With one week remaining before the Select Board is to take a formal position on whether or not to sign an inter-municipal agreement with three neighboring towns to form a regional emergency dispatch center, local emergency personnel continued to push the board to oppose the plan.
Dispatcher Shannon Casey, speaking on behalf of the Hopkinton Dispatchers Union, said the town will lose the personal touch it is used to receiving with the regional emergency dispatch center (RECC).
“Residents will not get the same quality of service, nor will they receive the time that they do now when they call,” she said. “We are able to provide personal, one-on-one services to residents, and that will not be the case in a RECC, and our residents deserve more.”
Casey explained that Hopkinton currently has two dispatchers on at all times, and a third when needed. She said the town uses the same technology that the RECCs use, so there would be no upgrade there.
She also noted that there are a number of dispatchers in Hopkinton who have long tenures here — which she said is not as common at RECCs — and allows them to have far greater knowledge of the town. She added that Hopkinton’s strategy for avoiding a dark station at night has not been adequately addressed.
“As dispatchers, we enjoy being able to interact with the public face to face when they walk in,” Casey said. “That’s a huge part of the job, putting a face to who you’re calling in an emergency or when you need help. We’ll lose that if we go to a RECC. There won’t be that place to go anymore.”
Board members continued to press for specific information about potential cost savings and operational advantages. Joseph Crean, representing the Massachusetts 911 Department, joined via Zoom but said the state does not collect that information, and that members would have to ask specific towns for their experiences in the state’s 31 RECCs.
Crean, who previously served as deputy director of an RECC, said towns generally should expect faster response times, and those departments with aging equipment would see an upgrade, but that’s “community-dependent.”
He also addressed concerns about having dispatchers cover multiple towns, saying, “The technology is out there to combat that loss of local knowledge.”
Asked by Select Board chair Amy Ritterbusch if the state will eventually force all towns to join an RECC and what the timeline might be, Crean said he did not foresee that happening. He said the state incentivizes towns to join an RECC, but, “If you don’t want to join, we’ll continue to support you as best we can.”
Crean also said the development grant, funded by wireless surcharges on cell phones, is available every year.
He also credited the town with having one of the “more transparent regional processes that I’ve been able to see.”
“Kudos to all of you guys to really digging in and asking these tough questions and involving the police and the dispatchers,” he said.
Select Board member Muriel Kramer said she finds it challenging to determine the best path with so few details available.
“The lack of comparable data is a stunning gap for these kinds of decision-making,” she said. “Without knowing how one service compares to another service with some concrete experience is a bit of a leap. … This is just hard.”
Many current and former emergency personnel who have spoken out against the RECC noted that they were led to believe Town Meeting would get to vote on it, but recently Town Manager Norman Khumalo said the Select Board would have the final say on the inter-municipal agreement (IMA).
Khumalo said that while the IMA deadline is Feb. 24, each town has until June 30 to withdraw from the agreement. So, Hopkinton could have the town vote by establishing a Special Town Meeting to be held within Annual Town Meeting in May.
Town counsel was to be contacted to determine whether or not the vote would be binding. However, Kramer noted that even if the vote was not binding, the Select Board could determine its path based on the results.
That information is expected at next Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, when a vote is to be taken on the IMA.
I really think there is not enough information about this change. I do not see the advantages…