Tisbury selectmen bugged by lack of county pest program details
File photo by Susan Safford
Despite repeated requests, Tisbury selectmen said they have received no detailed information from Dukes County officials about what the county's Integrated Pest Management Program provides the town. Frustrated by a lack of specifics, Tisbury selectmen added a $10,000 article to the April annual town meeting warrant to fund a town-run program.
Tisbury taxpayers paid $7,833 this year to fund the town's share of the regional program this fiscal year. The school department paid an additional $300 fee for a program to cover the Tisbury School. That money was on top of the $97,205 county assessment.
In the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, Tisbury taxpayers will be asked to pay $12,861 on top of the county assessment, according to Dukes County executive Martina Thornton.
The county previously funded IPM out of its operating budget. Several years ago in an effort to close a budget gap, the county began shifting the cost of the department, $67,021 in fiscal year 2014, to the six Island towns.
The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) department is a one-man operation that primarily deals with rat control for Island towns, and Island residents at a reduced rate.
The county pest control service covers insects, rats, mice, moles, and voles and provides no-cost education and consultation on bats and mammals such as skunks and raccoons, but it does not offer eradication service for those animals.
Although program director T.J. Hegarty is licensed to trap and dispose of raccoons and skunks, the county does not provide those services to generate additional revenue. Mr. Hegarty provides those services privately, as part of an agreement that originated with former county manager Carol Borer.
Joe Tierney, a lieutenant in the Tisbury Fire Department and chairman of the town's emergency services facility building committee, raised the issue of value for money. Mr. Tierney said he had talked to town account Suzanne Kennedy in follow-up to questions he raised about the IPM program at last year's town meeting.
"We researched what we were getting for our money out of that, and basically it's the school and the DPW [department of public works] using the services of the pest control agent, and I believe he also does mosquito control," Mr. Tierney told the selectmen at a meeting on January 2 to review warrant articles, aired on MVTV.
Mr. Tierney suggested that Tisbury may be able to manage its own program and add skunk removal to the services for less than what it now pays for its share of the Dukes County program.
The price of pests
"There have been a lot of questions about the program's value, which depends on the town and how much they want to use it," Dukes County Commissioner Melinda Loberg told the selectmen. "A couple of years ago we did a valuation and compared it to the retail market, and it was thought to be a good deal for the town. But since questions have been raised recently, we are considering putting it out to bid."
Mr. Tierney said he agreed with Ms. Loberg that if Tisbury used more of the IPM program services, it would probably cost the town less overall.
"But we're basically paying one-sixth of the salary of the pest control person, plus our expenses, so we're not using him enough to make that a value-oriented decision," he added. "And the expenses from last year to this year jumped 38 percent, but revenue in the new budget has actually gone down three and a half percent."
Selectman Jeff Kristal, an outspoken critic of the IPM program's expense and management at town meeting the last two years, said he thinks it is an excellent program. "Whether we use it effectively, I think is the bigger question here," he said.
Mr. Kristal represents the board of selectmen on the County Advisory Board (CAB), which reviews the county budget. He said the CAB requested a list of Mr. Hegarty's commercial and residential customers, broken out by town and name, at a meeting on November 17.
"I have yet to receive that," Mr. Kristal said, adding that the CAB expected the list before Thanksgiving or shortly after.
Mr. Kristal told his fellow selectmen that he thinks all commercial entities should either pay fair market price for the county's pest management services or get their own. He said the problem is that no one knows what Mr. Hegarty's customer base or workload is to make a determination of how that would impact the costs.
Tisbury's finance and advisory committee (FinCom) chairman Larry Gomez said he had the same experience with Mr. Hegarty.
"The FinCom has asked for some of the data that Jeff asked for several years ago," Mr. Gomez said. "It got to the point where we really didn't want to talk to the guy, because we weren't getting any information."
Mr. Kristal said he hoped the selectmen would approve the article suggested by Mr. Tierney as a placeholder, to spur the county to delve into the issue a bit deeper and provide the town with the answers it has been asking for, for several years.
Mr. Snyder agreed. "I think the key issue here is we don't have all the information we need to make that decision, and I think we should keep this article in here as a placeholder and as a threat to make it possible to get that information," he said.
Selectman chairman Tristan Israel, who also serves as a Dukes County commissioner, voted against it. Mr. Israel said he was not prepared to support the article, even as a placeholder, until he had more information.
Waiting for facts
At the January 2 meeting, Mr. Kristal also said he had emailed a follow-up request that day to Ms. Thornton who, in terms of day-to-day supervision and responsibilities, oversees three people in three departments — her office, veterans affairs, and integrated pest management.
"I had several meetings with TJ and I did set up Quickbooks for him to track customers by town and by category (municipal, commercial, private)," Ms. Thornton responded in an email to Mr. Kristal and copied to the CAB. "This was done in fall. Prior to that he will have to go back and categorize the entries to be able to create some comprehensive report. He was on vacation over Thanksgiving and again since mid December returning on January 8th. I will follow up with him when he returns and see if we can come up with some answers before the next CAB meeting."
The services that individual towns receive in return for their contributions of tax dollars varies widely, according to a 2010 examination by The Times of county records.
Details then, as now, were limited and difficult to gather. In response to a public records request for several months' copies of those reports, then county manager Russell Smith provided a two-sheet activity report for February 2010, and an income ledger by customer for the period July 1, 2009 to April 5, 2010. The ledger shows 108 customers served and the billed amounts, but no dates of service.
According to the ledger provided to The Times, the largest billing was the Mattakesett Resort, $4,284, and adjoining Winnetu Inn and Resort, $2,632 in Katama. In total, the businesses accounted for approximately 25 percent of revenue represented in the reports provided at that time.
Tisbury's interaction with the county pest control program is limited, according to the town's harbor, landfill, and school officials.
In a telephone call Friday, DPW director Fred LaPiana said Mr. Hegarty provides services to his department if called, but does not do so on a regular basis or make periodic inspections of areas susceptible to pest problems. Mr. LaPiana said the DPW has a facilities group that handles calls he receives about rodents, skunk, or other pest problems in town buildings.
"Usually our guys respond quickly on those issues when we get called, which is about four times a year," Mr. LaPiana said. "If the problem was bigger than anticipated or more frequent than what we expect, we would call the county, but we very rarely have been in a situation like that."
Harbormaster Jay Wilbur said Mr. Hegarty placed baited rodent traps in the harbor vicinity a few years ago, but does not contact him about when they are serviced or where they are. "Every once in awhile we touch base that he's done this or that, but not on a regular basis that I know of," Mr. Wilbur said.
At Tisbury School, principal John Custer said Mr. Hegarty meets with the school's administrators and custodians once every summer to review and update the school's comprehensive IPM plan that covers different kinds of pests and treatments.
"We call him on an as-needed basis," Mr. Custer said. "Fortunately, we haven't needed his services much, but last year, when we had to call him because of mice, he came in that day and was very helpful."