HANSON — Selectmen gave the green light to talks aimed at a regional emergency dispatch agreement with Regional Old Colony Communications Center (ROCCC) and heard a preliminary budget presentation from Town Accountant Todd Hassett on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
Hassett said the town is looking a net reduction of $832,846 in total revenue, expecting $25,847,812 in combined levy, free cash, cherry sheet, fees, stabilization and other sources of revenue. Expenditures at this point are estimated to be at $26,333,328 or a $458,426 shortfall. Among those expenditures, Hassett said, he is working off calculations of a 6.5-percent increase in W-H assessment and a 6 percent South Shore Tech assessment increase.
SST released budget numbers last week forecasting a .92 percent — $9,167 — increase in fiscal 2020. [See story, page one].
“We still have some work to do on the budget to close a few gaps,” Hassett said. “Most of our budget is supported through property taxes, local receipts and state aid.”
The levy base is up by $2,029,740 to $25,263,740 with additional sources of revenue increased by $1,443,918; but expenses are up this year.
“The deficit might look a little daunting,” said Town Administrator Michael McCue. “It’s going to take a lot of work … a lot of cooperation on the parts of people that sit in this building and in the other town, but we’ve been able to come up with, in the last couple of years, a balanced budget that didn’t necessarily eviscerate either the schools or the municipalities. … We’ve got to live within our means.”
The budget was on Selectmen’s minds when it came to deciding whether to move forward with talks on joining the ROCCC. In a discussion spanning nearly an hour, board members hashed out concerns over the cost of a regional approach vs maintaining civilian dispatchers.
In the end, they approved a letter of intent to continue talks on a contract for the regional service center, funded by state 911 currently handling 911 calls, Police, Fire, and EMS dispatching for the Towns of Duxbury, Plympton, Halifax and Rochester.
Duxbury Fire Capt. Rob Reardon, however, assured Selectmen that the letter of intent had to be agreed to and signed before negotiations over the board’s concerns could begin. He oversaw the entry of Plympton, Halifax and Rochester into the ROCCC.
“We welcome the chiefs to come so we can negotiate that dollar figure,” he said. “I can tell you you’re going to get $200,000 [from state 911] … because I’ve done plenty of deals with other towns.”
But, he added, before that can be settled, it has to be determined what year is Hanson going to join and how long a contract the town is seeking.
“It’s not like we’re signing tonight and it’s a done deal,” Reardon said. “We have a ton of work to do.”
ROCCC Director Mike Mahoney, a Hanson native, also spoke at the meeting. He reminded Selectmen that 100 percent of current dispatchers who apply to be regional dispatchers are hired so long as they pass a required exam.
“We have to give Duxbury an answer,” said Selectmen Chairman Kenny Mitchell. “We’ve been — kicking the can’s probably not a good term — but we’ve been talking about this for awhile. Everyone’s been over to the ROCCC, and seen the facility over there. We’ve got to make some decisions.”
Mitchell said he felt the dispatch center is a “better product.”
“We have great dispatchers now, but when you get multiple calls, they can only do so much,” he said, noting that Police Chief Michael Miksch has concerns. Fire Chief Jerry Thompson, meanwhile, is a proponent of ROCCC.
“To be perfectly honest, I haven’t been a fan of this from the beginning, for a number of reasons,” Miksch said. “You have to understand that the communications [center] is in my building and falls under me. Fire has brought up some concerns, in this coming year’s budget we tried to address some of those concerns.”
He said he not only cares about the people who work for him, he does not need change.
Selectmen also wanted to see a spreadsheet on cost estimates before making a decision. But Reardon’s assurances over 911 reimbursements and Hassett said the proposal is relatively cost-neutral.
“The biggest thing is … I cannot shut the lights off in my station,” Miksch said. With no one in a station, other towns have an issue with officers on constant call-back to serve citizens at the station.
Civilian dispatchers also help keep an eye on prisoners and help with paperwork, according to Miksch. Also, people who stop in at the station during the night need real help.
“They don’t need directions, they’re not looking to use the bathroom,” Miksch said.
“I’ll be the first to say — I don’t know how the rest of the board feels — the station will never go dark. Ever,” Selectman Jim Hickey said.
“I am a proponent,” Thompson said of the program. “I think that it’s something that we need to look at.”
He pointed to some of the capital project benefits in the first year of a regional center would be tremendous and that, in the event of multiple calls overnight, especially, one person can’t do the work of a team of three. Mahoney stressed the letter of intent is a necessary first step toward that.
Thompson argued they are also hearing that, in coming years, the town could be forced to regionalize. Doing it now could mean the ability to bargain for benefits to Hanson.
“Whatever decision you make, I will support 100 percent,” he said.
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett’s main concern is that Hanson get equal say — “an equal seat at the table” as she put it — as other member towns.
“It’s Duxbury that kind of runs the show,” she said. “We can give them feedback, but it’s not completely regionalized. … They’re not there yet.”
Mahoney said the intention is to go in that direction.
Both FitzGerald-Kemmett and Hickey characterized the vote as the most important decision they make as a selectman.
“There is going to be a cost and [Thompson] said once in a while, something’s going to happen at 2 a.m., I don’t want that once in a while to be in Hanson,” Hickey said. “I don’t want a dark station. … I want to be informed.”
Miksch also voiced concerns over the cost of negotiating contract issues with the clerical union that are not in police contracts if additional civilian dispatchers are needed.
Miksch said replacing the dispatchers with four additional police officers to avoid a dark station could cost $259,000 including a night shift differential for the first year.
Selectman Matt Dyer wanted to see an example of a contract to determine what the town is getting into and a spreadsheet of potential costs for each option on paper.
“I don’t think that’s much to ask for to make a decision on behalf of the town,” Dyer said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett strongly agreed.
Selectman Wes Blauss said he is an enthusiastic supporter of the regional dispatch center.
“Watching three dispatchers plus a shift supervisor talking a diabetic vomiting case through, while police and fire were responding — that in itself was impressive,” Blauss said of his tour of the ROCCC. “As an alarmist, I’ve been thinking ever since then, the big, big storm will come.”
Climate change almost guarantees such a scenario, according to Blauss, who can envision a situation in which a car vs truck accident with serious injuries happens.
“I will have a heart attack in my driveway shoveling snow within 15 minutes of [such an accident] and a house fire will start,” he said. “I could see where regional dispatch could handle that and even they would be [takes a deep breath] a little tense, but I could see where they could handle it, whereas we in Hanson … it would quickly be a crisis situation and I think life would be lost.”
He said he was a positive vote without question.
The board also began McCue’s public evaluation, handing out copies of reviews of his judgment, leadership, communication, teamwork, organization, administrative, accountability, knowledge, task management and awareness.
“We haven’t looked at each others’ individual reviews,” Mitchell said.
While improvement was deemed necessary in several areas, based on written comments, Selectmen opted to wait until they can review each others’ comments before returning at the next meeting to set goals for an improved evaluation process.
“We could sit here in awkward silence and read through it and then come back, but it is a lot to digest,” Dyer said.
“As an educator, I feel any evaluation should be a goal-driven evaluation, which this was not in any way,” Blauss said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said stressing goals is the preferred method in the private sector.
“We all have things we need to work on, it’s just our job to tell you what yours are because that’s the way this is set up,” she said.
Administrative Assistant Meredith Marini compiled individual comments into a report without identification, as well as numeric scores.
“Some people were more detailed than others,” she said, noting some preferred to see the goals being evaluated before making a review. “Not everybody commented on every one of the 10 categories.”
At least three of five selectmen indicated they did not like the evaluation formula, that it needs work, according to Marini.
“It’s just redundant,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
McCue said he “certainly want to make sure that as I go along, I’m accomplishing what this board wants” him to achieve.