Ferry Tax Proposal for Vineyard School Funds Running Aground

OAK BLUFFS – Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School will soon need major renovations and a unique proposal is being presented to cover costs.

West Tisbury Finance Committee member and conservation agent and zoning board assistant in Chilmark Chuck Hodgkinson has been visiting selectmen in towns on the island to discuss his proposal of adding a toll to steamship authority passengers to the island from Woods Hole.

The proposal would see a vehicle tax gradually decreasing from $5 to zero over almost two decades, with a passenger tax of $1.50 reducing to $1.25 in the final few years.

Oak Bluffs selectman Michael Santoro said the plan, which would raise $113 million over 25 years through the tolls, is very aggressive.

“We’d like to see more money from the Steamship to go towards infrastructure,” Santoro said. “We have infrastructure issues that we think need to be attended to also and that doesn’t even take into account what the Steamship is going to increase over the years to pay for their projects coming up too.”

Estimates of much needed repairs to the high school range between $55 million and over $90 million. The school district has applied to the grant program through the Massachusetts School Building Authority to pay for up to 30 or 40 percent of the costs. The Authority has yet to accept the school into the grant program.

Gail Barmakian, an Oak Bluffs Selectman, said the increase is a tax which would not be approved by the legislature.

“It’s not that I don’t support a cause to find a creative way, but why put energy in something that could be a loser because by doing that it may be taking focus or energy on another more feasible solution, a more likely solution or a more likely alternative,” Barmakian said. “That’s my fear.”

Richie Smith, the assistant school superintendent, said every book has an antagonist to move the story along and that Hodgkinson is a “fiscal antagonist” to get the conversation going.

“What this is is a concept. That’s simply all it is,” Smith said. “The attraction that we have as a school system is it’s a collaborative process.

As far as the proposal, Smith said that Hodgkinson’s action’s could collect the ideas and thoughts of selectmen across the island to push forward a plan that everyone has a unified stake in.

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