Southborough withdraws from regional dispatch center

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Southborough withdraws from regional dispatch center
A view of Hocomonco Pond in Westborough from the sky. A proposed regional dispatch center would be located at Hocomonco Pond. (Photo/Tami White)

SOUTHBOROUGH – Weeks after the Select Board voted to join, Southborough has withdrawn from the MetroWest Regional Emergency Communication Center (RECC) District.

The Select Board voted 2-1-2 to withdraw at its April 10 meeting with Select Board members Kathy Cook and Sam Stivers voting in favor, Andrew Dennington voting against and Chelsea Malinowski and Lisa Braccio abstaining.

In February, Westborough, Grafton and Southborough voted to move ahead with forming a regional dispatch center, which will be located at Hocomonco Pond in Westborough; the Southborough vote was 4-1 with Cook voting against. Hopkinton declined to join at the time.

The intermunicipal agreement approved by the three towns included language in which a town could withdraw from the agreement without penalty by June 1.

At Town Meeting March 25, voters approved a pair of citizen petitions, which asked the Select Board to withdraw from the intermunicipal agreement and for the Select Board to “cease and desist” any regionalization efforts unless approved by Town Meeting.

Board deliberations

Malinowski called herself a “lame duck” on the vote; she and Braccio have decided not to run for another term on the Select Board. There are five people vying for the two seats. According to Stivers, at least two candidates have said they didn’t support the regional dispatch center.

Malinowski said the Southborough chiefs came to the Select Board and described a “structural problem” with the current department. She said the board followed a path to a fiscally responsible solution that wasn’t well-received by the Southborough residents present at the Town Meeting vote.

One of the things that concerned Malinowski from the beginning was getting into a RECC from the ground up. She cautioned that if Southborough looks to join another RECC, the town may not have what was built into the agreement.

Malinowski said the town needed to come up with a short- and long-term solution, urging the town to explore “every avenue possible to try to mitigate any risk that we currently have with our dispatch center right now.”

During the meeting, all of the Select Board members said they believed regionalization is way of the future. Cook specifically said she would like to take more time.

Before casting his vote, Stivers said he was leaning toward opting out of the agreement.

“I think it’s going to be hard to overcome the emotional response to this in terms of Town Meeting support. I think it’s going to be unfair to our other communities, Westborough and Grafton, to leave them hanging for an extended period of time here,” said Stivers.

The lone “no” vote, Dennington said it was incumbent to listen to department heads and the chiefs’ views carried a lot of weight for him.

“I don’t see how going forward with having all of the costs of this remain on the town taxpayers instead of trying to create some efficiencies, get eligibility for state grants is a more appropriate course,” said Dennington.

In terms of next steps, according to Cook, there’s a petition for a special Town Meeting, and it asks to increase the police department by approximately $180,000. She said the board needed to consider increasing the budget for fiscal 2024 to add more dispatchers.

This doesn’t mean it would happen overnight, but it would provide funding, said Cook.

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