PEPPERELL — Selectmen were introduced to regionalization plans from the North Middlesex Council of Governments Wednesday.
Two plans, one for economic and housing development and the other for 911 dispatch, were lauded as extensive and thorough by the selectmen. But the board was leery about approving either.
NMCOG Executive Director Beverly Woods presented her organization’s regional strategic plan, which was compiled using funding from the MA Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. The extensive plan will be used for grant funding for open space preservation, housing, economic development and a plethora of other community development tactics.
In discussing approval of the plan, Selectmen agreed to give all town boards until their meeting on Jan. 23 to review the plan and raise concerns. Such issues like maps and objectives would need to be clearly outlined for future grant applications.
After the presentation, Selectmen Chairman Michael Green said that though he didn’t see any harm that could come to Pepperell, but was concerned with the regional aspect of it. NMCOG’s plan includes smaller, neighboring towns and also larger .
Woods explained that the council was not looking to be ‘Lowell-centric.’
As for grant funding priorities, Selectman Joseph Sergi was concerned that the town’s master plan and housing plan would be overridden by the NMCOG document.
According to Woods, during the creation of the plan, NMCOG did not know that the state would be using it for grant funding until after it was drafted and submitted.
Chairman Green said he wanted to be cautious if the state was ‘playing it by ear.’
An preliminary study as part of the Regional 911 Plan was presented next. NMCOG is proposing using state-funded facilities and equipment to regionalize dispatching operations as a cost-saving and life-saving measure.
The board approved moving forward with fact finding to see the how cost and safety benefits could work for Pepperell.
Woods explained the only cost incurred to the towns would be that of land expenses. Dispatcher labor issues such as collective bargaining would transition smoothly, she explained.
Pepperell Communications Director Frank Quattrocchi said he had been with the plan since the beginning and was also apart of the Pepperell Police Department when the town was regionalized 30 years ago.
Groton, Pepperell, Dunstable, Ayer, Townsned and Shirley consolidated communications when towsns used low-band, poor-quality radios.
Although the method was beneficial, as time passed, explained Quattrocch, population tripled in the area and towns wanted more autonomy over their individual communication systems.
If dispatch was regionalized, dispatchers would be consolidated and, thus, Pepperell Police Department would not be manned 24 hours per day.
Woods added that dispatchers usually have no room to advance to higher positions and a regional office would open up managerial and supervisory positions.