Editor, Vineyard Gazette:
There is definitely a feel-good quality to your story and editorial on Oct. 4 about Aquinnah’s efforts to save its iconic lighthouse with assistance of Community Preservation Act money contributed by all the Island towns under a new provision in state law allowing for regional CPA projects. Just think — the five big towns pitching in to help the smallest town battle the ravages of Mother Nature, everybody working together to preserve a treasure we all love. Martha’s Vineyard at its best!
But as I read the article carefully and thought about its implications I wondered, as your editorial prodded me to do. I wondered about our crumbling roads in Oak Bluffs, near our East Chop Lighthouse. I wondered about the statement in the article that CPA’s local three per cent surcharge was matched with a state contribution — something I had heard was no longer true. I wondered about the equity.
One of the feel-good aspects of the story was that all the towns would contribute 18 per cent of their CPA funds. What could be fairer than that? But then I wondered, why was the contribution from Chilmark only $51,800 while Oak Bluffs would pay $107, 435? Doesn’t Chilmark have a higher total property valuation?
The reason for the discrepancy has to do with the size of the town budgets. Oak Bluffs, with more kids in school, more police on its force and more people on its payroll, has a much bigger budget than Chilmark. The CPA funds are a function of the size of each town’s basic budget. Because we already have a larger tax burden in Oak Bluffs to support that annual budget our, CPA funds are greater and the 18 per cent contribution we are being asked to make—– to help save Aquinnah’s lighthouse — is therefore greater.
But shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the town with a lighter tax burden and greater resources be contributing more to a regional effort?
We do need to help each other out. We need to work together to preserve the beauty, the history, the sense of community on our lovely Island. But this proposal from Aquinnah needs more thought.
I did a rough calculation, asking how much a person living in a million-dollar house in Oak Bluffs and a person in a million-dollar house in Chilmark would each contribute. The person in Chilmark would pay an additional $11.13. The Oak Bluffs person would pay $37.47 more. I don’t think anyone, even in Chilmark, would think that such a formula would help us all to work together on Community Preservation. We need more than feel good. We need deep-down fair.