A divided Select Board at its Tuesday meeting decided not to sign an intermunicipal agreement to form a regional emergency communication center with Southborough, Westborough and Grafton.
The vote was 3-2 against the RECC, with those in opposition stating much more information is needed before they could be convinced this is the right move.
Board member Muriel Kramer noted that residents are opposed to joining the RECC and expressed sympathy for the town’s dispatchers, as all of them would not have been guaranteed positions in the regional center.
“I am candidly not able to vote yes at this time, but I do recommend that we study this openly to set the specific criteria we will use to consider this decision if and/or when we do decide to join a regionalized call center,” Kramer said. “In my opinion, we need performance data for dispatching both for Hopkinton and other regionalized centers. … We need some data to interact with in terms of performance.”
Added Kramer: “At the moment I feel we’re trying to hurry up to meet an opportunity that may or may not be the right opportunity.”
Kramer also questioned the decision to locate the RECC headquarters on the site of a formerly contaminated property in Westborough. “The superfund site is a real worry to me,” she said.
Shahidul Mannan said he heard from more than 100 residents, and 99 percent were not in favor. He also pointed to the lack of a “clear benefit” or “strong data.”
“We are looking for some data, we are looking for some argument that we haven’t seen in the last couple of months, in eight or 10 meetings, in many, many discussions,” he said. “So, most likely there is none. But I would encourage [us] to have certainly a full study and the continuation of the gathering of the data and the questions being answered more clearly for a future time.”
Mary Jo LaFeniere said she went back and forth on the matter, but in the end there was not enough information to convince her to support a change.
“I’m very disappointed in what the state has given us for information to go by,” she said, adding that she was “not terribly impressed” with the RECC facility she and other board members visited in Norfolk.
“This is a very emotional subject, because it means change,” LaFreniere said. “And I’m not sure that change isn’t coming. But I can’t sign this tonight. I just don’t feel secure enough. When I do, I want to be able to say, ‘This is the best thing for Hopkinton.’ And tonight I can’t say that.”
Amy Ritterbusch and Irfan Nasrullah supported signing the intermunicipal agreement (IMA), with the provision that there be a vote at this year’s Annual Town Meeting and the assurance that Hopkinton’s Police Station be staffed overnight even with dispatchers no longer present.
Ritterbusch stressed the importance of being involved in the formation of a RECC rather than joining an existing one so that the town has more of a say in the decision-making process and who their partners would be.
“If we do join one we want to be with neighboring towns that we share mutual aid with,” she said.
Ritterbusch also expressed concern that Hopkinton’s dispatchers would be at a disadvantage if the town joins an existing RECC, as it would already be staffed.
“I think it is a better choice to go now and sign the IMA with the neighboring towns and get the priority hiring for our staff members,” Ritterbusch said. “I fear the future. And I know the future is unknown, but that’s where I’m standing at the moment.”
Kramer countered that Hopkinton’s dispatchers have made it clear they do not want this move, so she was willing to defer to them.
Nasrullah conceded that he had not heard a convincing reason why the town needed to make the move immediately, but he was willing to sign the IMA — which had a Feb. 24 deadline — to buy the town enough time to take an official vote of residents at Annual Town Meeting in May and then make a final decision whether or not to push forward.
HHS car parade decision revisited
In other Select Board news from Tuesday, the board approved parade permit applications for the Little League parade on April 23 and the Sharon Timlin Memorial 5K Race on June 17, but it led to a discussion about the previous week’s decision to approve the Hopkinton High School graduation car parade with the condition that it be the final year.
Kramer made a point that all parade organizers can apply for a permit before the Select Board, no matter what a previous Select Board may have stated. She was vocal in her support of the HHS car parade at the previous meeting.
LaFreniere apologized for voting that the parade should be the final one but said she is very concerned about safety. She said she has seen distracted drivers in the event as well as students standing in and/or riding on the back of Jeeps or convertibles and “ready to fall out” of the vehicles.
Nasrullah noted the safety factor as well. Town emergency personnel have indicated they are not in favor of the event, which is longer and more disruptive than the typical parade or road race.
Paula Haas was appointed to a vacant seat on the Council on Aging, while Suzanne Green was tabbed to fill a vacancy on the Historic District Commission.
The board accepted the resignation of Ashley Fogg from the Youth Commission.
No one is a more avid supporter than I am of our Hopkinton Police Department and it’s dispatchers. 40 years ago I saved a neighbor from a burning car that crashed in my front yard. My 911 call resulted in the police and fire arriving in less than 5 minutes. They had a much smaller staff then, but they managed to do a great job. Now it’s time to seriously consider how the town can continue to provide 1st class emergency services AND control the spiraling TAX RATE! Along with inflation, Covid-19, etc. many of us are being driven out of Hopkinton. The town MUST start seriously and honestly controlling expenses and “regionalization” is one option. The schools also must “think outside the box” and consider options like staggered sessions to better utilize current classroom space.
Robert – The Town’s tax rate is down this year. Do a little research before making saying something like that in all caps.
Tax RATE going down only reflects the fact that assessments went up. Our tax BILLs went up this year, just as it does every year. I agree with Robert. It seems that we’re not willing to consider any cost saving measures, no matter how sensible. And we’re about to spend $174M on a new school?? Didn’t the Marathon School cost $45M a few years ago?