A new Dukes County Commission resolution that sets a $15 minimum wage for all employees and contractors has stalled negotiations on an agreement with The Trustees of Reservations to manage county-owned Norton Point Beach.

The county commission passed the wage proposal at a meeting on Nov. 12, 2015. The resolution covered all permanent, temporary and part time employees, as well as workers hired through grants awarded to Dukes County, and those hired by organizations that contract with the County, including The Trustees of the Reservations.

The current agreement with the county calls for the Trustees to manage shorebird protection, issue vehicle permits, respond to requests for vehicle assistance, beach cleaning, and enforcement of regulations by hiring rangers to patrol the two and a half mile strip of barrier beach. The county commission voted in 2006 to hire the Trustees to manage the beach. The agreement was renewed in 2009 and again in 2012.

According to Trustees Vineyard superintendent Chris Kennedy, the minimum wage mandate would cost approximately an additional $20,000 annually in salaries, and would mean the Trustees would have to increase fees or cut jobs and programs.

“The Trustees run a very tight ship financially,” said Mr. Kennedy this week. “We’re looking at about $20,000. While it may not seem like a lot of money in the big scheme of things, our budgets are balanced in such a way that if we create a $20,000 expenditure on one property, it’s going to have to be paid for elsewhere.”

Trustees Vineyard superintendent Chris Kennedy said most of the seasonal workers he hires are retirees looking to supplement their retirement income. — Lanny McDowell

Mr. Kennedy said most of the seasonal workers he hires are retirees looking to supplement their retirement income. They earn between $10 and $12 per hour. The state-mandated minimum wage is $10 an hour.

Mr. Kennedy attended the March 2 county commission meeting prepared to ask for a routine three-year renewal of the Norton Point management agreement with no fee increases. He withdrew the offer after talk of the $15 minimum wage mandate. He said he was looking forward to more discussion, and was hopeful of reaching an agreement.

County commissioner John Alley, who did not attend the Nov. 12 meeting and did not vote in favor of the wage mandate, voiced his objection to the increase.

“Why are we in the salary business,” he said. “You contracted with an organization to do something, and they said they would do it. If they choose to pay their people $12 an hour or $11.25, that’s their business, not ours. It’s wrong.”

“This is going forward,” said county commissioner Tristan Israel, who had voted for the wage mandate. “You may not agree with the vote we took, but we’re not asking them to change a contract we already had with them.”

The current agreement requires the Trustees to pay the county commission $75,000, based on projected revenue of $375,000. If the actual revenue exceeds $450,000, or falls below $300,000, the Trustees are allowed to adjust the county payment accordingly.

“Right now the properties work, the fee system works,” Mr. Kennedy said this week. “We don’t intentionally run surpluses and we can’t run deficits.”

County commission vice-chairman David Holway said the Trustees reported an increase in income this past summer, following a fee increase for over-sand vehicle permits. Revenue for the past summer was in excess of $400,000, according to the county commission, though not higher than the $450,000 threshold that would trigger extra payments to the county.

Mr. Kennedy said any revenue the Trustees collect in excess of the expense of managing the beach is used for education and conservation programs on the Island.

“A property may make a surplus, but that money is used here on the Island to pay for programs such as school education, shorebird management and educational walks provided at no fee or a nominal fee,” Mr. Kennedy said.

At the March 2 meeting, county commissioners appointed a negotiating committee to work on a new agreement before the current contract expires on March 31. Mr. Holway and county commissioner Leon Brathwaite, Jr., were named to the negotiating committee.

“There’s money in there for them to do what we asked them to do,” Mr. Holway said. “We need to get this done.”