Mon. Oct 2nd, 2023
    The Challenge of Staffing Municipal Departments on Martha’s Vineyard

    The Dukes County Sheriff, Robert Ogden, has expressed concern about the low staffing levels at the county jail and the impact it is having on the services provided to the Island’s police forces. Due to the shortage of guards, some staff members are working 12-hour shifts, and administrators are having to fill in at the jailhouse. Sheriff Ogden also worries about the staffing levels at the Island’s communication center.

    In addition to the county jail, there are also staffing issues in Edgartown’s town departments. While Town Administrator James Hagerty believes that these issues have not yet affected the services provided to the community, he acknowledges the need to address it in the future.

    To tackle the lack of municipal employees, Edgartown is considering purchasing the former Land Bank headquarters on Main Street. However, housing municipal employees in town-owned buildings presents challenges, as there are restrictions on who can live in publicly funded houses. Typically, municipal employees earn too much to qualify for housing reserved for residents making 100 percent or less of the area median income, but not enough to afford the high housing costs on Martha’s Vineyard.

    While towns on the Vineyard have relied on Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding for housing, which is reserved for lower-income residents, there is now an inclination to explore other options. Nantucket, for example, has dedicated a significant amount of funding toward housing efforts using general funds. State funding could also play a crucial role in funding municipal housing, as long as towns designate local funding.

    In an effort to provide relief to Island communities, State Senator Julian Cyr has filed a bill that would allow towns to give a 100 percent preference to municipal employees when it comes to housing. This amendment is part of a larger bill called the “Act Relative to Attainable Housing in Seasonal Communities,” which aims to support housing efforts in resort communities like Martha’s Vineyard and the Berkshires.

    The bill proposes various measures to bolster housing efforts, such as providing property tax exemptions for residents with incomes below the area median income and creating task forces to explore ways to encourage affordable housing development. Governor Maura Healy has shown support for helping municipalities provide housing and held a roundtable on the issue during her visit to the Vineyard earlier this year.

    Martha’s Vineyard Commission housing coordinator Laura Silber sees the 100 percent preference option for municipal housing as a way to level the playing field, as towns currently face challenges in competing with private employers and nonprofits for housing. She believes that without a better housing solution, the infrastructure of up-Island towns is at risk.

    Overall, the shortage of municipal employees and the high cost of housing pose significant challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the continued provision of essential services and the sustainability of Island communities.

    Sources: Martha’s Vineyard Times