Conclusion of a 2-part story
AYER — The terms of memoranda of agreement with emergency dispatchers and police superior officers unions were disclosed by selectmen as they met July 17.
The town’s negotiating team consisted of Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand, Police Chief William Murray, Finance Committee member Brian Muldoon, Selectman Christopher Hillman and Selectman Pauline Conley.
It was no small task, they said, with multiple strategy sessions.
Muldoon said the dispatchers’ opening position was to request $170,000 for the added EMD duties. “That’s where we started.” The number was whittled down significantly. “It was tough getting to that number, but I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Conley said she’s recently heard a dispatcher handling an EMD call while simultaneously receiving a radio message from a patrolman. The dispatcher told the officer to wait for a moment. “I’m on an EMD call. You could hear the stress because she had a nonresponsive person on the other end (of the phone) and was trying to juggle everything.”
Conley said it “wasn’t far-fetched” for the union to request two-dispatcher staffing around the clock. Conley said she’s heard of two EMD calls since July 1. “You can’t predict what will happen. The patrolmen and the management team will have to back them up when they’re on an EMD call because they cannot get off that call.”
Hillman said “this was a long, hard negotiation. We started out a zillion miles apart. It’s a credit to the team.” During talks with the dispatchers, Hillman said “there was a lot of respect back and forth.” With the changed work duties, Hillman said “I think this is a fair number.”
Selectman Frank Maxant said it “seems to be the only multiyear contract we’re entering into” at a time that everyone’s “skittish” over finances. Maxant said it’s clear the “negotiating team on both sides was able to establish that trust.”
The dispatchers ratified the MOA, which stretches through June 30, 2015.
MOA terms were also reached when selectmen voted to enter into a one-year contract with the superior police officers union. The town was represented by the same negotiation team, except John Kilcommins represented the Finance Committee .
“In compliance with the Open Meeting Law,” Pontbriand said the board needed to vote to accept the MOA terms in open session when the agreement “becomes a public record.”
The senior officers’ MOA includes a 2 percent pay increase in fiscal 2013. The senior officers ratified the terms on June 27.
Selectmen voted 4-1 to approve the MOA with the senior patrolmen.
Luca said while the negotiating team “did a good job,” it was “given no direction,” which Luca said was “the fault of this board. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s a good deal for the town but I will support it as a board.”
Luca said it may be good for the town to consider anew joining the regional emergency dispatch center being built on Barnum Road on Devens. Harvard, Lunenburg, Lancaster and Devens are on board for the regionalization venture spearheaded by MassDevelopment.
“If it can reduce costs here in Ayer, why not look at it?” said Luca. “There may be more costs coming down the line. If we can share the costs with other towns, we should look at that.”
Chairman Jim Fay agreed, stating “it’s not just the capital cost but the cost of training. This can be a very costly venture. It could save a town a goodly sum of money.”
Maxant said there’s “no question we have to be concerned with costs,” but warned “we should not let ourselves be blindsided.”
Maxant said dispatching is analogous to using an Internet-based map like MapQuest. “I’ll zoom in to get as close a look as I can. With a dispatcher, you want to be zoomed in as close as you can. A regional dispatch can’t do that. That’s my first knee-jerk reaction.”
“I’m actually going to agree with Frank,” said Hillman. “I’m open to kicking the tires on anything” but “I also like the fact that when I call the police department, there’s somebody down there.”
“I agree with Frank,” said Fay. “When you say ‘regional,’ you say goodbye to control…But when you talk collaboration and shared costs, it’s worth taking a look…”
No, said Board of Health and Capital Planning Committee member Mary Spinner, who is a retired nurse.
A year and a half ago during a surprise snowstorm, her friend, the late Lola Parlon, tried to call Spinner’s house. “She couldn’t get me.” Parlon called the Ayer Police Department dispatchers.
Officer James Wilson came right up and “saw that I was all right but knee-deep in snow.” Wilson told dispatch to call Parlon back “and say I’m all right. I like the personal touch that we have here.”