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Regional boards come together to exchange ideas

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM Representatives of East Longmeadow, Hampden, Wilbraham, Longmeadow and Ludlow met last Thursday night for a Regional Boards of Selectmen meeting. The theme of the meeting was uniting the five towns to achieve results through regionalization.

Although no one from the Longmeadow Select Board could attend the meeting, Beverly Hirschhorn, director of the town's Board of Health, discussed the Eastern Hampden County Tobacco Consortium with those in attendance. Jack Villamaino (Selectman, East Longmeadow), Darlene Cincone (Selectman, Ludlow), John Flynn and Richard Green (Selectmen, Hampden) and James Thompson and David Barry (Selectmen, Wilbraham) listened as Hirschhorn described the regulations regarding tobacco sales in their towns.

The consortium covers the towns mentioned above, except for Hampden, which did not opt into the association the last time it was offered, as well as Palmer, Brimfield and Monson. Grants are awarded to each town from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to enforce tobacco regulations and the size of the grants are based on the number of places in each town selling tobacco products. Ludlow has the most.

Hirschhorn said there is a potential of regionalization for public health services with the consortium by using the grants to focus on merchant education. "Clerks need to check IDs," Hirschhorn said. "They can't rely on verbal explanation. Not only is it illegal to sell to those under 18, it is illegal not to check IDs if the person buying looks under 27."

If a tobacco sale is made to someone under 18 years of age, each town has different regulations and fines for the merchant. "The goal of this is not to make money but to educate communities," Hirschhorn explained.

Each community also has the ability to choose from a variety of options they want to put more focus on the workplace smoking law or youth prevention programs, for example. Most towns in the consortium have chosen merchant education as one of their enforced options. Although this would appear to divide the towns, Hirschhorn said this model could serve as a blueprint for statewide regionalization efforts.

Another topic that showed the unity of the towns was the issue of outdoor wood furnaces. Longmeadow has a ban on all wood boilers and East Longmeadow may soon follow suit. A proposal that will be discussed at the Board of Selectmen's meeting Nov. 19 would require all units to be registered and regulated by the town of East Longmeadow, with no new units allowed after a date yet to be determined. Wilbraham is considering a similar proposal.

"A state bill concerning this is moving along which would be more restrictive and supersede local laws," Villamaino explained.

Flynn added that this is "a valid concern for a lot of communities. It's a quality of life issue."

Regional human resource management was another issue brought before the board members. Green suggested that because no town has a full-time human resources manager, administrators could quantify the number of hours each part-time employee worked and figure out if the position could become one full-time position. Robert Weitz, Wilbraham's town administrator, said it would be possible. "It may not be appropriate for all five towns, but it may work for two or three," Flynn added.

Combining the funds of the towns' community preservation committees was the last regionalization topic discussed at the meeting. Timothy Seeley of East Longmeadow's Community Preservation Committee asked if it was possible for communities to work together to create projects that would be shared by the region. "A regional approach may be the only way to go for large projects," Seeley said.

One suggested project would involve the local aquifer. Seeley cited a study that said this region would need another water source by 2020 because of global warming.

"Once people could see a project like that and how it would help, they may be more open to regionalization," Barry said.

Another project suggested by Seeley would be a nature trail along the Mill River, which runs through a number of local towns, including Wilbraham. "It's a long-term idea that will need a lot of research behind it," Seeley added.

The final regional issue discussed before the meeting's adjournment was where the next Regional Boards of Selectmen meeting would take place. Ludlow was nominated, with the date yet to be determined.