County ups tab for pest control

Island taxpayers will once again be asked at town meeting to pick up an increased share of the costs of operating the county’s rodent control department. The services individual towns receive in return for their contributions of tax dollars varies widely, according to an examination by The Times of county records.

For example, according to a ledger of activity provided to The Times in response to a public records request, in the previous nine months Oak Bluffs received no services but will be asked to contribute $4,883 to the cost of operating the department. That is in addition to the town’s county assessment of $126,276.

Edgartown, which has the highest county assessment under the equalized valuation formula, will be asked to contribute $11,809 to pay for the county department.

In the past nine months, T.J. Hegarty, the county rodent control officer, issued one invoice to the Edgartown Council on Aging for rodent control services, at no cost. The Edgartown School was charged $300, pursuant to a contract, for five invoiced visits. The Edgartown Harbormaster was issued two invoices at no charge.

The effort to shift costs began in 2008, when the Dukes County commissioners helped to erase a looming fiscal year 2009 budget deficit by cutting the integrated pest management and healthcare access departments by 50 percent. Taxpayers in the six Island towns agreed to kick in the rest. The percentage of contribution was increased the following year with the aim the towns would ultimately fund both programs completely.

In FY 2011, taxpayers will be asked to pick up 70 percent of the cost of the Vineyard Health Care Access Program, or $62,204 of the estimated $88,863 budget. They will also be asked to pick up an additional $61,136, in a supplementary request.

In five of the six Island towns, the money request will appear as a warrant article. That is not true in Oak Bluffs, where selectmen inserted the county request as a line item in the operating budget.

Town administrator Michael Dutton said the selectmen decided that the health care access program, which provides guidance for people seeking health care or health insurance services, was important enough to warrant inclusion, and the rodent control assessment tagged along.

Rodent control

The draft budget for the county’s Integrated Pest Management Program in fiscal year 2011, which begins on July 1, is estimated to be $71,915.

The county will ask Island towns to pick up 70 percent of the cost to operate the department, minus anticipated income of $25,000.

That leaves $32,841 in costs shared by the seven towns that make up Dukes County (Aquinnah, $1,215; Chilmark, $4,949; Edgartown, $11,809; Gosnold, $440; Oak Bluffs, $4,883; Tisbury, $4,880; and West Tisbury, $4,663.

Those contributions of tax dollars to the Health Care Access and Rodent Control departments do not include what the towns pay directly in the form of county assessments not subject to voter approval at annual town meeting. In FY 2011, Aquinnah will pay $31,459; Chilmark, $128,024; Edgartown, $305,423; Gosnold, $11,360; Tisbury, $126,276; and West Tisbury, $120,596.

Details are spare

The Integrated Pest Management department is a one-man operation that primarily deals with rat control. Mr. Hegarty offers his services to towns and Island residents at a reduced rate. The county also provides free inspection service for municipal clients, such as schools and municipal buildings.

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 an agreement that originated with former county manager Carol Borer.

According to county manager Russell Smith, he receives monthly activity reports from Mr. Hegarty.

However, in response to a public records request for several months’ copies of those reports, Mr. 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 shows 108 customers served and the billed amounts, but no dates of service.

According to the ledger provided to The Times, the county charged each of the Island schools $300 for contract services. The number of invoices issued varied by school. For example, the Chilmark School generated eight invoices, the Edgartown School generated five, the West Tisbury School 10, and there was no invoice activity for the Oak Bluffs School.

In a telephone conversation yesterday, Lenny Jason, longtime county commissioner, said the schools get a bargain in the deal when compared with the cost of contracting for private integrated management pest control services. “The school committees are aware of the savings that are provided,” Mr. Jason said.

The list of county clients includes residents, Island schools, and businesses.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport was billed $1,950 for the nine-month time period. The regional refuse district was billed $617.

The largest billing was the Mattakesett Resort, $4,284, and adjoining Winnetu Inn and Resort, $2,632 in Katama. In total, the businesses accounted for approximately 25 percent of revenue represented in the reports to date.

In a response to an email, Mark Snider, owner of the Winnetu, told The Times his company pays the county rodent control office annually to manage pests. It is identical to the service Terminex, Gremlin Fog or Waltham Pest provide, he said. “We have been doing this for several years now, as their service has been very good,” he said.

Mr. Snider said that Mr. Hagerty does provide skunk and raccoon removal, but does the work before or after his county duties.

“He uses his own truck and, generally, is out here around 5 am on days that he sets traps,” Mr. Snider said. “Luckily we didn’t need his services very much in 2009.”

The ledger lists a total of 63 individual names. The charges vary depending on the service provided. For example, one homeowner was billed $55 for an initial inspection and supplies. Another was billed $35 for repeat service, including supplies.

Efforts to reach Mr. Smith and Mr. Hegarty by telephone at the county office yesterday were unsuccessful. In an emailed response to The Times, received late yesterday, Mr. Hegarty said the Mattakesett Resort and Winnetu Inn represent the largest share of revenue because he provides service to more than 80 units and homes.

He explained the ledger abbreviations. The basic fee is $55 for an initial visit, with a 10 percent discount for customers more than 65 years of age. There is a charge of $35 for followup visits. The charge for a business is $110 and $65 for a followup. Ant treatments cost $110, $250 for moles, with a $110 followup charge.

Asked if the rodent control department generates weekly or monthly reports for review by the county manager, Mr. Hegarty said, “Since I assumed billing responsiblities on November 1, 2009, I have generated whatever report that has been requested of me, as well as current reports for the fin-coms and selectmen’s meets during the fall winter budget process. The County of Dukes County Integrated Pest Management Program has to date shown a 2.7 percent increase in net income and an 8.1 percent profit increase from FY 2009. I am confident that the program will reach its FY 2010 revenue projection of $25,000 by the end of the fiscal year.”