Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The Tisbury lawsuit about the assessment formulas for the high school is just one more attempt to deal with a difficult situation, when the situation itself is based on an antiquated system of paying for the school.

The high school was established through a regional agreement among the six towns of the Island 50 years ago. In retrospect, it seems like a reasonable way to have cooperated toward achieving a valued goal.

Over time, flaws in the assessment formula have become apparent, but it isn’t clear how to repair the regional agreement. I have been participating in the high school assessment committee meetings for several months. It has been a frustrating experience for us all.

During that time, I have argued that because the high school serves the entire Island and because it is funded entirely by property taxes, we should all be paying for it at the same tax rate. We don’t. Property owners in Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury pay for the high school at more than twice the rate of property owners in Edgartown, and eight times the rate of property owners in Chilmark. This is fundamentally unfair.

The current lawsuit by Tisbury officials appears to be addressing differences between Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, which are relatively small when you look at the tax rates for property owners in all six towns. I wish them well, but I don’t yearn for a return to the terms of the regional agreement.

I also don’t know how to make the regional agreement more equitable. Any change requires approval of the voters in each of the six towns, so voters in any one town can prevent an alteration in the agreement. When a representative from Chilmark says that anything which increases his taxes is a deal-breaker, then he has already precluded a deal. When the officials from Edgartown refuse even to participate in talks about the school assessment formulas, people from other towns become discouraged about the possibility of change.

The flaw in the state formula is the same as the flaw in the regional agreement: it treats regional education as a town problem and not as a regional one. One number, the cost of the school, must be divided six ways, and the less one group of taxpayers pays, the more others must contribute. Both formulas lead us to focus on our differences. Both lead to frustration, anger and accusations. We need to find a way to define the problem as the same for us all, and when we do, the answer will come easily.

Thad Harshbarger

Oak Bluffs

Thad Harshbarger is chairman of the Oak Bluffs finance committee.


Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

I am writing this letter to my airport neighbors. It is 3:05 a.m. Monday and I have been awakened by the airport strobe lights yet again. They flash every half second to identify the end of runway 6 on the southwest side of the airport. For more than 50 years I have lived about two miles southwest of the airport. I have moved my bedroom to the south side of my house, the opposite direction of the lights, but still, even with my eyes closed, the flickering strobes come through. In the past airport officials have told me that each strobe flashes with the power of a million candles. Clear nights are not so bad when the lights are flashing unless I’m trying to do astronomy photography. The worst is in the dark of the moon with low overcast and especially if there is snow on the ground.

When the two strobe lights were first installed on the southwest side of the airport a couple of decades ago, they were on all night. With the help of neighbors, in what turned out to be quite a battle, we finally got the lights changed to radio control by the pilot. At one point, I got the attention of the airport by calling Otis control at 2 a.m. to tell them their strobe lights were covered with cans. I gave them my number in case they wanted the cans off for somebody flying in at that time of night. I never really put the cans on the strobes, but it would certainly have been a next step. Strobe lights, along with loud noises and sleep deprivation, are recommended by the CIA to “soften up” prisoners for interrogation.

I am a pilot and I certainly appreciate navigational aides when I need them. But in these days of carbon footprints, I see no need to have the lights on most of the night, unless we think there is a chance that Amelia Earhart might break through the overcast for a landing.

So, airport neighbors, do people want strobes flashing at two million candlepower every half second throughout the night? And what about the wildlife?

Mal Jones

West Tisbury


Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Today I got my propane bill, almost had a stroke, along with it came statement for a minimum usage fee. Which means if you do not use the minimum amount of fuel for your tank for the year you have to pay a fee. They call it a fee, I call it a penalty. So if you conserve on your propane by turning down your thermostat you will not burn as much propane in the year, thus you will not meet the minimum usage. In short, if you use propane it doesn’t pay to conserve. They are going to get their money one way or the other. So once again the consumer is screwed. So you might as well turn up the thermostat and stay warm. Because the Island propane companies do not care about conservation — they are going to get all the greenback, as I said before — one way or the other.

Daniel Catino



Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

On behalf of the people of Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven and the many people who had no other family or friends with which to share dinner on Christmas Day, I want to express a heartfelt thank you for the generous donation of food and services by the people of this community.

Particular thanks go to Eileen Blake for her incredible pies, Jim of Cumberland Farms, John at Cash & Carry, Sarah over at Cronig’s Market, Martha at The Black Dog who is always generous with this community, Jim at Stop & Shop, Adam with Island Food Products, Jim at Morning Glory Farm, our dear friend Mary Beth and the gifted people at Chilmark Chocolates, Jim at Big Sky Party Rentals, and Fella Catering. In addition, our thanks go to Dan Harnen and Ted Collins who are the prime shakers and movers who see that this celebration happens faithfully every year.

This year, 2008, marks my 25th year of ordained ministry. While I have served in many larger places in the past, this community has by far and away the greatest heart of anywhere that we have been. Your generosity humbles me and makes us proud to be a part of this, our Island home.

Rev. Robert Hensley

Vineyard Haven


Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Upon returning from Michigan where my wife and I spent part of the holidays, we received our mail only to find the Dec. 21 Gazette with the enchanting image of Alley’s General Store in winter on the cover page. It certainly sets quite a scene and captures the Island beautifully as the cold weather sets in. I didn’t have to check the photographer to know that it was a Simon.

Peter always seems to capture the true flavor of the Island throughout the year. I have several of his photographs hanging both in my Montclair and Aquinnah homes, and frequently get very favorable comments from friends unfamiliar with his work. In fact, a number have acquired his bucolic scenes such as his famous Aquinnah wisteria image.

The Alley’s photograph was reminiscent of his body of work over the years and makes me want to get back on Island even before the calmer weather sets in.

Keep on truckin’, Peter, and I hope this informal letter helps underscore how much you are appreciated by those like me that have never had the opportunity to tell youso in person.

Mark J. Friedman

Upper Montclair, N.J.,

and Aquinnah