Fiercely independent, financially inefficient and charmingly parochial, the six towns on the Vineyard have a long history of shunning regional enterprises. The regional high school took years to win approval and even longer to win acceptance, especially in Tisbury where bitterness lingered for years at the very idea of paying to educate children who lived outside town boundaries.
Memories fade and thankfully times change. And there is cause to cheer a quietly trailblazing spirit of regional cooperation among Island towns over the use of funds collected under the Community Preservation Act.
The CPA, as it is known, is a state law that allows communities to place a small surcharge on property tax bills every year. Towns that accept the provisions of the law (done through a vote at town meeting) receive matching funds from the state, boosting the funds even more. As spelled out by state statute, CPA money can be used to buy open space, promote historic preservation and assist with affordable housing needs.
All the Vineyard towns participate in the program, which has raised millions of dollars in the past decade for various projects. Each town has a community preservation committee that is charged with reviewing requests and making recommendations for how to use the funds. Traditionally the money has been spent on individual town projects.
But a more recent trend to use CPA funds for regional projects on the Island, thanks to an amendment to the state legislation two years ago to encourage such projects, appears to be gaining traction. This year, Island towns will collectively contribute CPA monies to the Gay Head Light restoration and relocation project in Aquinnah and the Penn Field ball park for Little League in Oak Bluffs, among others.
State officials who administer the Community Preservation Act say the Island is something of a trendsetter in taking advantage of the relatively new provision in the law, a surprising fact considering the Vineyard’s deep antipathy toward regionalism.
Local autonomy still runs thick in Island blood, but it’s good to see Vineyarders pull together for purposes that so clearly benefit us all.