East Longmeadow to join regional veterans district
Date: 12/5/2011Dec. 5, 2011
By Chris Maza
Reminder Assistant Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW East Longmeadow will officially join the Eastern Hampden County Veterans District to ensure the town’s veterans receive necessary benefits and services.
Resolving an issue that loomed over the town for months, the Board of Selectmen rendered a split decision on a motion to join the district, which also includes Hampden, Monson, Wales and Holland. Paul Federici and Jack Villamaino delivered affirmative votes, while Board of Selectmen Chair James Driscoll voted against the motion.
Once approved as a member of the district by the state, the town will be in compliance with a recently ratified state law, which requires a full-time veterans’ services officer be available to town residents.
Driscoll raised concerns with the amount of time such an approval from the state would take and suggested that hiring a temporary full-time officer while pursuing regionalization would be an effective way to deal with the town’s current need, while still keeping options open.
“Approval from the state could take another month or two,” he said. “Our veterans are not getting the services they need and it scares me. I feel like we’re not stepping up when we should.”
Driscoll added that there might not be any true savings to the town by joining the Eastern Hampden County District and questioned the effectiveness of a veterans services officer who has to travel such a long distance to cover all of the communities.
“If we joined Hampden and Monson, it could cost us just as much, if not more, for a part time-part time officer who could be coming from a community 40 minutes away,” he said.
The Appropriations Committee approved an emergency fund transfer for a prorated salary of $36,000 for a full-time veterans’ affairs officer. Federici pointed out that if the town joined the district, it would pay roughly $31,000 a year.
Villamaino said he felt there was no need to delay the decision any longer and made the motion to join the district.
“There is an existing district that is eager to have us,” he said. “If we are looking to regionalize and there is an existing district that has been in existence for 70 years, I recommend we pursue it.”
The issue of finding a new veterans’ affairs officer developed when George Herrick, who served the town’s veterans in a part time capacity, announced his retirement. He volunteered to continue working on a temporary basis until the position was filled.
The Board of Selectmen saw their warrant article asking for funding to fill the position in accordance with state law voted down at the Sept. 26 Special Town Meeting and subsequently requested the emergency fund transfer. Without an officer or a regionalization plan in place, the town stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars in state reimbursements for past veterans’ affairs expenditures.
The Board of Selectmen also attempted to regionalize the position with Longmeadow with an agreement that East Longmeadow would be the host community, but Longmeadow elected to move forward with their hiring process and appointed Jason Dieni to the position.
Longmeadow expressed interest in acting as the host community in a regionalization effort with East Longmeadow, but no agreement was reached.