Why Chilmark Pays Less

We’ve all heard the complaints – some Island towns are saddled with higher property taxes, while others are among the lowest in the state. The residential tax rate in Chilmark is a mere $2.48 per thousand dollars of property value, for instance, while over in Tisbury it’s more than three times as much at $8.39. Pop into any Vineyard cocktail party and you’ll hear plenty of theories. Chilmark offers fewer municipal services than other towns, some will say. Others claim it pays less than its fair share for education. Wallet-weary Oak Bluffs residents say they are unfairly saddled with tax-free land and Islandwide services. The vagaries and variations are endless.

We won’t kick that hornet’s nest, at least not this month, other than to note that each town’s tax rate is derived through a straightforward calculation. The portion of the annual budget to be funded by real estate taxes – which is to say the vast majority of the budget – is divided by the total value of assessed property in that town to produce a tax rate. You pay the assessed value of your individual property multiplied by the resulting tax rate per thousand.

The simplest explanation for the disparity between rates, therefore, is that the more valuable a town’s real estate is compared with the size of its budget, the less the tax rate per $1,000 of property value will be. It’s no coincidence that last year Chilmark’s average single-family-home values were the highest in the state while its tax rate was the lowest in the state.

If it’s any consolation, with land values in every Island town soaring compared with the rest of the state, all the rates on the Island are relatively low. Out of 351 towns and cities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Vineyard towns all rank among the thirty lowest in terms of residential property tax rates.
That’s little comfort, we know, if the place you just inherited from grandma in West Chop is worth $5 million and your annual taxes are $41,950, while your friend in a similar situation in Chilmark is only paying $12,400 for her place of the same value. If you are in a position to buy one of those places, well, don’t say we didn’t tell you.