County supports substance use coordinator position

Advisory board will have final say on whether the county acts as fiscal agent for the Islandwide role.

Dukes County manager Martina Thornton presents a request to the county for them to act as the fiscal agents in funding an Islandwide substance use disorder coalition coordinator for Martha's Vineyard Community Services.

With warrant articles and budget requests due to Island towns, the Dukes County Commission has agreed to act as the fiscal agent for several new and longstanding budget requests. The County Advisory Board (CAB) still has to give its blessing.

During their regular meeting Wednesday, commissioners raised concerns about the level of understanding the community has regarding programs and services where the county acts as the fiscal agent.

The conversation was spurred by requests brought forward by county manager Martina Thornton during the annual process of commissioners reviewing regional service requests before moving them forward to the CAB. 

Among the recurring requests for services like Health Care Access, the Center for Living, Harbor Homes, and Healthy Aging, one particular request forced commissioners to think about the role they play in these organizations that benefit the entire Island.

The main position of concern relates to the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS)

request for a part-time Substance Use Disorder Coalition (SUDC) coordinator who would replace a former communications staff person at MVCS, Mary Korba, who most recently served as coordinator for the coalition before accepting a full-time job at the high school.

“The request is a little shy of $50,000 for a part-time person to keep the coalition going,” Thornton said.

In past years, MVCS has paid for the position out of its own budget, but after Korba left the organization, the SUDC is working to hire another person before too much ground is lost, and they need the county’s help.

Commissioner Tristan Israel said funding would come from the towns, be channeled through the county, and then be provided to Community Services, so there would undoubtedly be some kind of administrative cost to the county.

The commission has historically requested an additional fee (5 percent) to be divided among the towns during budget season to cover any additional hours Thornton or other county employees spend throughout the year dealing with these administrative tasks.

A number of commissioners voiced their concerns that the reason the towns have consistently denied the county’s request for additional administrative appropriations is a general lack of understanding within the Island community.

Commissioner Don Leopold said that by describing these programs the county historically acts as fiscal agent for as county programs, they are giving the wrong impression to voters and taxpayers. “I was spending an inordinate amount of time trying to understand what in the world our social services are,” Leopold said. “It is incredibly unclear to the towns, to the [finance committees], and to the select boards. The problem is that I don’t think we have yet positioned this in a way that people understand.”

He described the role the county plays as being similar to that of a general contractor, except the money from clients (taxpayers) is going directly to the subcontractors (Island organizations), and the county doesn’t have enough income to pay for their administrative work as the middleman.

Additionally, Leopold stressed that the county cannot present themselves as having any sort of official position in formulating these requests, especially during the CAB meeting, and that the requests are coming from the organizations themselves — not the county.

“We don’t have skin in the game with respect to those services,” Leopold said. With this repositioning, Leopold said, he hopes the towns will see that the county isn’t acting in a self-serving way, but is instead looking to adequately support these programs and services that they have historically backed.

According to Thornton, the coalition will be at the next CAB meeting to plead its case for the coordinator position, and the county can be there to voice its opinion if the CAB wants it.

Commissioner John Cahill said it’s time to move away from the county administrative fee and illustrate more accurately to the CAB and to the towns why it’s problematic for the county to incur additional responsibilities without being further compensated.

Thornton explained that in the past several years, the county has received and administered the funding for the substance use disorder program, for Island recovery coach training, and for the assessments for health and wellness at the high school.

Recently, however, the county has shifted toward substance use prevention relating to homelessness, but the need for general substance use disorder action is still strong on the Island.

Commissioners unanimously voted to continue acting as the fiscal agent for the Islandwide SUDC coordinator so long as the position is funded by the towns and supported by the CAB.