‘We have a crisis:’ Milford faces dispatch quandary

MILFORD – Selectmen’s Chairman Gary Daniels told residents at a public forum Monday night the board will pressure the Department of Revenue Administration to answer questions about the use of funds for a study of dispatch issues.

The state agency has not responded to questions the town posed in March about how it should use a $85,000 from a warrant article passed by voters. Before spending that money, selectmen want to know whether they can look at a multi-town dispatch center as well as a Milford-only one.

“We will get all the information on the table to sort things out,” said Daniels, promising transparency. “It will not be on the back burner and we will deal with it this year … and find a way to pressure the DRA.”

Milford’s main problem, say officials, is the need for better radio communication. Its participation in the three-town emergency communication agency called MACC-Base means it can’t borrow money for large purchases, including money for better radios so when officers are in the more remote parts of town they communicate with one another.

Town attorney William Drescher had advised the town that the $85,000 could only be spent to study a Milford-only center, and a change to the subject of the article is not allowed. Daniels said, however, that voters at the deliberative session added the word “possible” to the article to leave open the possibility of a three-town system.

Monday night the room full of people offered a lot of advice.

Former selectman and DPW director Bob Courage said the board should use an independent consultant, not a vendor, agreeing there is a serious problem with emergency communications, “but we need competitive prices.”

Water Commissioner Dale White told the board the town likely has enough money to look at the MACC-Base side of the issue without using the $85,000.

Milford Police Capt. Craig Frye, who is now on the MACC-Base board of governors, said there is no need for one more study and the board is only postponing the inevitable.

The town spent about $25,000 for a study by Municipal Resources Inc. last year, and the consultants advisedMilford to leave MACC-Base and set up its own dispatch center.

So selectmen proposed a $2.5 million bond article for new equipment for a Milford-only center. It was amended down to $85,000.

Peter Basiliere, the town moderator, said the situation shows the vital importance of deliberative sessions. He also suggested petitioning the court for a special meeting because of the life-safety issues involved.

There is “no reason to wait for the DRA,” he said, and urged selectmen to use the $85,000 to look at a Milford-only plan, and if needed, find money to expand the investigation.

“People’s lives are on the line,” Basiliere said.

MACC-Base Director Jason Johnson defended the agency saying that Milford representatives to the board of governors voted no on spending proposals, but Milford Police Chief Michael Viola said they were all short-term solutions and police want long term ones.

After budget committee member Peg Seward suggested negating the warrant article and starting over next year, former selectman Mark Fougere said the need is too urgent.

“We’ve been kicking the can down the road for 10 years,” he said. “I’m all for a regional solution, but we have a crisis.”

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.