HANSON — Selectmen have tabled a vote on joining the Regional Old Colony Communications Center (ROCCC) for 911 dispatch services over lingering questions of cost and equal representation for the town.
The concerns, voiced again Tuesday, April 16 by Selectmen Matt Dyer and Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett came after the board had a chance to review the contract they were slated to approve and sign the agreement.
Headquartered in Duxbury, the ROCCC already handles 911 calls, police, fire and EMS dispatching for the towns of Duxbury, Plympton, Halifax and Rochester.
The cost for Hanson would be $400,000 minus $200,000 received through a grant from state 911 officials, the result of a meeting between state and officials and ROCCC.
Before the discussion over the vote, the board, in executive session voted to approve memorandum of agreement with the dispatchers’ union to pay a one-time severance payment based on their years of service with the Hanson Police Department in anticipation of acceptance of the ROCCC contract. Dispatchers working four years or less would receive $2,500; less than six years, but more than four would receive $4,000; six years or more would receive $5,000 — a stipend for them to stay until the end of the transition period to ROCCC. The union has agreed to stay on during the transition period — if the board was to vote to join ROCCC, which is planned to go into effect by July 1, 2020.
The talks for the transition began more than a year ago.
“I think this board and all the departments, the chiefs, have done their due diligence to look at making a change in our dispatch,” Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell said. “Our dispatchers are great and they do a great job, it’s just sometimes they get multiple calls and one person can only handle so many calls at one time.”
All five Hanson Selectmen have toured the facility.
“There are a couple of concerns to overcome, and I believe we can, but at the end of the day, I truly believe this is a better decision for the residents and a public safety decision,” Mitchell said.
ROCCC staff in Duxbury, Mitchell, Town Administrator Michael McCue, Police Chief Michael Miksch and Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr., Police Lt. Michael Casey and Deputy Fire Chief Robert O’Brien Jr., would all be involved in the transition work.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve seen so far,” Mitchell said of what he termed a “standard agreement” for all member municipalities.
Dyer questioned a contract provision that Hanson would be responsible for maintaining service or support agreements that Hanson may have for it’s own radio or computer equipment, for which the town would continue to be responsible.
“When we went and toured the facility, I thought the chief over there and the director said that we wouldn’t have to worry about licensing or anything like that for software, that we wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining our radios here in Hanson, that they were all going to take care of it,” he said.
Mitchell said that provision involved radios the town already has.
FitzGerald-Kemmett questioned what software Hanson would need if the ROCCC was going to be operating it.
McCue agreed with Mitchell’s assessment that the clause meant ROCCC is not going to assume responsibility for equipment Hanson already owns.
“I respect the questions that some members of the board have in terms of [the clause] being a little too loose,” McCue said, suggesting the board vote the contract and he would work to clarify the language.
Dyer also noted he had also requested “hard math” on the cost of maintaining operations in Hanson, bringing on extra dispatchers and ensuring that the police station does not go dark.
“We both asked for that, and we were told that they couldn’t give us the numbers until they applied to the state and heard back from the state,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Now that they’ve got [the $200,000] we need the information we asked them for.”
She also questioned who would be staffing the station and how often it would be staffed as well as her continuing request for Hanson to have equal representation.
“I specifically asked that, in this agreement, that there be a stipulation that, as soon as they can, we have an equal seat at that damn table to be voting,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “I don’t see anything in here that says that. This is acting like, forever and a day we’re going to be under Duxbury’s domain, and I am not OK with that.”
She reminded the board that she has mentioned her concern about representation every time she has talked with ROCCC officials.
“It’s not going to go away,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, suggesting language supporting equal representation as a goal would be sufficient. “I’m OK with it if it’s temporary, but the way this is structured, that’s not the way it reads.”
Selectman Jim Hickey, who also opposes a dark police station, said he wanted to see cost figures and expressed concerns about a 90-day transition if Hanson opts to leave the center.
“That seems like a steep hill to climb,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
In other business, the board tabled Article 5 on the annual Town Meeting warrant — the budget — over uncertainty surrounding the assessment the town faces over school costs.
McCue also reported to Selectmen that the town could support a 6.5 percent assessment for the schools, a figure recommended by the Finance Committee.
Selectman Wes Blauss asked what would happen if Town Meeting approved the 12.5 percent currently being sought by the schools. McCue said that scenario would require an override in October. The Town Meeting cannot adjourn until the budget is balanced, meaning cuts would have to be made on the floor with an override needed to make up any cuts, in the event that a 12.5 percent assessment were to pass.
“I don’t feel comfortable voting on this until the eagle’s landed and I just don’t think the eagle’s quite landed yet,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
But he also stressed that the School Committee is slated to discuss the budget again before Town Meeting.
“It feels weird to be voting on the 6.5 percent and I’m not seeing anybody from the School Committee here or [Superintendent of Schools] Jeff Szymaniak here to talk to us about what will happen if we go with 6.5 percent,” FitzGerald Kemmett said.
McCue said school representatives had met with Hanson’s Finance Committee last week.
“I think because we’ve been quite clear from the beginning of what we could afford — and that number has not moved — that they know where we stand,” McCue said.