Stop the bleeding — regionalize


Someone dared utter the word “regionalize” on the Vineyard, and fires did not ignite spontaneously, massive waves did not crash over the Island, and locusts did not emerge to terrorize us.

At a recent meeting between the Tisbury select board and the finance committee, finance committee chair Nancy Gilfoy told those assembled that Tracey Jones, who runs the town’s emergency medical services — the ambulance service, in layman’s terms — is retiring. Why did she bring that up? In the midst of talking about town budgets, Gilfoy was making the point that it would be a good time to review how the town does things.

“While the emergency medical services department is in transition, it might be a time to look at whether there’s a way to work with another town, whether it’s Oak Bluffs and Edgartown — to think about trying to combine, because according to Tracey, everyone’s having the same issue,” Gilfoy said. 

“And as Tracey said, there are towns in Massachusetts that have a larger square-mile area than we have, that have one ambulance service,” Gilfoy noted. Individual ambulance services for individual towns Gilfoy described as a “habit” that nonetheless “serves our citizens,” but doesn’t serve the town’s bottom line or efficiencies.

Her comments come on the heels of the Island’s fire chiefs holding an open house for potential emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Why? Because like just about every other job at the lower end of the pay scale on Martha’s Vineyard, it’s becoming more and more difficult to recruit individuals because they can’t afford to live on the Island.

All of which makes Gilfoy’s comments worth exploring. A shared ambulance service works effectively up-Island, where the Tri-Town Ambulance service provides emergency coverage for West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. There’s no good reason why it wouldn’t work in the more populated areas of Tisbury, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown.

And the only argument against exploring the idea is not a reasonable one — that towns are loath to give up their autonomy, as Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Nelson Wirtz told our reporter. Wirtz wasn’t expressing any opposition to the exploration, just being frank about what might stand in the way.

So Gilfoy’s opening salvo was a conversation starter. We think someone — the select boards and town administrators — should keep the conversation going.

Regionalization could not only help with the personnel costs associated with running an EMS department and the difficulty attracting candidates, but it could ultimately lead to a reduction in cost for the very expensive equipment associated with first responders.

Mary Ellen Larsen, a member of the finance committee in Tisbury, is correct: “Regionalization is not a popular word. It’s never been a popular word, and I don’t know what we’re going to do about that.”

We’re not sure either, but we have to start. To ignore the facts would be foolhardy.

It’s time to talk about sharing services.


  1. I am surprised that in the discussion to regionalize no one ever talks about the discrepancy in property tax value and tax rates in Island Towns. Tisbury and Oak Bluffs have the highest tax rates and last I saw the lowest property tax values which was shared at a Regional High School Finance Committee meeting many years ago. Both Towns have the most year round residents and therefore the largest share of the Regional High School funding formula as well as supporting boat ports in both town and the vast majority of infrastructure (hospital and regional high school) and non-profits. The boats occupy ocean front real estate which also tends to be the most valuable. Raising embarkation fees is one way to offset this however in no way seems to account for the services these towns provide. The challenge of humans sharing their resources and working together for a common cause is not unique to Martha’s Vineyard but we are a fascinating case study to how hard this is. Here’s to hoping for a more communal one-Island spirit in the New Year. Certainly, talking about it is a great first start.

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