By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY — Finance Committee members conceded Monday night there’s a lot to be gained through regional dispatch, but there are too many unknowns for them to recommend joining the collaborative to the Board of Selectmen.
“I haven’t seen any more information, but I’m still convinced there’s an opportunity to save money by regionalizing communications,” Finance Committee member Mike Swanton said Monday night. “We didn’t see very many of the details, but my biggest concern is control. What’s your leverage point?”
The board was hoping to have more details before Monday night’s meeting so as to make a clearer decision. If they felt it was a good decision, the board was potentially going to recommend joining the center.
“It’s like when the school regionalized, you had elected representatives. I didn’t see that happening here,” said Swanton. “I would be concerned given that kind of structure. You would lose the opportunity to save money.”
Finance Committee member Dan Meehan said if the town decides to join the regional dispatch center later, they would be on the hook for any equipment needed for the town.
Currently, the regional center has a grant for approximately $800,000 to cover equipment costs, he said.
“The only thing with a wait-and-see approach is that we need equipment to proceed,” said Meehan. “If we proceed down the road, that money is gone and we would lose out on a potential opportunity to save money. I’m not sure we have all the information we need.”
Swanton said he would need to see more details before he could make a definitive recommendation.
“Until I hear more details on how that will be managed, I’m not sure,” he said. “While I think conceptually it is a good idea, I need something more definitive than that.”
In other business, the board also discussed ways to cut a $550,000 deficit heading into the fiscal 2013 budget season, such as forming a deficit team that would discuss long-term projects for the town that would reduce costs.
Members of that team would include department heads and other department members, Swanton said, and could potentially start as early as next month.
“Barring any sort of major change in policy at the state level, it’s unlikely to see more money than we’re seeing now. The only wild card here is free cash,” Swanton said. “Really, in terms of the revenue increase, barring a tax increase, the only opportunities would be if there’s free cash that rolls out or if they continue MCI money. The communications center was the only thing we could have done to cost save.”
Meehan said it’s important for the team to think outside of the box, whether it’s re-negotiating health-insurance costs or selling town-owned properties.
Some projects, like solar projects, will take multiple years to implement, he said, but the team needs to think of projects that can be implemented immediately that will have a cost savings.