By Maureen Sullivan and Laura Hayes
WESTBOROUGH – The MetroWest Regional Emergency Communication Center (RECC) District is a go.
Three out of the four communities – Westborough, Grafton and Southborough – have decided to go ahead with forming a regional dispatch center. Hopkinton declined to join.
All decisions were made by the respective select boards.
Westborough, which will host the center at Hocomonco Pond, decided to approve the Intermunicipal Agreement (IMA) for the dispatch center with a unanimous vote by the Select Board on Tuesday, Feb. 14.
“This is strongly encouraged by the state,” said board Chair Ian Johnson.
“I think it’s the right conclusion for Westborough,” said Select Board member Sean Keogh.
In terms of next steps, a lease would begin to be negotiated for the Hocomonco Pond site.
On the same evening, Grafton’s Select Board also agreed with a unanimous vote.
Part of the board’s discussion on the IMA revolved around what would happen should one community decided not to join.
Town Administrator Evan Brassard said the IMA could be redrafted and re-signed with the remaining communities.
Once assessments kick in after the third year, Brassard said the town’s share of the costs could rise, but “We don’t know the state’s assessment at that point.”
“There’s plenty of buffer” when it comes to the assessments, he added.
As to adding communities, Brassard said, “We’ve sniffed it out, and there’s some interest.”
Concerns about the site voiced by Hopkinton
Concerns about the site, along with the desire for more information, were the main reasons behind the Hopkinton Select Board’s 3-2 vote against the IMA.
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.
Amy Ritterbusch and Irfan Nasrullah supported signing the intermunicipal agreement. 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.
Southborough approved regional dispatch 4-1
Southborough voted 4-1 to approve the agreement on Feb. 15, after the other towns took action.
The dissenting vote was cast by Chair Kathy Cook, who said this had gone “too fast” and been done due to the timing of a grant.
“I actually support the concept of regionalization of dispatch,” Cook said. “I just don’t think that we have done all of the homework that we need to do to make sure we understand this and have thought through all of the details.”
She said she was “really, really” concerned about the site, adding that other sites weren’t considered. Cook also said she wanted to see lease before moving forward, had questions about the finances and noted that she wanted to look at all alternatives.
Member Chelsea Malinowski said that Motorola has examined the radio strength from the site to each town and were happy with the potential of being able to reach all of the locations in the town.
Malinowski also said she reviewed reports from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the site with Conservation Agent Melissa Danza. She said that Danza’s one question was whether water would be able to be pulled from Westborough’s water instead of from a well on the site, which, according to Malinowski, Westborough said would be possible.
“I hear you, Kathy, on the timing, but I also think that we have a liability, and I’m not prepared to double our dispatch budget right now,” said Malinowski.
She advocated for working on the lease with the other communities before June 1.
The draft of the Intermunicipal Agreement is available at https://www.grafton-ma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/7966/FINAL_Draft-District-Agreement_2132023?bidId=