The Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank board voted unanimously to accept a draft regional spending policy at a meeting Monday afternoon. Commission President Pamela Goff said the draft policy will not come into effect until at least a second reading of the draft policy has been completed. Land Bank Chief Executive James Lengyel said the second reading will take place after the Lower Island Towns Advisory Councils have had a chance to review the draft policy and give their feedback. thoughts.
The draft policy is a means of making a more structured allocation of funds for regional land acquisition efforts rather than having an “episodic” fundraising process.
Land Bank chief executive James Lengyel said the draft policy reflected the “reality” of the island. The “lagoon towns”, which are Oak Bluffs and Tisbury, do not have the ability to generate “sufficient revenue to meet this demand”. This lack of opportunity is not present in the “south beach towns”, which are primarily the upper towns of the island, and Edgartown, which falls somewhat in between the two categories.
According to Land Bank transfer fee regulations, the organization raises funds primarily through a 2% transfer fee on real estate transactions on Martha’s Vineyard. This income is then split in half and allocated to the central fund of the Land Bank and the fund of the city where the transaction took place, according to the draft policy. This also means that each city has different purchasing power levels.
“[Seeing] this disparity between where revenue is collected and where revenue may be very needed, perhaps it is time to ask the city’s advisory boards to consider a policy in which two things will happen,” said Lengyel to the commission.
The first is that towns on the bottom of the island will “systematically pay for 100% of land acquisitions” from their own municipal funds. The current land acquisition model provides for payments to be separated from the towns’ funds and the Land Bank’s central fund. The second is that when the commission reviews properties in the south beach towns, it can approach the lagoon towns “if they wish to participate in the rounds of regionalism”.
Lengyel suggested sending the draft policy to Oak Bluffs and Tisbury to get their input on the proposal.
The commissioners discussed the draft policy amongst themselves.
“Our story is that Edgartown has been very generous in supporting regional projects,” Goff said.
Edgartown Commissioner Steven Ewing asked if any properties had not been purchased because of the policy. Lengyel said no, and Oak Bluffs and Tisbury may be the ones the commission is approaching because they don’t have a lot of land to buy for the amount of money they have.
“When the Land Bank needs to buy a property because it is suitable and it is right, never in the past, and I believe never in the past, has the Land Bank given up on it because it there is a municipal fund problem. We would just find a way to fund it using all the different city funds,” Lengyel said. “It’s not going to squeeze cities in the future, it’s just going to talk about how to allocate spending.”
Lengyel added that since Oak Bluffs and Tisbury will be regularly approached for funding, the commission should be open about what is planned.
“I think this should be a public statement. I think voters need to know that, they need to comment on it, they need to recognize that this is where the Land Bank is, they need to recognize that there has been so much accomplished in Oak Bluffs and TIsbury that we are to a point where we may consider moving some of the money elsewhere,” Lengyel said. “It’s a statement the citizens of the island would want to know.”
“Who would oppose it? asked Ewing.
“If someone were to misinterpret it and say that now means, in the lagoon cities, they are going to be forced or coerced to send their money to other cities and therefore limit what they can do in their own town, then someone might say that’s unfair,” Lengyel replied, “But that would be a total misinterpretation of what it is because all of this means that if you commissioners find a property in a southern beach town that could benefit from lagoon funding, you would ask the Oak Bluffs and/or Tisbury board, and the Oak Bluffs and/or Tisbury board might say “no” So it does nothing more than publicly state that it’s something you plan to do. It doesn’t oblige anyone to do anything.
West Tisbury Commissioner Peter Wells said in the vote that the Land Bank would have “stopped buying land years ago” without regionalisation.
During the public comment period, Oak Bluffs Land Bank Advisory Board Member Phil Cordella asked for more information when the draft policy was sent to cities, such as how much land could be acquired in Oak Bluffs. Cordella also advocated for a more proactive public notification system, such as sending emails.
The Times has received a copy of the draft policy, which can be viewed on the MV Times website at https://bit.ly/3P7nnoH.
In other cases, Land Bank is working on an updated version of its website with web developer Ecopixel.
The commission voted unanimously to accept a donation of $325,000 from the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation Land Care Fund.
For the fiscal year 2022 budget, there were overruns that totaled $21,379.93. These were from administrative and employee benefits ($3,225.15), administration utilities ($232.74), and land management insurance ($17,922.04). According to Lengyel, the large overspending in land management insurance was due to the fact that “the Land Bank purchased very many properties in the last financial year”. This reflects the higher number of properties that need to be insured. The Land Bank has a reserve of $50,000 to cover surpluses. The committee unanimously approved the transfer of $21,379.93 to balance the budget.