North Adams Council Approves Expansion of Regional Veterans Services
Michael Chalifoux castigates the council for approving the veterans services agreement.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved the expansion of the Intermunicipal Veterans Services Agreement to include Cheshire, Dalton and Lanesborough.
The agreement, which was initially created in 2010 to service veterans in Adams, North Adams and Williamstown, now covers the bulk of Northern Berkshire, including the towns of Clarksburg, Florida and Savoy.
Veterans Service Officer Stephen Roy is an employee of the city of North Adams; each of the communities within the intermunicipal agreement reimburse the city for his services.
Dalton will pick up 13.3 percent of the offices' wages and benefits, or about $10,878.16 a year, and Roy will spend five hours at Dalton Town Hall on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Cheshire and Lanesborough will pay $1,500 a year and any veteran of those towns can access services during the hours Roy is in Adams, Dalton, North Adams or Williamstown. Clarksburg, Florida and Savoy have a similar agreement.
The total budget for the office is $89,086.23 for Roy and his assistant and includes salaries, pension, life insurance and FICA. North Adams pays $44,600.47 of that.
Roy already spends five hours weekly in Williamstown and seven hours in Adams. He is scheduled to spend 20.5 hours a week in North Adams. The office's full-time administrative assistant is in North Adams five days a week; participating towns also pick up costs for her administrative duties.
Each town, however, is responsible for the claims and payments from their own veterans.
Officials say the partnership has worked well since it was instituted as a solution to the difficulty of finding VSOs who were often only needed part time.
Councilors Eric Buddington and Jason LaForest questioned the "spread" of services and if Roy could adequately service the veterans in each town.
"Adding Dalton to this adds one hour of commute time a week," Roy said. "I actually started last week and the caseload in Dalton is currently very very lean, comparable with Clarksburg. The workload doesn't add that much."
He said rather than a reduction, the veterans in the incoming towns should see "an enormous increase" in their services. It has been difficult to get an appointment in the Dalton because the past VSO has work obligations and he didn't know who a veteran would contact in Cheshire.
"They are going to be getting the full level of services as required by law," he said.
Roger Eurbin, a veteran and cemetery commissioner, applauded Roy's work ethic and capability but Michael Chalifoux, of Vietnam Veterans of America, loudly denounced the idea.
Chalifoux arrived in a fury after watching the council bring forward the first of the three agreements for a vote,
"The veterans of this city have not been served well," he said, saying he'd had to wait 11 days for an appointment.
"You're going to make it even worse. ... what you're going to do is hurt veterans. I am so disappointed ... people are going to die because of you."
After Chalifoux left as angrily as he arrived, Roy was queried on how veterans were treated. He said if he is not busy with another case, he can take walk-ins almost immediately. He said he stays in contact with the assistant when he is not in the office and if there is an emergency, such as someone losing their job or in a crisis because of benefits, he responds as soon as possible. There may be times someone has to come in the following day, but it was unlikely to be a week or more.
Roy said he had been at a conference for five days, which may be why Chalifoux was scheduled so far out.
Council President Keith Bona reminded city veterans that if they feel they are not getting served properly, they can always contact the mayor.
The towns of Dalton, Lanesborough and Cheshire
have already approved their end of the agreement; of the main signatories, Williamstown has also given it the OK and Adams is expected to take it up this month.
In other business, the LaForest brought back amended language on the retail marijuana ordinance that was referred to the Public Safety Committee two weeks ago. The committee's recommendation was to remove a lengthy and confusing list of venues and narrowed down so that any licensed marijuana establishment should "must be set back 500 feet from any school, day care facility, or similar facility where organized youth activities occur. Distances shall be measured by a straight line from the nearest structure of the said facility and the LME building. Outdoor facilities such as playgrounds shall be considered a part of the facility."
The ordinance will go to a joint public hearing of the City Council and Planning Board on Monday.
• The council also approved a resolution declaring the city a pollinator friendly community. The resolution does require any actions but rather encourages the adoption of pollinator friendly practices, and a list of them, and the raising of awareness and education to residents, businesses and educational facilities.
The resolution has been kicking around for months as the Public Services Committee reached out to the Department of Public Works on practical applications. Councilor Joshua Moran said the committee was told that the city does not use herbicides and was open to using the open space behind the new City Yard as a pilot for reduced mowing.
Lindsey Vachon, a sophomore at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and student coordinator of the "Save the Bees" campaign on campus through MassPIRG, said the city's passage "shows the of North Adams is coming together to support bees" and will aid in the group's application to Bee City USA.
• Councilor Benjamin Lamb was absent.
Tags: intermunicipal , shared services, veterans agent, veterans services,