With requests for financial aid from the state falling on deaf ears, the Dukes County sheriff told the county commission this week that he is out of money. “My main concern is payroll. I was totally out of funds as of April 30. I haven’t paid invoices since March,” Sheriff Michael McCormack told members of the county commission at their regular meeting Wednesday.
This winter, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a plan for a state takeover of the seven county sheriffs which still operate independently. The plan was a response to repeated concerns from county sheriffs, Sheriff McCormack included, over funding for their annual budgets.
Structured as an amendment to Governor Patrick’s 2009 budget, the proposal would have placed Sheriff McCormack, his 44 employees and the property his department currently occupies under control of the commonwealth.
Following a public hearing in March at which many of the county sheriffs, including Sheriff McCormack, expressed opposition to the plan, the amendment was held in committee for further study. No action has been taken on the bill.
On April 1, Sheriff McCormack received a letter from the state announcing he would not receive any supplementary funding. He had been seeking an additional $567,984. The letter suggested that the money might be found if he were a state employee.
On April 30, with no aid in sight, Sheriff McCormack ran out of money. This week, the sheriff appeared in front of the county government finance review board in Boston to request $101,000 in emergency money from the county corrections fund to pay his staff. The board will vote on the request next week; in an informal poll taken at the meeting, it appeared the request will be granted.
The money will provide financial relief until mid-May, the sheriff told the county commission Wednesday. The fiscal year runs out June 30. Until then, the sheriff said he can only hope for an amendment to the governor’s supplemental budget for money to carry him through the year.
County manager Russell Smith called the situation a financial train wreck. The commission agreed. “This is bigger than the seven of us,” said commissioner Leonard Jason Jr. of Chilmark. “This is going to affect the entire Island.”
But this week Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O’Leary remained optimistic. “It is a real problem and it would have been nice if we could have addressed this in the budget with some real reform. These sheriffs can’t get through the year,” he said, adding: “Something has to give here in my opinion. I can’t imagine we won’t get some supplemental funding.”
In other business Wednesday the commission heard an update from Chris Kennedy, the Island regional director for The Trustees of Reservations. Mr. Kennedy introduced the commission to Chappaquiddick superintendent Sarah Trudel who has replaced longtime superintendent David Belcher.
The commission also heard a report from Marc Hanover, the Vineyard boat line governor. He said the SSA has seen a 62 per cent rise in its fuel bill this year. “Oil, oil, oil,” said Mr. Hanover. “For every $10 the price of a barrel of oil goes up, there is a $1 million increase in the Steamship Authority budget.”
In other news, the Dukes County youth task force has received a three-year $300,000 grant from Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. The commission also announced that the county advisory board will meet on May 21 to discuss the 2009 budget for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
The next meeting of the county commission will be at 5 p.m. on May 21 at the county administration building.