although they are open to discussion in the future. The small commercial exemptions were denied because it would discourage and, according to Barnes, “smother” current businesses.
In other business, members of the Coalition to Create a Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank (CCMVHB) came to the board to request bringing the warrant article for the housing bank to the West Tisbury town meeting in the spring of 2022. Mitchell suggested waiting until next week to ask questions about the warrant article, and making a vote next Wednesday.
“There are several things I’m not entirely in agreement with, but I know that counsel, and we obviously share town counsel with most of the other towns, is reviewing this at the request of the town of Edgartown. I believe they will be benefiting from his analysis Monday at their meeting,” Mitchell said. “I would feel much more comfortable pushing this off a week because we would have the benefit of his analysis.”
The board unanimously approved postponing the vote.
In a separate unanimous vote, the board authorized West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand to sign a settlement agreement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a company owned by the Johnson & Johnson corporation, on their behalf. According to Rand, this was a part of a multistate lawsuit against the company for its role in producing opioids. Rand said the agreement is not a part of the public record at this time, and could not share details for legal reasons, but the documents will most likely be released in the future.
The select board unanimously approved receiving a $5,000 gift from the West Tisbury Library Foundation for a food pantry and a fridge.