Dukes County Commission
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Dukes County Administration Building
9 Airport Road, Edgartown, MA
Commissioners present: Carlene Gatting, Tristan Israel, Melinda Loberg, Les Leland, John Alley and Tom Hallahan.
County Staff present: Noreen Mavro-Flanders – Treasurer, Martina Thornton – Ex. Assistant to County Manager, Marc Hanover – representative to the SSA, Charles Cotnoir – Emergency Management Director.
1. Meeting was called to order at 5:05 PM
2. SSA report – Marc Hanover
Marc reported that Steamship Authority (SSA) revenue is down 5% and rates will go up 50 cents per passenger ticket, which is about 1 million of the $2.5 million budget increase. The rest of the increase is on the Nantucket run.
Melinda asked about the changes regarding billing the ambulances for boat trips and how it will impact the patients. Marc said that the ambulances should be paying half the fare. It used to be about 30 runs per month, but now since the new hospital was built it has increased to 135 runs per month (due to various reasons: getting professional care off island, inter-facility transports, etc.) The ambulances show up without warning and have priority, even on trips back without any patients on board. The cars that had reservations, and were bumped because of the ambulances, are being reimbursed by the SSA and it is getting to be too expensive. There was discussion about the way the insurance company or hospital reimburses the ambulance service for the runs. Marc will meet with Tim Walsh and with Oak Bluffs Ambulance to discuss this issue and
will report back.
Next summer the operating schedule will change so the 10:50 p.m. boat will stay on the island overnight and have a 6:15 a.m. boat for trucks to go off island and open up car space on the next couple of boats.
The Authority’s website is being re-designed.
Melinda asked why the freight boats are not on the passenger schedule. Marc said that freight boats can only take passengers if there are no hazardous materials on it. The F/V Governor is down. The SSA is asking for a new design for a new freight boat. The Island Home is being painted. Washington State would like to build a fourth boat based on the Island Home design. The design group would like to market the design openly. We would still receive $300K for each design sold.
Tom mentioned a big puddle in the Woods Hole lot that is about 12” deep under the first bridge.
Marc said the Seastrak had a great summer and they would like to increase their service next summer.
3. Financial Management Review by Department of Revenue (DOR)
Carlene said that although some of the recommendations of the DOR report have been implemented already, the report cuts to the heart of the problem that was already recognized by the Charter Study Commission in 2007-2008. The report sums it up: “Despite a strong desire among county and local officials for county government to remain a functioning asset and a resource to the surrounding communities, opinions are diverse on how to move forward and, as a result, no clear strategy has emerged.”
Carlene believes this is still true and unless the County is governed by the towns, nothing will happen. The state was encouraging us to get rid of the County in the past and it is clearly the same case in this report as their first recommendation is to create a Council of Governments (COG) as the regional government structure. Carlene would support Tristan’s idea to create a committee that would examine the valid points of this report. Tristan advised that the commissioners should be pro-active regarding this report and there are a couple of options to look at: COG, Home Rule Petition etc.
Noreen said that the report is flawed. Joseph Markarian and Zachary Blake were here only for one day. They spoke with County Manager Russell Smith alone for 2 hours (who does not have full understanding of the county’s finances and budget process). Then Martina was interviewed. They spoke to Noreen for 1 hour and to Assistant Treasurer/Parking Clerk Carol Grant for half an hour before they had to catch the boat. The DOR never came back and did not present us with a draft so that we could comment on the many errors that are in the report.
Melinda questioned the connections between a financial management review and their recommendations for structural changes. Carlene said she will contact the gentleman and ask him if he could set up additional interviews with the Treasurer as this is a good first draft but it needs additional work.
Tristan still wants to create the strategic planning committee to look at the general recommendation of the structural changes. John agreed that the management part of the current county structure seems to be not well organized as there is not much that the manager is really in charge of. John would like to send a draft of the Report to Penny Giese from the Franklin County Council of Governments for her comments. She came to a meeting of the recent Charter Study Commission to present the COG structure. Carlene said that it seems that there needs to be a structural change as the County Advisory Board made the decision to not allow the 2.5% increase in assessment without going back to the County Commissioners. There is also the question of why are they (Selectmen) not acting as the county commissioners as they know better what the towns
want from the County anyway.
Noreen said that this County Commission has very narrow focus based just on the general fund (which the CAB also looks at) and does not to see the big picture of the operation of the entire county (different grants, beach management, dog fund, fishermen’s association, etc.) Noreen tried to explain to them at last meeting that she had 90 funds that she oversees other than the general fund.
Tristan said that the people that are working for the County do not need direction from the County Commissioners, they all are doing their work well and know what to do. The County Commissioners could meet four times a year, have the CAB do the budget and cut down the manager’s position. Tom suggested adding some members of the Charter Study Commission to the committee. Carlene said the Charter Study Commission was too big, the process was too long and at the end they did not do the right thing in her opinion. Carlene said she believes that the county commissioners should be selectmen or at least representatives from the town. The county programs need to originate from the towns and the towns have to want the programs. During the Charter study process there was a suggestion to make legislative changes but some members scared others off by
saying how difficult it is, which is not true as long as it does not cost the state any money.
Tristan/John moved to create a committee consisting of 3 county commissioners, 3 county advisory board members and using Noreen as a resource to look at the whole report and make recommendations.
Discussion: Chuck said that people who have been mentioned already have an idea how they would proceed with the future of the County. He suggested having members that do not have an idea formed yet. He views the County as a disinterested third party that can come to towns with suggestions, which would not be the case if the County was governed by selectmen. Carlene said that it is a powerless third party as we have no money. Chuck said that to him that is an advantage.
Noreen suggested looking at what the COG does before talking about changing the County structure to COG. She and Tom went down the list of what Franklin Council of Government does and found out that we are already doing most of their functions or they are being done by other organizations on the island (planning, dispatch center, regional refuse district…). What is missing is a central hub for administration. We have been talking about this for years. The MV Center 4 Living came here several times begging us to be part of the county. Why are they not part of the County? The MV Commission is willing to talk about starting to bring their accounting over. John said that the regional ideas like the transit authority were before the County and County did not take it.
Carlene asked why the towns would not come to the County with suggestions for services they would expect the County to do. Tristan said lots of these opportunities like the refuse district came and passed and he came with new ideas. He asked the county manager to investigate option of grant writing under the County, the whole board voted to investigate it and nothing happened. The towns don’t have money and the County unlike the Barnstable County doesn’t have money either to help the towns fund the regional programs. John said that the towns did in the past, support regional services like the Rodent Control Program or the county wide fuel bid, and County made it happen. The County has however a history of shooting itself in the foot.
Carlene asked what was accomplished in the last four years other than stabilizing the County. She likes the Council of Governments option as it is the towns sitting at the table deciding about regional programs instead of miscellaneous island people. Tristan would be for keeping the County and change the home rule through legislation so that commissioners represent the towns. Programs that are supported continue and the ones that are not don’t. Melinda suggested to bring someone from the Charter Study Commission to the table to bring back the idea that the County is here for the towns to accomplish some of their goals. Tad Crawford and Paddy More were mentioned.
Tristan amended his motion that there will be a seventh member appointed by the Chairperson from the Charter Study Commission.
Les said that after his conversation with Zack from DOR he was led to believe that there will be a draft and an opportunity to comment on the report. Noreen said she can not believe that Robert Nunes (Deputy Commissioner [of the DOR] and director of Municipal Affairs) would be signing off on a draft. Carlene said she will call them tomorrow, thank them for the “draft” and let them know that our comments are on the way and she would like to schedule additional meetings to complete the report.
Vote to amend the motion: All in favor.
Vote to create the committee: All in favor.
Carlene asked who wants to serve on the committee. Tom, Melinda, John, Tristan and Carlene were interested. John withdrew. Carlene withdrew. The committee members: Tom, Melinda, Tristan.
Noreen said she would like all the commissioners to read her and Martina’s comments to the report provided to them in their packet. Carlene said that she would like the committee primarily to look at the county structure. Tom said he would like the report not to go out until we go through the comments and corrections. Martina said she can not deny access to the report as it is a public record. Tristan said that all the CAB members already received this report. Melinda said that we should first focus on the accuracy of the report to have an accurate report to work with before exploring the recommendations.
Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) Trust – Noreen asked the commissioners to take a leadership role. Through the work of an ad hoc group created under the retirement system, there has been an actuarial study done and legislation passed allowing creation of a Pooled OPEB Trust for all island municipal organizations. The County has the opportunity to sign an agreement to create the OPEB Trust with the all island school committee, which is meeting on November 1st and will sign the trust agreement. All towns and districts could join later through joinder agreements. The ad hoc group prepared the agreements and Noreen presented a draft to the commissioners and asked them to read it and vote on it at the next meeting. The lawyers have already reviewed it. It would give all community members a better position to invest their OPEB funds.
Carlene asked who will manage the funds. Noreen said it is all spelled out in the agreement. The Commissioners will meet next Wednesday to vote on it.
Les/Tristan moved to adjourn the meeting at 6:40 p.m. All in favor.
Respectfully Submitted by:
JOSEPH E. SOLLITTO JR., Clerk of the Courts
Documents presented at the meeting and part of the official records:
- Memorandum with the Treasurer’s and Exec. Assistant’s comments to the DOR Financial Management Review
- Letter from T.J. Hegarty to the County Manager regarding National Conservation Partnership Leadership Conference Stipend Application to represent MA RC & D
- Draft Declaration of Trust of the Dukes County Pooled OPEB Trust Fund (see minutes of 10/13/2010)