Dukes County plugs hole in rodent control budget

Years ago, the county purchased an inflatable rat to use in parades and the Ag Fair in order to promote the rodent control department. — File photo by Martha's Vineyard Times

Dukes County officials made some last-minute financial decisions prior to the end of the fiscal year to plug a hole left in the budget and extend the employment of the county manager.

The Dukes County advisory board on June 28, two days before the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, took action to temporarily cover a shortfall in the county’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) department after cash-strapped Oak Bluffs refused to kick in $5,795.

Oak Bluffs voters at special town meeting on June 21 refused to pay an additional assessment to fund the county operation, which focuses primarily on rats. Several voters questioned what if any benefit the town would receive for its money, which would have been on top of the basic county assessment, $126,072 in the current fiscal year.

The advisory board, made up of one selectmen from each town, voted to transfer $3,200 from the county budget surplus to the IPM account. Together with an increased revenue projection of $2,500, and anticipated revenue from a mosquito testing program just approved, the county can begin the fiscal year on July 1 with a balanced budget, as required by law.

The county’s pest control department budget is $80,461 with anticipated revenues of $27,500. In the current fiscal year the county asked each individual town to pay 80 percent of the department’s net operating expenses.

“Let’s make it very clear, this is temporary,” advisory board member Jeffrey Manter of West Tisbury said. “This is a budget issue for fiscal year 2012.”

The board and county manager Russell Smith must still decide how to handle the shortfall in anticipated revenue, and how to apportion county services.

Thomas J. Hegarty, who operates the one-man department, said he would stop servicing two town-owned facilities in Oak Bluffs. “All the county equipment will be pulled from town properties, the dog pound, the recycling center,” Mr. Hegarty said. He said he would continue to service Oak Bluffs private customers at an increased price.

According to an examination by The Times of the monthly department reports Mr. Hegarty provided the county manager from July 2010 to January 2011, the first seven months of the 2011 fiscal year, he visited Oak Bluffs locations infrequently. At the June 21 special town meeting, highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr., who oversees maintenance of all town buildings, beaches, and parks, said he had not used the county pest control service in the past five years.

Extended employment

On June 22, the seven elected county commissioners voted to extend the employment of county manager Russell Smith for six months, while they assess whether they should change the job from full-time to part-time.

“The county advisory board and the county commissioners really want to look into the job descriptions of the county manager and the executive assistant in light of the DOR (Department of Revenue) report, and just the reduced scope of what we do,” commissioner Melinda Loberg of Tisbury said. She heads the commission personnel committee.

County commissioners unanimously approved the six-month extension, after completing a job performance evaluation for Mr. Smith.

“There are some concerns that we have, there are mixed reviews,” Ms. Loberg, who heads the personnel committee, said. “We want to help Russell be the best manager he can be. That’s what we’re working on. We spoke at length about goals for the next six months and set those out in detail.”

Mr. Smith has direct managerial responsibility for the county commissioners’ administrative department, which includes Mr. Smith and his assistant; the one-man integrated pest management program, and the part-time veterans services agent.

The county commissioners’ administrative budget totals $171,006. That figure includes Mr. Smith’s annual salary of $63,532, and the $54,350 annual salary of his assistant, Ms. Thornton.