Tisbury, Oak Bluffs will examine shared services

Tisbury, Oak Bluffs will examine shared services

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Meeting jointly, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs Tuesday agreed to appoint a committee to study ways to save tax dollars by combining services in the two towns. The vote followed a 45-minute meeting between the two boards in executive session.

Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton said the decision to close the meeting to the public was because it included a discussion of collective bargaining strategy. The two boards emerged from executive session for a short joint public meeting to discuss formation of the new committee.

“We want to get the committee appointed by the end of June, and have it get back to us by the fall,” Duncan Ross, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, said.

Selectmen generally agreed the first areas to explore were the position of animal control officer, and issues of water quality and shellfishing in Lagoon Pond, a body of water the two towns share.

Tisbury recently appointed the former Oak Bluffs assistant shellfish constable to the position of shellfish constable. Oak Bluffs, reeling under budget pressures, decided not to fill the position.

Oak Bluffs budgeted $146,899 for the shellfish department in the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Tisbury budgeted $110,576.

“We have some opportunities that are overt,” said Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectman.

Currently, Oak Bluffs is without a full time animal control officer (ACO). The previous officer left the position, and budget restraints have left the position unfilled. For now, the town relies on the police department to handle most animal control calls related to public safety.

Oak Bluffs budgeted $41,138 for animal control in the fiscal year 2010, the last year the town had a full time ACO. Tisbury budgeted $71,360 for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“We agree the priority would be the lagoon and the animal control issues,” Mr. Israel said.

Selectmen on both boards made it clear they want to explore other areas of regionalization, though there is some disagreement on the scope of the committee.

“I think we’re biting off more than we can chew,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “I’m apprehensive about regionalization, but very open-minded about it. Take smaller steps.”

“We should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves in the next six months to a year,” selectman Ron D’Orio of Oak Bluffs said.

Another department mentioned for study of regionalization is the police department. It would not be the first time the topic was explored.

In 2006, Tisbury was looking for a new police chief and selectmen discussed the notion of sharing a police chief, but the idea died on the vine.

The new committee will consist of three people from each town, but the make-up of the body has not been determined. Tisbury could only appoint one of its selectmen, because if two were named, it would constitute a quorum and therefore a meeting of selectmen. The two boards must decide whether to appoint elected officials, representatives of constituencies like shellfishermen, town employees, or law enforcement.

“I think this is a great idea,” said Oak Bluffs selectman Greg Coogan. “I think we have to think seriously about who we put on the committee. We have to have people who can look at a new landscape.”

Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal said a recently released report on regionalization commissioned by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and Dukes County is a good place to begin studying how the two towns can combine services to save money.

Entitled “Analysis of the Delivery of Public Services on Martha’s Vineyard,” the report was compiled by researchers from the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies of the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

In the interest of efficiency and economy, the researchers suggest attention should be paid to the possible “inter-municipal or regional” organization of financial, inspection, public safety, and elementary education services.

“Priority should first be given to the financial functions,” the researchers suggest, “especially Assessing, given preliminary criteria ranking and interest expressed by municipal officials. Inspectional function review will need to examine, among other factors, the level of service necessary. This is due to the relative part-time nature of the secondary inspectors (electric, plumbing, and gas) and some of the primary building inspectors and health agents. The Public Safety and Elementary Education functions should be elevated to a more thorough, comprehensive, and accountability-based discussion Islandwide using the factors.

“The Collins Center recommends the towns further study the feasibility of expanded and more formal inter-municipal cooperation for these services…. This recommended review should further consider the changing nature of municipal funding for each of these services and project alternative financing options to continue certain services in their present or alternative forms. A feasibility study should further consider governance, allocation of costs, and accountability of staff.”