| Sarah Heinonen
HAMPDEN – The past year has been an eventful one for the Town of Hampden, and not without its controversies. From emergency dispatch regionalization and ambulance service to new business ventures and chances for celebration, Hampden saw a whirlwind of activity in 2020.
On Jan. 21, the select board conducted a public forum in which over 100 residents gathered and discussed their preferences for two major issues in town: waste disposal and ambulance services. Based in part on the information from that forum, the town partnered with new vendor companies.
After learning late in 2019 that the town’s contract with Republic Services for trash hauling would increase significantly, the select board put out bids for the service and, on March 2, signed a waste and recycling hauling contract with McNamara Waste Services.
The town also entered into a five-year contract with the Materials Recycling Facility in Springfield. While the town was once paid for its recyclables, the collapse of the recycling market resulted in a cost to the town of $93.50 for recyclable processing with a yearly increase. The town also raised transfer station permit fees and the cost of transfer station trash bags to avoid a tax hike.
After seeing a marked decline in ambulance response times from the town’s former ambulance service contractor, American Medical Response, Hampden began searching for another option. Action Ambulance began servicing Hampden on July 1 after a period of negotiation.
The ambulance company is located on East Longmeadow Road and is overseen by an ambulance oversight committee, which makes sure that the company is keeping response times short of adhering to its contract with the town.
After a conflict in August between the Select Board and the Fire Department over the role of the Hampden Fire Department (HFD) in emergency medical response, the HFD signed a mutual aid agreement with Action Ambulance to provide backup service with the department’s Basic Life Support vehicle.
Over the past year, there has been controversy in Hampden over the proposal to regionalize emergency dispatch by joining with either the Chicopee-based company WestCOMM or the Town of Wilbraham. While Select Board Chair Donald Davenport has argued that a dispatch partnership will save the town up to $1.8 million over five years, a vocal contingent of residents disagreed with those estimates and have insisted that the quality of service will decrease if not handled in town.
The issue has not yet been voted on by the Select Board, which has the legal authority over intermunicipal agreements. Meanwhile, the ad-hoc Citizen’s Dispatch Committee is seeking a public vote on the issue and has put a non-binding petitioned article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant for spring of 2021.
Not all has been contentious in town, however. At least one resident has opened small businesses despite the pandemic and its related financial pressures. Lindsay Pelloso, who once worked at the seasonal Mountain View Restaurant, bought the business with her parents, Billy and Linda Bond. The drive-in burger restaurant at 25 Allen St. has persevered, despite not being able to open its dining room for much of the year due to pandemic restrictions.
Bethlehem Church, at 123 Allen St., found a way to give kids a Halloween celebration in spite of fewer trick-or-treating opportunities this year. The church hosted a Pumpkin Party on Oct. 31 that drew scores of families. There was a costumes contest, a storytime, a carved-pumpkin contest, and a trunk-or-treat with dozens of decorated vehicles whose owners handed out candy.
That event, like the Light the Night Parade during which Santa and Mrs. Claus drove through neighborhoods with the help of fire and police vehicles, provided opportunities for celebration, even in the face of the pandemic.