LONGMEADOW, MA – The groundbreaking for the new Department of Public Works (DPW) facility at the site of the former Grand Meadows is scheduled for June 1 at 11 a.m., Town Manager Stephen Crane said as part of his Town Manager’s Report at the Select Board’s May 21 meeting.
Voters approved the construction of the new DPW complex at the town’s 2017 Annual Town Meeting and at the ballot box during the Annual Town Election later that month.
Public officials, members of the building committee, and the community will be invited to attend the ceremony, which will be followed by a luncheon reception for the “stakeholders in the project,” Crane said.
“At least for me, it’s a pretty big deal,” Crane said. “I think it’s a big deal for the town. I think for us it’s a little bit bigger deal than it is for the average resident because of how much work it took the get there and the longtime duration of the effort.”
Crane also noted the Western Massachusetts Emergency Communications District (WestComm), which includes Longmeadow and Chicopee, had submitted its grant application for approximately $2.5 million in State 911 Department RECC Development Funds. The funding would allow WestComm to hire an executive director and purchase necessary technological equipment for the project. Crane presented that grant application to the board as part of the meeting.
“When you piece those things together, even though I’m involved in the emails and the meetings and things like that, seeing it written that way reminded me that this is a real thing and it presents a real opportunity to the town, and the pieces are there that can fall into place,” Crane said. “It was a corner-turning moment.”
However, Selectman Mark Gold continued to take umbrage at the fact that Crane has indicated the town has committed to the regional dispatch center project. He renewed objections that he raised at the April 2 meeting that the board had been told it was not yet committed and would have the opportunity for a final vote to approve the town’s involvement.
Gold said he reviewed meetings on Dec. 4, 2017, and Jan. 16, 2018, in which he said the board was told there was no finalized obligation. He also noted the board had yet to meet with the police and fire chiefs; a meeting had been scheduled, but was rescheduled to June 4 due to conflicts.
“I’m not saying that we would not be approving it, but we have not approved it,” Gold said, adding he was “disappointed” that Crane wrote a letting stating the town had agreed to participate after hearing concerns from the board regarding this topic in April. “It was just bad judgment based on the comments we made here expressing a concern.”
Crane maintained that the board did, in fact, approve the town’s commitment.
“Fact: the Select Board voted to join the district,” he said. “I don’t remember the date, but the Select Board voted to join the district, and all that letter says is that we are participating in the district.”
He previously indicated the town could vote to remove itself from the district as other communities such as East Longmeadow and Hampden had. The district agreement is still in effect in spite of the fact that those towns have removed themselves.
“The district has not dissolved. It has changed. It still exists as a district,” he said.
Selectman Richard Foster also voiced concerns regarding financial planning that he believes has not been presented to the board. Crane said he has reported that there had been “speculative operating budgets” and the grant application presented to the board outlines potential financial commitment based on staffing, equipment and other costs offset by grant funding.
“It’s, as I show, significantly less than what we’re paying for our dispatching services today,” Crane said.
Foster said he didn’t want a “pep talk” and needed answers to “nuts and bolts” questions.
Select Board Chair Thomas Lachiusa also pointed out that it appeared East Longmeadow and Hampden were attempting to also form their own regional dispatch. Crane said those communities had differing views on how the district would run and reimbursement opportunities and that WestComm was “ahead of them in line” for grant funding.
Foster also raised concerns about Hampden and East Longmeadow’s decision not to participate only to begin efforts to open their own regional dispatch. Crane said it was his understanding that they had concerns over the state’s level of funding for regional dispatch in the future, but also noted the state is making policy changes that promote the utilization of regional dispatch.
– By Chris Maza