Chilmark raises concern about high school E and D fund use

Town leaders praise Chuck Hodgkinson, say his retirement will leave a void.

Rob Hanneman during an energy policy presentation. On Tuesday, Hanneman raised concerns about the high school’s use of excess and deficiency funds to design a field house. — Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark is reaching out to other towns amid concern among finance committees over the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s use of excess and deficiency (E and D) funds.

Last year, MVRHS asked each town to use $350,000 in E and D funds to engineer a design for the new proposed track and synthetic turf field. Chilmark voters rejected the article, but four other Island towns approved the funds, allowing the school to use the funds.

Finance committee chair Rob Hanneman told selectmen that various Island finance committees have raised concerns the warrant article was interpreted in such a way that it allowed the high school to misspend the E and D funds. 

“As it turns out, they did spend the money to design the track and the synthetic infield, but also a new $1.2 million field house, a wastewater management system, and another, separate field,” Hanneman said. “The school administration — well, let me just say they asserted very strongly that once this article was passed, they could spend this money on whatever they wanted to.”

The town’s share of the $350,000 was not Hanneman’s concern, but rather the precedent it set to use E and D funds and ignore warrant articles. According to Hanneman, there are three options for the town: Do nothing, write a “sternly worded expression of concern,” or ask for a refund for all of the towns for the money spent on nonspecified tasks.

“I know the school committees are under a huge amount of pressure right now to keep the schools running, and we may wish to recognize that as well,” Hanneman said.

Hanneman said he will reach out to other finance committees to learn how they are reacting to the high school’s use of the funds.

“The real issue is we have a warrant article that says do X, it doesn’t do X and Y, or do Z, and that’s my concern going forward,” selectman Jim Malkin said.

In other business, after 16 years on the job, Chilmark town hall jack-of-all-trades Chuck Hodgkinson is set to retire next year. 

At their meeting Tuesday, Chilmark selectmen praised Hodgkinson for his service to the town as a coordinator of administrative support, administrative assistant to the zoning board of appeals, and for taking part of several town boards — conservation commission, site review committee, Ccommunity Preservation committee, historical commission, human resource board, parks and recreation commission. He was also assistant wharfinger, conservation officer, and backyard bash grill master.

Hodgkinson is set to retire on April 1.

Selectman Bill Rossi, who was on the committee that hired Hodgkinson, said he has become a go-to employee for the town.

“He’s turned himself into this indispensable part of town hall,” Rossi said. “There’s gonna be a void left unless we get someone, or a few people, here to take over his responsibilities and match the production he put out.”

Selectmen said it would be a difficult position to fill, but said they could use the opportunity to split duties or restructure some of Hodgkinson’s responsibilities.

Selectmen asked town administrator Tim Carroll to work with Hodgkinson and the various boards and committees he’s worked with, and present selectmen with paths to take forward.

“It’s a very important hire for the town,” Rossi said.

The Chilmark Fire Department is proposing annual fees to homeowners with alarm systems that automatically alert the county communications center. Under the town’s fire alarm policy, an on-call fire department member responds to the call when alerted. Fire Chief Jeremy Bradshaw said the alarms are frequently false alarms, and the administrative side of issuing warnings and fines is time-consuming.

Selectman Warren Doty said that considering the current system of doling out fines for false alarms has not been working, he thinks there should be a fee. “I think every homeowner should pay an annual fee to be a part of this service,” Doty said.

Hanneman said he didn’t see why the current system of fines per false alarm couldn’t work. “The people who are responsible, take care of their alarms, make sure they’re cleaned every year, and so on and so forth, are paying an unfair share of that,” Hanneman said.

Rossi said it could help supplement the cost of the volunteer fire department. Selectmen asked Carroll to look into the issue.