WILBRAHAM – After exploring options regarding joining or creating a veterans’ service district, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously at its Nov. 30 meeting to hire a full-time veterans’ service officer for the town exclusively.
Other options the selectmen could have chosen included creating a new veterans’ service district with Longmeadow or Ludlow as well as joining the Eastern Hampden County Veterans’ Service District, which comprises Hampden, Wales, Monson, and East Longmeadow.
Board of Selectmen Chair Robert Boilard said the new veterans’ service officer would work full-time at 21 hours per week.
He explained municipalities consider a 21-hour per week position full time.
The position would be funded for the remainder of the current fiscal year and for fiscal year 2017. The selectmen did not set an hourly pay rate and plan to make that decision at a future meeting.
Richard Pronchnow, the current veterans’ service officer, is set to retire after this month after 28 years in the position. Massachusetts state law requires towns to hire a full time veterans’ agent, but the town was grandfathered from the law so long as Pronchnow remained in the position.
Selectman Robert Russell said prior to the vote he believes the best option is to hire a full time veterans’ service agent for the town.
Selectman Susan Bunnell and Boilard echoed Russell’s sentiments.
“Personally I’ve got concerns about being part of a very sizable district and it just doesn’t appear that the mechanics or the cost [would be in the town’s interest],” Bunnell said.
Boilard said hiring a veterans’ service officer for the town would better serve veterans in the community because that person would have set hours in the community and would not have to serve veterans from neighboring towns.
He added that the cost for creating or joining a district did not benefit the town.
“We found with Wilbraham’s demographics and I believe the population all weighs into how much we pay, which turns out not in our favor,” he noted. “When we join up with Ludlow we’re paying a lion’s share of the salary. When we join up with the Eastern [Hampden] County [Veterans’ Service District] we’re paying the lion’s share as well. Cost savings wasn’t there to offset the availability of the person that we were hiring.”
In other business, the selectmen also voted to unanimously endorse a 1/3 mile American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible trail at Spec Pond.
Building Inspector and ADA Coordinator Lance Trevallion said it would cost approximately $50,000 to complete the project, but it could also receive help building the trail from local organizations.
He noted that the project would apply for Community Preservation Act funds and a Recreation Trail grant.
Open Space and Recreation Plan Committee Chair Joe Calabrese said based on a survey of nationwide forestry parks 8 percent of visitors had a disability, 80 percent of which were not visible.
“They also found that half of seniors have a disability of some kind,” he noted.
He added that approximately 5,500 seniors in town have a disability. Seniors account for 40 percent of the town’s population.