How it's done elsewhere - county study looks around
Representatives from Nantucket and Plymouth Counties will explain to the Dukes County Charter Study Commission (DCCSC), Vineyard town officials, and Island residents how the county commissioner form of government works for them, at the first of three public forums tonight.
The forum will run from 7 to 9 pm at the Tisbury Senior Center in Vineyard Haven. The meetings have been scheduled to hear from other counties in the Commonwealth that govern themselves and from those that have eliminated county government while the Dukes County study commission works toward a recommendation for county government.
The DCCSC is charged by the enabling legislation to examine all possible forms of county governance and must also examine eliminating county governance entirely. The county manager form of government used in Dukes County is one form of county governance sanctioned by Chapter 34A of the Massachusetts General Laws. Other forms are county executive and custom.
Nantucket and Plymouth counties are among eight remaining counties of the state's 14 original counties. Nantucket County, also Nantucket island, is one town. The selectmen also serve as the county commissioners. Plymouth County has three county commissioners and other officials, and has remained basically unchanged since its founding in 1685.
The expected speakers from Nantucket are Allen Reinhard, current chairman of the selectmen and former chairman of the county commissioners, and Brian Chadwick, current chairman of the county commissioners. The representative from Plymouth County will be Jeffrey Welch, chairman of the county commissioners.
Although the smallest county by population, Nantucket was the fastest growing county in the state during the 1990s, with an increase of 58.3 percent, according to the 2000 census. The estimated population in 2004 was 10,124, an increase of 6.34 percent from 2000. Nantucket also led the state in per capita income during the '90s, at $44,267 in 1998, which increased to $47,104 in 2002, or 152 percent of the national per capita income of $30,906.
After surviving 300 years without a written charter in both the county and the town of Nantucket, a charter commission wrote charters for both, which were submitted to the state Legislature and approved in 1997, Mr. Reinhard said in a phone interview Tuesday. A member of the charter commission, he said, "We wrote the charters so they meshed ideally together."
Mr. Reinhard said the main reason Nantucket went to written charters was fear of losing the county and self-control as well as revenue, such as the deeds excise tax after a state movement in the '90s threatened to abolish all county governments. In response to that threat, Nantucket officials transferred all the roads to the county government and all the buildings to the town, which would leave the state in charge of the roads if it took over, he said.
Mr. Reinhard said the co-existence form of government has worked well for Nantucket. "We're very pleased with the way it works," he said, noting that the two boards have certain restrictions, such as not allowing the same person to chair both boards simultaneously.
By contrast, Plymouth County has retained both its town and county governments, although the town of Plymouth is undergoing a charter revision process. The county was founded in 1685.
Now considered part of the Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metro area, Plymouth County had an estimated 2004 population of 490,655, a 3.77 percent increase from the 2000 census. The county's median household income is $55,615 compared with $41,994 nationally.
Representatives from Bristol County, who were originally scheduled for this week, will come to the July 19 forum, along with Franklin and Hampshire counties, which have eliminated their county governments.
The DCCSC has 23 elected members, 15 elected last November, the seven Dukes County commissioners, and a representative of the county advisory board. It must complete its examination and issue a final report with possible recommendations to the voters by May 2008.