County has no immediate plans to add skunk removal

The county packed an inflatable rat into the back of a pickup truck and joined the 2003 July fourth parade in Edgartown to publicize the rat control program. — Photo by MV Times File Photo

Despite a request from Edgartown selectmen to consider skunk removal services as part of its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, Dukes County manager Martina Thornton and IPM director T.J. Hegarty have taken no steps in that direction. Ms. Thornton said they will not evaluate adding the service unless asked to by other towns, or by the county advisory board, the group that oversees its budget.

At a December 17 meeting of the Edgartown selectmen, chairman Michael Donaroma asked Mr. Hegarty whether he could do anything about skunks in the downtown area, a problem for local business people.

Mr. Hegarty told selectmen he traps skunks privately, but that service is not part of the county pest control program.

Mr. Hegarty said it would not be cost-effective to taxpayers for him to remove skunks, though he offers the service privately for a fee. Selectmen asked Mr. Hegarty to consider the idea and get back to them.

In a phone interview February 4, Mr. Hegarty did not explain why he thought the service might not be cost-effective, what methods might be used, or how much they would cost.

“I’m not discussing any skunk work with you,” Mr. Hegarty told The Times. “That’s private.”

He said the county has never considered skunk removal because it doesn’t want to compete with local businesses.

“There are two licensed skunk people on the Island,” Mr. Hegarty said. “It was never the county’s intention to put these people out of business. We’re not supposed to be competing with small business people.”

Walter Wlodyka of Chilmark and Mr. Hegarty are the two people licensed to remove skunks. Contact information for both are listed on the officials county web site. The web site identifies Mr. Hegarty as a public animal control agent, not the director of the county pest program.

Public and private

Among the six towns, Edgartown, which has the highest county assessment under the equalized valuation formula, pays the lion’s share to support the IPM program — $18,159 in the current fiscal year. That appropriation is in addition to the $244,997 that Edgartown taxpayers contributed to the fiscal 2012 county operating budget.

Ms. Thornton has said there are two issues with regard to the county adding skunk removal services as part of Mr. Hegarty’s duties. She highlighted a previous agreement between county manager Carol Borer, who resigned in December 2002, that allowed Mr. Hegarty to provide skunk removal services privately, and an expression on the part of Island towns in having those services.

“There are two issues, one is that originally when TJ was hired the agreement between him and the county was that he could do that business on his own,” she said. “The second problem is that right now I do not have requests or agreement from the towns that they want to roll this service in.”

Reminded that Mr. Donaroma had made a request, Ms. Thornton said that was a request from only one town. She said the request must come from the county advisory board, made up of representatives from all six towns, and be made part of the job description.

Asked why she would not move to add a service she could reasonably assume the towns would welcome, Ms. Thornton raised two more complications.

She said there is the issue of Mr. Hegarty’s private enterprise. “Also, if we include that in his job description,” she said, “and he starts doing skunks, it will leave him with less time to do all the other work that he has been historically doing and that may change the amount of revenue, and also how much would we charge for trapping skunks?”

She pointed out that basically the towns would be subsidizing another service. “It is the decision of the towns if they want to subsidize trapping skunks or not,” she said. “They are right now subsidizing the rodents because that is what they asked the county to do.”

Asked why the county is bound by a verbal agreement made 10 years ago, Ms. Thornton said, “Because an agreement is an agreement.”

That agreement is described in a letter Ms. Thornton gave The Times. It was dated June 21, 2001, from Mr. Hegarty to Ms. Borer when the job description was Dukes County rodent control officer.

“As we discussed,” Mr. Hegarty wrote, “I will no longer offer rat or mouse trapping as part of my “Skunks removed, raccoons too,” business. I will be forwarding all such requests to the county rodent control office.

“I am not able to give up my skunk and racoon removal business in order to work for the county as its rodent control officer at its current pay step. The two jobs are separate. The county rodent control officer will be my primary job, with my other business being done on my own time.”

Mr. Hegarty’s starting salary as June 18, 2001 was $29,461.08 per year. He now earns $52,102 plus benefits.

Ms. Thornton expressed concern for any action that would affect Mr. Hegarty’s private business or complicate the dividing line between his public and private activities.

She added that she would not change the scope of the service without direction from the county commissioners or county advisory board regarding the addition of skunk removal services.