Vineyard town administrators, select board members, and other officials learned Wednesday night at their fourth roundtable that PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) payments weren’t an option to offset the revenue loss Oak Bluffs has for hosting a high school campus that pays no property taxes.
The meeting, like those before it, was meant to help arrive at a funding formula for a replacement or renovation of the Island’s regional high school. A longtime sticking point in striking an accord has been Oak Bluffs’ reluctance to make a deal without compensation for the costs associated with hosting the high school. Originally the all-Island working group thought the high school could make so-called “PILOT program” payments to Oak Bluffs to offset its tax revenue loss. However, West Tisbury select board member Cynthia Mitchell, who chairs the working group, said recent legal advice put the kibosh on that idea, noting it would require state approval, and isn’t likely to get it. Specifically, Mitchell said, the “municipal burden” Oak Bluffs faces through the high school cannot be alleviated by PILOT payments because legal advice has revealed it’s unprecedented in Massachusetts for a public school to make PILOT payments.
“It’s more private school, nonprofits,” Mitchell said. “But that wasn’t clear to us when we kind of did the early research, that it’s just not done. Which isn’t to say some substitute for it can’t be figured out.”
Mitchell put forward the idea of a $100,000-per-year payment to Oak Bluffs that would be made through the budgetary process, instead of by the school through a PILOT program. The group seemed favorably disposed to the idea, though no decisions were made on the subject or for other aspects of the funding formula. Some ideas put forth by Oak Bluffs town administrator Deborah Potter, who is also the town’s accountant, were well-received by the group. Oak Bluffs select board chair Brian Packish both expressed a desire to arrive at a solution and stressed a reality that he faces — that he has a finance committee quick to reject fiscal proposals it finds unpalatable.
The towns are seeking a funding formula to apply for state funding through the Massachusetts School Building Authority.