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Five boards focus on budgets, regionalization

Date: 1/25/2010

Jan. 25, 2010

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW -- Leaders from East Longmeadow, Hampden, Longmeadow, Ludlow and Wilbraham came together Thursday evening for the first Regional Boards of Selectmen meeting of 2010.

The boards come together every few months to discuss items that can benefit all five communities. On the agenda for the Jan. 21 meeting: budget outlooks, the regionalization of certain services and a discussion on unfunded mandates.

In attendance were the East Longmeadow selectmen, Jack Villamaino, Jim Driscoll and Paul Federici; Hampden selectman John D. Flynn, Longmeadow Select Board members Paul Santaniello and Mark Gold and Town Manager Robin Crosbie; Ludlow selectman Darlene Cincone and Town Administrator Ellie Villano; and Wilbraham selectmen Jim Thompson and Dave Barry.

All five towns are looking at their current fiscal year budgets and the budgets for fiscal year 2011 (FY11) with apprehension. Hampden is looking at level funding; Ludlow, a three percent cut minimum; and according to Thompson, Wilbraham is budgeting a worst case scenario with a 15 percent cut in state aid.

"We're at a point now where we're looking at cutting muscle -- the fat is gone," Villamaino stated. He added that the towns represented at the meeting really need to focus on regionalization and the positive impact that can come from sharing costs.

The Boards of Selectmen focused on three areas of regionalization at the meeting: dispatch services, information technology (IT) and solid waste disposal.

Ryan Quimby, IT Director for East Longmeadow, noted how the consolidation of the town and school IT departments will save the town money. Driscoll asked if the regionalization of server services was also something that should be looked into.

Two studies are currently underway that focus on dispatch services, one in Amherst and one in Springfield, so it was suggested that topic be broached again when the studies are completed. As for solid waste disposal, East Longmeadow and Longmeadow are already working together for a new trash removal contract.

Another area East Longmeadow and Longmeadow could collaborate on: sharing a new superintendent. Santaniello brought the idea up and Driscoll agreed.

"We would just need someone for the next few years [to work for both districts] until the financial situation turns around," Driscoll said.

The regionalization of alternative energy sources and grant writing services was also debated.

The issue of unfunded mandates was something discussed at the last regional meeting, and the various boards decided at this meeting to send letters to state officials to ask for relief from the requirements that come without state funding.

"I say we ask they either give us a break on the mandates or relieve us of our responsibilities," Santaniello stated. "We need to pound the table and demand -- not ask, demand -- they do this."

"The problem with unfunded mandates is that many seem like a good idea. There's just no money there to pay for them," Villamaino added. "We've gotta be noisy, we've gotta be loud or [the mandates] won't be addressed."

The boards decided to meet next on Feb. 25 in Hampden to continue their budget discussions.