Public Safety Communications in the West End Revisited

Mr. Mahla, the chair of the Public Safety Communications Review Committee, and I recently had lunch. We talked about his committee’s work, our views on the current state of the town’s communication system and the best way to go forward.

We both agreed on where we need to be in the long term but not on how to get there. During that discussion, he objected to the phrase “non-scientific tests” when I described the tests his committee performed to support locating the tower on the Rhodes Drive water tank property in the piece I wrote on March 3, 2008 Rhodes Drive Public Safety Communicaiton Tower.

He provided me a copy of the PowerPoint presentation he gave at the 11/13/2007 town meeting and asked me to publish his data and reiterate the testing methodology.

As explained in the 3/3 story, the Fire Department placed its ladder truck near the water tower on Rhodes Drive. The ladder was extended to a height close to the proposed tower. Some communication equipment was put on the top of the ladder. Public safety personnel went to various locations in the West End of town with a hand held radio. Power readings were measured. This was a one-off test that suggests the Rhodes Drive site would work.

Focusing on the words used to describe the testing takes attention away from the core issues:

  • There is no urgency to act now. The public is not in imminent danger. Slide 2 of his 11/13 presentation “Citizens living in West Wrentham are at risk” says otherwise.
  • The PSCRC understated the true cost of the project at the November 13, 2007 town meeting.
  • Mr. Morse has already erected a 100+ foot radio tower with antennae. He is willing to continue a decade old practice of hosting our Public Safety communication equipment on his property.
  • Mr.Morse is willing to enter into a formal agreement with the town.
  • Wrentham is facing serious budgetary challenges. We do not have an extra $122,997. That money will come from some other part of the budget.

It would seem Mr. Mahla understands our financial situation. He plans to offer a $20,000 donation to the town for the project at Monday’s town meeting. That is a wonderful gesture. It demonstrates a deep commitment to Wrentham. He has my sincere thanks both for his offer and for his hard work on the PSCRC.

However, the taxpayers of Wrentham are still responsible for the balance. We gave his committee $60,000 in November because they said the job could be done for that amount. That proved wrong. They now plan to ask for an additional $47,600.75 on Monday, April 28th. The town’s contribution for the project will be approximately $107,000.

This is for something we are currently getting for free.

Fortunately it is not too late to change course. The committee has only spent approximately $5,000 on site study work. Voting NO on Article 6 on the Warrant For Special Town Meeting will stop the project and give us time to negotiate a long term deal with Mr. Morse and plan for the future.

During my campaign, I suggested that we needed to find creative ways to fund our services. Why not embrace the generosity of both Mr. Morse and Mr. Mahla and set up a Public/Private initiative like the Sweatt Fund?

Going forward, we can match Mr. Mahla’s donation. That will start the fund with $40,000. The town can then set aside money each year and work with fund administrators to seek donations from private individuals and corporate citizens until there is enough money to pay for the antenna without having to borrow from Peter to pay Paul.

A group of determined people and a few generous corporate citizens should be able to raise the funds relatively quickly. And, I will donate my company’s resources to develop a web site for the fund.

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