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Sheriff Thomas Bowler fielded an array of questions from the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday.

Bowler Talks Budgets, Community Service With Adams Group

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Sheriff Thomas Bowler encouraged the Maple Grove Civic Club to tour the jail. Bowler spoke to club at its Sunday meeting.
ADAMS, Mass. — Call volume will not be a problem if the town decides to outsource its dispatch to the Berkshire County sheriff's department, Sheriff Thomas Bowler told the Maple Grove Civic Club on Sunday.

The town is currently studying options to close down its dispatch center and contract with the department. The call volume is not a concern for Bowler but the future state funds to help maintain the towers and supplement the budget is.

The dispatch service was one of an array of questions fielded by Bowler when he met with about 50 club members Sunday afternoon. From community service to budgets to the dispatcher center, he told the members that everything done at the Berkshire County House of Corrections is for the betterment of the community.

"We encourage you to come up and see what the jail is like. Everything we do at the jail is for one reason and one reason only, to try an maintain and give back to the community so the people in this community can have the quality of life that they absolutely deserve," Bowler said. "This is your county. This is your community we live in. If we can enhance it for you then that is our goal."

Enhancing the community means more than keeping criminals off the streets — it means using them to keep the streets clean. Bowler said the use of inmates for community service tripled since he took office, from nine to 36 now.

"The inmates know that this is a chance to get out from behind those bars and start doing something with their lives. They don't want to screw that up," Bowler said of inmates who are chosen for the community service projects. "These inmates have an incredible work ethic ... they're away from the negative influences that attack them every day."

In Adams, inmates were used to paint Town Hall, landscaping at the cemetery and when resident Jeffrey Lefebvre's clothing drive for returning veterans yielded more clothing than he could carry, inmates came and transported the donations.

Bowler said some of the bigger projects included cleaning up St. Joseph's Cemetery in Pittsfield after a storm felled a number of trees there, renovating Crosby Elementary School's gymnasium and moving the Brien Center's offices in North Adams into its new location.

As well as encouraging towns to ask about the community service projects, Bowler also encouraged groups and individuals to tour the jail.

"You should know what goes on in that facility because it's your tax dollars that are paying for it," Bowler said.

Those tax dollars have been lean since state and federal funding for the jail's operations have decreased.

"In 2009, we were at $16 million and this past year we opened the fiscal year at $14,100,000," Bowler said.

In the most recent year, the jail's budget was cut by 2 percent but the state was not going to cover collective bargaining agreements, Bowler said, so it translated into a 5 percent cut. Bowler said he had to cut $700,000 from the payroll budget and return to the bargaining table.

"If every employee from my superintendent down works a 40-hour work week and I pay them for 38 hours, two hours a week goes to a comp-time day. That will save us, over a 12-month period, the $700,000 we need," Bowler said, adding that the compensation time could be stashed away for retirement. "We sold them and they said yes."

Also in cost-saving measures, Bowler said he cut the director of the Triad program. When his office started receiving calls of concern about the senior safety program, he recruited six staff members to be volunteers - one for each of the county's locations.

"I just couldn't have it be a paid position," he said, despite the high regard he placed on the program's help among senior citizens.

Another program that Bowler said works well is the Western Massachusetts Correctional Alcohol Center, also known as Howard Street. A resident asked if that program was being considered for expansion but Bowler said there is no money to enlarge it.

"It's a great program and we've had a great success with that program," Bowler said. "They keep 20 beds set aside for Pittsfield."

Tags: jail,   Maple Grove Civic Club,   sheriff,   

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