Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden stood before Edgartown selectmen Monday afternoon to request a warrant article this spring, and discuss the financial, structural, and operational state of the Dukes County Regional Emergency Communication Center.
Prior to 2010, the Dukes County towns funded the communication center’s operating and capital budgets. All six Vineyard towns, plus Gosnold on the Elizabeth Islands, subsidized the annual costs, based on real estate values and county assessments. In 2010, the state assumed financial responsibility for the sheriff’s office, and the towns stopped paying. The center has been flat-funded ever since, according to Mr. Ogden.
The deficit is bleeding into its ability to sustain infrastructure, employees, and maintenance management of the system, Sheriff Ogden said.
“Almost a quarter of our dispatches are through Edgartown’s fire and police,” Mr. Ogden said. “So we’re here to seek support from the town, and possibly present it to your townspeople for discussion on the warrant article.”
For the 2019 fiscal year, the sheriff is requesting about $185,000 from the town of Edgartown, $199,000 from Oak Bluffs, $155,000 from Vineyard Haven, and less than $80,000 from the other three up-Island towns. It is requesting $231 from Gosnold, for a grand total of about $670,000 from the county’s towns.
Massachusetts recognizes the sheriff’s department as a house of corrections, and pays it a general appropriation that the department then decides how to distribute annually, according to Sheriff Ogden.
According to Sheriff Ogden, the state doesn’t recognize all the regional services the sheriff’s department provides. It also oversees jail and lockup service, emergency communication, public safety services such as beach, bike, and boat patrol, court order mandates, civil processes, and drug prevention education in schools.
“We can pay for the house of correction, we can somewhat pay for jail and lockup, but when it comes to paying for everything that runs the communication center, we simply cannot do it,” Sheriff Ogden said.
Selectmen chairman Arthur Smadbeck questioned the amount the department was asking for from the county, referencing past years, before the department was taken over by the state, when the county paid less annually than what the sheriff’s department is asking for in 2019.
“The call volume increased,” Sheriff Ogden responded. “The obligation to the regional emergency communication center has increased, and this is what we’ve seen as an obligation to the town through dispatch. We’re not making up the call volume; it’s there for you to see.”
According to the warrant article request, throughout the state, three other regional communication emergency centers are also run by their sheriff’s offices — Barnstable, Berkshire, and Essex. Dukes is the only county that doesn’t receive funding from participating communities.
“We’re not unique in coming and requesting assessments from the towns,” Sheriff Ogden told selectmen.
“But it’s unique for us, because it’s new,” Mr. Smadbeck replied. “That’s part of the problem I’m struggling with. The fact that previous administrations weren’t asking for it indicates we don’t need it.”
Sheriff Ogden took office in January 2016, replacing longtime Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack. Sheriff Ogden said the previous administration didn’t put money into infrastructure, which is now outdated, and that’s why the funds are needed.
“I don’t understand why it’s on the backs of the three down-Island towns,” town administrator Pam Dolby said. “It’s a service that every town needs, every fire department, and every police department. And the amount you’re asking for from Edgartown is substantial, especially this year. We have a lot of articles we’re looking at.”
“It’s not about dollars and cents,” Sheriff Ogden said. “It’s about public safety. It’s about supporting our community. That’s why we were elected into these positions. If we don’t pay for this and the system fails, I will ask you why.”
According to Sheriff Ogden, all town radio sites need an overhaul, and their business-grade system doesn’t support public safety.
“We’re using products that are insufficient, identified by key stakeholders, not only on-Island, but specific consultants we brought in from off-Island,” Mr. Ogden said.
According to Mr. Ogden, the state recognizes that Martha’s Vineyard has a structural, technological, and operability deficit, and will support them with grant projects, but they have to wait in line with everybody else.
“They suggested the lag time would be anywhere from 5 to 10 years. We can’t wait that long,” Sheriff Ogden said. “So what do we do until we get that money?”
“A good question,” Mr. Smadbeck replied.
In other business, selectmen heard from Paul Pimentel seeking a letter of support on behalf of Vineyard Wind. The offshore wind farm about 15 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard is one of three under consideration, along with Bay State Wind and Deepwater Wind. Proposals are due Dec. 20.
Mr. Pimentel, who is also a board member for Vineyard Power, a partner of Vineyard Wind, said Vineyard Wind has the Island’s best interests in mind. The group has met with nearly 100 fishermen and related stakeholders to make sure all industries can thrive through shared and sustainable use of the ocean’s resources. Mr. Pimentel also said Vineyard Wind will provide long-term employment to dozens of individuals, and the company is already working with Island housing to come up with affordable solutions for new hires.
The board said it would refer the request to the marine advisory and shellfish committees to get their opinions.
In a tax-rate hearing, selectmen heard from board of assessors chairman Alan Gowell. The tax classification for the town of Edgartown will remain at one residential rate for every property, treating residential, commercial, and industrial properties equally. The tax rate will go up from $3.55 per thousand to $3.87 per thousand, a 32¢, or 9 percent, increase.
“The value of our small colonial New England town this year is worth $8.2 billion,” Mr. Gowell said.