SHIRLEY — State Rep. Jennifer Benson and state Sen. James Eldridge came to Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting to witness the swearing in of Police Chief J. Gregory Massak.
The selectmen — quick to capture an opportunity — asked Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, a few questions before he left.
Massak, a 25-year department veteran had achieved the rank of lieutenant when he took over as acting chief last year. The board unanimously voted at its June 28 meeting to appoint him to the permanent position. He was officially sworn in Monday night.
As the two state officials left the room afterward, Selectman Andy Deveau asked Eldridge if he’d stay to brief the board on a couple of state-funding issues, including a Federal Fast Cops grant Massak applied for, and possible restoration of annual prison mitigation funding the town didn’t get this year.
Eldridge graciously agreed, but his answers didn’t shed much light on the issues.
He first addressed the $300,000 in Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds that Gov. Deval Patrick pledged to the new Ayer-Shirley regional school district for its transition year — 2010-11. The district, created by Town Meeting votes in Ayer and Shirley in March, becomes operational in August 2011.
The money is slated for activities during the interim or “transition” year that call for funding, including hiring a consultant to help set up an employee health-benefit plan for the new region that will be in place and functional from day one. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) accepted the transition plan for next year as a provision of the regionalization agreement.
The funding was reportedly held up because there was no vehicle to receive it. The new region subsequently set up a Local Education Agency, or LEA, that apparently met DESE funding criteria. Then Ayer interim Superintendent George Frost found out the funds could only be issued via a competitive grant process. Frost said he would submit the application, but it was simply a formality. He’s been assured the money was earmarked, he told the Transitional Regional Committee at its final meeting, and he was confident it would come through as promised. It hasn’t yet.
Eldridge basically told the selectmen there’s nothing to worry about. “I get continued assurances that the transition funding is there and committed by the governor” to the Ayer-Shirley region, he said. It just hasn’t been “transferred” yet, he said.
As for MCI money the town used to receive each year for hosting a state prison, he had no such good news. “We’re still working to restore prison funding,” he said.
The money — $80,000 for fiscal 2010 — was earmarked in the state budget, but the Department of Corrections didn’t deliver those funds or other mitigation money slated for other towns. State officials grilled on the same subject at a previous selectmen’s meeting promised to look into it. Apparently, it’s still in limbo.
Asked about the Fast Cops Grant, a federal program, he said there’s nothing new. “We’ve been in touch with Congressman Niki Tsongas’s office,” Eldridge said.
Massak previously told the board he was hopeful the town had a shot at the money. Only departments that didn’t get the grant last year were allowed to apply this year, he said, narrowing the field some. The grant would pay salaries and benefits to hire new police officers, and would continue to foot the bill for two years, after which the town, as a grant requirement, would pick up the tab.