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Selectman candidates meet in one last debate

Date: 9/20/2010

Sept. 20, 2010

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WILBRAHAM -- Finding money for a new senior center in Wilbraham was a major topic of conversation at the Board of Selectman candidate forum at the Gardens of Wilbraham on Sept. 16.

The forum was the last opportunity for candidates Dave Barry and Bob Boilard to make their pitches to be a member of the Board of Selectman before the Special Town election on Sept. 25.

The special election became necessary after the incumbent Barry demanded a recount after losing by one vote to Boilard. The recount resulted in a tie.

Barry and Boilard were bombarded with questions about giving funding to Wilbraham seniors for a new facility and both indicated that while they would be in full support of a new senior center, the money is not available at this time.

"If we need extra money, we need to formulate a plan on how we're going to get that money," Boilard said. "There's only so many dollars to go around."

Barry said that the increase in the number of seniors living in Wilbraham makes the topic an even more poignant one, but said residents should be careful about asking the town to buy land or property to serve as the site of a new facility.

"We need to examine and study the needs of our growing senior population," Barry said. "But the town is not in the real estate business. Owning property can be a burden in many ways."

When asked if seniors are a priority for the candidates, both candidates said the concerns of the seniors were concerns of theirs, but Boilard suggested that they are not the only concern the town has.

"If we're talking priorities, I'd say bluntly that emergency services are a priority," Boilard said. "The emergency services in town are lacking in personnel. If an ambulance is called, that fire department basically shuts down until someone comes back. Staffing is crucial and I think that's one of the first things we should look at."

Barry said that it didn't matter how high either of the candidates held seniors on their priority lists because without the public backing an initiative, it would fail.

"We would need a groundswell of support in order for it to work," Barry said. "If not, I don't care who's on the board. It won't happen."

The candidates were also asked about their thoughts on the Planning Board's plan to ask for a new master plan, which was first reported by Reminder Publications. It is believed, based on other towns that have produced new master plans, that the new plan would cost the town roughly $100,000. Both were in favor of the measure, but only if it was decided it was in the best interest of the town to spend the money.

"I think this town needs a strategic plan as it looks forward toward the next 10 years. I can't believe it's been 40 years since we've taken a hard, serious look at the full town in terms of what it should look like and where it should be headed," Barry said, adding that he would be in favor of financing the project so as not to have to put all the money down up front.

The issue of taxing single family houses on the property of Wilbraham and Monson Academy was also raised, but neither candidate supported that notion. The school offers the housing as part of the faculty's compensation and it is tax-exempt.

Both did say they would entertain discussions with the academy regarding another form of payment in lieu of taxes.

"As a whole, I don't want to hurt the academy. They have been a good neighbor," Boilard said, adding that if the Board of Selectmen went down that road, it would open the door to other tax-exempt organizations, such as churches and the YMCA, to be looked at as well.

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