|Stockbridge Officials Share Concerns With Lt. Gov. Polito|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
01:44PM / Tuesday, April 24, 2018
|Board of Selectman Chairman Donald Chabon drew Polito a picture explaining the Stockbridge Bowl project.|
Chabon and Cardillo spent about an hour with Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito talking through issues.
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito vowed to work with town, state, and federal officials to find a way forward with the Stockbridge Bowl dredging project.
The $4 million project to restore the lake was stalled recently when an endangered snail was found to be located there and in only one other state lake.
Board of Selectman Chairman Donald Chabon said the lake is in dire need of restoration and the species wouldn't survive if the lake's overall ecosystem isn't improved.
"This is not preserving our species. This is just destroying our lakes. We're looking for a way to move forward with this. We are looking for a way to preserve this natural resource for the community. It is a watershed, it is lots of things to a lot of people. It would be a shame to let it go down the tubes for no valid reason," Chabon said.
The chairman said just over the border in New York, the Marstonia lustrica snail is not endangered. But the finding of it in Stockbridge has left the town struggling to get the lake project permitted. The state had issued grants for the work to be done but now the path forward is murky.
"My job is, as an executive leader of state government, is convene and to hold the system accountable. This was unanticipated when you applied for the grant and when it was processed. And now we have this to sort through and we will," Polito said.
While that may be the big issue facing Stockbridge immediately, Fire Chief Chuck Cardillo is looking for help with the volunteer fire and ambulance services. Chabon and Cardillo met with Polito on Tuesday to discuss issues facing the town.
"Our administration has been dedicated to making sure that we are giving rural communities the attention they deserve. They have unique challenges, smaller populations, limited resources, and not a lot of economic activity so it falls on the taxpayers," Polito said of her sit-down meeting with the town officials.
"I've been very intentional about visiting all 351 of the cities and towns so I can deliver to our administration what their needs and priorities are in every community no matter where it is located, no matter how big or small."
Volunteerism in the Fire Department has dropped significantly over the years, Cardillo said. The enrollment has dropped from 90 members down to just 22 over the years. That is leaving the town often at risk for disaster.
"Any house fire requires multiple towns," Cardillo said of mutual aid agreements.
When it comes to ambulance drivers, there is a bill that has been eyed to be a gamechanger for small towns. It would change the requirement of having two certified emergency medical technicians on every ambulance call and instead allow for a first responder to be the driver on a basic life support call. That bill would allow towns to answer more ambulance calls because of the lack of EMT volunteers available.
"As far as EMTs and paramedics go, there isn't a big pool of them," Cardillo said.
He said the training to become a paramedic is costly and often that leads to paying just $15 an hour.
"It costs a lot to become a paramedic and there isn't a lot of incentive," the fire chief said.
With an aging population and the opioid epidemic, call volumes continue to grow. But the cost for an ambulance ride is also around $1,200 and there has been about a 60 to 65 percent collection rate, pushing those uncollected bill costs onto the taxpayer.
Cardillo added that requirements around the fire chief's position are also demanding. He said a chief needs to take a 72-hour course just for administrative functions.
"It is not a bad thing overall ... it is a lot of strain on a volunteer chief. It pushes the towns to a full-time chief and some of these small towns it is not feasible. So maybe it can be a population cut out," Cardillo said.
Polito suggested sharing a chief, but Cardillo said because of the distance between towns, that would be difficult for a working chief. He said an administrative chief could work in that way, but it is still a complicated proposal to sort through.
The lieutenant governor added that the town is eligible for another Community Compact grant that could be used to examine the public safety issues. She added that another round of regionalization and efficiency grants will be available in July.
Chabon, however, said regionalization of services requires somewhat of a balancing act. While townspeople do support regionalization to some degree, residents want to keep strong oversight of local services. They made that clear last year over an initiative to share a town administrator with Lee and Lenox.
"The people of Stockbridge felt pretty strongly about maintaining the management authority. The sharing of functions, sharing of services, sharing equipment, sharing of school, but the sharing of services is different from the sharing of management. The people of Stockbridge spoke strongly that the management, they want to retain management," Chabon said.
"Stockbridge has a very strong identity and history. That's where sharing is certainly always on the table but the sharing of management is different."
Polito said that isn't news to her. She's heard that across the state. However, she does believe there are places where shared services can be a benefit.
"There is no question that in Massachusetts we have 351 municipalities and are very parochial about maintaining character and history," Polito said. "At the same time, there are opportunities to look beyond borders."
Cardillo also mentioned the cost of Narcan and Epipens. The Fire Department has to go through a multi-day process and a cost to be licensed. But yet, they are sold over the counter to residents.
"It kind of struck me funny that I can go in as a citizen and buy it over the counter but I can't legally get it as an EMT," he said.
Poltio took notes on all of the town officials' concerns and promised to follow up. But, she also left the meeting giving them a heads up on a few grant programs coming soon.
"We are putting into our capital plan additional funds for trails. You live in a part of the state that has enormous beauty and the trail systems are not only a benefit to the people who live here but the people who come here," Polito said.
Another program the administration is rolling out is $6 million worth of grants available now for cities and towns to address vulnerable infrastructure.
"We have a very powerful winter with four Nor' easters hitting the commonwealth. All parts of our commonwealth were impacted at various times during the winter. We know we need to be more prepared," Polito said.
She said the Municipal Vulnerability and Assessment Program is available now but the administration is looking for money for the construction aspect of those projects in the capital budget.
"Almost every community asks for money around IT to upgrade systems to better communicate with residents and for public health," Polito added, saying additional funds to address that is coming soon too.