Adams Considers Halfway Measure to Fund Dispatchers

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The Selectmen on Wednesday endorsed the concept of a warrant article that would allow the town to dip into free cash to pay the dispatch budget.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Selectmen on Wednesday endorsed a Solomon-like plan to fund the dispatchers for the coming year as they explore options with the Berkshire County sheriff's office.

If the Finance Committee agrees, a warrant article will be offered at town meeting for $100,000 in free cash to fund local dispatch services through the fiscal year if no solution has been decided on by Jan. 1.

"It's a carrot to get the process going," said Chairman Arthur "Skip" Harrington of the halfway measure because it will still give the town a deadline to pin down what effects contracting with the sheriff's dispatch center would have.

The board had targeted the dispatch department for elimination as part of a general trend toward regional consolidation to save costs, budgeting only six months as it negotiated with the sheriff's office. The move kicked up a hornet's nest of protest from residents and the dispatchers themselves.

Then, three weeks ago, the Finance Committee voted 11-1 not to recommend the police budget of $1.4 million because it didn't include the dispatchers.

Putting back in the $97,000 to keep local dispatch for the last six months of fiscal 2013 would put the town above its tax levy ceiling.

"The options that we have if the board's budget isn't approved at town meeting are to do an override, to have the budget voted down and have no budget," said Town Administrator Jonathan Butler, who suggested the fallback. "That prevents us from not having a budget on July 1. ...

"That warrant article is the insurance policy."

John Pansecchi, a dispatcher and assistant fire chief, objected to the way the board had approached the change. "There are three agencies involved in this," he said. "There are other options and funding mechanisms."

Pansecchi, and then town meeting member Jeffrey Lefebvre went back and forth with an increasingly frustrated Butler, asking for information he said he didn't have yet.

Butler said the town was in very preliminary talks with the sheriff's department and getting a feasibility study. "The state pays for the study and we were in the middle of getting it authorized."

The Finance Committee had put the brakes on the process and cooled talks with the sheriff's department, he said. 

Harrington said it was inevitable there would be disagreements on how to proceed. But he believed "it is an economic benefit and a safety benefit if we regionalize. ... I think it's important for us to go forward with a commitment."

Town officials believe contracting dispatch services could save nearly $200,000 a year.

"We're not here trying to destroy the town of Adams, we're trying to run it more efficiently," said Butler.
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