TOWNSEND -- Like the rest of the nation, the Townsend Board of Selectmen are reeling from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 children and six adults. During their Tuesday meeting, the board discussed possible preventative measures that could be taken to ensure that such an incident never occurred here.
Selectman Sue Lisio recalled watching the news broadcast on Friday showing the first responders in action as members of the community looked on in shock and horror.
"It was like watching one of my worst nightmares and picturing the folks in our town if, God forbid, anything like that were ever to happen here," she said. "I don't want to be fearful, but on the other hand, I think it's important that we really look at what we can, as a town, do."
The issue, she said, was of taking "guns out of the hands of people who should not have them," and in conjunction with that, of paying attention to and having open conversations about mental health.
"It's something that gets tossed under the rug. I think it's something that people still don't want to talk about. It's that hidden thing in the closet and people are ashamed of it."
She encouraged residents to have open conversations with each other about mental health and offer support to community members who might need it.
"(People) were brought up to say it's none of my business, and that's not true. It is our business. It's someone who is in need, and potentially could be someone that's a danger to society," she said.
Lisio said community members should care about one another enough to address concerns with each other.
"To stay silent and to turn away is wrong," she said.
Lisio said she also hopes to have conversations with Police Chief Erving Marshall about initiatives such as a gun buyback program. She also said she plans to extend support to the school district in getting more security measures in place if it is deemed necessary. The issue should not be one of cost, she said.
"I will not rest on that because this is not about money, this is about you have a problem, you need to solve it the best way you can," she said. Whether it was through volunteer efforts or finding additional funding, "You do what you have to do to get things done to keep the community and the people safe."
Selectman Robert Plamondon, who has worked in the mental-health field for 20 years, echoed Lisio's thoughts. He said he hoped discussions could be had at a higher governmental level about addressing some laws that apply to the mentally ill, especially given several other recent tragic incidents prior to the Newtown shooting.
"It seems to be a common thread tying all of these (episodes) together," he said. Whether it was on a national level, state level or even on a local level, he said, "If there is something we can do to improve things, we have a moral obligation to do so."
In other business, selectmen began preliminary discussions of the town's fiscal 2014 operating budget. Town Administrator Andy Sheehan said based on preliminary numbers that had been released, the Middlesex County Retirement Board would be increasing the town's assessment for fiscal 2014 from $474,000 to $676,000.
This will further compound the town's current budget dilemmas; due to the failed override, the town will be entering fiscal 2014 with a structural deficit of about $100,000. In response, Lisio said discussions of looking for additional revenue sources should be accelerated. She brought up the idea of establishing a pay-as-you-throw trash collection system, which would encourage people to recycle as well as reduce the tipping cost from decreased tonnage.
Regardless, she said, it was crucial to establish plans for cost-saving measures as soon as possible.
"We can't afford not to have this all figured out by Town Meeting. We've got an aggressive timeline," she said.