To Shore Up The Tax Base, Don't Look At The Land Bank. Enforce The Residential Exemption

Charity Benz •

To the editor,

As land-hungry developers circle the island like vultures, the Land Bank has become a target. Some are alleging that it is harming our tax base. I say, if Nantucket wants to shore up its tax base, it should look first to fix its own enforcement practices rather than blame the Land Bank.

Problem one: lax oversight of the residential exemption. According to Rob Ranney, Town Assessor, the Residential Exemption is an option voted on every year by the Select Board. Property owners who apply for it must meet strict eligibility requirements, including owning the property and living in it at least 183 days of the prior year. Furthermore, not all property types may qualify. A property held in a life estate and some (but not all) types of trusts may qualify, but properties held in LLC ownership will not.

Most importantly, even as people’s life circumstances and use of their properties change, Nantucket never requires them to re-certify their Residential Exemption. Compare this to the Steamship Authority, which requires requalification for year-round residents for the excursion program. Today, more than 2200 property owners currently receive the residential tax exemption and will continue to receive it in perpetuity, no questions asked. I think it’s time for our Select Board and Mr. Ranney take a hard look at regular recertification of the Residential Exemption.

As a matter of fundamental fairness, taxpayers need to be assured that the community’s tax burden is squarely where it belongs and not being abused by property owners who are no longer entitled to participate in this program. Many of us likely know people, as I do, who receive the residential exemption, don’t live here anymore, visit to vote, and lucratively rent out their homes during the year. The result is that property owners legitimately entitled to the residential tax exemption wind up subsidizing those who are not.

Interestingly, at Saturday’s Meet the Candidates session, all four of the candidates unequivocally concurred that regular recertification of entitlement to the residential exemption every two to three years should be initiated. After the first two candidates thought that it was a “great” idea, the third stated “You know people have had it (residential exemption) for 25 years, and they may be living in Florida and renting their home out and still getting the residential exemption. So, I think that’s a good idea.” The final candidate said: “Agreed. All these sorts of programs need to be managed.”

The Land Bank is not the problem. In fact, it remains the only buffer we have against relentless real estate exploitation. Nevertheless, it has become the pinata every group wants to whack whenever someone feels aggrieved. There are other areas that fall under town administration that need much closer management and possible reform. The residential tax exemption is a good place to start.

But, perhaps this one example begs the question. Is it finally time to acknowledge that Nantucket needs new administrators and decision makers with the skills required to manage the Town’s $100 to $200 million budget, ones who will plan for, rather than constantly react to, the increasing number of challenges pummeling this island and its residents?

Charity Benz

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