Oak Bluffs questions county pest control program accounting

— File photo by Mae Deary

Updated 4:35 pm, Februay 7, 2013.

Oak Bluffs town officials, sharply critical of the Dukes County integrated pest management (IPM) program for failure to produce records verifying services delivered in Oak Bluffs, are considering alternatives to the county program, they said at Tuesday’s meeting of the board of selectmen.

Vice-chairman Walter Vail, who chaired the meeting in the absence of chairman Kathy Burton, is the Oak Bluffs representative on the county advisory board, which has oversight responsibilities for the county budget. He said county officials have not produced financial records requested by the county advisory board.

“There’s a frustration at the advisory level,” Mr. Vail said. “There is some information we’ve all been looking for as to just exactly how his money has been spent and how much money he raises from what sources, and we’re not getting that.”

Mr. Vail said he wanted to personally support the actions of the Tisbury board of selectmen, who last week added an article to the spring town meeting warrant to fund their own pest control program. Tisbury officials questioned the value of what the town receives for its county assessment.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Oak Bluffs finance and advisory committee chairman Steve Auerbach said his committee was concerned.

“We’re not pleased with the direction it seems to be going,” Mr. Auerbach said.

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. This year town meeting voters in each town will be asked to fund the entire cost of the department.

In 2011 and 2012, Oak Bluffs voters declined to fund their share of IPM operating costs. At a special town meeting in November, voters approved an appropriation of $8,016 to rejoin the program, with closer supervision by town selectmen. The appropriation comes in addition to the $99,519 assessment the town pays to the county.

In response to a public records request in 2011, when Oak Bluffs was part of the IPM program, 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 showed 108 customers served and the billed amounts, but no dates of service. The documents showed no record of services in Oak Bluffs for the nine-month period.

On December 27, 2012, the Times requested similar records for the town of Edgartown, for the 2012 calendar year. The county has produced no records.

County manager Martina Thornton, who was appointed in August 2011 after four years as executive assistant for the county, said Mr. Hegarty did not begin tracking pest control services by town until December of 2012.

“I do not have any monthly reports from T.J. yet,” Ms. Thornton wrote in an email dated Dec. 28. “On December 4th I requested that he starts tracking his time and provide me with detailed daily reports at the end of each month. This should make it easier to provide you with the information you are looking for in the future.”

In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Ms. Thornton said she expects to have a breakdown of services available by the end of the week.

The 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 Mr. 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 a verbal agreement that originated with former county manager Carol Borer.

Library director

Also Tuesday, selectmen voted to hire Sondra Murphy as the new library director, on the recommendation of a search committee. Ms. Murphy has been the acting library director since the resignation of Danguole Budris on June 30, 2012.

“It took a lot of work on the part of Mr. Whritenour and the selectmen, both in the budget work and clearing up some issues we had in personnel,” said Peter Palches, a library director.

“It has been a long road,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.”

“We’ve traveled a lot of those miles with you, and we’re tickled that you are here,” selectman Greg Coogan said.

According to Mr. Vail, the board of selectmen negotiated the departure of Ms. Budris with the help of their labor attorney. “It wasn’t the smoothest of departures,” he said.

When asked whether the town provided a severance payment, Mr. Vail referred the question to Mr. Whritenour. Mr. Whritenour was not available for comment the following day because of an illness.

Selectmen met with Ms. Budris and her attorney behind closed doors in an October of 2011 executive session, following complaints about her from library staff, and after selectmen and library trustees began to scrutinize her job performance. The board has not released any terms of the negotiated departure.

Library golf

In other action, the board unanimously authorized a conditional one-day beer and wine permit for the Oak Bluffs library, which is holding a fundraising and awareness event on February 1.

On that evening, the library will be transformed into an 18 hole miniature golf course, open to patrons 21 or older, with food and alcohol included in the $15 admission price.

The following day, the library miniature golf event will be open to all ages.

“I think it’s a nice idea, but I have some concerns,” Ms. Barmakian said. “If the town is serving alcohol, do we need a special insurance policy? I’m not opposed to it, but I’d rather play it safe.”

The board approved the alcohol permit, pending a check of the town’s insurance liability coverage, and a review by police chief Erik Blake.

This article was updated to reflect a correction, attributing part of quote about the Dukes County Integrated Pest Management program to Mr. Auerbach. The quote was from Mr. Vail.