A look at what the county provides
The accompanying fiscal year 2007 draft county budget shows the cost breakdown by each county department. Only 13 percent of the total county budget pays for departments and employees that are under the direct control of the county manager, who under the draft 2007 budget would receive an annual salary of $75,380, and Deborah Potter, the assistant to the county manager, who is due to receive an annual salary of $41,650.
Nearly 17 percent of the total county budget comes from an annual assessment paid by the towns that make up Dukes County, including the six Island towns and Gosnold. The assessments, which total $769,530, do not appear as line items on annual town meeting warrants, so they are not reviewed by voters.
The assessments are calculated using the equalized valuation formula, which is based on both total assessed land value and population. In the case of the town of Chilmark, despite a low population, because land values are high the town pays 19.2 percent of the county assessment, second only to Edgartown's 32.9 percent share.
Aquinnah is responsible for 3.6 percent; Oak Bluffs, 15.3 percent; Tisbury 13.8 percent; West Tisbury, 14.1 percent; and Gosnold, 1.2 percent.
This week, The Times set out to assess the specific county services Chilmark taxpayers receive for their $147,764 county assessment.
E. Winn Davis, Dukes County manager said, "First of all, all the towns have access to all of the county services. Whether or not they use them is their decision."
Mr. Davis highlighted the county veterans agent, the rodent control officer, the county engineer, and the county health-care access program. He said the town also used the services of the parking clerk, who reports to the elected county treasurer and processes parking tickets issued by Chilmark police.
Quantifiable data from the county was difficult to obtain. Based on requests from The Times for information, it does not appear that Mr. Davis receives standardized weekly or monthly reports that show work activity and billings.
In the case of the rodent control department, Mr. Davis first provided a one-page sheet titled "Sales by Rep Detail" that listed 43 invoice entries for work done by the rodent control officer between July 1 and Nov. 16, 2005.
Four of the invoice entries are for Chilmark properties. On July 27 "Town of Chilmark" is listed three times, and on Nov. 15, "The Chilmark School" is listed once. According to the document, the town was not charged for the service, and the school was charged $125.
A follow-up request produced a one-page sheet titled "Income by customer summary" with undated listings of customer activity for the past eight months.
In the case of county engineer Steve Berlucchi, 20 percent of his time is devoted for Island-wide county work. The remaining 80 percent of his annual hours are divided among the towns based on the same formula used to calculate their assessments. Chilmark is allotted 202 hours a year in engineering services. However, last week, Mr. Berlucchi said that Chilmark does not use nearly all of its hours.
"The majority of the towns that use their time are down-Island," said Mr. Berlucchi. "That is where the infrastructure is, and that is where the towns have asked for my services."
The down-Island towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury are the only three towns in the county that have had projects that qualify for state reimbursements under the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). At a county meeting last week, Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectman, said that the most valuable work that the county engineer provides is for TIP projects.
One of the most widely praised county departments is that of Jo Ann Murphy, county veteran's agent, who said that most of her services are provided to residents in the three down-Island towns where the majority of Island veterans live.
Mr. Davis said that it would be difficult to determine which towns most utilized other county services, including the health care access program and the parking clerk. He said that down-Island towns most likely used the parking clerk the most.
Asked specifically about Chilmark, he said, "There aren't too many places where Chilmark gives tickets out and would be using our services to clear them."
The county also provides services through its larger departments, which are not under the direct control of the county manager. For example, the Sheriff's Department offers the only lockup for all six Island police departments. The Registry of Deeds also provides services to the towns. However, both departments are headed by elected officials who operate for the most part independently from the county.
The county-owned Martha's Vineyard Airport provides services to all county residents. The airport accounts for more than half of the $4.5 million county budget, but by statute it is under the control of the county-appointed airport commission. State and federal grant assurances signed by the county and airport commissioners prohibit the county manager from exercising authority over the airport, and airport revenue may not be diverted to non-airport county uses.