Milford resident raises concerns over Article 3

MILFORD – With March 9 voting day on Tuesday, Milford resident Katherine E. Kokko, who has 15 years of experience working with governmental collaboratives and regional groups that have consisted of municipal officials, businesses and healthcare organizations, has concerns about Warrant Article 3, which proposes that the town elect to raise and appropriate $2.4 million for upgrades and replacement of the emergency services dispatch center and infrastructure.

Kokko’s occupational focus has been primarily on bioterrorism and pandemic preparedness but has she’s created a multi-agency coordination entity, which brings a region together to collaborate as to how they might share resources.

With regard to MACC Base, Kokko has done substantial research, examining other governance models and how other communications centers are run. She’s said she’s not opposed to an infrastructure overhaul but believes it should not be a Milford-led system.

The Milford board of selectmen recommends this article (4-1) as does the budgetary advisory committee (8-0).

“The C.T.A. report said a Milford-led system is the best option,” she said. “But what C.T.A. evaluated was the status quo of Milford Area Communications Center (MACC) base as it exists now and what it would take just to do that, versus a town-led system. There was no overarching analysis of other governance models, other partnerships and how different communications centers are structured. I feel very strongly that you can take the best part of successful models and adapt them and make them work for yourself. That’s where we should be starting.”

Kokko asserts that the governance model should first be identified and then address what the technical and housing needs.

“I think what the board of selectmen has done, is started with the technical and building needs, which is understandable, but I don’t think that’s how you start a process like this when you’re involved in a regional collaborative,” she stated.

On a call Monday Mar. 1 with the MACC Base board of governors, which includes chairman Jay Wilson, from the town of Mont Vernon, and vice chairman Capt. Craig Frye of the Milford P.D., Kokko offered that regardless of what Milford voters decide at the polls, she explained that there is great potential for MACC base to evolve its organizational structure into something that could fulfill regional communication center needs better than the status quo.

“The offer that I put on the table to the board of governors was, ‘Do you want me to continue to do research on these different models and how they work?”‘ she said. “I identified a couple of areas where I thought it would be helpful to have more information that I hadn’t gotten to yet.”

Kokko said that potentially, funding opportunities could exist. She spoke to state Homeland Security and Emergency Management and asked if they wanted to do a needs assessment of how to restructure organizationally.

“Not the technical needs assessment, which it seems has been done three and four times over,” she said. “But with regrouping as an organization, could there be funding and potential for that.”

Kokko’s recommendation is for the town to become a Fire Mutual Aid district.

“I’m not 100 percent into all the details of it, but so far it looks promising,” she said. “We have them all around the state: Lakes, southwest, which is in Keene, and Concord have mutual aid districts that run dispatches.”

They’re done slightly differently; Concord Mutual Aid contracts with the city of Concord. Lakes region and southwest do and there is an interest in the state to support regional collaboratives.”

Kokko feels that the area relationships with Wilton and Mont Vernon, for example, already exist and there is a potential to grow. But she said, those existing partners have been very vocal about not wanting to join a Milford-led system. Lyndeborough is a customer of MACC base.

“Milford is floating the idea that we could have a Milford-run system that others could plug into,” she explained. “They have floated a dollar amount for each town, indicating what it would cost for those towns to upgrade their equipment their equipment to plug into our new proposed system. And those towns have basically said, ‘That’s not something we can do and we’re not interested, given the way this relationship has been handled. Historically, that seems to be the response that you get.”

Wilton and Mont Vernon have expressed that they would be interested in a shared government model, according to Kokko.

“If you create a fire district, and you have shared governance, I think we have a much better likelihood of bringing in other towns,” she said. “And I don’t think that would be limited to Wilton or Mont Vernon. I think we would have the potential to bring in more. But right now, I don’t see Milford bringing in customers and that is where the model is short-sighted the way it stands.”

Kokko called the relationship between Milford and its partners in MACC, “extremely damaged.”

“If you go back and look at some of these meetings, I think in Dec. 2018, when we were trying to renegotiate the IMA, the towns came to us and they said, ‘You are damaging our relationship,'” she stated. “‘We want to be partners and be part of this.’ But since 2017, Milford has dug in and said, ‘We want control.'”

It’s suggested that if Milford pays the most for MACC, which they do (72 percent), then they should have control.

“I have never seen a regional organization where a single town gets multiple votes that allow it to create a tie,” Kokko said. “I think that is the beginning of where we started to have problems. If we’re paying 72 percent and we’re getting 72 percent of the services, I don’t see that as inequitable.”

Kokko said Milford may be paying the bulk of the cost, but the town is making equal use of those resources.

“We’re not paying more than what we’re getting from the system,” she said.

There are organizational issues with MACC Base, in terms of it growing as an organization that haven’t happened. Kokko said the town of Milford has been fixated on the idea that control is associated with the voting and moving forward.

“We haven’t been able to evolve the organization to where it can address our needs or those of the region,” she said.

Kokko said there is a lot of grey area with Warrant Article 3.

“There’s no question that people want the infrastructure improved,” she said. “But governance matters and the board of selectmen knows this and they had something in mind when they went with a Milford-led system. But I don’t think that has been presented to the voters.”

Kokko said “there’s a glitch in the system.” Voters may not respond favorably on Mar. 9 and there is no “plan B” in place if the warrant article is not passed.

“I keep hearing the town saying, ‘We did everything the voters asked for, so we think it will pass this time,'” she said. “But having looked at all of this, what the town has done is implemented a formal RFP procurement process, which people did ask for, but that should be expected. I think what’s missing is the upfront work.”

It is Kokko’s assertion that there has potentially been an intentional degradation of the MACC Base system. She said there has been an intention to “wait and see.”

“That has allowed things to degrade,” she said. “I think that’s irresponsible. And that’s where the life safety issues come in and that’s unconscionable.”

That lack of a fallback plan is one of the reasons, Kokko said, that she spoke to the board of governors on Mar. 1.

“I felt it was timely because they are in turn, as a board, talking what it would be like if Milford leaves and how will we move forward?'” she said. “I said, ‘I can keep working on looking at these governance alternatives and what would help make you a stronger organization and that could apply whether or not the warrant article passes. And at least give MACC Base an option, given that Milford themselves is not.”