Pestered by advisors, Dukes County seeks bids for pest control

— File photo by Steve Myrick

Dukes County Commissioners voted unanimously at their May 22 meeting to issue a request for proposals (RFP), seeking bidders who want to provide pest control services to Island towns.

The commissioners also agreed to revise the fiscal 2014 county budget, to reflect that only three of the six Island towns have appropriated money to continue participation in the county’s integrated pest management (IPM) program. This year the county asked towns to fund 100 percent of the program, which was once funded entirely from the county’s operating budget.

The commission’s decision to issue an RFP came after a testy meeting of the county advisory board, where representatives from Tisbury, West Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs said they would not sign a memorandum of agreement outlining the scope of services offered by the county.

Representatives from Aquinnah, Chilmark, and Edgartown said they want to continue the program as it now operates.

The county advisory board, which includes one selectman from each Island town, has oversight responsibility for the county budget.

Unanimous vote

If the county services only three towns, revenue from town contributions and from fees would be significantly reduced.

“We must at the very least revise our budget to reflect that there are three towns now willing, and have voted funding to pay for the program,” county commissioner Melinda Loberg of Tisbury said at the May 22 meeting. “We obviously have to not only revise the budget, but perhaps the program itself, the size of it, to be able to pay for it.”

Ms. Loberg said putting the services out to bid will help towns make a decision about whether they want to continue a regional approach, or contract individually for pest control services.

“They’ve been questioning if this is the best we can do for our money, should we be looking in another direction,” commissioner Melinda Loberg said at the May 22 meeting. “I think this will answer those questions for them, and may enable the towns who are questioning it to say yes, a regional program makes sense for us.”

Commissioner Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs said a competitive bidding process would benefit taxpayers.

“I think it’s important that we listen to the towns,” Ms. Todd said. “Free enterprise is a good thing. Competition makes everybody work a little bit harder and smarter.”

Pest control

The IPM program, a one-man department headed by county employee 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 to fund operations that totaled $670,518. Individual town contributions vary and are based on property valuation.

Change demanded

The push for changes in the county IPM program came from the county advisory board, which met a few hours before the county commission last week.

County advisory board member Jeff Kristal of Tisbury said his town wants the county to issue an RFP.

“We can discuss what we want the RFP to look like,” Mr. Kristal said. “We would like it broken out — municipal, residential, and commercial.”

Walter Vail, who represents Oak Bluffs on the county advisory board, said voters in his town appropriated the money but want to see competitive bids before spending the funds.

“It’s in our budget, that gives us control over how it gets spent,” Mr. Vail said. “Give us some idea what we can really expect, then maybe we can decide, but I haven’t seen that yet. I don’t know if we can do it cheaper by going out for an RFP. I’m still not convinced this has to be a county service.”

The county advisory board meeting ended with a tense exchange between Mr. Kristal and Mr. Hegarty, after county treasurer Noreen Mavro-Flanders suggested that cutting back the IPM program may affect testing for mosquito-borne diseases. Mr. Hegarty managed the testing program last summer. It is funded by each town’s board of health.

“That’s a different program,” Mr. Kristal said.

Mr. Hegarty tried to interject.

“It’s not going to be there, Jeff,” Mr. Hegarty said.

“Excuse me, that’s paid for by the boards of health in our towns,” Mr. Kristal said.

Again Mr. Hegarty tried to interject.

“If you don’t have the employees to do it,” Mr. Hegarty said.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” Mr. Kristal responded.

“There is no excuse for you, Jeff,” Mr. Hegarty said.

Mr. Hegarty’s comment was greeted with objection by several members of the county advisory board and county commissioners present.

“When you wonder why Tisbury, and possibly Oak Bluffs wish to look at the value of the program, I think you just heard a piece of it,” Mr. Kristal said. “For us to be discussing this now is ridiculous. We need to cut the budget to reflect exactly the funds that the three towns wish to put in, and move on. I don’t believe the town of Tisbury taxpayers should be subsidizing commercial property. That’s where Tisbury stands.”

The county advisory board asked commissioners to revise their budget, and return to them for a final review.

A public hearing on the county budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 18, at 4 pm in the Oak Bluffs Library public meeting room.