By Anne O'Connor
PEPPERELL -- Another long discussion on joining a regional emergency communications center ended with no resolution.
Selectmen voted to join the Northern Middlesex Regional Emergency Communications Center on April 10. The decision was met with strong opposition by a group of residents and public safety personnel.
Since then, the other two towns in the center, Tewksbury and Dracut, said Pepperell is not being a good partner, said Melissa Tzanoudakis, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.
The town could hold a vote in April about how to proceed with emergency communications, she said. Although the selectmen are the contracting authority, they would agree to follow the advisory vote.
If the ballot vote is not for regionalizing with those two towns, an override vote to raise taxes for operating and capital costs would need to be on the Town Meeting warrant the following month.
Regionalizing the service means state grants are available for needed capital expenses, staffing is more robust and 911 calls will be processed quicker, proponents said.
Opponents question the ongoing availability of state funds, the knowledge that outside dispatchers will lack about the town and leaving the police station unstaffed if no dispatcher is present.
Putting the question to a vote would give the existing subcommittee a chance to step back and come up with a plan, Tzanoudakis said.
The town is moving in the right direction financially, said Finance Committee member Mark Vasapolli. Infrastructure improvements are needed and must be paid for.
"I think making a decision to step back is good," he said. "Department heads need to be on board."
During the discussion, people in the audience expressed their discontent.
"I think it's terrible you put money ahead of safety," one man said.
A woman called Tzanoudakis condescending after the chairwoman fielded a question about an existing subcommittee.
Jason Russell, a lieutenant in the fire department, said people in the audience were making personal attacks. The selectmen and the town administrator need to come up with a plan.
"Let's be a community," he said. "Don't be like our neighbors."
The discussion will be continued during the Sept. 25 meeting.
The decision the selectmen reached in April is not the only thing that residents question.
In July, resident Caroline Ahdab filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office alleging that the Board of Selectmen violated the open meeting law the night it voted to join the by posting an insufficiently detailed meeting notice.
In August, the office found that the board did not violate the law.
Ahdab also alleged that the board violated the open meeting law when the three selectmen and their spouses had dinner with the town administrator and when the town administrator attended two different breakfasts with two different selectmen.
The attorney general office found that the board did not violate the open meeting law. There was no deliberation and no evidence that public business had taken place.
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