Review of county government
Thirty years of careful observation of the behavior and accomplishments of Dukes County government has led us to the conclusion that Martha's Vineyard would be better off without it. Some of the selectmen in the six Vineyard towns have agreed to consider the question of what to do about county government, including possibly getting rid of it. They have chosen a measured and thoughtful course, which is to their credit. Whether some subcommittee of selectmen, or an appointed group of objective Islanders, or a consultant familiar with government organization is charged with completing the review, such an examination is long overdue, bound to be revealing, and eagerly awaited.
Meanwhile, in support of the proposition that Island voters and taxpayers would be better off to shake the ghastly monkey of county government off their backs, consider the following:
Although, since the adoption of the county charter, there are now seven rather than three county commissioners, these at large representatives remain estranged from the Island's voters. Voters know that the Dukes County seven have little authority, because the important county-wide or Island-wide functions that figure importantly in our lives - the courts, the registry, the airport, the Communication Center, the schools, the Martha's Vineyard Commission, the hospital, the sheriff's department - are actually services of the state or of independent agencies. Of the county's $4.45 million 2006 operating budget, The Times reports this week, approximately 78 percent funds departments not under the direct control of the county manager.
Those services that the county does offer in almost every case might be furnished by ad hoc treaties entered into by the six towns or any combination of them. The four-town regional refuse district is an example. The two-town district for Oak Bluffs and Tisbury is another. The county engineer's services could be engaged the same way. Likewise, the rodent control services, the veterans agent. The Trustees of Reservations could be engaged to manage the beaches, and they would do a better job.
Most important, the county's spending decisions are for the most part beyond the reach of voters. Schools, MVC, refuse districts, all the tiny budgets for small municipal agencies, the selectmen's legal budget: everything goes line by line before the voters at town meeting for discussion and decision. The county budget, that is the part over which the commissioners have some control and which Island taxpayers fund, about $750,000, does not. It is proposed by the county to the finance advisory board, approved there and sent to the state, which levies it against us. Afflicted as voters are by the county seven, we don't get to examine and approve the county budget.
The county manager, who will be paid a salary of $74,600 in fiscal year 2006 - about 10 percent of the total county assessment to the town taxpayers - exercises direct supervisory control over approximately six county employees, including his own administrative assistant. He directly oversees the rodent control department; the recreation department, which includes Norton Point Beach, the health and environment department, the county engineer, and the veterans agent.
County government, as it operates today, is an empty shell, a hoax, and an expensive one, whose principle ambition is to grow larger and cost more.