HARVARD -- In a new regional set-up shared with Lunenburg and Lancaster, town-based public safety and emergency dispatch services currently based at the Harvard police station were slated to relocate to the Devens Regional Dispatch Center in August.
But the move has been delayed until October, Town Administrator Tim Bragan told the selectmen last week.
The delayed moving date, which only applies to Harvard communications and not those of the other two towns, both of which are already on site, is due to issues with Charter Communications that are in the process of being resolved, Bragan explained.
In other Devens-related news, Bragan said the contract Harvard bid on to provide police services in Devens was again awarded to the Mass State Police. The state agency has held the contract for well over a decade, ever since the former Fort Devens became a civilian enclave of businesses and residences under the governance of MassDevelopment.
Although the town lost out, Selectman Ron Ricci said it wasn't for lack of effort. Police Chief Edward Denmark and Bragan did a good job preparing and presenting the proposal to Devens residents, he said.
"I think our police department would have done a good job for the Devens community," Ricci said. "I'm a little disappointed with the decision."
"It's not a low bid issue," Bragan said. He said the decision was solely the agency's call and "obviously" not based on cost.
As one state agency dealing with another, MassDevelopment had the option to continue the existing contract, whether the state police put in the lowest bid or not. Still, he asked for constructive feedback.
"I sent a letter (to Mass Development) asking what we could have done differently," he said.
"To give you some history, we (Bragan and Chief Denmark, accompanied by Ricci) met with Devens residents a couple of months ago" at a Devens Committee meeting to answer questions and talk about what the community could expect if the police contract came to Harvard, Bragan said.
Now, they're following up, looking to learn what fueled MassDevelopment's decision, he said.
A Nashoba reporter who attended the Devens Committee meeting noted in a previous Harvard Hillside article that after the three-town emissaries left, committee members and an audience of about six Devens residents discussed the matter further. The committee voted to recommend that MassDevelopment award the contract to Mass State Police.
The consensus was that while Police Chief Denmark came across as professional and personable and his presentation was credible, the town of Harvard was an unknown quantity compared to the state police, which has provided excellent service to the Devens community for years.
ConsCom attorney okayed
The Conservation Commission wants to continue consulting an attorney other than Town Counsel Mark Lanza in certain cases that call for land-use expertise, Commissioner James Breslauer told the selectmen. He asked the board to extend indefinitely its previous one-year authorization to retain its own legal counsel.
After some discussion, the selectmen voted to approve the open-ended arrangement Breslauer asked for, allowing the Conservation Commission to hire its own attorney or consult town counsel, as circumstances warrant.
Heads up on Reserve Fund Transfer
Bragan told the board about an anticipated Reserve Fund transfer request to pay unemployment benefits for retired public safety officers who "aged out" at 65 under federal regulations but are apparently still eligible to collect state unemployment benefits.
The upshot was that it will cost the town about $20,000 for the officers to receive the full 28 weeks of unemployment compensation they are eligible for, with the option to apply for an extension, Bragan said.
Since the town is also obligated to pay pension benefits for the retired officers, this news didn't sit well with him or Finance Director Lorraine Leonard, Bragan said. They are working with labor counsel to see if there's an avenue for relief, perhaps via legislation.
Selectman Lucy Wallace noted with some irony that under a new legal provision the town recently agreed to accept, retired Harvard police officers over age 65 can be assigned to detail work in town, part of which the town also pays for.
STM envisioned for October
A citizens' petition with 272 certified signatures was received Tuesday morning, Sept. 10, Bragan told the board. The petition, which calls for a Special Town Meeting to support the Solar Garden project, was forwarded to town counsel for review, he said.
Specifically, the petitioners want the selectmen to endorse an article or articles asking Town Meeting to consider three issues related to the community-based solar facility: a request for special legislation, a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement and changing the town's permit fee schedule to create a new category for shared solar facilities with multiple units.
The target date for the STM, with a legal clock that started ticking when the citizen's petition requesting it was received, would be sometime in October.