Accounts show taxpayers heavily subsidize county pest control
Martha's Vineyard Times File Photo
An analysis of county Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program billing records for the six Island towns and Gosnold, which make up Dukes County, shows an operation heavily weighted toward servicing the owners of commercial properties — including inns, grocery stores, and retail outlets — and private residences.
Town and county buildings in the seven towns are the smallest category of customers served, 15 percent of service calls.
The one-man county department headed by T.J. Hegarty provides pest control services to private homes, primarily for mice and rats, below the commercial rate. Revenue generated by service calls to businesses, homes, and schools covers about 32 percent of the program's operating costs, the balance of which is covered by taxpayers. The program does not charge towns for service at municipal facilities, but it does bill schools a $300 flat rate.
Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal, a member of the county advisory board, which is responsible for approving the county budget, has questioned whether the county, by providing service to businesses and residences, is competing with private businesses that also provide pest control services.
The Times posed that question to Mr. Hegarty in a telephone call. A prickly Mr. Hegarty said it does not.
"If you really think we're competing with Terminix and these other companies, you're brain dead," Mr. Hegarty said. "You certainly are brain dead."
The analysis is based on reports provided in response to separate requests by The Times and Mr. Kristal for the period from July 1, 2012, the start of the fiscal year, to Jan. 24, 2013, which took county officials several weeks to fulfill.
The records for the seven towns list the dates of 109 service calls to separate locations over the nearly seven-month period. On many days, only one service call is noted. On others, the records show Mr. Hegarty made as many as eight stops for service. According to the report, Mr. Hegarty made service calls on 63 separate days over that period in the seven towns that make up Dukes County.
The program's largest account is the Mattakessett Resort and Winnetu Inn, a sprawling vacation property with views of South Beach in Katama. Mr. Hegarty made service calls to the resort on 21 of the 63 days. By that measure, the commercial property accounted for one-third of Mr. Hegarty's work load for the entire county.
The Tisbury report shows Mr. Hegarty spent parts of 11 days on service calls in Tisbury over the period. He made five service calls to commercial businesses, according to the billing records. The IPM program's largest customer is Morrice Florist, which accounted for one third of all service calls in Tisbury.
For 14 of the customers in the seven towns listed in the billing records, there is no date associated with any service call.
The records show several periods where no service calls are documented during the summer months, which county officials have previously described as the busiest time of the year, when most businesses are open and most houses are occupied.
For example, from August 21 through August 29, a period that includes six work days, there are no service calls recorded.
Mr. Hegarty recorded a service call to a commercial account on September 18, but did not record any other service calls until October 1, a period that includes nine working days.
Oak Bluffs and Tisbury officials are examining the cost of the IPM program, and they are calling for a debate at annual spring town meetings. Edgartown changed the wording of its town meeting article to allow for an alternative if Oak Bluffs and Tisbury reject the article to fund the Dukes County program, and the program is no longer viable.
"I would like to be sure that whatever Oak Bluffs taxpayers are paying for, we get our money's worth," Oak Bluffs selectman Walter Vail said.
Mr. Vail is the Oak Bluffs representative to the county advisory board, the group that oversees and approves the county budget. "If we're not getting our money's worth, think I think we have to challenge why there is a program at the county level."
Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal requested records of service calls and customers from Mr. Hegarty on November 19, and received them on January 24, more than nine weeks later. He said he intends to discuss the records in detail at the next county advisory board meeting. Mr. Kristal wants the advisory board to consider whether the county IPM program should focus on municipal buildings, instead of private residences and commercial property.
"There is nothing that I see in the data that I received that changes my mind," Mr. Kristal said. "This should be more of a municipal service, and it probably should go out to bid. I don't understand why the county is competing with private business."
Touted by county commissioners, county manager Martina Thornton, and Mr. Hegarty as a valuable benefit for towns and their residents, the county has shifted the cost of the program, projected at $67,021 next year, to town governments.
Island towns financed 90 percent of the rodent control program this year, and voters will be asked to fund 100 percent of the program at annual town meetings this spring, through a proportional charge in addition to the assessment they already pay for the county's operating costs. Until 2008, the county funded the program entirely out of its operating budget.
The county assessed Dukes County towns $670,518 for county operating costs this year, and an additional $54,015 to fund the IPM program. Edgartown paid the largest share of the additional IPM charge, $19,737. Chilmark paid $8,551, Oak Bluffs, $8,016, Tisbury $7,832, West Tisbury $7,081, Aquinnah, $2,053, and Gosnold, $745.
Not so quick
In a telephone conversation last week, Ms. Thornton explained why she was initially unable to provide detailed client lists in response to requests from The Times and town officials in Tisbury and Oak Bluffs.
Ms. Thornton said the county has been using QuickBooks, a widely used small business accounting software, for approximately the past three years. Although QuickBooks allows for categorizing clients, for example differentiating between municipal clients, businesses and residents, Mr. Hegarty did not track IPM activity by town and type.
"What I did is I created these new categories so now when T.J. is entering the work into the QuickBooks he can attach certain categories to each item he is putting in and we can run reports," Ms. Thornton said.
Mr. Hegarty retraced his activities to the start of the fiscal year, July 1, 2012, so it could be entered in the appropriate categories, she said.
On Thursday, January 24, more than three weeks after receiving a request, Ms. Thornton provided The Times with a report for Edgartown showing IPM activity from the start of the fiscal year, July 1, 2012 to the present date.
"We did not track the IPM activity in our accounting system by town and type of customer until this fall therefore such data is not readily available for prior years," Ms. Thornton said in an email to The Times. "We had to manually input the appropriate data going back to 7/1/2012 and create these reports. It was nothing that was readily available at the time of your request. We also had to overcome some QuickBooks (accounting software) issues."
Dukes County Commission chairman Tom Hallahan of Oak Bluffs, was out of state and unavailable for comment.
The other six county commissioners are Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg of Tisbury, John Alley of West Tisbury, Lenny Jason of Chilmark, Leon Brathwaite of West Tisbury, and Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs.