Tisbury animal control officer balks at Oak Bluffs shared service

Selectmen said the Tisbury dog pound has rooms to spare. — File photo by Steve Myrick

The Tisbury selectmen Tuesday considered a shared arrangement with Oak Bluffs for animal control services. The idea raised the hackles of Tisbury’s full-time animal control officer (ACO) Laurie Clements, who protested that it would substantially cut her overtime pay.

Town administrator John Bugbee said Oak Bluffs is “in a desperate situation” without an ACO, based on a lengthy discussion he recently had with Oak Bluffs interim town administrator Robert Whritenour.

Since Tisbury has a line item in its animal control department budget for $14,000 for an unfilled part-time assistant ACO job, Mr. Bugbee said Oak Bluffs would like to match that amount to hire a part-time assistant that would serve both towns. Oak Bluffs would also pay operating costs to run the Tisbury shelter, which Mr. Bugbee estimated at $800 to $900 a year.

The part-time assistant, in theory, would work nine hours in each town. However, Mr. Bugbee said since Tisbury has a full-time ACO, the part-time assistant might end up working more hours in Oak Bluffs. To compensate for that, the assistant’s hours would be documented and Oak Bluffs would compensate Tisbury for any imbalance at the end of the fiscal year, he explained.

Mr. Bugbee said it would be helpful for Tisbury to have a part-time assistant for nine hours, to cover for ACO Laurie Clements when she has days off or for emergencies at times when she is unavailable.

Ms. Clements objected to hiring a part-time assistant for $14,000, because she receives about $10,000 of that money in overtime pay annually.

She questioned why Oak Bluffs keeps coming to Tisbury. “What’s wrong with them asking another town to help them out?” Ms. Clements said. She said West Tisbury pays a part-time ACO for 20 hours a week, and Chilmark and Aquinnah handle animal control issues with a part-time person on call, on an as needed basis.

“I’m happy with going out whenever,” Ms. Clements said. “This is my sixth year as an animal control officer, and I haven’t complained once about going out at 3 o’clock in the morning.”

Selectman Tristan Israel said Oak Bluffs’s appeal to Tisbury stems from the two towns’ joint effort to consider shared services. Mr. Israel serves on a joint, six-member advisory committee formed by the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury selectmen in 2010 to study how regionalized services might save money or improve efficiency and to make recommendations.

Mr. Israel said the committee agreed that the two towns’ shellfish and animal control departments would be the best places to start.

Ms. Clements said she is not interested and the people in Tisbury aren’t interested in sharing animal control services with Oak Bluffs.

“I don’t see it the way you do,” Mr. Israel said. “You do a fine job. I’m glad you’re here. But having said that, I see this as a way to cooperate with another town, without costing us more money, and give us support when we need it.”

Selectman Geoghan Coogan cut to the chase. “Aside from overtime pay for you, how does having someone assist you hurt you?” he asked Ms. Clements.

“It won’t hurt except financially,” she responded. “It would take away $10,000 a year from me. I haven’t had a raise, and I’m barely scraping by now. I’ve spent three years in a row, with no sick days, and five years with no vacation. I don’t need or want an assistant.”

Ms. Clements said the Tisbury Police contract provides that police would cover her when she has a day off.

“It has not been a problem with them covering. It works,” she said. “Why change it?”

Mr. Bugbee said the police contract stipulates that officers respond to emergencies only.

“They don’t like dealing with dog calls. They brought it up in negotiations,” he said. “To have someone deal with emergencies would be helpful. I don’t know if you’ll find someone to work nine hours a week, though, for $14,000, so 18 hours a week makes it more marketable.”

Mr. Israel sought to reassure Ms. Clements saying the idea is still in negotiation.

“Maybe it would work out where it wouldn’t affect you, except when you needed it,” he suggested. “It would be support for you, not a negative. We’d have a person that would do nine hours in Oak Bluffs. They can use our shelter, and we’ll have nine hours on our end that we could use but don’t have to. It’s not our intention to cut your salary.”

“But that’s what would happen,” Ms. Clements said.

Selectman Jeff Kristal came up with a different approach.

“Basically this is a subcontractor. Let Oak Bluffs subcontract someone and we subcontract them for Laurie’s days off,” he suggested. “Charge them a per diem rate. Why be the employer of record? If Oak Bluffs has money to pay a person, they should utilize those services and pay for services at our shelter.”

Mr. Coogan said the issue is not just financial. “It’s about a town next door that has no department, and we have a good one. They’re asking us, because they made an overture to us and we did to them, to cooperate on several different levels. If we can make their situation better without making ours worse, that’s what we’re going to look at. We’re hoping it won’t affect the dollars for you [to Ms. Clements].”

Mr. Kristal said the use of the $14,000 budget line item for overtime pay for Ms. Clement would likely come under the finance and advisory committee’s scrutiny.

“I think we could set up a system where Laurie works whatever hours she wants to work, and an assistant fills in – that would benefit both towns,” Mr. Israel concluded.

The selectmen asked Mr. Bugbee to continue discussions with Mr. Whritenour.

As a parting argument, Ms. Clements told the selectmen that she doesn’t use the town truck while working overtime. If she put in for her mileage for every weekend when she goes to the animal pound to take care of animals, she said there would nothing left of the $14,000.

“I do all this extra stuff for free, for six years, and now you want to take ten grand,” she said.

“This is not about you,” Mr. Israel responded.

“Yes it is,” Ms. Clements said.

Mr. Coogan asked why she did not figure the extra costs into her department’s budget, instead of going into an overtime budget.

“You should be transparent,” Mr. Kristal said. “That absolutely should be in there. We’re being blindsided right now. We need to see it all in the budget, and that discussion needs to happen.”

The fiscal 2012 budget Tisbury taxpayers approved includes $71,360 for animal control. That number includes a $60,892 salary line item, including the $14,000 for the unfilled assistant’s job, and $10,468 in animal control expense.