Two weeks ago, the Select Board approved entering the agreement to form a Regional Dispatch Center with Westborough and Grafton on a remediated former superfund site*.
Although the board stated that a Town Meeting approval isn’t required, two Citizen Petition Articles will seek to block the effort.
On February 15th, the board voted 4-1 to approve the draft agreement with edits.
The holdout, Chair Kathy Cook made clear that she is in favor of regionalizing the dispatch services. But she worried that they were rushing too quickly into the specific RECC (Regional 911 Emergency Communication Center). One of her biggest concerns was whether the site is safe enough.
Cook suggested that the site at Homonco Pond was pushed on them by Westborough, which had a committee dedicated to finding a use for the parcel.* She wondered why a site restricted from some uses (such as “Residential, school or childcare”) would be considered safe enough for employees to work at for long hours.
Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski said that she had Southborough’s Conservation Agent walk her through the environmental reports.* Apparently, Agent Melissa Danza would have been concerned if the site were going to use well water. But Westborough confirmed that it will tap into the street pipes. Danza was reportedly reassured that the annual testing wasn’t showing a rise in contaminant levels.
Cook also had wished for language assuring that our Town wouldn’t have any liabilities if there were issues with the site. In a previous meeting, Town Counsel argued that would be covered in any lease agreement. On the 15th, Cook said she would have liked to see the lease agreement.
Cook also would have liked to better explore alternative centers and the possibilities for solving issues without regionalizing. Malinowski countered that when they looked at another center opening in Milford, they learned it would be several years before new towns could join.
Malinowski also reminded that Motorola had tested the site. Because of its elevation and based on their testing, they believed that it would reach radios at sites all across the partnering towns.
Both Malinowski and member Lisa Braccio raised concerns about the “liability” the Town faces with our current dispatch services. Malinowski said she had listened to some 911 tapes with Fire Chief Stephen Achilles. If we keep dispatch in house we would need to double the amount of dispatchers and likely hire a supervisor.
Member Andrew Dennington said he felt that taking Cook’s position would be to essentially put off making a decision. He believed it was time to move ahead. He and Braccio were both persuaded by the support for the change by the police and fire chiefs.
Member Sam Stivers appeared to be initially on the fence. Based on Malinowski’s explanations about some of the agreement language, Stivers voted with the majority.
Members are expected to sign the agreement in time to submit with a state grant application by March 2nd. The Board isn’t scheduled to discuss the agreement in their meeting tonight. The expectation was for Malinowski to handle the revisions and working with counterparts in Westborough and Grafton who were authorized to approve small changes.
I followed up with Malinowski who shared the updated version here. Revisions include removing a section that would have required a minimum number of employed dispatchers based on the total employed by each Town on the agreement’s effective date. (The inclusion had been at the request of Hopkinton which ultimately dropped out of the agreement.)
A discussed edit that didn’t get included was removing the Executive Director’s tie-breaking vote. As Malinowski pointed out to me, with only three Towns involved, a tie on the Board of Directors is no longer a concern.
The Town has until June 1st to pull out of the agreement without any penalties. Between now and then, Town officials are meant to put together and cost out a plan for handling in-person visitors and business calls if there is no dispatch in the building.
Also between now and then is Annual Town Meeting, opening on March 25th. On the Warrant for the meeting are two Citizen Petition Articles seeking to derail the deal.
One seeks to have Town Meeting approve any future IMAs for regionalizing dispatch services. The other seeks to stop the Select Board from further pursuing the general concept. (I’m no lawyer, but both appear to be non-binding votes that would rely on the Select Board to heed the will of TM voters.) You can read about those here.
To read about the the unanimous support for the IMA by Grafton and Westborough Select Boards, check out the Community Advocate’s coverage here.
*Superfund Site: For those who want more details on the history and the documents related to the superfund site:
The site at 30 Otis Street in Westborough was a former wood treatment facility dating back to the 1930s. In 1983, after testing of water discharged into Homonco Pond, the Environmental Protection Agency listed it as a superfund site. Westborough’s website states:
From 1983 – 2019 the site underwent ongoing remediation for groundwater contamination. In 2017 a Notice of Activity Use and Limitation (NAUL) was signed by the Town of Westborough, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). With the signing of the NAUL the Town of Westborough became the owner of the property. The NAUL defines both specific and non-specific future uses for the parcel. In 2019 the groundwater remediation system was decommissioned, and EPA approved the submission of the Decommissioning Report by Beazer East.
You can find the NAUL, the Decommissioning Report, and other documents posted by the town here. Beyond prohibiting use for residential, school or childcare purposes, the restrictions under the NAUL appear to be mainly related to avoiding disturbances to the soil that could expose additional contaminants.
In the EPA’s most recently published “5 Year Review” from September 2019, the agency stated that bulk sediment concentrations still “intermittently exceed ecological cleanup goals.” The report recommended continuing annual monitoring. It appeared that further action would only be required if “a steadily increasing trend in concentrations becomes apparent”. The report noted that “EPA and MassDEP will work with the PRP and the town to dismantle and properly dispose of the former groundwater treatment equipment and footprint, so that the town can utilize the empty building.”
The EPA website has far more documents on the history of the site, test results and five year reports here and additional administrative documents here.
The next Five Year Report is due in September of 2024.
There is no way the so called Select Board can make decisions of this magnitude without he input form the town taxpayers and citizens! This is typical of what is occurring in our nations capital. The downsides of this whole proposal are well documented and far outnumber any reasons to go forward. These individuals that support this extremely ridiculous move need to look at the facts and drop the proposal! We as taxpaying citizens need to wake up and let them know how bad this proposal is.
“NO” — TO REGIONALIZATION OF PUBLIC SAFETY DISPATCH
The Regional Dispatch Agreement, (combining Southborough with Westborough and Grafton), was recently signed by our Select Board, without so much as a passing thought — that Town Meeting might want a “say” in the matter, and would probably reject it, if it ever came to a vote. Hopkinton Select Board was wise enough to examine the downsides, and refused to sign — as have most other towns surrounding Southborough. Our Board seems to have fallen victim to short term financial gimmicks.
One of the temptations (or carrots) to encourage Regionalization, is the State financial subsidy in the three early years. As I understand it, (correct me if am wrong), once those initial funds run down to nothing, then your town is STUCK in a regional system of some kind, for ever. For instance, if you grow to be very unhappy with your current, regional town partners, and therefore you want to leave that particular region, then you cannot easily leave — because you are NOT PERMITTED (BY STATE LAW) to return to your former status, running dispatch as an individual town. If you want to leave, then your options are limited to moving into another region, with different towns. Of course, the State has set it up this way deliberately — to tempt towns into regionalizing, and then making it virtually impossible for them to get out.
But besides the problem of becoming stuck with unhappy neighbors, there are other, undesirable issues — particularly of losing local, democratic (small “d”) governance. For instance, John Butler calls the Regional Dispatch Agreement, quote: “… a RADICAL DEPARTURE from our fiscal management traditions, STRIPPING Town Meeting of its normal authority over taxation and appropriation.” (I changed some words to capitals for emphasis).
It is surely bad enough to lose local authority over taxation. But what Butler writes about next, is even more disturbing. There are TWO appointed officials who have been misled the Southborough Select Board and Town Meeting on this very matter. The first is Mark Purple, our Town Administrator.
(Quote) “I raised this issue (of the radical departure in taxation authority) in a letter to the Select Board. When it came up for discussion, Mr. Purple, the Town Admin, told the board — it was like the Regional Schools. (But) that is ENTIRELY FALSE”.
My understanding is that it is FALSE because basic, democratic principles are violated — because the Regional Dispatch Agreement gives the power to raise taxes to just THREE EMPLOYEES (meaning APPOINTED AND UNELECTED officials who can live anywhere, outside of town, just as Purple does.) Two of those employees must come from the other two Towns, Westborough and Grafton.
So, the vote setting the budget of the new Regional Dispatch system, will be voted by these three UNELECTED employees — and this DIFFERS from the vote of our two Regional Schools Systems, where ELECTED School Committee Members recommend the budget to their Town Meetings, leaving each Town Meeting with the final say.
While it has become commonplace for Town Admin Purple, (after about 20 years in office), to lead or mislead the Select Board, we now have ANOTHER APPOINTED OFFICIAL, Town Counsel, who appears to be trending in the same direction.
Butler says the Select Board acted (quote) “as if they did NOT want to tell Town Meeting of this stripping of Town Meeting’s authority over taxation …. and …. they MAY HAVE BEEN LED in this direction by Town Counsel. …. (because) a DRAFT of this …. Agreement …. called for approval by Town Meetings …. (but) in the NEXT DRAFT, our Town Counsel had REMOVED the Town Meeting approval language.”
Now, does that remind you of similar behavior, by the same Town Counsel, BUT on another project? Yes, you guessed it — it is the St Marks Road Project, where this Counsel proposed a bunch of mechanisms, all of which were intended to by-pass Town Meeting’s authority — such as using LICENSES (instead of the customary easements).
It seems, more and more, that these two appointed officials are cowering our Select Board, and encouraging them to undercut Town Meeting. What can be done about this? Why doesn’t our Select Board make one fundamental policy very clear– that Town Meeting’s authority is NEVER to be undercut? If they disagree with this policy, then it is time for new appointments.
Westborough’s and Grafton’s representatives are employees, but for Southborough, the Select Board specified that it would be a select board member or designee. Of course, that’s just one of the three votes. But I wanted to clarify the fact (as I did under Mr. Butler’s original comment).
David, with respect sir, you didn’t need 9 paragraphs to make this single most important point:
“Why doesn’t our Select Board make one fundamental policy very clear– that Town Meeting’s authority is NEVER to be undercut?”
Completely agree with above statement.