Phillipston, Templeton officials to meet to go over regional emergency dispatch

Phillipston’s agreement with Templeton for a regional dispatch center was on the agenda for last Wednesday’s meeting of the Phillipston Selectboard. Another meeting on the subject is planned.

Phillipston’s agreement with Templeton for a regional dispatch center was on the agenda for last Wednesday’s meeting of the Phillipston Selectboard. Another meeting on the subject is planned. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 12-17-2023 6:01 PM

PHILLIPSTON — Officials from Phillipston and Templeton are planning to meet with representatives of the State 911 Department to see if an accord can be reached to renew the Regional Emergency Communications Center (RECC) agreement between the two towns.

Phillipston’s Selectboard has weighed terminating the agreement with Templeton and had been in talks with Athol regarding the possibility of setting up a regional dispatch service with that town’s police department. 

In an exchange of emails with the Athol Daily News, Melanie Jackson, the board’s administrative assistant, said, “Templeton has always provided excellent dispatch service over the years, and we are grateful to them for that. The main issues at hand are financial transparency and collaboration.”

At last Wednesday’s Phillipston Selectboard meeting, members reviewed a letter from Joseph Crean, director of special projects for the State 911 Department, stating it was his agency’s belief that “it is in Phillipston’s best interest to remain in the Templeton RECC.”

In his letter, Crean noted “projects involving Athol will not be considered by this department at this time. It is critical to understand that the department will not support or consider any regional 911 project involving Athol due to their ineligibility to receive any department grant funding until fiscal year 2028.”

The letter did not provide the details behind Athol’s ineligibility for State 911 grants.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski said that Athol’s funding through the State 911 Department was suspended for a period of 10 years after Athol withdrew from a regionalization effort with Gardner. Suhoski explained that this was done at the urging of residents.

“The Special Town Meeting that night was well-attended, and folks were riled up and they voted to show their displeasure with the (agreement),” he said. “The Selectboard then withdrew from the regionalization effort with Gardner. So, we put that in the rear-view mirror and focused on centralizing police and fire dispatch at our dispatch center in Athol. So, anyway, as a result of that we were kind of placed on the ‘naughty list’ for 10 years.”

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Suhoski added that he was a “bit irritated” with the tone of Crean’s letter. Had Athol and Phillipston reached agreement on a new RECC, Suhoski said, “Were not expecting that 911 would be funding us immediately. We felt there would be a sufficient budget from our own resources – economies of scale – and whatever Phillipston pays to Templeton anyway.”

Dispatch center funding

According to Jackson, Phillipston’s assessment for the RECC for FY24 is $77,000. The yearly assessment for the town is based on the average number of calls generated during the previous three years. Templeton’s contribution is based on the recommendation of Police Chief Michael Bennett and approved by Town Meeting voters as part of the general budget. State grants also supplement the dispatch budget. Phillipston Police Det. Sgt. Sean Sawicki explained that grants are used to pay dispatchers, with some funds used to upgrade equipment.

“At this point, we haven’t been getting any grants through Templeton,” Selectboard member Gerhard Fandreyer said at Wednesday’s meeting. “They’ve been applying for grants in both towns’ names, but we haven’t been getting the money – and they haven’t been telling us about it anyway.”

Fandreyer reiterated his belief that Templeton has not been “forthcoming” in letting Phillipston officials know how dispatch monies are being spent.

“We tried to have meeting with Templeton,” Finance Committee chair Tom Specht said, “and their powers that be blew us off and didn’t even come to the meeting and just said, ‘No, we’re not going to give you those figures and this is the way it’s going to be, like it or not.’ It’s going to be the same story over again; we in Phillipston want to know where the money is going.”

Selectboard Chair Bernie Malouin suggested that the board hear the state department out and see if it’s possible to maintain the current arrangement.

“This is a public safety issue,” Malouin said. “Even though we may not be happy because we weren’t getting the information we asked for, we can probably get those things resolved.”

Templeton Town Administrator Adam Lamontagne told the Athol Daily News that it was up to Phillipston if the regional center was to remain.

“We gave them information relative to the budget breakout the police chief and I worked on,” he said. “We were hopeful Phillipston would continue with Templeton, and if there’s anything they want to improve on in a new inter-municipal agreement – and we certainly hope they will go with Templeton – we can work out those concerns.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.