WILBRAHAM – Longmeadow Select Board Vice Chair Mark Gold said he doesn’t believe anyone should assume his town would be a part of the next phase of a proposed $5.7 million five-town Hampden County Regional Emergency Communication Center (RECC).
Gold’s comments were made during a Sept. 10 regional meeting with town officials from Wilbraham, Hampden, East Longmeadow, Ludlow, and Longmeadow. Members of the Carell Group, a Hopkinton-based public safety architectural company that has completed an initial study about the project, were present to answer questions.
The Carell Group identified the Greenwood Center in Longmeadow as the preferred site this summer. Other sites the group examined were the future Hampden and Wilbraham police stations.
Gold asked Carell Group members how they would identify alternative site locations.
Blake Haskell from the Carell Group responded to Gold by stating that the Greenwood Center was the most “retro-fitable.”
He added, “As part of this process, the towns that we go forward [with] will have us do a very detailed analysis of other locations that may be available. Other towns may have a suitable school. We used the Greenwood [Center] as our focus because it really met all our criteria. I understand the town is now is looking at another parcel in Longmeadow and if we get to the next phase, we’ll look at that.”
Longmeadow Selectman Alex Grant said his town would have to spend millions of dollars to move the Adult Center and Children’s Center, which currently reside in the building.
He asked elected officials from the other four neighboring communities whether any town was interested in hosting the proposed RECC, to which Ludlow Selectman Brian Mannix responded by stating that he believes Ludlow is open to the idea of hosting the RECC.
Thus far, Ludlow is the only town out of the five communities to enter into the next stage of the project.
Longmeadow Select Board Chair Richard Foster said another potential site in his town could be a proposed new Department of Public Works facility.
Michael Gardner, a member of the Carell Group, said this next stage would not require towns to agree to be a part of the RECC project, but would allow for continued developments in finding a final site location and hammering out the responsibilities and costs for each participating town.
He added that funding for the project comes from a surcharge off cell phone bills throughout the state.
“It is not subject to general fund taxation an appropriation,” Gardener said. “It is a separate dedicated source of money, which in general is the best place for you to be, particularly if you think cell phones are going to increase in importance and landlines will decrease in the future.”
The State 911 Department awarded the project $100,000 to complete its first comprehensive study in August 2014.
The RECC project could receive at least $5 million in state funding during the next two to three years, George Fosque, a retired director of 911 services for Cambridge and member of the Carell Group, said.
Gardener said the RECC could potentially be a separate independent public entity from the five towns with its own governing structure and ability to hire employees.
“That independent governing structure is set by the participating communities,” he added.
An alternative way to structure the RECC would be through an inter-municipal agreement with one town as the host. The RECC staff would consist of employees from the host community, he noted.
“We ended up thinking that was less advantageous for all of the towns as well as to the professionalism and operation of the RECC,” Gardener said.
Wilbraham Selectman Susan Bunnell asked how the independent RECC would impact the budget process to participating towns.
Gardner said bonding for the project wouldn’t happen without selectmen approval of the participating towns.
“I think there’s a 60-day window for review and if you don’t get the vote, it doesn’t happen,” he explained.
Bunnell asked Carell Group members whether the towns would need to have uniformity regarding public safety radio systems.
“I think that’s a separate issue and they’re already working on that,” Fosque responded. “There’s a lot of Homeland Security money that’s going into it.”
Wilbraham Fire Chief Francis Nothe said the Carell Group report states that the RECC should look to develop a single radio system for participating towns.
He noted that the cost of linking the radio systems of the participating communities could be millions of dollars.
“There are many ways to do it less expensively than to put a big multi-panel trunk [radio] system,” Fosque said.
Hampden Selectman John Flynn said he believes the site location is a question that should be answered later.
“I think this meeting is more about, ‘Is this something that our group wants to buy into to provide a more complete service to our communities?’” he added.
Hampden Board of Selectmen Chair Vincent Villamaino said he doesn’t want Hampden involved in something that would end up costing more than expected.
“I’m not going to put my town in jeopardy because there’s not a plan here,” he explained. “Tell me how much it’s going to cost right now. That’s the bottom line; how long is it good for? Otherwise, I’m not voting for this.”
State Sen. Eric Lesser, who represents all of the five towns, said there is no complete guarantee the state funding for the RECC construction and maintenance would remain stable.
“I’m not sure the greatest marketing for this is that it saves money,” he noted. “Again, I’m still learning, but after reading the report the strongest argument is probably that it improves response time and improves service and quality of service.”