The Dukes County manager appeared before the Tisbury selectmen this week to explain the countywide pest control program, whose cost and effectiveness have come under scrutiny in more than one Island town in recent weeks, as warrants are prepared for upcoming annual town meetings. The six towns share the bulk of the funding for the program, and the county contributes a small share. Beginning in July the towns will be asked to take over all the funding.
At the Tisbury selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, county manager Martina Thornton presented the board with an overview of changes to the dollar amounts assessed to towns for fiscal year 2014. The changes affect town contributions to both the integrated pest management program and the Vineyard health care access program.
Ms. Thornton has presented the changes to financial committees in Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury and Chilmark (rodent control officer T.J. Hegarty presented them at an Aquinnah selectmen’s meeting earlier this month).
The matter of Tisbury pest control was raised during a selectmen’s meeting on Jan. 3, when the board agreed to back an article proposed by town resident Joe Tierney which would set aside $10,000 for the creation of a town-owned pest-management program. Skunk control would also fall under the umbrella of this new program, Mr. Tierney said at the time.
Subsequent concerns about the county program shrinking or going away led Edgartown selectmen to change the wording of their own town meeting article about pest management so that the money appropriated could be used for the county program or another program.
Established in 1943 and previously called the rat control program (although it has not operated continuously), the integrated pest management program provides services to all seven towns in Dukes County, including Gosnold. Town buildings and those owned by nonfprofits are serviced at no cost; schools pay a flat rate of $300 for pest control and followups. Private residences are charged $55 for a first visit and $35 for followups. The program was most recently reinstated in 2001; Mr. Hegarty has held the position of rodent control officer since then.
In November, the county advisory board, which has the final say over the county budget, met to redo the formulas used to assess towns for contributions to the integrated pest management program. Warrant articles for the towns were then prepared based on the new formula. In its present incarnation, the towns pay 90 per cent of the program’s costs, and the county pays 10 per cent. Town shares are calculated using a formula based on county assessments of real estate values in each town. In fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1, 2013, towns will fund 100 per cent of the program themselves and the county will serve as the administrative arm, Ms. Thornton told the Gazette by telephone Thursday. But the formula will also be changed to a so-called 50/50 formula that uses equalized valuations as determined by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and town population as determined by the 2010 census.
Under the 50/50 formula, three towns — Aquinnah, Chilmark, and Gosnold — would see decreases in the amount paid for their share of integrated pest management. Four towns — Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury — would have their dollar amounts increased. Tisbury would spend an additional $5,029 over last year for a total of $12,861. This is a flat fee, Ms. Thornton said in response to a query from Mr. Tierney.
“It’s subsidized by the town but that’s a responsible way of the town of addressing the public health issue,” the county manager said. “Some of the lower-income people might not be able to use these services otherwise.” She added that the program will provide services for free to those with hardship, and that Mr. Hegarty offers a training seminar for other pest management professionals on the Island.
In addition to rats and mice, the integrated pest management program covers removal of moles, voles, squirrels, moths, and ants. It does not cover termites or skunks.
“I know there have been discussions about the skunks,” Ms. Thorton told the Tisbury selectmen on Tuesday, addressing recent concerns about the striped mustelids. She explained that skunks are different from rats because they are classified as wildlife by the state of Massachusetts, requiring a different license in order to trap them. These licenses are provided by the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, as opposed to the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture, which licenses for pesticide application.
Currently, there are two privately-owned skunk trapping services on the Island, one belonging to Mr. Hegarty and the other to Walter Wlodyka.
Selectmen Tristan Israel said the integrated pest management program’s future would be discussed at the county advisory board’s next meeting on March 6. After that meeting, he said, “we should have a pretty clear idea of what direction this is going in.”
“I think the discussion is ‘What do you want in this program?’” he said. “Do you want us to service private people or not, do you want skunks or not.”
Mr. Israel also broached the topic of going out to bid for the position of rodent control officer, as opposed to having the job automatically held by a county employee.
Ms. Thornton said that the county commission was currently working on an agreement that would clarify the responsibilities of the pest management program. Once drafted, she said, it would move to the advisory board, and to town boards of selectmen.
“There will be a document, and I think at this stage that this discussion is needed about what is the scope of service, what the towns expect.” She said Oak Bluffs had mentioned a shift to focusing on preventative services.
Mr. Israel noted that the selectmen and town should take into consideration the planned renovations and reconstruction of the Water street building next to Stop & Shop.
“A lot of critters are going to be disturbed,” he said. “I think that’s not debatable.”