West Tisbury considers new Howes House funding formula 

The select board of the larger up-Island town wants to pay 60 percent of the renovation, rather than 75 percent. 

West Tisbury will approach Chilmark and Aquinnah with a new funding formula for Howes House renovations. — MV Times

West Tisbury will be approaching Aquinnah and Chilmark with a new cost-sharing model for the renovation of Howes House, which is home to the Up-Island Council on Aging.

The three up-Island towns tried to settle a formula to fund the estimated $10 million project, but various concerns prevented an agreement from being made, including a seeming lack of communication, and other capital project costs arising. 

During a previous meeting, a proposed split was 75 percent for West Tisbury, 20 percent for Chilmark, and 5 percent for Aquinnah. 

At a meeting on Wednesday, May 17, the West Tisbury Select Board proposed that West Tisbury would pay 60 percent, Chilmark 30 percent, and Aquinnah 10 percent. 

The new split was proposed by board member Jessica Miller, based on census data of the up-Island towns, particularly the population 60 years old and older. The ratios of older adults in West Tisbury and Chilmark are roughly even, at around 40 percent of the population. Aquinnah residents 60 and older made up 36 percent of the population. 

Miller said her proposal also considered the financial state of each town. 

“Aquinnah’s definitely in rougher shape. Their tax rate is the highest, their [tax base] is the lowest, their population is the smallest,” she said. “West Tisbury and Chilmark land pretty evenly. And Chilmark’s tax rate is significantly lower than West Tisbury’s.” 

Board member Cynthia Mitchell said West Tisbury should enter into negotiations with the other up-Island towns. However, Mitchell said she was also comfortable with West Tisbury taking on a higher percentage considering the town’s usage of the building. Miller said the 75 percent felt “a little high” for her, considering Howes House is primarily used by the Up-Island Council on Aging, which is a resource shared by the three towns’ residents. 

Board chair Skipper Manter said Chilmark and Aquinnah would be using more than just 25 percent of Howes House. “I think 60 percent is fair, [with] the other two towns sharing the other 40 percent,” he said. “That seems reasonable.”

West Tisbury resident Susan Silk pushed back on the idea that Howes House is for the Up-Island Council on Aging and primarily older adults, saying many other activities also take place there. 

“When you take a look at the rest of the building, whether it’s a meeting of the League of Women Voters or whether it’s the Democrats of Martha’s Vineyard, it is a community center,” she said, adding that the Council on Aging makes up only a “small fraction” of the building’s usage. 

West Tisbury town treasurer Katherine Logue said while Howes House is used for various purposes, those mainly take place “after hours.” “The main reason that building exists is to house the Council on Aging,” Logue said. 

She was also in favor of West Tisbury taking on 60 percent costs. 

While no vote was made, the board made a consensus to approach the other two towns with the proposed split. 

In other news, the board unanimously approved signing the warrant for the special town meeting to be held on June 13. One of the warrant articles will be to ask voters to make a decision on whether to approve the high school budget. 

The board also voted to sign an intermunicipal agreement for the repairs of Chilmark School’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.