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Town mulls merits of joining Devens regional dispatch


SHIRLEY — When the Nashoba Valley Regional Emergency Communications Center at Devens was taking shape a couple of years ago, town officials, leery of start-up and continuing costs, among other things, were wary of signing on. They decided to wait and see how the new regional dispatch facility worked out.

Now, 13 months after NVRECC came on line, selectmen are still on the fence but ready to take a closer look.

Monday night, NVRECC Director Nathan Kenney said the center is doing fine and at some point might open its doors to another member community.

Whether Shirley will join Harvard, Lancaster, Lunenburg and the Devens community in the regional facility won’t be decided in the next six months, Selectmen Chairman David Swain said Monday night.

But it’s worth considering. To that end, selectmen agreed to form a committee consisting of the police and fire chiefs, DPW foreman, a Finance Committee representative and Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to look into it and report back to the board.

“Be aware” it’s not all about saving money on personnel, Swain said. Instead, a key goal would be to better allocate resources and up the efficiency of emergency services, he said.

Kicking off the exploration process, Garvin invited Kenney to make a presentation to the board and also reached out to Lunenburg Town Manager Kerry Speidel and Police Chief James Marone, both of whom agreed to talk about their town’s experience with the regional dispatch center.

Kenney sketched the NVRECC’s operational structure and staffing and explained how it functions. He noted state grants totaling millions of dollars that the facility has received and more money it might get in the future from similar sources.

Start-up costs, over $3 million in all, were covered by grants, he said.

Quarterly assessments for the towns and Devens (paid by MassDevelopment) were $46,820.25 this year, down slightly from the previous fiscal year, Kenney said. The amount could go up or down, depending on whether upgrades are needed, with costs split among member communities. But the budget is framed annually, Kenney continued, so that member communities know what the next quarterly bills are likely to be.

Currently, a $268,000 development grant for fiscal year 2015 is earmarked for extending the center and speeding up its communications infrastructure, Kenney said, which he also described in some detail.

But Fire Chief Dennis Levesque was unconvinced. Stating he’s been against the idea from day one, Levesque said it would be a “hard sell” from his slant. Citing other fire chiefs’ reports that the new system is “nothing but problems,” he said he doubted it would save Shirley much money anyway, if any.

Selectman Kendra Dumont seemed most concerned about the police station being shut down after hours.

But Kenney said that’s up to the communities to decide and each one might handle it differently. One possibility is to open the lobby and install a phone with a direct line to the center on Devens, complete with video. Responses will depend on the issue, he said, but the center is prepared to handle anything that comes up.

In Lunenburg, for example, a duty officer still covers the desk on each shift and is tasked with additional duties. The town used savings accrued by joining the regional dispatch to pay the officers’ salaries, said Speidel, who serves on the NVRECC administrative board.

“We’re not here to sell you…” she said. “We haven’t decided if we’re open anyway.”

Marone said much the same thing, adding that when the town first proposed dismantling its current dispatch structure to join the regional facility, he strongly opposed it. But almost all the wrinkles he worried about then have been ironed out, he said, and he’s confident that any future problems can be solved as well.

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