Oak Bluffs selectmen on Tuesday firmly said no to a proposal from the town assessors to establish a split tax rate giving year-round residents a break on their property tax bills and shifting more of the burden onto seasonal property owners.
Jack Law, chairman of the board of assessors, said creating a split tax rate would give the typical year-round property owner a $790 break on their tax bill based on an average assessed valuation of $606,000. Mr. Law said the board voted to recommend separate tax classifications at their regular meeting on Monday.
“It wasn’t an easy thing to decide to do,” Mr. Law said. “But we feel the voters of Oak Bluffs needed a tax break . . . if it gives somebody even a slight break on their tax bill then it would mean a lot.”
But selectmen strongly opposed the proposal, both because it had not been vetted with seasonal residents and for the potential divide that it would cause.
“I think it will create class warfare,” selectman and board chairman Ron DiOrio said. “The nonresidents of this town bring in a lot of revenue while drawing very little of our town services. I think it’s blatantly unfair to push the burden onto them.”
Principal assessor Dianne Wilson said the split tax rate would not change the town tax levy, and she noted that the state allows towns to split their tax rates.
The only town on the Vineyard that splits its tax rate is Tisbury, which currently provides an 18 per cent discount for year-round residents, according to Ms. Wilson. The Oak Bluffs assessors were recommending a 20 per cent discount, the maximum allowed by state law.
Selectmen said they felt more time was needed for pubic discussion.
“I think the board of assessors’ heart is in the right place. But I think it’s awfully quick. I think we should take a year to study this. And [start a discussion] that involves the summer residents,” selectman Duncan Ross said.
Selectman Kerry Scott agreed.
“This has all the makings of a public relations disaster. Timing is everything, and I am very worried about starting a discussion when the summer residents are already gone,” she said.
The selectmen voted unanimously to reject the assessors’ recommendation and establish a single classification for all town taxpayers.