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Benson: State attitude toward school regionalization has changed


AYER — Selectmen received updates from the Statehouse on Tuesday night, as state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, Rep. Jen Benson and Rep. Sheila Harrington came to hear questions on the state’s fiscal 2015 budget.

Eldridge listed some of his priorities, including full funding for regional school transportation and funding for social-safety-net services.

One act “promoting municipal collaboration” would make it easier for towns to regionalize services if they wanted to, Eldridge said. The act passed in the House and is now in the Senate.

Eldridge also highlighted a $13 billion transportation-bond bill that passed this week, which includes money for Chapter 90 funding for town road work.

Benson asked selectmen if they had any questions on the budget for the area that she and Harrington will be drafting in the coming weeks.

Chairman Gary Luca said water and sewer infrastructure is a real issue for Ayer.

“We’re looking for a big improvement on East Main Street, and, hopefully, we can get some help on it,” he said.

Luca also asked if there was any further discussion on school regionalization after the state pushed the idea a few years ago.

“Ayer and Shirley regionalized, but nobody’s kind of stepping up and saying ‘Hey, thank you for regionalizing,’ ” he said, asking if any other towns are doing the same thing.

Benson noted that there has been a significant shift in the administration’s attitude on regionalization.

“I think the administration has realized that that is a much more significant and difficult effort than they originally anticipated,” Benson said. Four or five schools have regionalized since Ayer and Shirley, she noted, but “it’s not catching fire across the Commonwealth.”

But she added local elected officials have pushed to make sure that the regionalization incentive aid for both towns stays in the governor’s budget, which has not included it.

“We have worked pretty hard to make sure that stays in and pounded the drum in the Legislature to make people understand that that’s something that is important,” she said.

The board also plans to look into altering its wastewater agreement with MassDevelopment, which allows Ayer to dispose of a certain amount of wastewater to Devens for an annual capital charge.

But Department of Public Works Superintendent Mark Wetzel said Ayer does not even need to transfer 0.10 million gallons per day, the minimum amount required by the contract. Wetzel estimated that Ayer pays the finance agency $250,000 to $275,000 every year.

“My recommendation is that we meet with the MassDevelopment Finance Agency and talk about the agreement,” he said. “There is a provision in the agreement to sell some of our capacity.”

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