Board names HWRSD member, public health nurse, talks emergency regionalization

July 30, 2020 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN – At the July 27 Hampden Select Board meeting, Michal Boudreau was named to the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee by the board and the town’s other school committee member, Maura Ryan. Select Board Member Mary Ellen Glover asked Boudreau why she wanted to be on the school committee.  She responded that she felt she could bring a different perspective to the committee as the mother of children in the district.

Ryan informed the board that she had spoken with Boudreau and felt she would be “an excellent candidate” for the position. The four officials approved Boudreau unanimously.

 She will fill the seat left vacant by former School Committee Member Heather Zanetti’s resignation on June 30. Boudreau was seated at the school committee meeting the following night and will finish the current term, ending in 2021.

The select board also hired Dr. Sheila Rucki, a registered nurse, as the town’s public health nurse. Glover told the others that Rucki had an “extensive resume” and is taking courses online through Purdue University to keep up to date. Glover explained that having a public health nurse would be, “a chance to give better service to the town and make sure we’re all COVID-safe.”

Rucki will need to undergo a public training on the state’s MAVEN system, in which COVID-19 cases are tracked and contacts traced.

Currently, the job is for five to 10 hours per week through December, with the option to extend the contract should the public health crisis continue. There is no cost to the town, as the $27 per hour for the public health nurse position is paid for through federal coronavirus relief funds.

Board Member John Flynn said that if the town decides to keep the public health nurse after the funds run out in December, it would cost the town less than $1,000 per year and could be paid for from the Board of Health revolving account.

Aside from COVID-19, Rucki would deal with other infectious diseases such as Lyme and the flu. It was decided that she would work under Board of Health Coordinator Jane Budynkiewicz and answer to  Interim Town Administrator Bob Markel.

The board discussed permanently filling the town administrator position, a position in which Markel has served as interim since December 2019. Markel told them that the market for town administrators is busiest in the late winter into early spring, when many town officials leave their positions.

Glover asked if Markel thought he would like to stay in the role. He told her that he liked working for Hampden, but if the town decides to get a full-time administrator he would move on as he can only work part-time.

Davenport commented that he originally thought the work could be done on a part-time basis, but has since changed his mind.

“While you’ve done a fabulous job and I’d love you to stay,” Davenport told Markel, he believes the job required full-time hours. Markel agreed, saying it is “realistically” a 30-hour per week job.

“Grants are a nuisance now,” Markel said of just one part of the job. “You like the money, but the paperwork,” is time-consuming.

Glover suggested keeping the town administrator a part-time position and delegating tasks to keep the hours down, but Flynn reminded her that the town had voted for a full-time administrator at town meeting.

The board moved on to discuss the makeup of the yet-to-be-created ambulance oversight committee. Markel suggested including the police chief, town administrator and, possibly, Dr. Gerald Beltran, the medical director overseeing several emergency response organizations in the area, including Hampden. Glover opined that the oversight committee should be made of people with expertise and that the board should define the needed areas of expertise and then choose volunteers to satisfy those needs.

Turning to the option of joining a regional emergency dispatch, Markel reported that he had contacted surrounding communities that have regionalized to get a feel for their satisfaction with their services. Monson Town Administrator said the town is happy with their relationship with Chicopee-based WESTCOMM. He has yet to hear back from East Longmeadow and Longmeadow on their respective experiences.

Markel also reached out to E911, the state’s emergency service. He was told that it was too late in the year to receive the regionalization development grant, which pays for 100 percent of the first three years of a municipality’s regionalization cost, 50 percent the following year, and 25 percent the year after that. E911 did, however, say other available grant money may be used toward regionalization.

“Wilbraham is open to a consolidation with Hampden,” Markel told the board. He said he had spoken with Wilbraham Town Administrator Nick Breault and the two had discussed the financial benefits for each town. Markel said the most recent figures mentioned would give Wilbraham 25 percent of the money Hampden saves as part of a regional agreemeent, but nothing was decided and regionalization is still just a potential opportunity.

Anthony Gentile, director of Wilbraham’s emergency dispatch, clarified that the grant money would go to the host community, in this case, Wilbraham, as they have an existing dispatch system that Hamden would be joining. He said Wilbraham is still eligible for the development grant for transitioning to a regional system.

Markel suggested another Zoom meeting between the towns to discuss dispatch, as there seemed to be confusion regarding the grants.

The towns must come to an agreement within the next couple of months if Hampden wishes to present a warrant article on the issue at the fall town meeting.  Flynn noted that if there is a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the town may want to consider moving the meeting from November to September so that it can be conducted outside.

On the creation of a dispatch committee, Flynn told Glover that he liked her idea of having experts on board, but said there should be some “at-large” members from the community as well.

Glover said that she would rather create a group of “fact finders” with expertise, rather than a committee, which she said becomes “disjointed.” She said taxpayers vote with their “emotions,” but Davenport took issue with that assessment.

Several people watching the meeting took to the Zoom chat to express that the decision on regionalizing would have a significant impact on the town and that taxpayers should have a voice on the committee.

Davenport said Hampden had to ask a few questions with regards to regionalization, including will they get the same deal no matter what regional system they join, what is the cost to the town, and what will happen to the infrastructure already in Hampden.

Glover responded that the questions they need are to ask are “where is the town of Hamden going?” and “do we want to be a part of Wilbraham?”

Markel reported that since the opening of the town hall to the public on July 13, the new system was working well. Visitors now enter the front of the town hall interact with a receptionist in the auditorium, rather than walking through the building to the individual town offices.

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