By Katina Caraganis
ASHBY -- Selectmen voted 2-1 Monday night to not move forward with a plan that would regionalize the town's dispatch center with neighboring Ashburnham.
The two towns had jointly applied for a grant through the state 911 program that would allow for updated equipment and other amenities without losing personnel, but some selectmen felt there were still too many unanswered questions.
Ashby and Ashburnham officials previously signed letters of interest to attach to their grant application to the state where they asked for $358,870.55 to begin the project. Of that, $50,000 would be allocated for project-management services, while the remaining $308,870.55 would be for equipment.
Ashby selectmen Chairman Peter McMurray said the two towns only received $250,000 to put toward the project.
McMurray said the money would go toward covering dispatch needs while addressing the dead spots for radios in Ashby, would provide better functionality and would provide access to police records in all towns.
Different plans on how the money would be allocated had been presented, and McMurray said two remained on the table if selectmen opted to move forward with the project.
The first would be to shut down the dispatch center and move everything to Ashburnham, for a cost savings of $200,000 that would be shared equally between both towns. This plan was voted down Monday because it would have meant layoffs.
Dan Meunier and Mike McCallum ultimately voted against this proposal, with McMurray voting for it.
"My thought process was there was so much good here to have and it's inevitable that 911 would be regionalized eventually," McMurray said. "If we have the opportunity to put it together ourselves and be a part of the process and update everything and get people out of that building, why wouldn't we? The first priority was job retention."
Ashby police officers and dispatchers who attended Monday's meeting said the system Ashby uses for recording data is not compatible with Ashburnham's, and valuable data would be lost in transition.
Police Officer John Dillon said too much vital information would be lost, which would compromise officer safety.
"The systems will merge certain data but not all of it," he said during Monday's meeting. "They're not compatible systems. If we try to merge it, we'll only get text records. It would have to be hand entered and there's thousands upon thousands of records. There's a lot of backtracking."
"Photos wouldn't be transferred over," he continued. "We'll lose a lot of data. I think there's a problem with that. Trying to merge it won't be a smooth transition. It's easier said than done. The way it was explained to me was it won't be smooth. It won't accept data in the same way."
McCallum, the newest member of the board, said that he felt the situation was being rushed.
"My concern is we're jumping in with Ashburnham on their timetable to fix problems in Ashburnham, not problems here," McCallum said. "We have two different problems. We don't need to solve their problems. I'm not opposed to necessarily doing it but I'm not so sure doing it right now is a good idea. Let's solve our problems now."
Meunier said he wanted to table the discussion to figure out compatibility issues before any decisions were made, but McMurray said there wasn't enough time for that to happen before all parties involved needed a decision.
"My whole thing from the beginning was the safety of everyone involved. I don't want to move backwards just to get grant money," McMurray said. "I firmly believe if we went to Town Meeting to ask for money to move dispatch into this building, they would do it. I'm not concerned about that. It's not coming together at this point so that's why I'm not ready to say this is the way to go."
Instead, the board will look at ways to fix infrastructure problems within the town and ways to move dispatchers and officers out of a double wide trailer.