West Tisbury to vote again on county pest management

— File photo by Steve Myrick

West Tisbury voters will have another opportunity to consider a request to contribute to the Dukes County integrated pest management (IPM) program when they meet for a special town meeting on May 21.

At their annual town meeting on April 9, voters rejected an article that asked West Tisbury taxpayers to fund a proportional share of the program, casting more uncertainty on the future of that county program.

Several voters at annual town meeting asked why taxpayers were being asked to fund county programs in light of a recently discovered county surplus.

County manager Martina Thornton has scheduled a meeting with the West Tisbury finance committee to address their concerns about county services, including the IPM department.

At annual town meeting, the finance committee did not support funding requests for the IPM program or the replacement of windows at the Dukes County courthouse.

Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and Edgartown appropriated money for pest management in their town meetings but did not stipulate the money be used to fund the county program. Whether they participate in the county program or hire a private contractor will depend on whether the towns can reach agreement on a memoranda of understanding (MOU) with Dukes County.

Selectmen in the six Island towns are now considering the draft MOU circulated by Ms. Thornton.

Services examined

The IPM program, a one-man department headed by T.J. Hegarty, offers rodent control at no cost for municipal buildings and at a heavily subsidized cost to residents and businesses.

An analysis of billing records for the six Island towns and Gosnold shows that the IPM service is heavily weighted toward the owners of commercial properties — including inns, grocery stores, retail outlets — and private residences. Town and county buildings in the seven towns are the smallest category of customers served, 15 percent of service calls.

This year, taxpayers in the seven Dukes County towns appropriated a total of $67,021 for the IPM program’s operating expenses. That was in addition to the county assessment that totaled $670,518. Individual town contributions vary and are based on property valuation.

During an initial review of the MOU at the county advisory board meeting on March 20, board members Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury, Walter Vail of Oak Bluffs, and Jeff Kristal of Tisbury, said they want to explore reducing the scope of the county IPM program to provide pest control only for municipal buildings. The county advisory board, including one selectman from each town, has oversight responsibility for the county budget.

Town meeting

The scope of the IPM program was at issue when West Tisbury voters took up a $9,945 request for the town’s share of the program at their April 9 annual town meeting.

Mr. Hegarty, a West Tisbury resident, introduced the article, and proposed an amendment to add language explicitly stating that the pest control program would continue to be available to all West Tisbury private homes, residences, businesses, schools, and municipal properties.

At the meeting, Mr. Manter, a West Tisbury selectmen, challenged the amendment, and told voters the county advisory board is considering a different direction for the IPM program.

Mr. Hegarty emphasized he was making the amendment on his own, and responded directly to Mr. Manter.

“This was to react to you trying to prevent if from being implemented…to make sure you get the message that the town wants this program for the entire community,” Mr. Hegarty said. “It’s coming from me, myself, and I.”

The amendment was soundly defeated. After debate, the article to fund the pest control program was defeated by a vote of 58-50.

West Tisbury will still contribute $64,498 to the county budget in the form of a county assessment that does not show up in the operating budget.

This week, Ms. Thornton distanced county officials from Mr. Hegarty’s effort to change the language of an article the county commissioners approved and submitted in identical language in all six Island towns.

“He did that as a private voter,” Ms. Thornton said. “It was not anything the county would be condoning.”

Mr. Manter stopped short of any criticism of Mr. Hegarty. “He’s a voter in town, he has the same rights as anyone else,” Mr. Manter said. “You certainly are not restricted as a county employee.”

Dukes County Commission chairman Tom Hallahan did not return calls asking for comment.